Visitors to Lisbon are spoilt for choice. It is a fantastic city for tourists, with plenty to see and do. While unwinding in the suburb of Benfica for 5 weeks last September, I often made trips in to the city centre or Belem and never grew bored or ran out of things to do. But it is also exceedingly convenient to take day trips from Lisbon, with a variety of fun day trips possible. As a base to explore, connected by cheap and sprawling public transport, a traveller interested in seeing more of Portugal couldn’t ask for more.
Here are 4 great, yet different, day trips from Lisbon that you can make to spice up your visit. Now I know, while this list is far from complete, these 4 were places that I visited during my time in Lisbon and would highly recommend.
Probably the easiest day trip to make from the nation’s capital is travelling along the coast out to the seaside town of Cascais. Connected to Lisbon’s city centre by train, you’ll pass beach after beach before arriving in this leisurely town. While there’s only a 40 minute train trip between them, Lisbon and Cascais feel worlds apart. Cascais replaces Lisbon’s dense urban setting and grand avenues with low-key atmosphere and little cobbled lanes. Wandering through town, it’s relaxed atmosphere will make you forget the bustle of Lisbon.
A big draw for Cascais is the many beaches found nearby town. From the small Praia da Ribeira seen above in the centre of town, to the much larger Praia da Conceição by the train station, there’s plenty of choice for getting some sun and taking a dip.
Cascais also has plenty of tourist attractions other than the beaches, one of which is the impressive fort of Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Luz sitting regally over the marina. There are also some beautiful gardens like the expansive Marechal Carmona Park and gorgeous houses like the Casa de Santa Maria, a house preserved in the style of the early 20th century. Further along the coast is Boca do Inferno, a seaside chasm where you’ll stand in awe as waves crash against the rocky cliffs.
But honestly, you can always just simply wander through town and enjoy it’s idyllic lanes and relaxed nature. Cascais also makes a good alternative to Lisbon for accommodation, giving you access to the city but also the beaches. Day trip or a longer stay, visiting Cascais is an excellent choice to see some of Portugal’s coast and sink into it’s relaxed lifestyle.
Transport Info: Train from Cais do Sodre all the way to Cascais station – 2.15€ oneway / 40 minutes
If you only visit Lisbon and Porto in Portugal, you might come away with a particular view of what Portuguese cities looks like. Visiting the city of Setúbal may give you the chance to see a different side to the country’s city life. This port city doesn’t have many sights in comparison to Lisbon or Porto, but it may give you insight into what a more ordinary Portuguese city feels like. Visiting Setúbal as a Lisbon day trip is more a chance to dip into culture and lifestyle than a sightseeing mission.
Walking through Setúbal’s extensive pedestrian areas, you’re bound to encounter far fewer tourists, or at least international ones. Even though it’s close to beaches and not all that far from Lisbon, Setúbal is yet to receive much notice from overseas visitors. Like many cities and towns in Portugal, you’re likely to see seasonal decorations hanging overhead like those below for an annual wine festival. Setúbal is also quite a green city, with the Jardim da Avenida Luisa Todi stretching across much of the city and many other smaller parks running along the waterfront.
If you’re interested in seeing azulejos, the iconic painted tiles found throughout Portugal, then Setúbal is also a good place for that. While there are examples of it throughout the city centre, a wonderful example is the terrace area on Rua Forte, near the Museu do Trabalho Michel Giacometti. The terrace area also has some great views out over the city and river towards Troia Peninsula.
Now while I said there weren’t many sights, that doesn’t mean there are none. The Monastery of Jesus of Setúbal cuts a monolithic figure, despite its worn state. There’s also some smaller churches tucked away within its historic pedestrian streets and alleys. Overlooking the city from the nearby hillside is Fortaleza de San Filipe, which is an impressive sight even if I don’t think it is open to the public.
Setúbal may not be the flashiest option for a Lisbon day trip, but if perspective and cultural insight are of interest, then it’s well worth considering.
Transport Info: Take the ferry from Terreiro do Paço over to Barreiro and then the train from Barreiro to Praca do Quebedo station (not Estação Ferroviária de Setúbal!) – 4.45€ oneway / 1 hour
Trafaria and the Costa da Caparica
The small town of Trafaria is a stark contrast to its neighbour over the river Tagus in Lisbon. While Lisbon doesn’t look particularly wealthy, it does in comparison to Trafaria. The town will help you better understand the country’s economic situation, all the while presenting a chilled back vibe.
Trafaria actually feels like it belongs more somewhere in Central America or maybe Morocco, than it did in Western Europe. Walking along the water front, seeing all the local fishing boats lined along the beach and their owners sitting having a beer outside a tiny bar reminded me of the simpler lifestyles you find in those parts of the world.
Not far from town is the Costa da Caparica, a series of beaches that face the Atlantic Ocean. While many of the beaches are sheltered by the river Tagus, Costa da Caparica is most definitely not, with better surf and a much bigger beach. Here you’ll also find beachside club houses and sun lounges. Visiting Costa da Caparica feels like a full-blown day at the beach, rather than just being at a beach, if you know what I mean.
If you’re looking to retreat to simpler times, or seeking out a new beach destination, then you should look across the river to Trafaria and the beaches of Costa da Caparica.
- Trafaria – Ferry from Belem over to Trafaria – 2.3€ / 30 minutes.
- Costa da Caparica – Walk from Trafaria to Costa Caparica (35 minutes) or take the bus from Trafaria ferry terminal
Sintra is the ultimate of the day trips from Lisbon. In fact, I honestly think you need more than one day to see Sintra properly. I visited twice during my time in Lisbon and still didn’t see all the main sights. There’s so many fantastic sights to visit and the town of Sintra itself is a charming place.
Sintra was once a popular resort town for the royals of Lisbon, who built many villas and palaces here amongst the gorgeous pine forest. As such, there are plenty of landmark attractions for visitors to see, but they are spread out over the surrounding hilly countryside. While I chose to walk everywhere during my stay, you don’t need to, with several bus companies offering transport out to the various sites.
Of the major sights, Pena National Palace has to be right near the top. This brightly coloured palace looks like something from Disneyland with its bold colours and odd architecture. From the palace terraces, you have sweeping views out across the region and up along the distant coast. Aside from the palace itself, there are huge grounds to roam with chalets, farms and lakes scattered about.
Probably the best known sight of Sintra is the Inverted Tower found at the Quinta da Regaleira Palace just out of town. Here you find the curious and mystical Initiation well, whose spiral staircases weaving their way to the bottom and relate to the long abandoned practice of alchemy. Even if you ignore their ritualistic nature, walking to the boom of the well and looking up is quite a moment. There’s plenty more to see wandering the palace grounds, from the grottos to its small towers.
There are many other sights to see in Sintra, probably too many to count, including the Moorish Castle, the National Palace in town, Monseratte Palace and the Convento dos Capuchos. The last one is a small convent quite a way off in the forests outside Sintra and a lovely walk as I mentioned here. Sintra is quite possibly my favourite small town I have visited in Europe, so I can’t recommend it enough. It combines serene nature, history and grand landmarks so you’re guaranteed to get something out of a visit/multiple visits.
Transport Info: Train from Rossio all the way to Sintra station (not Mira Sintra station as the line splits off) – 2.15€ oneway / 40 minutes
Have you visited Lisbon or made any of the above day trips from Lisbon? Are there other day trips from Lisbon you would recommend? Please share in the comments below.
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