The picturesque fishing port of Sesimbra is a mere 40 km south of Lisbon and still retains much of its fishing village atmosphere. It has the added bonus of being right next to the Arrabida Natural Park and its hidden coves and monastery, adding more to the potential things to do in Sesimbra.
For decades Sesimbra has become increasingly popular with ‘Lisboetas’ looking for somewhere to while away the weekend, especially during the summer months. The easily accessible, wide sandy shoreline is a big draw for relaxing or strolling and of course, there’s plenty of fresh fish and seafood to eat with a view of the ocean.
While summertime Sesimbra is lively and bustling with beach-goers, off-season Sesimbra is so laid back it’s almost comatose. Perfect if you’re looking to get away from crowds of people and experience daily life in a seaside town.
Sesimbra old town is a pleasant place with the usual cobbled streets and abundance of churches common to Portuguese towns. It also has an interesting castle and long history. Check out these cool things to do in Sesimbra.
Tip: If you’re planning to stay overnight, be warned – it’s quite hilly away from the beach so take that into account when you select your Sesimbra accommodation.
1. Explore Sesimbra Castle
Whether you go by car or fancy the 600 metre pedestrian path from the upper part of the village to the Porta do Sol entrance, Sesimbra Castle is worth visiting. Construction was originally started in 1201, thanks to King Sancho II. Look out for his statue, and remarkable moustache, on a roundabout on your way to the castle.
Most of the castle now lies in ruins but the panoramic views of the bay and surrounding hills as you explore the battlements are impressive. As are the displays inside each of the towers.
One tower contains panels with pictures and easily digested descriptions and vignettes of medieval life within the castle walls. The other covers the architectural features and history of castles in general.
What I liked most, however, was the room which outlined the significant moments in the life and times of Sesimbra and its castle alongside the wider contexts of what was happening in Portugal and the rest of the world at the same time.
Unlike many museums and exhibitions I’ve been to, the information is bite-sized and easy to read and appreciate. So much so, that I read all of it. I can’t usually be bothered, especially when faced with swathes of convoluted text.
There’s also a church within the castle walls that has wonderful azulejo panels.
If you manage to get a copy of the leaflet from the very helpful (or at least they were when we visited) staff at the information centre, you can find underground storage spaces and wells. Without the map, you’ll walk over them without noticing!
2. Spend time at Sesimbra beach
The beach itself is long and reasonably wide so there’s plenty of space even when full of sun-worshipping families during the summer months.
If the weather’s not conducive to relaxing on the beach, you can always admire it from the comfort of one of the seafront bars, which is what we did after a brief but breezy stroll.
Tour suggestion: Explore four fabulous beaches and wonderful secret caves on this Arrábida Natural Park Beaches and Caves tour.
3. Discover Sesimbra’s fishing culture
Many of the local people still depend on a good catch. And, of course, many fishy delights can be sampled in the restaurants. The know-how of Sesimbra fishermen using artisanal fishing techniques that have been developed over the years means you are likely to taste some of the best fish anywhere.
Sesimbra’s fishing history is honoured with some street art in the village streets but the colourful boats I was expecting to see are anchored further along the shore than we managed to get to. You’ll find the fishing harbour, and the fish market, to the right of the beach as you look at the sea.
4. Visit Sesimbra’s Maritime Museum
Because the sea is an integral part of the history of Sesimbra and its community, a visit to the Maritime Museum gives a glimpse of its important role. There you’ll find interesting artifacts dating back 5,000 years with many of the objects on display being donated by fishermen and their families.
Opening hours: July to mid-September, Tuesday to Sunday 3.30 to 7pm. Mid-September to June, Tuesday to Sunday 10am-1pm and 2.30-5.30pm. Tickets: 3 euros. Tel: +351 21 014 92 24.
5. Go inside Cape Espichel lighthouse
A few kilometres to the west of Sesimbra you’ll find the well-preserved Cape Espichel Lighthouse. Apparently for many years the Portuguese coast was known by the British as ‘the black coast’ due to the lack of any lighting.
If you take a quick look at the rocks that form the edges of the headland and the sharp shapes poking out of the ocean, you’ll see how important it was to get some lighthouses built. Enter the Marquis of Pombal who built a network of lighthouses along the coast.
The one on Cabo Espichel is one of the oldest, built in 1790.
The views from the 32-meter high tower are beautiful and the old equipment is still on display. The building is owned by the Navy and they open for a weekly tour. Wednesdays, summertime 2pm to 5pm and wintertime 1.30 to 4.30pm. Entrance is free. Phone number: 212 288 540.
More information about the history of the lighthouse can be found on the National Maritime Authority website.
Discover more things to do and see in Cabo Espichel and Arrábida Natural Park in this post.
6. Walk around Cape Espichel Sanctuary
The Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo consists of a 17th century church flanked by two rows of building lodges meant for pilgrims which edge around an open courtyard. It’s a sparse setting and it’s quite easy to get the feeling you’re on the edge of the world.
There is also a small 15th century domed seaman’s chapel with lovely azulejo tiles.
To fully explore Cape Espichel you can take this guided hiking tour which includes both the sanctuary and an encounter with 150 million-year-old dinosaur footprints!
7. Go Dolphin watching in Sesimbra
The wild and secluded bays along the Arrabida coast are the ideal places to visit dolphins in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky you’ll get to see resident common and bottlenose dolphins as you explore the beautiful coastline.
You can follow these gorgeous creatures and visit some of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches only accessible by sea, on this Dolphin Watching in Arrabida Natural Park tour.
8. Eat catch of the day at Sesimbra restaurants
As you might expect from a town with a tradition of fishing, there are lots of seafood restaurants in Sesimbra serving freshly grilled fish and seafood.
We ventured to the far end of the beach one evening to eat at Portofino restaurant. Our three course meal included a delicious bread and prawn stew (açorda) served in a whole loaf of bread. It looks more appetising served this way than straight onto a plate, trust me.
Sesimbra hotels and apartments
Sesimbra accommodation ranges from apartments to 4-star hotels with spas. There are also farmhouses and villas a bit further out of town if you prefer a countryside setting.
If you enjoy relaxing by an outdoor pool set in spacious gardens, Buganvilias Do Meco Guest House is a must! Again, it is located away from Sesimbra but the rooms are thoughtfully furnished with the possibility of a patio. For drivers using an electric vehicle a charging station is available. See photos and prices.
If you need an airport transfer to Sesimbra, you can book online here.
More information about Sesimbra
You’ll find Sesimbra south of Lisbon. It’s on the opposite edge of Arrábida Natural Park to the larger city of Setúbal with plenty of beautiful beaches in between.
You can get there by car or a 50-minute bus ride from Lisbon (Transportes Sul do Tejo #207) or see above for an airport transfer.
If you want to pack more charming villages and stunning sights into a day trip from Lisbon, try one of these small group tours: