I arrived in Portugal with a lot of expectations… my mind ran wild with anticipation of sandstone coastal cliffs awaiting my encounter. The streets would be narrow and winding, with hills steeper than San Francisco. Restaurant tables spilling precariously into cobblestone streets, with port wine as cheap as water. I couldn’t stop scouring Instagram and Google Images with searches of the Algarve coast.
What comes to mind for you, when you think of Portugal?
It could be ornate hand-painted tiles, enveloping row homes. Or sizzling plates of the freshest seafood, accompanied by lively Fado music, & dancing into the night. Crumbling, old castles like Sao Jorge over the Tagus River. It is likely that you will also be thinking of bright, bright sunshine…Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon, is one of the sunniest places in Europe.
Despite all of this beauty, in my opinion, the beaches still steal the show.
Read on to learn about 3 incredible beaches along Portugal’s southern coast (in no particular order).
1. Praia Dona Ana
This was one of the first beaches I visited in Portugal, and one of my favorites. Praia Dona Ana is tucked down below the towering coastal cliffs, as many of the Algarve’s beaches are, in the city of Lagos.
It’s not huge, and as more and more beach-goers arrive for some sun, it does get crowded. And parking nearby becomes less and less fun. But it’s worth it to arrive early and secure a spot, then just soak in the sights and sun. I loved the vibe here — so bright and happy.
There are a number of other similar small beaches tucked below cliffs nearby, such as Praia do Camilo — equally stunning! Depending on the level of the tide, you can wade through the ocean or climb over rocks to get from one beach to another.
2. Praia de Benagil
So Benagil Cave is exactly that — a cave — that has been carved into those sandstone cliffs along the coast. I stayed in the nearby city Portimao (Lagoa is also close), then took a day trip.
There are actually tons of caves in the area, and you can take a boat tour to explore them all. Benagil Cave is the most popular one because it is so spacious, with a sandy beach inside.
Though it’s not technically allowed (and depending how strong of a swimmer you are, not safe) that people swim to the inside cave from the main beach, there were still plenty of tourists dawning full-face snorkels and making the journey.
I didn’t want to risk the swim because there was a lot of wake from all of the boats, so I rented a kayak instead. Even kayaking in the semi-rough waters was tricky! A boat tour is definitely the safest way to experience the caves (although they usually don’t let you get off the boat and onto the interior beach), with a kayak coming in second.
Once you finally make it inside the cave, you can see sunlight pouring in through a round opening in the cave’s ceiling. When you’re done at the beach, you can also hike a short trail from the parking lot to the top of that opening, and look down in. It’s worth it to get all angles!
3. Praia da Marinha
Praia da Marinha is also nearby Portimao & Lagoa, and is considered by some to be the most beautiful beach in the Algarve. It reminded me a lot of Praia Dona Ana — the way it’s comprised of smaller secluded beaches separated by cliffs and boulders.
Depending on the level of the tide, you can walk along sand or wade through water to get from one area to another. I had to hoist my bag overhead and wade through several feet in some places!
The rock formations are so cool and easy to climb on. People were jumping off of the archway pictured above, and of course, posing for photos.
I found this beach to be very crowded, and I had to park quite far away and walk for awhile for access. There are long flights of stairs that bring you down a hillside, and then you can vie for a spot near the turquoise waters. There’s a little restaurant on the beach with some pricey snacks and beers.
Although it’s a beach you have to work for, it is, like the others, undeniably beautiful.
4. Ponta da Piedade
This last spot is less of a beach, and more of a coastal vista.
But I had to add it to this list, because it was the place in the Algarve I was most looking forward to, and the place I continue to daydream about most. I gushed in a separate post about the feeling of awe I had in the Swiss Alps, and I felt captivated in a similar way staring at this coastline.
The yellow-gold rocks tower out of blue-green waters, with shadows slowly shifting with the morning sun. There are winding trails that present endless new lookouts and angles, guaranteeing your jaw will drop at least once.
The beaches of Southern Portugal were undeniably some of my favorites I’ve ever seen.
They were bursting with color and life, peppered with the sounds of every European language among gentle breaking waves. There are endless caves and coves to discover.
Thank you, Lagos… Don’t miss out on Southern Portugal!