Three must-do day trips near the city of Lisbon
Lisbon has plenty to offer tourists, however, if you are keen to get away from the buzz and heat of the city in the summer months, then there are plenty of short day trips that are possible. The public transport system in Portugal is fairly easy to navigate and using google maps makes taking short excursions out of the city a breeze. Just make sure to check the time of the last train back to Lisbon before you depart!
Belem, a visit to the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem is recommended in all Lisbon guidebooks for the beautiful architecture. The town is also famous for their Portuguese tarts as the monks from the monastery first invented and sold the nata pastry in the 1800s. Unfortunately, during our trip to Lisbon, we didn’t get the chance to visit Belem.
Caiscais, is renowned for its beautiful beaches and is a short 40 min train ride from Lisbon city. Caiscais is a fun, laid-back holiday resort town with a bustling, carnival atmosphere. There are plenty of street artists in the beach concourse area, whilst the town proper boasts a museum and a craft market. Along the promenade facing the beach, its possible to admire beautifully restored houses and mansions belonging to the Portuguese nobility. The recently restored fort by the sea, allows a quieter way to experience the rugged coastline of Portugal.
Sintra is as different a town as you can get from Caiscais, it is also a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon city. The town is filled with UNESCO world heritage listed palaces, which are famed for their 19th century Romantic architecture, which are set amongst the green hills of the countryside. To visit all the castles and estates in Sintra you would need a couple of days to do them all justice. We decided to visit the famous Pena castle during our day trip to Sintra. To get to Pena castle from the Sintra township, you can either hop on a bus or walk up the hill. We decided to try our luck at walking up the innocent looking hill, which the castle was perched upon. Our hike to the castle took 1.5 hours in the hot Portuguese sun, luckily we had come prepared with drinks and snacks!. The trail to the castle is well marked and ambles from the main road into the nearby forested areas.
The view from the castle of the surrounding area is worth the long hike to the top. There is a stunning view of the Portuguese countryside and Sintra township as well as views of the old Moorish castle remains. During the walk up to the castle, there are multiple viewing lookouts of different scenic points which are worth taking a short photo break for. There are also a few shops along the way up to the castle in the event you need to stock-up on food or drink.
The castle of Pena itself is beautiful but at times confusing, it is a mishmash of different architectural styles that are all tied together by bright pops of colour and interesting decorative features. The interior of the castle is lavish with beautiful courtyards and antique Portuguese furniture. This is in large part due to the fact that the castle used to be a favourite summer residence of the royal family of Portugal. Throughout the castle many trinkets, photos and memorabilia belonging to the royal family can be found.
Dom Pedro, Caiscais
Both Caiscais and Sintra have a plethora of restaurants to choose from, although numerous tourist traps do abound in Caiscais. Our most memorable meal in Portugal was at the family-run restaurant, Dom Pedro in Caiscais. All the seafood was incredibly fresh and paired with traditional cooking techniques to create authentic and hearty dishes. Be warned though, this restaurant is not easy to find as it is tucked away in a side alley. The number one tip for this restaurant would be to order the house special of the day as this is generally based on seasonal produce or the catch of the day. We ordered the house special of grilled sardines prepared with salt and olive oil, a hearty tomato-based rice cooked with tender octopus and garlic king prawns. The simple flavours paired so well with the fresh seafood!
Dom Pipas, Sintra
We also stopped off at a cozinha (Portuguese restaurant), Dom Pipas in Sintra. We ordered the bacalhua, a seafood stew, and a dish with scrambled eggs and sausage (not pictured). The seafood stew and scrambled egg dish were fantastic! The number one tip for this restaurant would be to order the octopus as recommended by many reviewers on Foursquare.
Both of the day trips we completed were easily accessible by train. The return fare for the trips to Caiscais and Sintra were under 5 euros per person. The train to Caiscais departs from the Cais do Sodre train station which is situated near the river. Whilst the train to Sintra departs from the Rossio train station, located in the city center. The trip to Belem, on the other hand, is just a short tram ride from either Figueira Square or Commerico square to the Jeronimos monastery.
In little under an hour, it is possible to be in a completely different location within the country without the need for driving yourself there. Watching the Portuguese countryside and traditional Portuguese villas pass you by during your train ride is a nice distraction, or you could always get to that book you’ve been meaning to read…. : )