The Tagus River: Lisbon’s Gateway to Prosperity

Tagus River
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The longest river in the Iberian Peninsula, the Tagus (Rio Tejo) has been instrumental in shaping Lisbon and the surrounding area into the vibrant place that it is today. With 275 km of the river’s 1,007 km found in Portugal, this magnificent river empties into the Atlantic Ocean just outside of the Portuguese capital.

History of The Tagus River

The Tagus River’s slow-flowing waters were fundamental to Lisbon’s early prosperity and are the reason that it was established as a significant Roman port.  The natural estuary provides protection from the fierce Atlantic Ocean, while still allowing easy access for large ships.

The Tagus River also played an important role in the golden age of Portugal. The 14th century Age of Discovery saw many a grand expedition origination from the docks of the River Tagus. Once new colonies were established as a result of these ventures, the wealth of the new lands poured back into Lisbon to fund the extravagance taking place at the time. The River Tagus is also the reason that the Portuguese, as a nation, are comprised of many different ethnic groups and emigrants. There are now communities of Portuguese scattered around the world, a characteristic that would not be possible were it not for the Tagus River. The influence of this important body of water is felt throughout other parts of the country also. For example, the Alentejo region of Portugal and former Ribatejo Province take their names from the river; Alentejo, from além Tejo “Beyond the Tagus” and Ribatejo from Arriba Tejo, an archaic way of saying “Upper Tagus”. There are many different ways to explore the Tagus River and appreciate its value.

Tagus River Map

River Tagus Boat Trips

One of the best ways to encounter the Tagus River is by taking to the waters. Experience it for yourself. There are many different companies offering tours and boat cruises, which also provide stunning views of Lisbon and beyond.

Sail the river Tagus: Tagus Cruises

Set sail on the River Tagus with one of the many options offered by this well-established company. They offer day tours, sunset tours, and even party boat rentals. Ideal for couples, families or small groups, the experience of sailing the Tagus River while taking in some of the Lisbon’s most notable monuments if not one to be missed.

Hop-on, Hop-off: Yellow Boat Tours

Another good option for exploring the Tagus River is to get a pass for the Yellow Boat Tour. It is connected to the Yellow Bus Tour. You can buy a pass that includes transportation on the city’s bus and tram lines, as well as the boat. The entire Tagus River circuit takes about 1h30 and is on a renovated old “Cacilheiro” ferry boat. The hop-on, hop-off system gives you the freedom to explore at your pace and takes you to important Lisbon landmarks including Terreiro do Paço (where the tour begins and ends), the Belém Tower, and MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. The ticket prices start at €18 and are valid for 24 hours. The ferry also features an open-air area, a bar, and has information available in Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.

Experience The Tagus on a Budget: Transtejo

For the more budget conscious travelers still looking to get a taste of the Tagus River, the Transtejo ferry network offers a great alternative. These ferries are part of Lisbon’s public transport system (not a tourist service). They are a cheap alternative to see Lisbon from the river. You simply use the same Viva Viagem card which you can use on metro and buses in the city to get from Cais do Sodré station to Cacilhas by ferry, and visit Cristo Rei for less than €6.

Beaches of the Tagus River

The Tagus River also boasts several lovely beaches. These will allow you to get up close and personal without leaving the shoreline.

Ribeira das Naus

Ribeira das Naus, has been renovated into an attractive river beach in the heart of the city. This is quite interesting, considering that it used to be an old boatyard. It features a large grassy area and broad steps extending down into the river. This is a really interesting place you can visit without even leaving Lisbon! Although there’s no swimming allowed at this beach, it is a great place to stop to soak up some rays while making the trek from Praça do Comércio to Cais do Sodré. Here you’ll also find a kiosk with outdoor seating where you can enjoy a drink or light snack. This is a wonderful place to watch the sunset and you’re also likely to encounter some great street performers at this charming river beach.

Ponta dos Corvos

Across the river from Lisbon, located near Seixal, you’ll find the river beach of Ponta dos Corvos. This beach technically belongs to the district of Setúbal and is just a short trip from the capital. Taking its name from the fact that it’s a hot spot for finding cormorants (Corvos), this river beach is the first one in Tagus estuary properly classified and considered to have bathing quality. Here you’ll have a view of Lisbon, Almada and Barreiro.


The inhabitants of Barreiro love it here and this charming river beach is accessible from Lisbon on a 20-minute ferry ride followed by a 10-minute walk. People used to consider Barreiro a primarily industrial town and Lisboans largely ignored it. Now, this is a lovely place to spend the day and offers plenty of nice shops and restaurants. The river beach Alburrica offers nice views and traditional windmills of Barreiro (Giant windmill, Windmill East and West) enhance it. These once fed with flour ovens of the largest biscuit production plant in the country.

Bico do Mexilhoeiro

Bico do Mexilhoeira is another lovely beach accessible from Barreiro. To reach this area you get to enjoy a peaceful walk along a promenade skirting the banks of the Tagus River. This offers great views of Lisbon and Almada. Here you can enjoy lounging on the beach, walking along the banks, or even doing some fishing.

There are many different ways to enjoy the Tagus River to which Lisbon and the surrounding area owe so much! Regardless of whether you decide to explore by sea or by land, don’t leave without taking some time to appreciate this fascinating body of water.  

about the author
I’m a Lisbon-based writer who loves talking culture, travel, and women’s sports. Born in Canada, I completed an MA in Humanities in Prague and a Journalism Diploma in Montreal. I’m always on the hunt for surprising stories and new ways to #resistapathy.

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