Sesimbra is a picturesque fishing village located 40 kilometers south of Lisbon. The hustle and bustle of the city will be forgotten quickly when seeing the postcard view opening up before the descending arrival into this village built in a beautiful bay, lined by a sandy beach, palm trees and mountains.
Sesimbra is known for its fresh fish and Carnival celebrations, but also the turquoise-water beaches and activities on the water. Walking between the pastel-colored houses on the narrow alleys of the historical fishing village after a beach day, while pondering which restaurant’s coal grill emits the most delicious fumes in the air, is absolutely mouth-watering. However, Sesimbra is also a great choice for those interested in history and nature, because the gorgeous landscapes, historical sites and various exciting activities make the town a versatile holiday destination, still not reached by mass tourism.
Sesimbra offers accommodation by the beach and in idyllic villages
Sesimbra is a compact seaside town with a good selection of accommodation options ranging from spa hotels by the beach to comfortable vacation rentals in the old town streets. Services, restaurants and the main beach are always close in the compact and easily-walked village center. If renting a car is not in the plans, it’s best to stay in the center of Sesimbra, where public transportation and tour operators are at hand.
Sesimbra is partly built on steep mountain slopes, so those with mobility challenges should stay down by the beach boulevard. There are also public elevators located at the eastern end of the village that lift passengers to the upper village.
Renting a car broadens the accommodation options to the villages outside of Sesimbra town, which come with less public transportation connections. The idyllic coastal village Aldeia do Meco is a popular summer destination, with a long and gorgeous beach, a good selection of restaurants and walking routes on the sand dunes and pine forests. The peaceful Lagoa de Albufeira is a great choice for families with kids, because besides the ocean beach, this recently built coastal neighborhood has a lagoon with kid-friendly swimming and safe walking and bicycle ways. Both Meco and Lagoa de Albufeira have a good range of holiday rentals with or without pools, as well as camping sites.
Natural wonders and historical sites - What to see and do
Arrábida Natural Park
Sesimbra is surrounded by the amazing Arrábida Natural Park, which features variable routes for hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. Arrábida is one of the most beautiful natural parks of Portugal, combining mountain views to the glistening blue and green ocean with sandy beaches, as well as the city silhouettes in the horizon.
Recommended hiking trails in the Arrábida Natural Park are for example the Serra do Risco trail, where one can admire the highest limestone cliffs of Europe with height of several hundred meters. Other interesting trails are the coastal pathways connecting the paradise-like beaches of Arrábida, and Chã dos Navegantes, a trail that winds through abandoned sea fortresses and natural stone arches. The highest peak of the Arrábida Mountains reaches 501 meters and is possible to conquer via a steep and challenging trail. It’s advisable to wear long sleeves to the trails of Arrábida, because some of the trails are almost overgrown and the spiky vegetation can leave scratches. Not all trails are marked.
The most breathtaking views open up from the scenic route of Arrábida Natural Park, which can be driven by car or motorbike. The road N379-1 winds on the mountain sides, with the blue ocean shimmering below with sand islands that change their shape every year. The city of Setúbal can be seen in the horizon and the casinos of the resorts on the beach-lined Tróia Peninsula can be easily distinguished in the landscape. There is even a historical convent on the slopes of the Arrábida Mountain. The road is also famous for being a setting for the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
There are several small curbside viewpoints where one can take a break while enjoying the views, but a more official viewpoint is called Miradouro Portinho da Arrábida. Checking out the paradise beaches of Arrábida is also very much worth it. It’s advisable to stay alert while driving on the mountain roads, because during the day there are cyclists on the road and during nighttime wild boars may run on the road. In the summer season, some of the roads are one-way only because of the high traffic to the beaches.
The cape of Cabo Espichel is located on the westernmost part of the coast of Sesimbra. The cape features a sanctuary – an interesting old pilgrimage destination with its hermitages and chapels – but the place is worth visiting also because of its lighthouse and the rugged coastal views. Built on top of high cliffs rising from the ocean, the partly decayed sanctuary makes the place monumental. Sunsets are gorgeous from here and there is also a cafeteria and some souvenir stalls. The cape has several trails that can be explored by foot. However, it’s advisable not to go too close to the unstable cliff edges.
The sanctuary of Cabo Espichel was built around a cult of Our Lady of the Cape, which was born in 1410 when two old men saw the same sight in their dreams: Virgin Mary rose from the roaring Atlantic, riding on a giant donkey that left its footprints on the coastal rocks. Those prints are actually left by the dinosaurs. The sanctuary itself was built in the 18th century in order to serve the growing numbers of pilgrims. It includes a still active catholic church, two wings that were utilized as guesthouses, an opera house, a hermitage and an aqueduct that took care of the water supply.
