8 Top-Rated Day Trips from Lisbon
Beyond Lisbon, lies a wealth of day trip options. Some of the most rewarding tourist destinations can be reached within an hour of the city center, either by car, bus, or train. Surrounding Lisbon are ancient castles, sumptuous palaces, and a host of other historic monuments waiting to be discovered. Along the coast, you'll find traditional fishing villages where the way of life has changed little over the centuries as well as some of the region's liveliest resorts fringed with beaches of golden sand. Away from the crowds are unspoiled nature reserves, rivers, and estuaries teeming with colorful flora and fauna; havens of wildlife that can be explored on foot or by boat. Whether heading north or south from Portugal's capital, there's plenty to see and do on a day trip from Lisbon.
Arguably the most rewarding day trip from Lisbon is to Sintra. About 30 kilometers northwest of the city center, the town is easily reached by train with direct connections operating daily out of Lisbon's Rossio railway station. The journey takes around 40 minutes. Sintra's rugged, verdant beauty, its ancient castle, and collection of historic palaces are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage cultural landscape.
You can begin your day of sightseeing by visiting the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Centrally located in the old town, this impressive late 14th-century palace is characterized by its tapering twin chimneys. Once the summer retreat of the kings and queens of Portugal, this former royal residence is a great first stop before exploring Sintra's many other attractions. Allow a good hour to absorb its numerous halls, rooms, and salons.
Unless you're up for some hill walking consider taking a shuttle bus up to the Castelo dos Mouros. Dating from the 8th century, the Moorish Castle stands prominently above the old town. You can walk the ancient battlements, and the views across the Serra de Sintra mountain range and the Lisbon plains below are breathtaking. Crowning the Serra is the fantastical, Disneyesque Palácio da Pena. Considered by many to be the highlight of their visit to Sintra, the Pena Palace can also be reached by bus or on foot by following the nature trail that meanders steeply through a blanket of picturesque woodland. Built in the mid-19th century by the German Baron von Eschwege, this also became a favorite retreat for vacationing monarchs, a fact reflected by the lavish interior and opulent décor. You could easily spend a couple of hours up here, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in more incredible views.
If you've purchased a shuttle bus ticket it's quite easy to call in on Sintra's other great palace at Monserrate. Here, it's the gardens that dazzle rather than the building itself, landscaped in the late 18th century by the English author William Beckford. Back in the old town and within pleasant walking distance of the central square along a relatively flat road is Quinta da Regaleira. Again, it's the actual grounds that delight, although the turreted mock-Manueline Palácio dos Milhões is certainly worth investigating. With plenty of cafés and restaurants to choose from, you'll certainly want to have lunch in Sintra. But dinner here can be particularly memorable especially given that the great romantic poet Lord Byron once declared the destination a "glorious Eden."
If you are not the do-it-yourself type and don't want the hassle of catching a train and a bus and finding your way around, book a Sintra and Cascais Day Trip from Lisbon. This tour takes you to Sintra, the Sintra Natural Park, the Pena National Palace and Pena Nature Park, the cliffs of Roca Cape at the westernmost point of continental Europe, and a drive along the Atlantic Coast, with a stop at the town of Cascais.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sintra
2 Palácio Nacional de Queluz
The National Palace of Queluz lies around 14 kilometers northwest of Lisbon and 16 kilometers southeast of Sintra. Built between 1747 and 1794 for King Pedro and his wife, later Queen Maria I, this is one of Portugal's most sumptuous palaces. Originally designed by Mateus Vicente, a pupil of Johann Friedrich Ludwig, who built the Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra, the Palácio Nacional de Queluz is a landmark of both Portuguese architecture and landscape design, although French architect Jean-Baptiste Robillion later added lavish interior flourishes and the formal gardens.
As much a museum as historic monument, the significant collection reflects the extravagant taste of the 18th- and 19th-century courts, and includes Baroque, Rococo, and Neo-Classical pieces. Tour highlights include the elegant Throne Room, which dates from 1774. Embellished with mirrors, paintings, and gilded statues all set under a beautiful ceiling, this is the largest of the palace's three state rooms. The grand Sala do Embaixadores with its carved gilt pinewood decoration, porcelain chinoiserie, and stunning trompe l'oeil ceiling is where diplomats and foreign ministers were received. The exquisitely ornate Dressing Room and Dom Quixote Room, where King Pedro VI was born and died are especially exotic in their decoration. Outside, the serene gardens, which were used for hosting concerts and other royal get-togethers are adorned with topiary, fountains, and the largest collection of sculptures by English John Cheere (1709-1787) outside of England. On certain days, the grounds provide the setting for virtuoso demonstrations of horsemanship by the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, which is based at the palace. In addition, the palace also hosts displays of falconry.
Palácio Nacional de Queluz can be reached by taking the Sintra line train from Rossio to Queluz-Belas station. A 15-minute walk following the signs will lead you to the palace and gardens.
Address: Largo do Palácio, Queluz
The lively coastal resort of Cascais lies 25 kilometers west of Lisbon. It's a popular day trip destination for residents and visitors alike and is conveniently located at the end of the Cais do Sodré-Cascais railway line. The excursion itself is a pleasant experience, with the line hugging the coast and trains calling at various seaside towns along the way, including Carcavelos and Estoril.
