While there are plenty of things to see, do and eat in the pretty Portuguese capital of Lisbon, there are also some beautiful sites nearby that are worth making a day trip out of. If you can tear yourself away from the pastéis del nata (I know it’s almost impossible!) and the colourful tiles, combine a day trip from Lisbon to mountainous Sintra and seaside Cascais; two completely different worlds that show off just a tiny sample of the diverse and beautiful face of Portugal.
Located less than an hour from Lisbon, the stunning UNESCO World-Heritage Site of Sintra is like the setting of a real life fairytale. Nestled high up in the lush, green mountains, Sintra is known most famously for its magnificent palaces, pastel-hued residences, quaint shops and beautiful gardens. The mystical and romantic allure of Sintra has even led it to be described as the ‘Disneyland for grown-ups’ — who can really resist that description! The cooler, mountainous climate has attracted the Portuguese nobility and royalty over the centuries, who constructed some of the most exquisite manors and palaces in all of the country.
What to do:
Palacio Nacional de Sintra: The sprawling national palace, located in the heart of the old town, is distinguished by its unusual, conical chimneys that have become the emblem of the town. It was built as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family who resided there from the early 15th century and was in continuous use up until the late 19th century. The white-washed exterior and gothic architecture make for impressive photos.
Castelo dos Mouros: This ruinous castle is the oldest structure in the city. Originally dating back to the 9th century, the North African Moors originally constructed this castle to guard the town of Sintra, although it fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal. The crumbling ruins offer panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Palacio da Pena: Sintra’s most spectacular and famous site is the colourful, ornate and grand Palacio da Pena, which is constructed on one of the highest peaks. This vibrantly painted summer palace stands out like a beacon and is in stark contrast to the lush green of the surrounding mountains. Its architectural style is one of the most impressive and unusual in the entire country. If the weather permits, the views afforded from the palace over the entire region are some of the best in all of Portugal. Unfortunately, on our visit, the Palacio da Pena was completely enshrouded in dense cloud, which meant that sadly we missed out!
Historic town centre: Sintra’s charming historic town centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and every visitor should spend some time exploring the maze of cobblestoned lanes lined with quaint shops and cafes that snake their way up the hill. Don’t leave without trying the famous Sintra pastries here: the ‘queijadas’ (cheese pastries) and the ‘travesseiros’ (egg and almond pastries)!
Instead of returning directly to Lisbon from Sintra, follow the scenic road along the rugged, golden coast and the most westerly point of mainland Europe to stop in at the charming seaside town of Cascais. Once a sleepy fishing village, Cascais has transformed into a favourite holiday destination for many Portuguese and other Europeans with many people now considering it to be one of Lisbon’s most sophisticated destinations.
What to do:
Cascais beaches: The main attraction of Cascais is its range of golden beaches, which are wonderfully varied and offer something for everyone.
Cidadela de Cascais: The Cidadela de Cascais is an imposing fortress that stands overlooking the marina and harbour. It’s an impressive landmark of the town and has now been transformed into an exclusive hotel and cultural centre.
Largo Luís de Camões: This is the historic centre of Cascais and has an energetic vibe due to the many cafés, restaurants and fashionable bars that line the square.
Marina: There is room for over 650 boats to be moored at the Cascais marina. Take a stroll along the quays to admire the expensive yachts.
Free museums: One of the great features of Cascais is that all the museums and buildings of interest are free to enter. There are lots of interesting exhibitions hidden throughout town so be nosy, wander in and explore!
Eat fresh seafood: Cascais restaurants serve some of the freshest fish in the region, since it comes directly from fishermen’s boats in the town’s small harbour. There are plenty of outstanding seafood restaurants dotted all over the town.