The Portuguese Secret Holiday spots

Sesimbra combines glorious beaches, stunning natural scenery and traditional Portuguese heritage, to form one of the finest beach towns of Portugal, which surprisingly, is virtually unknown by foreign tourists. There is so much to love about Sesimbra, from the pristine beaches that are protected by Arrabida Natural Park through to the delicious seafood that is served in one of the numerous excellent restaurants. Sesimbra is adored by the Portuguese, who flock here during their short summer season, but outside of this brief period the town, which is less than 30 minutes from Lisbon, could be considered quiet by Algarve standards.

Aside from the beautiful beaches and great food, there is a lot to do in the Sesimbra region; there are hiking/biking trails through the Serra da Arrabida, and day trips to Cabo Espichel or the fishing port of Setubal. Sesimbra is also considered as the best diving locations in Portugal, while to the north are the powerful surfing beaches of the Costa da Caparica, which also host summer time beach parties. We know Portugal, and we love Sesimbra, so for those tourists who are seeking an authentic Portuguese holiday destination should seriously consider visiting Sesimbra. This guide will provide an introduction to Sesimbra and provide links to further in-depth information.

Sesimbra is a wonderful holiday destination that offers glorious beaches, interesting day trips and a relaxed ambience. Sesimbra’s unique appeal is that the town is purely aimed for Portuguese tourists, making it is an ideal location to embrace and immerse in Portuguese culture. As Sesimbra is primary for Portuguese tourists, you can expect the town to offer great food, late social nights while providing exceptional value for money.

Sesimbra is in an area of amazing and diverse natural beauty. To the east the forest covered hills of the Serra da Arrabida which lead down to sandy beaches and tranquil sea waters. While, to the west are towering cliffs and exposed headlands that are battered by raging seas and powerful winds.

Sesimbra has the added advantage of being close to Lisbon, the airport is less than a 30-minute drive away or a 45-minute bus ride away. A visit to Lisbon could be easily combined with a short stay at a traditional beach resort as delightful as Sesimbra.

Sesimbra is close enough to Lisbon so that the region could be visited as a day trip, but to rush through the town would completely miss the appeal of the town. To get the most from a day trip to Sesimbra either a rental car is required or join an organised tour, as there is poor public transport between all of the main sights.

A typical day trip (with a rental car), would visit the Cabo Espichel (1 hour), Sesimbra town (3 hours) and a drive through the Serra da Arrábida Natural Park (2 hours). Sesimbra does have outstanding beaches but the Cascais coastline is much more accessible from Lisbon, so for a purely beach day trip head to Cascais, Estoril or the Costa da Caparica. For those visitors with a rental car and limited time should consider driving along the Estrada de Escarpa, regarded as the most scenic road of Portugal.

Some of Portugal’s finest beaches are within the Sesimbra region and anyone one heading to Sesimbra for a beach holiday will not be disappointed. The actual town of Sesimbra is situated on a wide sandy bay, with the Fortaleza Santiago fort at the centre and the fishing harbour to the west, sheltering behind the sheer cliffs.

To the west of Sesimbra are the beaches of the Arrábida Natural Park and this coastline is often referred to as the Portinho da Arrábida. It is difficult to describe in words just how picturesque the Portinho da Arrábida coastline is, but the waters are crystal clear, the sands are soft and golden and there is the backdrop of the lush forested hills of the Serra da Arrabida. This little slice of paradise does come at a cost, there is almost no public transport and it can be a struggle to find carparking in the summer.

The largest beach of the Portinho da Arrábida is the beautiful Praia do Creiro, this beach has a selection of beach bars and cafes but most importantly car parking. The largest beach closest to the fishing port of Setubal is the Praia da Figueirinha and this is another beautiful beach that is popular with the Portuguese. The best method for a beach trip to the Portinho da Arrábida is to hire a car and drive along the coastal road, absorbing the beautiful scenery while looking for a place to park. For a guide to Sesimbra’s beaches please click here.

Sesimbra has long hot summers and pleasant spring and autumns, while winters are mild but can be wet. Beach weather in this region of Portugal lasts from May to mid-October.

The Portuguese flock to Sesimbra during their short summer holiday season of July and August, and during this period the town will be at its most hectic, with the majority of hotels fully sold out. Outside of the short peak season Sesimbra is much more calm and relaxed.

The best sight of Sesimbra, apart from the wonderful beaches, is the panoramic view from the Moorish castle that stands high above the town. The ruins of the castle are 240m above Sesimbra and from the battlements there are wonderful views over the turquoise sea waters and lush green forests. The hike up to the castle makes for a demanding 20 minute walk but the views are worthy of the effort.

The best activity while on holiday in Sesimbra is exploring the Arrábida National Park. here are numerous enjoyable hiking trails and challenging cycling tracks that cross the steep hills of the national park. For the less energetic, take a drive through the centre of the park and admire the wonderful views of hills beaches and ocean from the Estrada de Escarpa. For a guide to the sights and activities of Sesimbra please click here.

The Cabo Espichel is the windswept headland, to the west of Sesimbra that makes for an interesting half day excursion from Sesimbra. Perched at the highest point of the headland is one of Portugal’s most powerful lighthouses and from the high vantage point (and on a clear day) there are wonderful views all along the Costa Caprica.

Cabo Espichel was once an important pilgrimage destination and this is reflected by the uniquely styled monastery which has been since abandoned. The headland is formed of massive cliffs and the erosion has exposed fossilized dinosaur footprints. For a guide to the Cabo Espichel please click here.

Sesimbra is famed for its fresh fish and seafood dishes, which are served in the small, family run restaurants known as Marisqueiras. The most popular dish is Arroz de Marisco, a delicious meal of shellfish, crabs and rice that is served in large clay pot and is designed to be shared. There is no better accompaniment to the meal than a bottle of a locally produced wine. For the Portuguese, the evening meal is an important time for the family to gather. This main meal is never rushed, so embrace the local culture and enjoy an extended evening meal of freshly caught fish.

There is a regular bus service from Lisbon to Sesimbra that departs from the Praça de Espanha bus station in Lisbon. The journey takes 45 minutes and is operated by TST buses, a single bus ticket costs €4.05. For a full guide to traveling by bus from Lisbon to Sesimbra please click here. The public transport of Sesimbra is not great and a rental car is recommended to fully explore the region.


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