Best Day Trips from Lisbon
Lisbon is a beautiful Portuguese city, but if you’re spending more than a few days there, you’ll likely want to get out and explore a bit more of the country. If time permits, you can travel a bit farther afield to places like Porto or Algarve, but if crunched for time or money day trips provide your best option. Here are four easy, relatively inexpensive and great day trips to attempt from Lisbon.
The most highly recommended daytrip from Lisbon is always Sintra. Lying about forty minutes from Lisbon’s Rossio train station, Sintra is a lovely medieval town surrounded by an abundance of palaces, mansions, and a castle. The most famous sites are Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. Pena is a pastel-colored fairyland concoction, built as a summer retreat for royalty while the Moorish Castle is a much older, more rugged construction built by the Moors for defensive purposes with a view of the surrounding countryside.
Both are well worth the visit. In addition to these two sites, the National Palace of Sintra is an easy visit right in the heart of the old part of town, its two turrets often described as Madonna cone-bra look-alikes. Quinta Regaleira, the former home of a baroness, is a surprisingly charming spot to spend an afternoon. While the house blends in the mind with countless other palaces and country homes, the nearby chapel, well, and gardens are fantastical and, at times, eerie. In addition to the lovely palaces and homes, Sintra offers inexpensive wine and an abundance of pretty souvenirs like tiles and rugs.
Belém is only a ten minute train ride from the Cais do Sodre station in Lisbon. The most visually stunning option in Belém is the San Jeronimos Monastery, built in the uniquely Portuguese Manueline style which incorporates nautical elements into its ornate constructions. The monastery’s church is free to enter, though a fee is charged for entry into the rest of the monastery.
Belém Tower is also quite notable. Serving as a defensive structure at the merging of the Tagus River and the Atlantic, the tower is also built in the Manueline style and offers great views from the interior. Right next to the tower, is a monument to the soldiers of foreign wars. Similar to the U.S. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the monument features an eternal flame and an honor guard—try to watch the changing of the guard if you have a chance! Just down from these sites is the Monument to the Discoveries, a more modern construction built to honor the historically significant figures from Portugal’s era of expansion.
You can ride an elevator to the top of this monument for panoramic views of the 24th of April Bridge, the monastery, and the Belém Tower. Finally, a visit to the Pasteis de Belém bakery is of the essence in order to enjoy their famous pastries!
3. Cascais & Estoril
Famous getaways for the rich and famous, Cascais and Estoril offer upscale resorts, restaurants, and a casino. Luckily, the coastal towns also offer plenty of pleasure for those of us without royal titles or trust funds. Immediately outside the train station in Cascais is a free bike rental stand. From Cascais, it is easy to bike along a wide pedestrian path to Estoril, soaking in the beautiful beaches and cliffs along the way.
Even more impressive are the cliffs on the other side of Cascais. Bike along a paved path that traces the coastline to admire the steep cliffs and stop at the “Mouth of Hell,” a hole in the cliffs in which the waves crash in and roll out. Once finished with your bike ride, grab a bite to eat at an inexpensive coastal café—wine typically runs around 1 euro a glass and sandwiches aren’t much more costly. Walk down to the beach to dip your toes into the Atlantic or, weather permitting, participate in paddle boarding, surfing, or diving.
The farthest, and priciest, of these four daytrips, Tomar offers a chance to venture a bit deeper into the Portuguese countryside. Views from the train include famous cork oaks and rolling hills. Tomar itself is best known for the Convento do Cristo, a castle and convent compound built by the Knights Templar. The gardens of the castle are lovely in all seasons, and the unique convent offers a glimpse into another era.
Supposedly, the main chapel was built to allow the knights to ride their horses into mass, accounting for its unique structure. Entry to the convent costs 6 euros. Back in the town of Tomar, discover historical churches, a soothing river, and picturesque bridges. In addition, I had an absolutely delicious grilled cheese (tosta com queijo) and hot chocolate at one of the nearby cafes—all for under 3 euros!
By Amelia Conrad
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