The Natural Monument of Pedreira do Avelino is a national monument in Sesimbra, featuring rock slab that still displays prehistoric dinosaur footprint fossils dating back to 150 million years ago. There is a rock sheet with a size of 10 x 15 meters where dozens of clear footprints left by herbivorous dinosaurs can be admired. The monument is located in Zambujal. No entrance fee.
Dinosaur footprints can also be explored out in the wild. A stone’s throw away from the Cabo Espichel sanctuary is Pedra da Mua, where the rocks present footprints left by herbivorous dinosaurs as well as three-toed carnivores. The coastal views are also worth a visit.
Cars can be parked to a parking lot next to the main road, equipped with a dinosaur sign, from where it’s approximately a 15 minute walk to the footprint fossils following a dirt road. There are footprints on the cliffs of the opposite shore that can be admired from the information signpost, but from there it’s advisable to continue further downhill, where the enormous footprints expand palpably under one’s feet.
The Castle of Sesimbra is the only remaining medieval fortress of Portugal that is locates directly by the sea. It was built by the Islamic Moors in the 10th century. The castle is mostly in ruins, but its walls and towers offer some great views over the town of Sesimbra, its surroundings and the ocean.
The Castle of Sesimbra was nominated a national monument in 1910. In the castle interior there is a small exhibition and a walking route, along which one can learn more about the history of the place. On the premises there is also a café, a church with a graveyard and an interpretation center concentrating on local history, Centro de Interpretação do Património Rafael Monteiro.
The distance from the Sesimbra village to the castle is some 2.5 kilometers, but there is also a shortcut of stairs leading directly up to the castle. No entrance fee.
Fortaleza de Santiago
The old sea fortress Fortaleza de Santiago is the icon of the town, located in the center of Sesimbra. It was built in the 17th century to protect the fishing village from threats coming from the ocean. The fortress has been renovated recently and when getting to know its different parts, one learns a lot about how the fortress has previously worked. The fortress also hosts the tourist information of Sesimbra and there are diverse events such as exhibitions and musical spectacles. No entrance fee.
The fortress is also home to the maritime museum Museu Marítimo de Sesimbra, where one can learn more about the history of seafare in Sesimbra and the fishing industry, still important for the identity of the town. There is an entrance fee of a few euros. There is a nice bar with a patio that has beautiful views over the beach and the village.
More information about the fortress can be found here.
Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park
The Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park is the aquatic part of the Arrábida Natural Park, covering the majority of the coastal areas off the coast of Sesimbra. The ocean protection zone is rich in biodiversity and stretches from the Cabo Espichel cape all the way to Setúbal. The southern coast of Sesimbra is protected from the strong Atlantic winds and powerful waves thanks to its topographical shapes, which is why many marine species thrive in the area.
The picture-perfect coast of Sesimbra can be explored for example by canoeing through the turquoise-green clear waters, caves, beach coves and marine species, especially birds and fishes. If there is a strike of luck, it’s even possible to spot dolphins on the sea. The deserted beaches are great for having a picnic break and taking a cooling dip. Two-person canoes can be rented for approximately 30 euros per day, but if paddling out alone feels too exciting, there are also guided tours. Guided tours are also great for learning about the ecology and history of the area.
Sesimbra is also a fantastic diving destination, with the diving schools centered on the marina. They organize tours to see Sesimbra from under the surface. The coastal zones can also be explored by snorkeling, but the water stays cool around the year, which makes wearing a wetsuit advisable. Next to the diving schools there are also other adventure tour companies that can take a visitor to a jeep tour or to practice coasteering, surfing, rock climbing or hiking.
Marmitas de Gigante
In the Arrábida Natural Park, on the northern side of Serra do Risco mountain there is an area with interesting limestone formations shaped by erosion. The place is called Marmitas de Gigante and there are karst dolines – sinkholes – as well as rock formations mounded by erosion. The most impressive, however, are the large potholes on the bottom of the Risco stream, the largest of which have a volume of 150 m3. After rains they fill up with water and form a waterfall.
The trail to Marmitas de Gigante is not marked and can be difficult to find, so the site is best visited with a guide familiar to the region of Sesimbra.
Moagem de Sampaio
Moagem de Sampaio is an old windmill located in Sampaio, Sesimbra that has been transformed into a small museum. The mill was working until the 90’s and milled wheat and corn produced in the area. In the museum one can learn about the milling and the agricultural history of Sesimbra. No entrance fee.
Augusto Pólvora Park
The only large park of Sesimbra is located in the neighborhood of Maçã and is popular especially among families with children. The park features playgrounds for kids, a skate park for teenagers and workout machines for adults. There are also football and basketball fields. The park is also a great place for a leisurely walk under the pine trees or for a barbeque in the picnic zone equipped with tables and grills.
