Sesimbra's popularity stems from its position on a long, lovely sandy beach. The beach is overpopulated in summer, but the unpolluted water is ideal for swimming.
Sesimbra is also a center for fishing. The locals are famous for their swordfish catches, and many will take visitors out in their boats for a negotiated fee. Inquire at the tourist office about making arrangements.
The Best Beaches: Where the Locals Sun
The beaches along the Costa da Caparica, on the left bank of the Tagus, across from the center of Lisbon, are not as polluted as those along the more fashionable Costa do Sol (Estoril and Cascais). Surprisingly, foreigners still flock to the Costa do Sol, leaving much of the Costa da Caparica to locals.
The costa, on the west side of the Setúbal peninsula, stretches for some 9km (5 1/2 miles) and abounds with sandy beaches and coves. Rocky outcroppings and clear, placid lagoons characterize these beaches. The farther you go from the little resort of Caparica, the better and more beautiful the beaches become.
A narrow-gauge railway serves the coast, making 20 stops over 8km (5 miles). Each white-sand beach along the way has a different allure. In general, families of all age groups are attracted to the beaches along the first eight stops. Beginning at stop 9, gay visitors become more prominent. As you travel the greater length of Costa da Caparica, the beaches become less crowded, and in the final southern stretches, nudists are often seen.
To reach the beach strip by public transport, you can take a ferry from Lisbon to Cacilhas, on the other side of Tagus. They leave every 15 minutes from Praça do Comércio's Terminal Fluvial (Metro: Rossio). You then board a bus marked CAPARICA at the station next door to the ferry terminal. The trip to the beaches takes about 45 minutes. The narrow-gauge train runs from June to September, and the bus from Cacilhas stops at the rail terminus, where you can connect with the little train.
The Setúbal peninsula has many other wonderful beaches. There are sandy beaches at Sesimbra, but they are likely to be overcrowded from June to August.
The most alluring beach strip is across the mouth of the Sado, at Tróia, a major resort with some utterly charmless apartment complexes. Ferries leave from Setúbal harbor every 45 minutes throughout the day. Trip time is 15 minutes. The ocean side of the promontory at Tróia is less filled with beach buffs and is less polluted.