If you want a beach escape within striking distance of Lisbon, Costa da Caparica is the destination for you. There are literally dozens of beaches on a long strip of white sandy coast stretching out to Cabo Espichel 30 kilometres to the south. If you want to party, sunbathe in peace, surf the beach breaks, or strip down to your birthday suit there’s a beach for you in Costa da Caparica.
And if you don’t have a car the convenient transpraia tram will get you where you need to go, shuttling up and down the shore. And say you’re in the mood to explore, Almada and its trendy waterside are nearby, as is the enormous statue of Christ the King and the unmistakeable 25 de Abril Bridge.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Costa da Caparica:
1. Resort Beaches
Directly in front of the high-rise apartments and hotels of the resort there’s a chain of unbroken beaches.
The names may change, but this is all the same stretch of shore, with relentless waves and breakwaters every hundred metres or so to prevent erosion.
All of the beaches benefit from the resort’s amenities, like lively bars and restaurants along the beachfront, as well as ice cream parlours and shops for toys and provisions.
You can pick from Praia de Santo António de Caparica, Praia do C.D.S and Praia Nova, while the standouts are Praia do Tarquínio-Paraíso, Praia do Dragão Vermelho and São João da Caparica, which all fly the Blue Flag.
Costa da Caparica’s resort beaches are great because there’s always something going on and lifeguards are on patrol in summer.
But if you want to check out the less built-up beaches you can hop on the transpraia tramway, which runs beside the ocean and makes 19 stops, each at a different beach.
As you push out from the main resort the shoreline gets broader and there are fewer signs of civilisation.
Praia da Rainha, Praia do Castelo and Praia da Mata for example are perfectly natural, traced by dunes and with campsites or discreet holiday accommodation nearby.
3. Fonte da Telha
Transpraia’s southern terminus is the small tourist enclave of Fonte da Telha, embedded in the protected landscape of the Arriba Fóssil.
Fonte da Telha is 10 kilometres south of the main resort and is walled by a continuous stretch of golden cliffs, topped with pine and eucalyptus trees.
As with much of the coastline, the waves are just right for surfers, and there’s a cluster of bars and restaurants open in summer.
Praia 19, neighbouring Fonte da Telha to the north, is the top gay beach in the Lisbon area.
4. Covento dos Capuchos
Climbing up suddenly from Costa da Caparica’s coastal plain is an escarpment with special views from its rim.
You can see all of Costa de Caparica, but also the Lisbon skyline, the dark peaks of the Serra de Sintra, Cabo Espichel to the south and the fortresses that guard the mouth of the Tagus.
A few metres from the lookout there’s a convent built in 1558. Although it was partially ruined by the earthquake in 1755 the Renaissance facade was saved.
This is a venue for concerts and music recitals now, and if the gates are open see if you can get into the gardens, which have walls clad with tile panels recounting the life of St Anthony.
5. Paisagem Protegida da Arriba Fóssil da Costa de Caparica
An interesting thing about those cliffs bordering Costa da Caparica’s coast is how far they are from the water.
That’s because of the movement of the tectonic plates, the most violent recent event being the fabled earthquake in 1755. North of Fonte da Telha they’ve retreated far enough to create a coastal plain, and the Medos National Forest was planted here in the 1700s to protect the farmland from encroaching dunes.
The entire foreshore is a natural park, with stone pines, mastic trees and eucalyptus forest in the lower reaches and 20th-century gun positions like the Bateria da Raposa perched on higher ground.
6. Solar dos Zagallos
This 18th-century mansion was bought by the municipality and turned into a cultural centre, with gardens that are open to the public during the day.
And although the current building is from the 1700s the Zagallo family had been here since the time of John II in the 15th century, so the whole property overflows with history.
You could pass a carefree hour or two in the grounds, which have a greenhouse, pavilions and blue and white tile panels.
The mansion itself is elegant, and was enhanced in time for a visit from King John VI in the 18th century when the azulejeos, frescos and gilded stuccowork were all completed.
Surfers have hit the jackpot in Costa Caparica.
There are surf schools and hire shops all along these 30 kilometres of coast.
As a rule these are mostly found in the wilder stretches, some way south of the main resort, starting around Praia da Mata and continuing down past Fonte da Telha (Epic Surf School, Boarder Club Duckdive Nature Sports). They’re all here for the well-formed point breaks and swift beach breaks, while even small swells have breaks that can be ridden for some time.
If you’re up for kitesurfing or stand-up paddleboarding there are schools ready to show you the ropes.
The capital is so close that a sightseeing trip is mandatory.
It’s 15 minutes by car, traffic-permitting, or 30 minutes on the bus.
For a more scenic way in you could catch a bus to Cacilhas and from there get the ferry across the estuary to Cais do Sodré.