Sesimbra is an amazing beach destination
Sesimbra is well known for its beautiful beaches and there are many of them on both the western and southern coasts of the town. The beaches on the southern coast are typically more protected and have finer sand, whereas the western coast beaches have strong Atlantic waves and coarser sand. There are also some rocky pebble beaches, but access to those is usually through a challenging trail. The water in Sesimbra is cool around the year, not exceeding 20 °C even in the summer.
Praia de Sesimbra
Right at the center of Sesimbra there is a long and beautiful stretch of sand with the eastern end called Praia da Califórnia and the western end Praia do Ouro. In the past, the beach was harnessed for fishing boats, but today the fishing port has been moved further away and the clean sand and clear waters await the sunbathers.
The beach of Praia de Sesimbra has been divided into zones during the summer bathing season, some of which are reserved for lounge chairs and umbrellas that can be rented, whereas the others are for free use of the public. There is a palm tree lined beach promenade stretching along the whole town with many restaurants and cafés, but there are a couple of beach bars on the sand as well.
Ribeira do Cavalo
The most turquoise waters can be found on the paradise-like Ribeira do Cavalo beach on the western side of Sesimbra town center. The beach is only accessible by foot on a steep trail or by boat. There are some nice snorkeling spots on the beach as well, especially on the western end. The beach is in its natural state and there are no services, so besides a bathing suit, one should pack at least water and sunscreen. There aren’t many shade spots on the beach, so it’s advisable to bring your own umbrella. Because sunsets cannot be seen from here due to the high cliffs, the best time to visit is from the morning to early afternoon.
The beginning of the trail is some 2.5 kilometers from the center of Sesimbra, so it’s possible to walk all the way from there. Cars can be parked on the parking area by the dirt road; the place is easily recognized because of other cars. From there it takes approximately 20 minutes to hike down to the beach first on the gravel road and then on the trail. There are great views of the beach from the middle of the trail, but one should be careful on the trail and wear good shoes. There is a trash can at the beginning of the trail, so all garbage must be brought back up.
Lagoa de Albufeira
On the western coast of Sesimbra, the golden sand beaches of Lagoa de Albufeira and Praia do Meco are continuation of the long shoreline of Costa da Caparica. In Lagoa de Albufeira, there is not only the ocean beach but also a unique, calmer lagoon, so the sunbathers can choose by which they spread their beach towels. Swimming in the lagoon is kid-friendly, while the waves can be large on the ocean side. In the early summer the connection between the lagoon and the ocean is opened, which makes it a nature’s own wild stream – however, beware of the ocean currents.
The lagoon of Lagoa de Albufeira is great for practicing SUP paddling, kayaking and kite surfing. The equipment can be rented from the companies by the lagoon. There are also a handful of beach restaurants, as well as a camping ground.
The easiest way of getting to Lagoa de Albufeira is by car. The parking spaces closest to the beach are paid during summertime. The TST bus number 240 connects the beach to Sesimbra town a couple of times per day.
In the beginning of Lagoa de Albufeira, some 7 km from the beach by the road, is the wetland zone of Lagoa Pequena. It’s a place where one can do birdwatching in the midst of the beautiful nature. The interpretation center Espaço Interpretativo da Lagoa Pequena organizes tours and rents binoculars at Lagoa Pequena for a small fee.
Praia do Meco
The long stretch of sand on the west coast of Sesimbra changes to Praia do Meco on the southern side of Lagoa de Albufeira. Meco is known for its naturist beach, but most of the sunbathers keep their swimming suits on anyway. The Meco beach is lined by gorgeous sandstone cliffs and high sand dunes, which make the beach rugged. On top of the dunes and in the pine forest behind them there are trails that are worth exploring by foot. They are not marked, though.
The area of Meco has several restaurants, two of which are located directly on the beach, and two camping grounds. The beach is best reached by a car, because the TST buses number 222 and 223 from Sesimbra only go to the villages of Alfarim and Aldeia do Meco, from where it’s still a couple of kilometers distance to the beach. The parking spots close to the beach are paid during summertime.
Praia da Foz
Praia da Foz is a beautiful and peaceful beach formed in a natural cove and has remained largely unknown. The beach is surrounded by high sandstone cliffs on one side and by a rock sheet on the other, with the tides forming small pools on it. There are also trails in the surroundings that can be explored by foot or by mountain bike.
There is a small parking lot by the beach, but no other services. Swimmers should stay cautious because of unpredictable currents.
The beaches of Arrábida
Located between the towns of Sesimbra and Setúbal, the Arrábida Mountains feature white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters and green mountains that constitute one of the most gorgeous views in Portugal. There are several different beaches in Arrábida to choose from, many of which are in their natural state.
