Looking for the perfect half-day trip or a slower-paced day trip? The Berlengas Islands welcome you with activities and sights throughout the year. No matter when you go, it’s important to plan ahead when visiting this famous destination.
Your first step is to determine how long you’ll be on the island; depending on the time of year, hours of availability and activity options may vary. If you’re visiting during the off-season (not summer), a half-day trip from Lisbon is a way to go, but if you’re ready for adventure in the sun, a full day in summer might be better for you.
Keep in mind that although the Berlengas Islands include 3 separate islands and 985 hectares of the marine reserve, only one island allows visitors. The other islands are restricted to scientists associated with nature reserves. The main island, Grande Berlenga only allows 350 visitors per day, as it’s only 1.5 km in size, so it is best to grab your tickets in advance rather than relying on same-day availability.
Berlengas Islands Fun Facts
- The main island is located about 10km off the coast of Peniche, and the second island is 10 km behind the main island, though it looks closer due to how tall the island is.
- Berlenga Lighthouse was put at the highest peak of the mountain, so that ships would not run into it while trying to get to Peniche or Nazaré, and people still work in the Lighthouse to this day.
- Lighthouse workers work in weekly increments, working during the night, and living in isolation.
- Previous residents of the Berlegnas islands include monks, pirates and fisherman
The Ride To Berlengas Islands
The only way to reach the island, located approximately 10 km off the coast of Peniche, is by boat. Some websites claim that it is 15 km off the coast, but this may be based on the route that they take to the island. Most tourist companies depart from Peniche, but depending on the time of the year, you might be able to book a ride from Nazaré.
Aim to purchase your tickets at least a week in advance during peak season, as you don’t want to miss out on the chance to visit by checking same-day availability.
Multiple companies offer transport to the island, but make sure to compare their offerings to each other when booking. It will ultimately come down to departure times, additional activities, and boat types (regular vs speedboat).
Quick tip: the speedboat is only a few euros more and totally worth it to save time (30 vs 60 minutes).
If you decide to take advantage of the wonderful tour options that companies offer, don’t expect to know your schedule of events until you arrive at the main dock of the Berlengas Islands. You will be told what time each event will take place, where to go, and what time your boat will be going back to the mainland. Make sure to note this order and the times the activities will be occurring. But if you do not remember, they should write this down in a way that, if you forget or have questions, you can ask any guide for assistance.
What To Pack
Don’t ignore the travel companies’ advice of packing a jacket. The ride over, especially in the morning, can be both chilly and rainy. But don’t worry, the island warms up quickly as the day goes on. Other must-haves on the boat include motion sickness pills if you know your stomach won’t appreciate a bumpy ride.
Berlengas Islands Activities
Start off your activity planning by figuring out what packages are included with your transportation. It’s convenient only having to book once rather than spend time on the island trying to reserve a spot somewhere. Keep in mind that while there will be plenty of water activities offered, the island is located off the Atlantic coast. The water will be very cold, so don’t count on having a traditional island beach day.
Ready for some adventure in the Berlengas Islands? Outside of the pre-planned packages you can find, there’s plenty to explore on your own time.
Go to the Fortress
Head on over to the fortress by walking up the hill from the docks. This stroll allows you to view both sides of the island as well as its native flora and fauna. The informational signs along the path provide helpful context to your surrounding environment, and you’ll find yourself referencing the facts throughout the day as you come across new things.
About halfway through the trail, you’ll notice a lighthouse; although you can’t go inside, take a minute to stop and read about its unique history. Make sure to stay on the designated path (rangers will make sure to remind you as well) to protect the island’s ecosystem.
Go on a walking tour
With this activity, you have the choice to take this adventure on your own or with a tour guide, depending on the company you choose to book your trip with. There are pros and cons to both options. The guides will share the information that is posted on the signs along the trail in more detail, as well as add additional details and stories about the island. It’s important to keep in mind that when booking these tours with travel companies, you might have to have patience around logistics.