One sight with universal appeal by the ferry terminal are the regal Praça do Comércio, remodelled into a grand square during the rebuild after 1755. Or there’s the new Time Out Market, which is in the beautiful Mercado da Ribeira building and a one-off food hall with pop up restaurants.
Moving on, head into the upper Alfama and Bairro Alto neighbourhoods, ride a funicular, see the São Jorge Castle and visit the awesome national museums for tiles and ancient art.
Until the lines were redrawn in 2013 Costa da Caparica was in fact a parish of Almada, and this city is 10 minutes from the main resort.
Almada is on the left bank of the Tagus, and once a hub for Lisbon’s fishing and canning businesses.
These industries have gone, leaving a waterfront of old wharfs and warehouses that being put to new uses.
At the Casa da Cerca cultural centre you can grab a coffee and just gaze across the Tagus at Lisbon from the terrace.
Rua do Ginjal on the water has a few stylish bars and restaurants frequented by Lisboans before they catch the last ferry home.
And docked by the ferry terminal is Portugal’s last wooden-hulled warship, the Dom Fernando II e Glória, launched 1843.
10. Boca do Vento Elevator
The riverside in Almada is dominated by a cliff, and as the city has been revitalised in the last 20 years small attractions have been added to bring visitors to the area.
One is the Boca do Vento Elevator, which opened in 2000. You’ll get on at the clifftop, where there’s a cafe, and be transported down to the Jardim do Rio on the water’s edge.
This is a gorgeous and almost secret spot at the foot of the cliffs, with supreme views of the 25 de Abril Bridge and Lisbon’s skyline.
Down here there still some vestiges of riverside industry, and one of the warehouses contains a museum (Museu Náutico e Arqueológico) about maritime life in Almada in the past.
11. 25 de Abril Bridge
If the roads are clear you can be at this landmark in five minutes from the main resort.
It’s the world’s 27th largest suspension bridge, which is some feat when you remember that it was finished back in 1966. At that time it had the longest suspended span on in Continental Europe.
You may detect a resemblance to the bridges that span the San Francisco Bay, and this isn’t by accident: Its design was based partly on the Golden Gate Bridge, even down to the coppery, “international orange” paint.
It was also built by the American Bridge Company, the same firm that gave us the Oakland Bay Bridge.
12. National Sanctuary of Christ the King
It’s common for promontories and hilltops to have religious sanctuaries, but you’ll have to travel a long way to find one as dramatic as this.
Lisbon’s answer to Rio’s Christ the Redeemer is an 30-metre statue , which, given its elevated position on a pedestal, rises to almost 200 metres above the Tagus.
The monument went up over the course of the 1950s, inspired by the version in Brazil and to give thanks that Portugal escaped the destruction of the Second World War.
The two colossal pillars that hold up the image of Christ have elevators inside, lifting you to the platform where another unforgettable view of the river and city is waiting to take your breath away.
At Porto Brandão moments around the coast from Costa da Caparicayou can catch a ferry across to Belém.
Once again, you’re so close it would be a shame not to make the journey.
Belém is anchored in the Portuguese Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Expeditions led by the likes of Vasco da Gama, Magellan and Henry the Navigator departed from the quayside here, and there’s a modern monument here to mark this fact.
There are also two UNESCO sites and official wonders of Portugal: The 16th-century Belém Tower is spectacular, with Manueline carvings of armillary spheres on its entrance to symbolise Portugal’s seafaring prowess.
And the Jerónimos Monastery, resting place of Vasco da Gama, has astonishing 16th-century stonework in its facade, cloisters and vaults.
As a seaside escape a few kilometres from Lisbon, Costa da Caparica also tempts visitors from the capital with a growing choice of amenities.
One, the Aldeia dos Capuchos is close to that scenic lookout by the old convent.
The brand new nine-hole course here takes advantage of those sumptuous views and welcomes day guests, with a driving range and practice green on site.
You can visit the spa if you’d prefer to soak in a jacuzzi, book a massage or burn some calories in the gym.
Even though the Costa da Caparica has been transformed since the 1980s fishing is still a way of life at this former village.
Even amid the new high-rise towers you may catch sight of a “saveiro em meia-lua”, a crescent shaped sloop.
Now in its fourth decade there’s an annual event in April to recognise this legacy: The Concurso da Caldeirada Pescador is a competition to find out which restaurant in the resort makes the best fish stew.
This is prepared with a medley of fish like eels, shad and mullet, and simmered in a clay pot with potatoes, tomatoes and herbs.
Caldo verde is Portugal’s famous mixed vegetable soup, while nothing beats a simple pão com chouriço (bread baked with chorizo inside) when you’re in need of a quick snack.