The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
Sintra is a delightful Portuguese town famed for its wondrous palaces and extravagant 19th-century villas.
The town is situated within the Serra da Sintra nature park, a region of steep hills and lush forests, with the dramatic Atlantic coastline lying along its western edge.
This coastline comprises of massive cliffs, windswept headlands and picturesque sandy beaches that nestle at the base of the huge rock formations. These beaches are dominated by the Atlantic Ocean, with its colossal waves, strong sea breezes and powerful currents.
To the south of Sintra is the Portuguese Riviera, a coastline that is in complete contrast to the Serra da Sintra coast. The Portuguese Riviera is sheltered from the Atlantic winds and waves and boasts many glorious sandy beaches, along with the charming beach towns of Cascais, Estoril, Oeiras and Carcavelos.
To the north of the Serra da Sintra are the surfing beaches of the Ericeira coastline. These beaches offer huge expanses of sand and mighty waves ideal for surfing, but are a long way from Sintra - so you will need a car to reach them.
The Praia das Maçãs is the best beach for your beach trip while based in Sintra
The best beaches of Sintra's Atlantic coastline region:
1) Praia das Maçãs 2) Praia Grande 3) Praia da Ursa 4) Praia do Guincho 5) Praia da Adraga
The best beaches of the Portuguese Riviera coastline region:
1) Praia de Carcavelos 2) Praia de Santo Amaro 3) Praia da Duquesa 4) Praia do Tamariz 5) Praia de São Pedro do Estoril
Below is a map showing the beaches in the Sintra region. The beaches of the Serra da Sintra are marked in green, the beaches of the Portuguese Riviera in yellow and the beaches of southern Ericeira in blue. The historic centre of Sintra is point 15 and the grey marker. (Note: zoom out to see all of the points)
Beaches of the Atlantic coastline (green): 1) Praia das Maçãs 2) Praia Grande 3) Praia da Ursa 4) Praia do Guincho 5) Praia da Adraga 6) Praia do Magoito
Beaches of the Portuguese Riviera (yellow): 7) Praia de Carcavelos 8) Praia de Santo Amaro 9) Praia da Duquesa 10) Praia do Tamariz 11) Praia de São Pedro do Estoril
Beaches of south Ericeira (blue): 12) Praia de São Julião 13) Praia da Foz do Lizandro 14) Praia da Baleia 15) historic centre of Sintra
Note: A guide to all of the beaches is found after the next section.
The coastlines of the Sintra region offer magnificent beaches, but the actual town of Sintra should not be considered as a destination for a beach holiday. The town is not close to the coastline, so it’s a 10km drive or 25-minute bus journey to the nearest beach at Praia das Maçãs.
There are many outstanding beaches that can be reached for day trips from Sintra, but for a beach-focused holiday there are better towns. These include Cascais, Estoril and Sesimbra, or Ericeira if you are interested in surfing.
The beaches of the Serra da Sintra are some of the most beautiful of the Lisbon region, but they are exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and its moisture-laden winds.
This is rarely an issue during the peak summer season (July and August), when the entire region is bathed in glorious sunshine and there are only gentle sea breezes.
If there are any breezes inland, they will be significantly stronger on the Serra da Sintra coastline. If it's a blustery day, head to Cascais and the much more sheltered beaches of the Portuguese Riviera.
The hills of the Serra da Sintra can cause very localised damp weather that may not exist 5km to the north or south. Outside of the hot summer, there can be lingering mists, low clouds and localised rains. Always check the local weather before you take a trip here, especially if heading from Lisbon, where the weather can be very different.
Advice: The weather in Sintra is warm enough for spending time on a beach from May until the end of September. The beaches are at their busiest during the peak season of July and August.
The best beach that is easily accessible from Sintra is the Praia das Maçãs. If you are on holiday in Sintra and want a trip to the beach, then this is the one to head to.
Praia das Maçãs offers a wide expanse of golden sands, clean sea waters and a delightful village where you will find many restaurants, cafes and shops. Sintra is connected to Praia das Maçãs by the 441 bus route and the delightful Sintra tram.