Each of the walking tours is divided by what language you prefer the tour to be given in and this can take some time to divide based on group sizes, the number of people who speak certain languages, and how many tour guides can speak those languages. This can feel a bit disorganized, but will only take a couple of minutes for them to figure out.
You also will not know the order of events until you arrive at the island. If your walking tour is the first thing on your agenda, you will start your walk at the dock and walk over the hill to the fort. If this is not the first thing on your agenda, then you might start from the opposite direction. If you don’t mind the extra five minutes of logistical planning at the beginning of your trip, consider booking a walking tour to get that personal touch.
Make sure to pack a couple of euros in your bag, since to enter the fortress, you will have to pay a euro or two.
Catch Some Sun on the Beach
Want to get some sun? Enjoy a short walk down to the beach, where you can put your towel in the sand and jump into the ocean (if you’re brave enough for the cold!) Make your way over to a cave entrance by the bridge that crosses the docks to the beach; you can get there by swimming or walking. Explore the ocean with your snorkel, mask, and fins (rentable through various tour companies if you don’t already have them). Find the best spots to snorkel by entering near the fortress and swimming around the cliffs.
Take a Boat Tour
Want to take your adventure further? A lot of companies offer tour packages with the possibility to add a boat ride in the Berlengas islands.
These boat rides allow you to experience the world-famous elephant rock during a cave tour. Your tour will either start at the main dock, or at the bottom of the steps near the fortress. The entire tour lasts approximately 10-15 minutes. During this time, your tour guide will take you to the other side of the fortress to a gorgeous cave the boat can drive through, and back around the elephant rock. It is a pretty fast tour, but the views are incredible and there would be no other way to experience it.
You can also opt to go dolphin watching. Although offered all year round, this activity is best for trips between June to September, as this will give you the best chance of seeing them. The tour guide will take you out on a boat tour around the Berlengas islands in order to observe the dolphins in their favorite spots.
Last but not least, you can hire a private boat to either take you around the island and surrounding areas that are not restricted, or you can do a fishing tour with a guide.
Go Scuba Diving
If you are feeling extra adventurous, some companies also offer scuba diving tours. With this activity, you should be given a wetsuit and scuba diving equipment. No experience is listed as a requirement for most tour companies. Keep in mind that if you are traveling with children, the minimum age for scuba diving is 12 years old.
The Natural Reserve of the Berlengas islands is a unique spot, due to the transparency of the waters and the high concentration of different species. It is a marine reserve also nominated as “Biosphere Reserve” by the European Council and since 2011, it is protected as “World Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO.
Please note that there might be other activities offered in the Berlengas islands is seasonally, so make sure to check out multiple options regarding activity packages depending on when you plan on visiting.
Food and drinks
There are not a ton of options for buying food and drinks on the island. Some websites say that there is a small supermarket on the island, but you shouldn’t rely on it being open. There is also one restaurant near the main dock of the island as well if you do not feel like bringing a lunch. But be warned that the restaurant can be closed, especially during the low season.
As a result, make sure to bring your own food and drinks. Peniche has a rather large supermarket close to the docks. At the supermarket, you can get items for sandwiches, fruit, chips, and drinks easily for under 15 euros. If you do decide to have a picnic on the island, I would suggest the small cave by the beach. If you walk towards the beach, you’ll notice a small bridge about halfway down the path. If you take a right off the path before you cross the bridge, you’ll notice a small cave that you can sit in and have a picnic out of the sun.
Should I go to the Berlengas Islands?
Overall, if you happen to be in Portugal for 7+ days, and you plan on going between Lisbon and Porto, going to the Berlanga islands is worth the quick day trip. It can feel a little touristy, but it’s worth seeing. Make sure you take lots of photos and do some research about the activities you are interested in. Finally, If you head over to the Berlengas, make sure to also stop at the medieval town of Óbidos, one of the most picturesque and well-preserved in Portugal. Óbidos is located about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Lisbon in Central Portugal and has a wonderful array of attractions in a very small footprint.