Draped around a shallow bay with its own sandy beach, Cascais combines tradition with nobility. A busy fishing port since medieval times, Cascais evolved in the 19th century when King Luís I moved his summer activities to the Palácio da Cidadela, the town's 17th-century waterfront fortress. Soon afterwards, a slew of grand mansions sprang up in and around the town as Cascais took advantage of the royal seal of approval. Today, these opulent properties stand side by side with rows of former fishermen's cottages. The citadel is now a plush hotel and a thriving cultural space open to the public, and Cascais still enjoys a rather glamorous, cosmopolitan reputation.
The resort is easily explored on foot, and the old town is particularly alluring. Get lost on purpose by wandering the narrow lanes that snake away from the harbor before heading for the leafy Parque do Marechal Carmona and the nearby spruce and engaging Museu do Mar-Rei D. Carlos, where the association between the town and the sea is imaginatively illustrated by a collection of model boats, ancient maps, and treasure salvaged from ships wrecked along the coast. Nearby is the modernist landmark Casa das Histórias, a museum dedicated to Paula Rego, Portugal's most controversial living artist. The permanent collection of vivid pastels, engravings, and collages are compelling but sometimes disturbing and better suited to a mature audience. Works by Rego's late husband, Victor Willing, are also displayed. The Sea Museum and the Paula Rego House of Stories and Pictures are both free to enter.
From the park, it's a pleasant walk to the Marina de Cascais. The marina esplanade sits under the impressive walls of the fortress and is lined with an assortment of cafés and restaurants. After admiring the expensive yachts and motor boats, carry on to the Santa Marta Lighthouse, which houses a modest but engaging museum. It's possible to climb the distinctive blue-and-white striped tower for a splendid coastal panorama. Nearby, another free-to-enter visitor attraction, the Museu-Biblioteca Conde Castro Guimarães, is worth a diversion for its ornate rooms decorated with beautiful Indo-Portuguese furniture, paintings, and antiques. The library houses some rare, illuminated 16th-century manuscripts, with one dating from 1505.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cascais
Boca do Inferno
About three kilometers west of Cascais town center along the broad Avenida Rei Humberto de Itália coastal road is Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), a chasm carved out of the cliffs. Seawater crashes into the caves below sending a spectacular plume of spray high into the air. The accompanying boom resembles the sound of cannon fire.
Praia do Guincho
One of the region's most spectacular beaches, Praia do Guincho is famed as a world-class surfing and windsurfing destination. The windy conditions also make it a favorite among the kite-surfing fraternity. Large waves and unpredictable currents mean it's unwise to swim in these waters, but the yawning bay of golden sand is ideal sunbathing territory. Regular buses from Cascais bus station provide a scenic way of reaching the beach, which lies eight kilometers from the town center.
Cabo da Roca
Further north from Guincho along the Sintra coast is Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point in mainland Europe. Crowning the precipitous windblown promontory is an impressive lighthouse. Its isolated position and the fact that it's situated 20 kilometers from Cascais means visiting the cape is only really practical by vehicle. The stark beauty of the location and the mighty splendor of the Atlantic Ocean, however, make the effort worthwhile.
Azenhas do Mar
A cluster of whitewashed cottages, the picture-book village of Azenhas do Mar is draped over cliffs on the lower slopes of the Serra de Sintra. The big draw here is the natural rock pool set below the village, at the base of the escarpment. Another reason to make the 25-kilometer drive north out from Cascais is the nearby beach resort of Praia das Maçãs. Incidentally, Praia das Maçãs can also be reached by vintage tram from Sintra via Colares, and the kids will love you for choosing this scenic, though somewhat slow, historical mode of transport.
4 Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra
Numbering among Portugal's most impressive historic monuments - and certainly one of its largest - the vast Mosteiro Pálacio Nacional de Mafra overwhelms the small town of Mafra, 40 kilometers northwest of Lisbon. This mighty Baroque palace dates from the early 18th century. It was commissioned by King Joao V and originally intended as a simple monastery, but as royal coffers began to overflow with wealth from Brazil, the extravagant monarch extended the floor plans to include a sumptuous palace and a magnificent basilica. Exploring this enormous building requires a good two hours of your time, but you can draw out the day by combining a tour with a visit to the lively seaside town of Ericeira, just 12 kilometers west of Mafra. Blessed with a series of fine sandy beaches and a picturesque waterfront, Ericeira's association with Mafra is tangible - Portugal's last king, King Manuel II, fled the palace on October 5, 1910 and boarded a ship in the harbor bound for England, fleeing into exile as Portugal's monarchy finally collapsed.
An irregular bus service connects Lisbon and Sintra with Ericeira and Mafra, so it's more practical to travel by vehicle.
