Portugal: Two Perfect Day Trips from Lisbon
I arrived in Lisbon in a hurry, after racing to catch my flight from Lagos in the south of the country. Stepping out of the airport into the 100 degree heat, the streets of Lisbon were hot and bustling. The city was beautiful, sitting right on the water, with cobblestone streets and old streetcars. I wandered aimlessly for hours up and down this hilly city. I was only in Lisbon for 3 days and after walking thousands of steps my very first day, on a last minute whim, I decided I needed to get out of the city for a bit (after several days of jumping from one European to the next) to a more relaxing weekend before I jetted off to Spain. My first stop – Sintra. My sister, and travel companion at the time, had raved about this place; it was supposed to be a bit more off the beaten path to the typical traveler. When I heard it sat up high in the mountains, I was sold – anything to get out of the Lisbon heat.
Sintra – 30 km from Lisbon
You can take a train directly from central Lisbon at the Rossio train station. You cannot pre-book tickets so if you are going on a weekend, I suggest getting to the station early. A one-way ticket will only put you out about 2 euros and a roundtrip costs about 4 euros total. There are numerous trips every hour and the ride is 40 minutes long. It was super simple and this is coming from someone who is seriously directionally challenged. Once you arrive, it’s about a 15 minute walk into the center of Sintra from the train station.
What to Do:
- Pena Palace: Located at the top of a very large and steep hill, Pena Palace is unlike any palace you have seen before. Its painted in bright colors and looks like it is right out of Candyland. Its location allows for miles of views that are truly stunning. The grounds are also beautiful, with plenty of surrounding trails (which are very easy to get lost on… ). The palace itself on the inside was kind of a let down for me as it was unimpressive compared to the outside and we regretted paying for the interior access ticket.
- Quinta de Regaleira: Ever see photos of a crazy ancient-looking well? Maybe from my photography portfolio… Well, this is the spot! The grounds of this estate hold waterfalls, caves, gardens, secret paths, and the Initiation Well, which you can spiral your way down all the way to the bottom. Keep an eye out for any strange occurrences, they say the well used to be used for cult sacrifices.
- Moors Castle: This is hotspot in Sintra that I did not personally make it to but only saw from afar. It is much more medieval-Europe looking and also sits high up in the mountain so offers great views of the city and surrounding landscape.
Town of Sintra: This was actually my favorite activity. Wandering through winding alleywasy, grabbing gelato, walking into shops and eating in the main square were what made this trip relaxing for me. No strict itinerary or feeling like we had to do everything, but just taking in Sintra at our own pace!
Where to Stay:
Feel free to head back to Lisbon for the night (especially if you’ve already booked your accommodations beforehand) or choose from great hostel and AirBnB options in Sintra! We ended up going with the Nice Way Sintra hostel and absolutely loved it. It was a 5-minute walk from the town center and had a large and private backyard that was perfect for getting to know fellow travelers or just relaxing in nature. This hostel also did a group dinner, which is a great way to make some friends if you are traveling solo plus a cheap meal option.
Why I Loved It:
If you’re tired of the big cities, especially if you have been city hopping like me, escaping to Sintra was a welcome relief. It is just touristy enough to keep you entertained with good food, drink, and sights but off the beaten enough to escape huge crowds (there are still tourists in Sintra but not as overwhelming as Lisbon) and enjoy the wooded mountain trails for some much needed nature time.
Cascais – 30 km from Lisbon, 17 km from Sintra
If you are coming straight from Sintra, like I was, there is direct bus service between the two cities. Buses number 403 and 417 leave from the Sintra rail station and will drop you at the Cascais bus terminal. The 417 takes 30 minutes and the 403 takes about an hour with the ride costing about 4 euro. If you are coming from Lisbon, you can grab a train from the Cais do Sodré station and the ride will last about 30 minutes. Trains leave numerous times an hour and tickets cannot be bought in advance. A one way ticket will cost you about 2 euros with a roundtrip being about 4 euros.
What to Do:
We honestly arrived in Cascias without an itinerary or any idea of what to do and I honestly think that’s the best way to approach this town. Don’t come looking for tourist attractions like palaces or museums, but more for the surfer city vibe. I highly suggest strolling through the streets, sitting down at an outdoor café, and bringing a good book to the beach. The most popular beach in town is Praia da Ribeira, which is right at the heart of the city. The cold (read: freezing) water was a nice way to cool off in the middle of the day and enjoy the sunshine. For the surfers out there, Guincho beach is supposed to be one of the best spots in the region. I was also told about a cool ocean rock formation called Boca de Inferno with crazy waves, which is about 2 km from the city center.
Where to Stay:
We headed back to Lisbon to catch flights out the night but if you are looking to stay in Cascais for the night, I would suggest the Nice Way Cascais. We were actually able to leave our bags there for the day for free due to the fact that we stayed at the sister hostel – Nice Way Sintra – the night before. This hostel definitely has a surfer vibe (they offer lessons) and it’s right off the town center.
Why I Loved It:
If I had to use one word to describe this little beach town it would be: chill. It has a more authentic Portuguese feel with less tourists than Sintra and most definitely less tourists Lisbon. The seafood was superb and the streets were bright and beautiful. The local beach had crystal clear water and rocks you could jump off of!
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