Lisbon has exploded in popularity over the last few years. It’s easy to see why: This pastel-hued city, spread across seven hills, is an enchanting mix of culture, history and gastronomy. But there’s more to Lisbon than pastelarias, art museums, rustic tascas and fado haunts. A scattering of national parks and the Atlantic coastline offer some of the best outdoor activities on Lisbon Coast – hiking, surfing, snorkelling, swimming, and rock climbing to name a few. If you want to add in a slice of outdoor adventure to your break, here are some of best things to do in Lisbon and the surrounding areas.
Sintra, with its cool green mountains and cliff-lined coastline, is a hiker’s mecca. Head inland to walk through forests of eucalyptus and pine, and stumble across ancient castles and stately palaces. Several marked trails unfurl from historic Sintra-Vila, ranging from three to eight kilometres in length. We recommend the scenic 45-minute route to Pena Palace and the Moorish castle beyond.
More serious walkers should head to Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais for hiking trails through the craggy peaks of Serra de Sintra, a mountain range stretching to Cabo da Roca – the most westerly point of mainland Europe. This rugged headland is the starting point for the 27km-long Atlantic Walk, which weaves along the wave-lashed coastline and offers stunning ocean views.
Further south, Parque Natural da Arrábida is a staggering spot where mountain meets sea. The coastline is pocketed with white-sand bays, while inland, the dense forest shelters polecats, badgers, buzzards and eagles. Surprisingly, Serra da Arrábida has so far remained off the tourist map and you’re unlikely to meet another soul if you head away from the coast.
Surfing and windsurfing
Lisbon water-sports are some of the best in Portugal; the strong southerly swell makes the Atlantic coastline a great surfing and windsurfing destination. The closest surf beach to Lisbon is Praia de Carcavelos, a 20-minute train journey from the city. A handful of surf schools and camps are dotted along the two-kilometre beach; try The House or Gota d’Água Surf Camp. The Billabong Pro is held here every September/October, when the world’s top talents battle for tour points in the World Qualifying Series.
However, Praia de Carcavelos can get crowded in the summer. A quieter option is Praia do Guincho in the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. Located just north of Cascais, it’s our favourite surf beach in Lisbon, with impressive swells from northwesterly winds. National and international windsurfing and kitesurfing competitions are regularly held here. There’s a rental centre for water-sports equipment, and a buzzy bar for post-surf hangs.
Toward Sétubal, the UNESCO-listed Parque Natural da Arrábida sees bottle-green hills tumble down to secluded bays. Our top swimming spot here is Praia dos Galapos, an under-the-radar cove beach with crystal-clear waters – so clear you can see fish dart beneath you.
Families should head to Praia da Figueirinha to discover a flour-soft sandy crescent with some of the calmest waters around. Balmy shallows are safe for kids to splash around in, while a sheltered lagoon is good for older children. Plus there’s a lifeguard on duty in summer for extra peace of mind.
One of the best things to do in Lisbon is stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). Rent boards or sign up for lessons at Praia da Conceição or Praia da Duquesa near Cascais. From here, Surf N Paddle offers guided tours along the cliff-lined coastline; a 90-minute SUP excursion takes you past the grand palace, while yogis can even try SUP yoga classes out in the still waters of Cascais Bay.
Snorkelling and kayaking
Parque Natural da Arrábida is an excellent place for kayaking, with hidden caves and sandy bays biting into the coastline. Head to Praia dos Galapinhos, often dubbed one of the best beaches in Lisbon, to kayak on calm peacock-blue waters.
Further north, cast adrift from the Peniche peninsula, are the remote Berlengas Islands. This scattering of isles is home to the pristine Arquipélago das Berlengas nature reserve – a great snorkelling spot. One of the best things to do is Lisbon is to snorkel among the caves and twisted rock formations here – look out for the ‘elephant rock’, with its distinctive trunk.
One of the more unusual things to do in Lisbon is rock climbing, and the region has the largest concentrations of crags in Portugal. Sintra is good for bouldering; we recommend heading to Capuchos, Peninha or Malveira. Cascais is more about sea cliff climbing: Farol da Guia features around 100 routes on limestone rock, while the granite crags of Espinhaco and Ponta Atlantica have multi-pitch trad climbs of up to 120m long.
Elsewhere, the limestone cliffs of Parque Natural da Arrábida are home to five sport climbing areas, with over 350 routes across a wide range of grades. The steep (mainly F7) climbs at Meio Mango and Fenda are suitable for competent climbers, while the routes at Azóia are a little easier (typically around F6).
For some of the most fun things to do in Lisbon, Praia de Carcavelos is the place to go. This sandy stretch is not only popular for water-based activities, it’s also good for beach sports. The longest stretch of sand on the Estoril coast, Carcavelos has plenty of room for team sports. In the summer, there are regular beach volleyball and football competitions kicking off on the shore. In the winter, the strong southerly swell sees the water given over to bodyboarding and surfing.
If a good beach is what gets you on that plane, then you might want to give our guide to the best beaches in Lisbon a read.
Portugal may be a small slice in the expansive continent that is Europe, but it packs a punch; with a whole heap of diverse adventures, activities, tasty cuisines and its fair share of rich history, this country could easily top your list of favourite destinations. All you’ve got to do is give it a go. And lucky for you, we’ve got a huge selection of villas in Lisbon and Lisbon Coast spanning a variety of tastes – from luxurious to quiet and quaint.