5 Costa da Caparica
The long, broad band of sand known as the Costa da Caparica is Lisbon's most popular summer playground. At its hub is the seaside resort of Caparica. During the high season, and on weekends, this place is packed with locals escaping the heat of the city. A laid back, family atmosphere prevails, and if you don't mind crowds, this is certainly a holiday destination worth investigating. Caparica is located across the river, 18 kilometers south of Lisbon. Regular express buses depart from Cacilhas, on the south bank, and the journey (traffic permitting) takes around 30-40 minutes. A slower service that will get you there in around an hour leaves from Praça de Espanha, in the city center. If you're driving, be aware that parking space at Caparica is fiercely contended. The stretch of sand is immense and backed by rolling dunes. Those beaches nearest the resort fill up quickly, and if you're seeking solitude, you'll need to head for the costa's southern reaches. A mini-railway (Comboio da Praia) runs along the dunes to Fonte da Telha. Alight at the end of the line for peace and quiet. Some excellent beachfront cafés and restaurants serve Costa da Caparica, and many stay open during the slower winter months. Off-season, the water is too chilly to swim in, although that doesn't deter die-hard surfers. The upside, however, is that the blissfully empty beaches make for some exhilarating walks.
The south bank of the River Tagus is also the location of one of Lisbon's more unusual visitor attractions, the giant Cristo Rei (Christ the King) monument, a mirror image of the more famous and much larger Cristo Redentor statue in Rio de Janeiro. Near the town of Almada and the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, the towering statue, inaugurated in 1959 as part of a chapel and library complex, was commissioned by the church in 1940 in recognition of Portugal's decision not to enter the Second World War. Standing 28 meters tall, the statue of Christ, arms outstretched like its Brazilian counterpart, is itself mounted on an enormous 82-meter pedestal. The monument is visible from various viewpoints in the city, and is illuminated at night. But to really appreciate this mini Christ the Redeemer, take the lift and then climb the few steps to the top of the pedestal. From here the panorama across the bridge, the river, and the Portuguese capital are truly dramatic (the best time to photograph the city is during the afternoon, when the sun is behind you). The easiest way to get to the monument is via the ferry from Cais do Sodré to Cacilhas. You can then catch a bus or hail a taxi up to the statue. Alternatively, you can walk the four kilometers from the harbor.
Address: Santuário Nacional do Cristo Rei, Avenida Cristo Rei, Alto do Pragal, Almada
6 Serra da Arrábida
A road trip through the starkly beautiful Serra da Arrábida is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a day out of Lisbon. The wild, craggy mountain range rises 500 meters over the bay of Setúbal, some 38 kilometers south of the Portuguese capital, and encompasses the protected Parque Natural da Arrábida. Blanketed with verdant woodland and scrub, this stunning landscape is home to a fascinating variety of flora and fauna, and it's possible to park the car and follow a number of signed nature trails. While the region is served by bus, public transport is few and far between, so to do the region justice, you really need a vehicle. For the most dramatic views, follow the Estrada de Escarpa (N379-1), a narrow winding coastal road that snakes past Sesimbra all the way to Cabo Espichel, a precipitous headland topped by a lighthouse.
The traditional fishing village of Sesimbra is an enchanting day-trip destination that is immediately appealing for its busy little harbor and the 17th-century Fortaleza de Santiago, which houses the lovely Museu do Mar (Museum of the Sea). Sesimbra is a working port and is the base for a colorful fleet of trawlers and smaller boats. The attractive old town center is a warren of narrow streets and winding alleys brimming with restaurants where the aroma of grilled sardines floats on the salt-laced breeze. Hemmed in either side by inviting strips of golden sand, the harbor and its quayside is a delight to explore, especially in the late afternoon when the boats return with the day's catch.
The Romans occupied Sesimbra, but it was the Moors who built the castle high above the town. Dating from the 10th century, it can be reached by vehicle or a stout pair of legs. Either way, the views from the weatherworn battlements, which encircle the 18th-century church of Nossa Senhora do Castelo, are inspiring, especially at sunset. Sesimbra is 40 kilometers south of Lisbon and lies on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean under the lip of the Parque Natural da Arrábida mountain range. The drive here is straightforward and the better option if you're intending to explore the outlying area. However, arriving by bus is more convenient if all you want is to meander around town on foot and perhaps investigate the beach.
8 Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado
There are all sorts of reasons to visit the Sado Estuary Natural Reserve, not least to watch the amazing variety of birdlife that congregates along the shore and across the mudflats. The estuary, though, is equally celebrated for the resident bottlenose dolphins that patrol the shallows and the mouth of the estuary. These graceful and intelligent mammals can be seen in all their playfulness by joining a sightseeing cruise that brings passengers to within a few meters of these amazing beasts. A dolphin seafari can be combined with discovering Setúbal, where the cruise boats depart. This busy port is noted for two architectural draws, the Igreja de Jesus and Castelo de Sao Filipe, perched on a bluff high above the city. The city lies on the northern flank of the estuary, opposite the Península de Tróia and you can extend your day trip activities by packing a picnic and catching the ferry to this largely untouched spit of sand where the ruins of the Roman town of Cetóbriga can be visited. Setúbal is well connected with Lisbon - the A2 motorway will get you there in about 30 minutes. A light railway also serves the destination, as does a regular bus service.