If you'd prefer a livelier beach town (or if it's windy) then head to Cascais. This is a vibrant resort town with many sandy beaches within walking distance of the town centre, such as the Praia da Conceição, Praia da Duquesa or Praia da Rainha. The 403 bus route connects Sintra and Cascais and takes around 25 minutes.
The Praia da Ribeira lies at the heart of Cascais
Praia das Maçãs is a beautiful sandy beach that fills the mouth of a wide valley. This is a glorious beach on a sunny day, and its large size means that there is always space, even at the height of the summer season. This is a popular beach with Portuguese families, but there can be strong waves and tidal currents. The small stream which carved out the valley runs to the southern side of the beach.
On the northern side of the beach is a charming town, also known as Praia das Maçãs, which has a selection of cafes and restaurants.
Praia das Maçãs is a great beach if you are based in Sintra, as it is one of the only ones served by a regular bus service. The bus from Sintra departs the train station and is the 441 route. There is a delightful 1910s tram that also connects Sintra to Praia das Maçãs, which is an enjoyable experience if you aren't in a hurry.
Insight: From Praia das Maçãs it is a short walk to Praia Grande or a longer walk northwards to the delightful village of Azenhas do Mar.
The Praia das Maçãs is a wide sandy beach that fills the valley carved out by a small river.
The Praia Grande is the largest beach of the Serra da Sintra coastline (hence its name), boasting a 900m-long sandy shoreline. This fantastic beach is a popular surfing destination with decent swells, while the massive cliffs at the southern end provide shelter from the prevailing winds and make it a good choice for a relaxing beach day.
Praia Grande is a lively beach that tends to attract a younger crowd, in part due to the surfing vibe. It offers surfing and excitement, while Praia das Maçãs close by is more suited for families or a relaxing trip. In the cliffs to the south of the Praia Grande are the fossilised tracks of over 60 dinosaurs, which appear as depressions in the slate cliff face.
Positioned at the northern end of the beach is the Arribas Sintra Hotel, which has one of the largest swimming pools in Portugal - a 100m-long saltwater pool.
The Praia Grande is popular for surfing
The Serra de Sintra coastline contains many beautiful beaches, but the Praia da Ursa is regarded as the most stunning. This is due to its remote setting, unique cliff formations and pristine scenery.
This secluded beach sits at the base of a steep cliff and is reached via dirt tracks and a footpath that scrambles down the side of the collapsed rock face.
The Praia da Ursa is distinctive for its two huge rocky outcrops; sections of harder cliffs that have withstood the power of the Atlantic Ocean. The rock formation closest to the beach gives Praia da Ursa (bear beach) its name, as it supposedly looks like a bear holding its cub.
A trip to Praia da Ursa is often combined with a visit to the Cabo de Roca headland - the most westerly point of mainland Europe - and there is a scenic 1.7km coastal path connecting them.
Related articles: Cabo de Roca
The Praia da Ursa as seen from the coastal footpath to the Cabo da Roca
There are better locations to park in than this…
Praia do Guincho is the most famous beach of the Serra de Sintra, as it was one of the original surfing beaches of Portugal and used to host the Windsurfing World Cup during the 1990s.
Today, Guincho beach is a favourite for kitesurfing due to the reliable onshore breezes, while the spectacular natural scenery attracts hikers, cyclists and day trippers. It should be noted that Guincho is not a tranquil or relaxing beach – there is an almost constant breeze blowing in from the Atlantic and little shelter from it.
On a super calm summer’s day, Guincho is the region's finest beach - but most of the time it will be too windy for a beach day.
The moisture-laden Atlantic winds often form clouds over the Serra de Sintra hills
The Praia do Guincho beach and Serra de Sintra coastline as seen from Peninha viewpoint
The Praia da Adraga is a one of the best beaches of Serra de Sintra, as long as you have a car to travel here.
The beach has a beautiful setting, filling a deep valley and surrounded on either side by towering cliffs. These cliffs provide shelter from the Atlantic winds and Adraga beach is a fantastic destination for a beach day trip.
