Spain and Portugal are two top vacation destinations in Europe with beautiful sandy beaches, a warm sunny climate and a low cost of living. Spanish cities and beaches attract over 60 million visitors each year and the country ranks #2 in Europe for tourism.
In comparison, the country of Portugal does not even make it into the Top 10 most popular destinations with a mere 14 million visitors. However, if you are looking for authentic fishing villages, cultural experiences, rolling surf and less crowded beaches, Portugal may be more to your liking than the high-rise Spanish Costas!
Both countries have family friendly beaches, city beaches and more remote crescents of sand that few visitors choose to visit. Checkout our list of Europe’s best beaches before planning your next sun-and-sand vacation in Europe.
Best beaches in Spain
For families, La Manga del Mar Menor in Murcia offers a shallow saltwater lagoon formed by a 22-mile long sandbar with several channels connecting it to the Mediterranean Sea. The result is miles of beaches on both the ocean and the lagoon with opportunities for snorkeling, sailing, windsurfing and canoeing in this scenic area.
Couples looking for a more high-end resort will find exclusive designer shopping, marble plazas and gorgeous beaches in Marbella on the Costa del Sol. The multi-million dollar super yachts in the marina may be out of your budget, but you can still enjoy the private beach clubs, tennis courts, golf courses, stand-up paddle boarding, waterfront dining and subtropical gardens in this classy resort.
Looking to escape the crowds? Make your way further north to Tamariu on the Costa Brava. This idyllic area has sandy coves fringed with tall green pines and coral pink rocks. This area boasts some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean making it a delight to go swimming, snorkeling or take a boat trip in this peaceful area. It’s the perfect place for chilling out on the beach, yet beautiful Barcelona to the south and the French border to the north are just an hour away if you fancy a scenic coastal drive.
The quieter northwest coast of Spain is popular with surfers as it is battered by Atlantic breakers. Consider the city of San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque region which has endless sandy beaches along this picturesque shoreline. The hilly backdrop and traditional houses in the Old Town make this almost unrecognizable as “typical Spain” but it provides the perfect haven for beach lovers.
Of course, many of Spain’s best beaches are on the Balearic Islands of Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza. In summer these sandy beaches are the perfect place for party goers to sleep off a night of dancing, clubbing and drinking, if that’s what you’re looking for in a vacation!
In winter, the Spanish Canary Islands are a popular choice. Located off the coast of Africa, these volcanic islands have some of the Europe’s best beaches, although they often consist of mainly black volcanic sand. One exception is Maspalomas Beach on Gran Canaria, which has gigantic wind-sculpted sand dunes of golden sand as a backdrop to one of the best beaches in Spain.
Best beaches in Portugal
Most of Portugal’s best beaches are in the southwest of the country, south of Lisbon and scattered along the Algarve coastline. Praia da Rocha in Portimao is one of the longest, broadest and firmest sandy beaches in the Algarve, which can get crowded in summer. Sheltered by the cliffs, it is popular for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, walking or playing beach volleyball.
The small town of Sagres on the Algarve has an undeveloped beach with orange cliffs and dramatic rolling waves. If you want to spend time exploring Portugal’s agricultural heartland by car, this town is the gateway to the Alentejo and the dramatic Costa Vicentina Natural Park.
Porto de Mos Beach certainly wins as one of the best beaches in Portugal when it comes to natural beauty. The golden sands, multicolored cliffs, caverns and rock formations are stunning against the turquoise sea. This gorgeous beach usually benefits from fresh sea breezes to keep temperatures pleasant.
If you want to combine your beach vacation in Portugal with a few city highlights, Playa do Guincho is just 30 minutes from Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. The golden sands are pounded by Atlantic breakers and the fresh seafood here is sensational! Nearby is the lighthouse and Cabo da Roca, Europe’s most westerly point which was once believed to be the end of the world!
Spain or Portugal? Which beach getaway is right for you?
Whether you choose to explore the best beaches in Spain, or would prefer to catch some rays in coastal Portugal, a car rental will allow you to make the most of your visit exploring the surrounding area at your own pace. Visit Moorish palaces, tiny fishing villages and stunning national parks as part of your adventure. Of course, your car rental also makes airport transfers with your luggage very affordable and easy.
This blog post is courtesy of Mark's travel journal posted by Sam Schuler
I went to Portugal last April. I now have a big crush on Portugal. It is such a beautiful place. Seeing those pictures makes me want to go again.
But, I must say my experience in Portugal and Spain are very distinctive and awesome, and I could not choose. I’d say : the two countries are so close, why not having a taste of both? :)