Praia dos Galapinhos has been elected as the most beautiful beach in Europe, but the other beaches of Arrábida such as Figueirinha, Gálapos and Creiro (Portinho da Arrábida) do not fall much behind. Praia do Creiro has a beach restaurant and from there it’s also possible to walk to the other beaches such as Praia da Anixa and Praia dos Coelhos through the trails or, during low tide, by the beach.
Arrábida can be reached from Sesimbra only by car or taxi. During the summer season in July-August the parking is paid and the roads closest to the beaches fill up with traffic and parked cars, so it’s advisable to come early.
Events in Sesimbra
The highlight of February is the annual celebration of Carnival. The Carnival of Sesimbra is one of the most famous in Portugal. Long before the event takes place, one can hear the drum groups practicing, samba dancers preparing their colorful fantasia outfits and everyone waiting for the parties that mark the beginning of spring.
When the Carnival starts, the beach promenade of Sesimbra is transformed into a dancing venue: the streets fill up with dancing people, samba music and vendors of roasted chestnuts. The samba groups perform in the parades that take place twice during the week, and in the evenings people dress up in costumes and party on the streets. Even though the celebrations are more homespun, the atmosphere is not far from the famous Carnival of Rio.
New Year’s Eve
New Year is a spectacle in Sesimbra, drawing thousands of people to celebrate from all over Portugal and even Europe. When the old year ends and the new year begins, gorgeous fireworks fill up the sky and hundreds of divers reflect the new year’s number in the sea with lights. There is also a party on the beach promenade until morning.
Super Bock Super Rock
Sesimbra is fresh fish and seafood
Sesimbra is a famous fishing village known all over Portugal, which makes it an amazing place to savor locally caught fresh fish and seafood. The best fish restaurants are located right next to the fishing port on Avenida dos Náufragos, because they get the best and freshest fish directly from the port. There are many quality restaurants also on the atmospheric alleys in the center of the village. Usually one can choose the fish from the counter and it will be prepared in a traditional coal grill.
Sesimbra also boasts several restaurants offering different types of seafood, where one can taste delicious clams or lobsters, not forgetting local specialties. It’s worth noticing that most restaurants close between lunch and dinner, around 15-19.
Farinha torrada is a traditional bisquit-type sweet from Sesimbra, a crunchy pastry with chocolate chips and lemon skin. Farinha torrada stays good for a long time, which is why it has been a traditional snack for the fishermen on the sea. The local people’s favorite bread is pão de Azóia – a wheat bread that is best served with local cheese.
Local wines and beach bars
When visiting Sesimbra, one should try the regional wines of Setúbal, especially the sweet Moscatel de Setúbal that goes well with desserts. There is also a local micro brewery, Arrabida Beer Company, whose products are available in some bars and cafés.
The beach promenade of Sesimbra has several cozy bars for spending the evening and also a couple of small nightclubs, in case dancing the night away is the thing. The nightlife of Sesimbra is surprisingly lively for such a small town, especially in the summer.
Shopping in Sesimbra
Sesimbra is not an actual shopping destination, but there are some nice boutiques and souvenir shops in the old town area. The town center has small grocery stores, but the larger supermarkets are located in Santana and Venda Nova areas a couple of kilometers away.
Mercado Municipal de Sesimbra is a small municipal marketplace, where one can find fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, meat and bakery products. During weekend mornings there is a farmer’s market on Largo Euzébio Leão, where local farmers come to sell their produce.
Lunch of the day
33 cl beer
From Lisbon airport to Sesimbra and getting around
Sesimbra can be reached from Lisbon easily by taking the TST bus number 207, departing from the Sete Rios station’s stop number 3. The journey takes approximately 75 minutes. There is a metro connection to Sete Rios from Lisbon airport.
In Sesimbra there are a handful of TST local bus lines that enable getting around the municipality. However, the buses only depart a couple of times per day and even at their best, once per hour. There is taxi stand located in the center of Sesimbra, next to the Jardim Público square. Also the taxi apps such as Uber work in Sesimbra.
Weather and climate
Winter: In Sesimbra, the average temperature of the day is around 12 °C in the winter, rising up to 15 °C during the day. The sun is nicely warm though, even in the winter. The region gets most rains between November and February.
Spring: During springtime, the weather can be varying. In April and May the temperatures begin to rise regularly over 20 °C. The sea fog can sometimes make the air feel cooler.
Summer: The summers are dry, hot and sunny, the average temperature of the day being around 22 °C. During daytime, the temperature in shade is usually somewhere between 25 and 28 °C.
Autumn: In September, the weather is still hot and summery, whereas in October the heat starts to lose its grip. Between late October and early November, the temperatures usually drop and the winter rains start.
Text and photos: Johanna Maldonado
The author has a holiday villa available for rent in Lagoa de Albufeira, Sesimbra. More information on the Facebook page of Lagoon Eco Villa.