The Praia da Adraga is a favourite with the Portuguese, so the small car park quickly fills up at weekends.
The Praia da Adraga
The Portuguese Riviera extends from Lisbon to Cascais and is one of the most affluent regions of Portugal.
The beaches of the Portuguese Riviera are very easy to travel to from Lisbon, as they are served by a railway service that connects Lisbon to Cascais. This also means that they are extremely busy in the summer as the whole of Lisbon flocks to this coastline.
The Praia de Carcavelos is the largest beach of the Portuguese Riviera and the most popular beach in the Lisbon region.
It boasts a vast expense of golden sands, medium-sized waves that are suitable for surfing, and a shoreline filled with beach bars, restaurants and cafes. Praia de Carcavelos has a lively atmosphere and offers a host of activities (surfing, beach sports and boat rides), making it a favourite with Portuguese families.
Our Opinion: Carcavelos beach is the beach we recommend to all visitors who are on holiday in Lisbon.
Related articles: Praia de Carcavelos
The Praia de Carcavelos is a huge beach where most of Lisbon heads to on a sunny day
The Praia de Santo Amaro is the main beach of Oeiras and is often just referred to as Oeiras Beach. This is another glorious beach, with a wide expanse of sand, calm sea waters and amazing facilities. Santo Amaro beach is the most sheltered beach of the region and is a popular choice for families and young children. During the summer, Oeiras beach attracts a younger crowd and has a lively, jovial atmosphere.
Insight: Praia de Santo Amaro is the beach closest to Lisbon that has guaranteed clean waters. Beaches further to the east of Oeiras (and closer to Lisbon) are within the tidal mixing zone of the Tejo Estuary, where the water quality may not be as good.
The largest stretch of sand in Cascais is divided into two beaches - the Praia da Conceição and Praia da Duquesa. These beautiful beaches offer golden sands, calm sea waters and an abundance of beach activities (including sea inflatables, beach bars and boat rides).
The Praia da Duquesa is a slightly larger beach that is closer to Cascais, while to the east is the Praia da Conceição. The beaches are a hive of activity during the summer, with cocktail-drinking tourists, excitable children and powerboats towing banana inflatables. The Conceição and Duquesa beaches are suitable for children, as there are no waves or currents, and the beach is supervised by lifeguards.
The Praia da Duquesa (near) and the Praia da Conceição (on the far side) are separated by a small headland and the 19th-century Casa Faial villa
The Praia da Conceição on a hot summer’s day
The Praia de São Pedro do Estoril is one of the most underrated beaches of the Portuguese Riviera, and is an excellent choice for a relaxing beach day.
São Pedro tends to be quieter than the other beaches detailed in this guide so far; there will be fewer screaming kids or overly excited teenagers, with no boat rides departing from the beach. If you want a peaceful beach day (or the quietest possible for the Portuguese Riviera), head to the Praia de São Pedro do Estoril.
The Praia de São Pedro is a pretty sheltered beach
The Praia do Tamariz is the main beach of Estoril, which is just a 17-minute walk from central Cascais.
The beach has many similarities to Praia da Conceição and Praia da Duquesa, but is less hectic and without all of the sea activities. On the eastern side of the beach, beyond the sea wall, is a seawater-filled swimming pool known as the Piscina Oceânica do Tamariz. This is great for young children and will have much warmer water than the sea.
Our opinion: The Praia do Tamariz provides a pleasant alternative to the beaches of Cascais.
The Praia do Tamariz is a fantastic beach
The Praia da Torre is a beautiful sandy beach that lies on the leeward side of the Forte de São Julião da Barra, a colossal 16th-century fort. This beach is a short walk from Praia de Carcavelos and is a good alternative if Carcavelos is too crowded or blustery.
Insight: Beginning at the Praia da Torre is the Passeio Marítimo de Oeiras, a scenic coastal footpath that leads to Paço de Arcos. This is the best short walk of the Portuguese Riviera.
The huge walls of the Julião da Barra fort tower over the beach
Our most popular guides to Sintra