The best independent guide to Sesimbra
The best independent guide to Sesimbra
Sesimbra is a delightful resort town, which is adored by the Portuguese. The town is a popular holiday destination and is famed for its seafood restaurants, glorious beaches, and authentic Portuguese atmosphere.
Surrounding Sesimbra is the Serra da Arriba mountains and a rugged coastline of cliffs, rocky headlands and hidden cove beaches. These dramatic landscapes have become a centre for adventure activities, such as coasteering, climbing, mountain biking, sea-kayaking and diving, along with surfing and kite-surfing on the beaches of the Costa da Caparica.
Along with the sights of the town and the activities, there are many enjoyable day trips from Sesimbra. These include the port town of Setubal, the paradise beaches of Troia, wine tasting at Azeitão or the beautiful natural scenery of Albufeira Lagoon. Also, the excitement and sights of Lisbon is only a 40-minute bus ride away.
This article will detail the best sights and activities for Sesimbra, either for a short trip (such as a day trip) or for a holiday based in Sesimbra.
Related articles: Sesimbra introduction – Sesimbra beach guide
The interactive map below shows the location of the sights and activities – the day trip sights are marked in yellow and the holiday activities in green.
The following section explains in detail so of the main sights and activities of Sesimbra and the surrounding region.
The Serra da Arrabida are the beautiful limestone hills on the southern edge of the Setubal Peninsula. The north is characterised by gentle rolling hills filled vineyards, while to the south the hills rise up to create jagged ridges and rocky outcrops, with the summit of Formosinho point, 500m above sea level.
The Serra da Arrabida has a year-round lush and green appearance as it is covered by evergreen Carob Bushes and Kermes Oaks.
Along the coastline, the hills are abruptly cut away to create towering cliffs (around the Serra do Risco) or picturesque sheltered beaches (the Portinho da Arrábida coastline). These beaches are regarded as some as the most beautiful in Portugal.
Within the Serra da Arrabida there are a series of challenging hiking trails, off-road cycling routes and wonderful viewpoints. Crossing the region is the N379 road (known as the "Estrada de Escarpa") which follows ancient shepherd trails and is one of the most scenic routes of Portugal.
If you have a car, you will want to explore the Serra da Arrabida as part of you day trip to Sesimbra
Related articles: The Serra da Arrabida
The Portinho da Arrábida coastline is sheltered from the powerful waves of the Atlantic Ocean
The Castelo de Sesimbra stands high above the town and from the battlements there are wonderful views over the region. The castle dates from the Moorish era (8-11th century) and was constructed as a defensive viewpoint over the Sado Estuary.
The castle has been extensively restored, and is surprisingly large, with a lot to explore. It is free to visit, and has a peaceful and calm ambience, but is a challenging 30-minute uphill walk from the centre of Sesimbra.
The view from the castle walls
Sesimbra has a reputation for serving some of the finest seafood of the Lisbon region and this is in part due to the town's busy fishing fleet. The best restaurants are family run, and hidden down the side streets away from the beach front, and are referred to as "Marisqueiras" (seafood). A speciality of Sesimbra is Arroz de Marisco (Seafood Rice) a delicious dish based around the day's fresh catch, and is designed to be shared.
Insight: Forget review websites and guides books; if a restaurant is packed with Portuguese, then it is good!
Arroz de Marisco – Authentic Portuguese food tends to be flavoursome and satisfying, but not visually beautiful
The Cabo Espichel is the dramatic headland at the south-western tip of the Setubal Peninsula. This barren and windswept coastline is buffeted by strong winds and powerful seas, and is ideal if you appreciate nature's raw beauty.
The giant cliffs of the Cabo Espichel
The Cabo Espichel was once an important pilgrimage destination, and there is a unique church complex and pilgrim's accommodation. Positioned at the top of the cliffs and protecting shipping from these dangerous cliffs is Portugal's brightest lighthouse.
Along the weathered headland two different sets of dinosaur footprints have been exposed. One set, on the side of the cliff, dates from the Late Jurassic (called the Pedra da Mua) and the other one from the Cretaceous period (the Jazidas de Lagosteiros).
Insight: These two dinosaur footprints are only 400meters apart but are separated by a time span of 50 million years.
Related articles: Cabo Espiche - The dinosaur footprints
The Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel church and pilgrims accommodation
Sesimbra is situated on a glorious, horse-shoe shaped bay, which offers soft sands and calm sheltered sea waters.
The bay is divided into two beaches by the Santiago fort, with the Praia da Califórnia to the west and the Praia do Ouro on the east. Sesimbra is a popular beach with families as there are no currents or powerful waves, and is great destination for a relaxing day on the beach.
The Praia do Ouro in Sesimbra
Close to Sesimbra are two very different coastlines; the Serra da Arrabida and the southern end of the Costa da Caparica. The Serra da Arrabida provides picturesque beaches of turquoise waters and soft sands, which are surrounded by the hills of Arrabida.
The southern end of the Costa da Caparica faces the Atlantic Ocean and has wild surfing beaches with huge waves and even wilder landscapes.
Related articles: Sesimbra beach guide
The Praia de Galapinhos on the Serra da Arrabida coastline
The countryside of Sesimbra (and mainly Setubal) is a major wine-producing region. The speciality wines are the Moscatel de Setubal, and the grapes are grown over the hills of the Serra de Arrábida.
There are two wineries which provide wine tasting tours; the Quinta da Bacalhoa and the José Maria da Fonseca, both in the town of Azeitão. The tours provide an insight into the wine-producing process, histories of both companies and a chance to sample a selection of fine local wines.
The Estrada de Escarpa is a scenic drive that follows the N379 between Sesimbra and Setubal and climbs into the steep hills of the Serra de Arrábida. Along the route there are multiple places to stop to admire the stunning views over the Arrábida National park and Sado estuary.
The road has a series of major switchbacks to climb the side of mount Formosinho (500m above sea level) and then drops down into Setubal. For the return journey take the much smaller coastal road that passes the beautiful beaches of Praia do Creiro and Praia da Figueirinha.
The views from the Estrada de Escarpa
Sesimbra's fishing fleet often head far out into the Atlantic Ocean, and for visitors, it is a great destination for deep-sea fishing. There are multiple boat tours that offer half or full day fishing trips, and some are designed for novices or families.
Sesimbra is also one of Portugal's most popular diving locations, in part due to the number of shipwrecks along the coastline. There are professional dive centres that provide lessons or trips to the region's shipwrecks.
Our most popular guides to the Sesimbra region