Lisbon has plenty of great beaches in its vicinity. You don’t have to drive far out of the city to find yourself surrounded by surf dudes on wind-swept sands. The most magnificent and extraordinary beach that I have found so far is Praia da Ursa. In this blog I’ll share with you how you can combine a stroll on this gorgeously situated stretch of golden sand with a visit to the westernmost point of not just the country, but all of Europe: Cabo da Roca. Together they make a perfect day trip from Lisbon for lovers of raw and unedited nature.
The idea of standing at the edge of a continent surely captures the imagination. Cabo da Roca sits at the most western tip of the entire Euro-Asian landmass. Move any further west and you’ll be swimming for quite some time before your feet will touch solid ground again. Standing on the rocks that announce the sheer drop of the cliffs far below into the Atlantic Ocean, it does not take much effort to visualize in your mind’s eye the bulging white sails of Vasco da Gama’s fleet taking off for India, or those of Pedro Álvares Cabral, whose ship in the year 1500 disappeared beyond the horizon for him to become the first European to arrive in Brazil after six weeks of sailing across the vast expanse of water that stretches out in front your very eyes today.
It would be unfair to say that Cabo da Roca is nothing more than a bunch of rocks that just so happen to be situated at the westernmost tip of Europe. It is worth a visit not just for the concept of its geographical location alone, but also for its beautiful scenery and good hiking trails. Sure, there is the parking lot where tour buses release their loads of selfie-stick carrying passengers onto the scene, and there is the inevitable stone monument, but look just a few steps beyond and what you will find are rolling green hills that drop vertically into the blue ocean, laced with hiking trails and if you come in early summer: fields brimming with wildflowers.
Just one kilometre north of Cabo da Roca you’ll find what is in my opinion the most beautiful beach in Portugal (and actually one of the most beautiful beaches in the world! And I’ve been around a little). Praia da Ursa means ‘bear beach’ and is named after the huge rock that juts out of the water and culminates in a sharp tip that pierces the sky. There are people who think this rock looks like a bear. I didn’t see that, but what I did see was something of an incredible natural beauty. Praia da Ursa is one of those places that suddenly and unexpectedly come into view to take your breath away. It is a stretch of fine golden sand, crescent-shaped, backed by rising cliffs and with its pointed rock as an almost unearthly backdrop. Your first glance of this glorious beach will be from far above.
Looking down on the sand it will seem impossible to reach, but there are two (tricky!) trails leading down to the coastline. As you scramble down and the beach gets closer into view you are slowly forced to believe that this postcard perfect picture is not a phantom of your imagination but is actually a real place. A place that sits at the edge of a continent, and for a little while you will experience the same thrill of discovery that Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral must have felt over 500 years ago when they discovered its counterpart on the other side of the water.
Create your own adventure! How to visit Cabo da Roca and Praia da Ursa.
A visit to Cabo da Roca and Praia da Ursa can be a great day trip from Lisbon, Sintra or Cascais.
How to get to Cabo da Roca and Praia da Ursa from Lisbon
By car – It is about 40 minutes driving from Lisbon and if you are planning to visit from this capital city your best option is to hire your own wheels. Take the A5 west and change to the N9-1 and N247 respectively. It is a beautiful drive through the Sintra-Cascais natural park and the road has good signage leading you to your destination. There is a free parking lot at Cabo da Roca but it’s rather small, so try to be early if you are coming here in the high season. From Cabo da Roca it’s best to walk the 1 km to Praia da Ursa’s trailhead. I had made the mistake of parking my car near the beginning of the trail, where there are no official parking spaces and you have to put your vehicle kind of in the middle of nowhere. I returned to my car to find its window smashed and my vehicle thoroughly searched for anything to steal. Not cool to end such an amazing experience with a visit to a mundane Carglass repair shop.
Public transport – You can take bus 403 that runs between Cascais and Sintra. If you are coming from Lisbon, you need to take a train to either Cascais or Sintra first, departing from Cais do Sodré and Rossio stations respectively. From Sintra the bus trip takes about 40 minutes, if you are setting off from Cascais calculate about 25 minutes into your schedule. The bus runs twice per hours on all days of the week and a ticket is € 4,25. You can find the bus schedule to Cabo da Roca here (click on bus 403).
Getting down to Praia da Ursa
This is a little tricky. The trailhead is easy enough to find. On the stretch of road just before Cabo da Roca you will see a sign pointing to Praia da Ursa. Follow it and you will stumble upon a trail. Note: it is a steep and difficult trail. Unfortunately not recommended for those with disabilities, knee problems, low levels of general fitness or for the faint of heart. Bring good shoes! Trust me, this is not the kind of trail you want to be treading in your flip flops. Important: at a certain point, the trail splits to the left and right. If you want to make it easier on yourself (if only a little), take the left turn. The right trail is the most challenging one. We didn’t know this before setting off and when confronted with the trail split we made the regrettable decision to turn right. It was no fun, I can tell you. Lots of loose rocks, deep drops and some climbing and crossing of streams. It took us more than 30 minutes to get down. The left trail (we found out as we took it on our way back) is less narrow and less steep.
But when you finally arrive, you’ll be rewarded with a stay on this paradise beach! And the upside of it being so badly accessible is that you will find few other people there. If you are lucky (and visit outside the high season) you may even have it almost to yourself. Yourself and some nude bathers perhaps, because a part of the area has been marked as a nudist beach. Bring your own drinks and food and whatever you are going to need because there are no facilities on the beach. The water is cold! And not great for swimming because it is pretty rough. But you will love it anyway, because beaches more beautiful than this one are hard to be found. Thank me later!