Portugal’s River Beaches

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I was recently asked what place I recommend that’s off the beaten track for a summer holiday in Portugal. When I lived in Portugal I was keen to escape the august tourist crowds. I had the good fortune of being invited to Benfeita by a friend, Fiona, an English native who is fluent in Portuguese and settled in the small charming countryside of Portugal.


From Porto we took the hours long train journey to Coimbra and from there a bus to the town of Benfeita. It was much nicer than I expected, a charming white stone village with a river running through it, nestled into a valley of beautiful large green trees.

Maya Benfieta

Fiona’s house is right in the village square next to a small river with wide banks and inviting cool
water. After settling into to her beautiful guest room which overlooks the town square we got dressed into swimsuits. Instantly my daughter and hers took to the shallow water while we sipped 1 euro glasses of wine and 2 euro tosta mista (ham and cheese sandwiches).

The ambience was one of a French village with mostly historic homes and leafy relaxed ambience.

The next day we took a walk further along the river to find an area for the girls to make castles and swim in deeper water.

Fiona laughed and pointed out that the water is pure sparkling clean. “Everyone I know in Britain is repulsed – absolutely disgusted by the idea of river water – because the pollution is so bad there. And in Benfeita it’s practically drinking water in the river,” She says scooping some into her palm and drinking it to make a point.

“And there are literally a thousand river beaches. I keep putting pins into Google maps but gave up because there are so many,” Fiona laughs.

After a charming day in between sunbathing and dipping in the river water to cool off we headed back to the town square to have the “plato del dia” plate of the day, for 4 euro each.

Since that delightful weekend of enjoying Benfeitas lesser known beaches, I discovered that there are
are numerous praias fluviais (river beaches) in Portugal especially in the North.

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River Beach – Porto

RiverBeach Porto

I found another river beach in Porto just above the city by accident when exploring the river side
near Bonfim. We walked past the print museum into a little harbour and from there we could join the long walk through nature up to a river beach. I’d spotted this beach from the other side of the Douro River many times before and wondered how on earth to get there since it’s flanked by two bridges — Freixo and São João. Between the on-ramps, off-ramps, and highway, it’s not terribly obvious how to reach the beach. It took some guesswork to find it through the marina and if this beach has a name I don’t know it.

This one had a proper beach, sun loungers, and lots of chance to get snacks and beverages before or after taking a plunge. My daughter and I swam a bit until the river bend where the current got a bit too strong for my daughter.

When we got out we enjoyed some salty local olives, ice cream eam and pedras sparkling water, a soft mineral sparkling water local to Portugal. After another swim we headed to a pizza place above the river path for some excellent pizza complete with a river view. I realised for the first time that inland beaches are summer social hubs where locals of all types gather to have food and enjoy nature and the cool water. I was so thankful because when it’s over 30C, one can cool off in the water without being subjected to the force of the big Atlantic waves and for this reason Paddle boarders, swimmers, and kayakers congregate here. Or families who simply want to enjoy a BBQ and the good weather.

I asked Lucy Bryson, a Portuguese travel journalist and expert where her favourite spots for river beach’s are in Portugal.

British travel writer Lucy Bryson has been living on the coast, just south of Lisbon, since 2015. She says: ‘It might sound counterintuitive, but in the heat of summer the best Portuguese beaches are inland. The coastal beaches tend to get packed, and beach bars are expensive, but there are gorgeous river beaches across the country where there’s loads of room to sunbathe and the water is warm (unlike the Atlantic!). The bars are a lot cheaper than the coast, too, and attract locals rather than tourists.” My favourite places for a river beach hop are located in the countryside outside Coimbra, and up in the mountains of Serra da Estrela.”

The great thing is that there is something for every one along the river, shallow areas for younger children, more challenging river swims, runs and walks by the river, and all types of food offerings depending on where you go in Portugal.

Find out more about our adventures in Portugal here.

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