It was rather by accident that we visited Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Europe mainland at latitude 38º 47´north and longitude 9º 30´west. The point is part of the Parque Nacional de Sintra-Cascais and lies at the end of the 30 km coastal stretch known as the Portuguese Riviera.
We had arrived in Sintra, Portugal in the late afternoon and as it was still hot and sunny, we decided to head straight for one of Sintra's beaches. Our goal was Praia Grande (“Big Beach”) but it seemed so packed that we opted for Praia Pequena (“Small Beach”) instead. It wasn't until we returned back home that we spotted the sign toward the westernmost point of continental Europe.
Westernmost point of Europe mainland: Cabo da Roca
I'd read about Cabo da Roca while I'd been preparing our trip, but I hadn't really planned for us to go there. While we were driving from the beach back to the hostel, however, we saw some signs pointing towards the westernmost point of Europe. Mainland Europe, that is. The most western point in Europe is actually the Monchique Islet of the Portuguese Azores.
We couldn't just let this opportunity pass and so we decided to follow the signs and after about half an hour be arrived at our destination: Cabo da Roca.
The sun had already begun to set and in combination with the chilly wind, it was pretty cold. But what a view. The ocean stretched out before us and everything just felt so peaceful and quiet.
We wandered around a bit, soaking up the sea breeze and enjoying the amazing view of the Serra de Sintra, the coastline, and the lighthouse at 150 meters above sea level.
That lighthouse dates back to 1772 and was actually the first purpose-built lighthouse in Portugal. It's still operational and its light can be seen up to 46 km away. At the lighthouse – which itself can't be visited – there's also a cafe and a souvenir shop.
At the gift shop, you can buy a personalized, handwritten certificate that proves you've been at the westernmost point of mainland Europe. We figured a few photos would do as well.
It's believed that there used to be a fort at Cabo da Roca that was part of a defensive line. Now only a few stone traces are left. More interesting is the big stone monument with a cross on top of it. Built to celebrate the point where the mainland meets the Atlantic Ocean, it shows a quote by the famous Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões from his book “Os Lusíadas”: “‘Aqui… Onde a terra termina e o mar começa…” or “Here… where the land ends and the sea begins…”.
There is no entrance fee at Cabo da Roca and parking is free as well. If you only stay close to the lighthouse to absorb the scenery, 30 minutes to an hour are plenty here. However, it's also possible to wander off on one of the hiking trails but be aware that the wind can get crazy up here.
In fact, the wind here is so strong that the vegetation has adapted to it. You'll only see close-to-the ground plants here and the most dominant one isn't even Portuguese. Nope, it's the Ice Plant or Sour Fig that was planted by someone in their garden and has escaped from there, smothering most plants it came across.
How to get to Cabo da Roca
The easiest way to get to Cabo da Roca is by rental car.
Bus services run about hourly in both directions but they end too early if you want to go to Cabo da Roca to catch the sunset, which I highly recommend you do. At the time of writing, there are buses from Sintra from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. The bus you need is the 403 on the route between Cascais and Sintra. The journey takes about 40 minutes from Sintra and 25 minutes from Cascais. At the time of writing, a single ticket costs €4.05.
It's also possible to get a taxi and ask it to wait while you check the place out. Be sure to confirm the price beforehand.
I would definitely recommend visiting Cabo da Roca. Try to do it when the sun sets if you can. It'll be chilly but watching the sun going down over the ocean is simply amazing.
Where to stay in Sintra
Check Booking.com for an extensive list of hotels for all budgets and needs. The site has great filter options and it's the one I always use myself.
If you're looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I recommend looking on Airbnb. This site has a large selection at usually good prices.
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