While travelling around Portugal and/or spending some time in the Lisbon area, don’t miss the opportunity to take a day trip to Sintra and Cascais. If driving from Lisbon, either town can be reached in about 30-40 minutes, but there are also excellent options to make the trip by public transit or to join a guided tour.
We wanted to visit both cities in the same day, so we decided to leave Lisbon right after breakfast and drive straight to Sintra. It was already busy when we got there, but after circling a couple of times, we managed to find a parking spot on the street (paid on the meter) near the National Palace and started exploring on foot. If visiting during the high-season summer months, beware of the larger crowds and lack of parking space in Sintra, and transit becomes an even more attractive choice.
Sintra’s historical town centre has a picturesque fairy-tale like setting, tucked in the pine-covered mountains, and captivating visitors with lavish villas and enchanting castles, ornate buildings, and elaborate gardens (click for tourist guide).
We walked around and were able to reach most of the attractions we had planned to visit, but the hilly landscape and distances can be very challenging. As an option, there are plenty of private car/tour operators, and tourist buses that go around the town in a one-way loop. For relatively low fares, the 434 bus route connects the train station to the historic centre and then climbs into the hills to reach the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, and the 435 bus route connects the station to Quinta da Regaleira, Seteais Palace and Monserrate Palace.
Here are the places we had on our itinerary and recommend:
- Palácio Valenças
- Fonte Mourisca
- Sintra National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
- Casa Piriquita (try the traditional “pillow” pastries or “travesseiros”)
- Quinta da Regaleira and “Initiation Well” (Poço Iniciático)
- Castle of the Moors or Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
- Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena)
In the afternoon, we walked back to the car and headed down to the coast and to Cascais (click for tourist guide). Before we got to the city centre, we stopped at Hell’s Mouth (Boca do Inferno) and spent some time on the look-out and surrounding rocks watching the mighty Atlantic ocean. Then we continued into town to find parking near the Praia da Ribeira and explore on foot.
Cascais is a seaside town located in the area known as the Portuguese Riviera, and it has so much going for it! What was once a small fishing village and was later favoured by royalty for its proximity to Lisbon, is currently a bustling town loved by its residents, and attracts tourists from near and far to enjoy its nice beaches, the impressive architecture of buildings and monuments, and the lively cobblestone streets in the historic centre.
We suggest you go there to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, take a leisurely stroll along the beachfront promenade, and then stick around to experience the outstanding cuisine and warm Portuguese hospitality in the many cafés and restaurants, perfect for lazy and long summer days. If not driving there, Cascais is connected to Lisbon via a railway with inexpensive and frequent service, and the trip takes about 30 minutes each way.
Around Cascais, the northern beaches are windier and suited for surfing, including Guincho beach, one of the best surfing beaches in Portugal, while the eastern beaches – like Carcavelos – are much calmer and better for swimming/families.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time left on the day, but we loved what we saw, and here are some recommendations:
- Hell’s Mouth (Boca do Inferno)
- Praia da Ribeira and promenade
- Palacio Seixas
The area around the Passeio Dom Luis I offer lots of amenities, local shops and pedestrian-only streets. With so much choice, it’s hard to select one place to try. We wanted to cool down and have some tapas instead of a heavy dinner, so we ended up at Restaurante Pica Pica (R. Visconde da Luz), and were really glad we did. The casual and homey ambiance, friendly service, and tasty food were just what we needed after a long day of sightseeing!
On the way back, take the scenic route if possible. The N6 highway runs along the coast rewarding drivers with beautiful ocean views and going through other nice towns like Estoril (famous casino), Carcavelos, Paço de Arcos, etc. As you arrive in Lisbon, the same road runs near the famous Belem Tower, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the Jeronimos Monastery, passes under the 25 de Abril Bridge, and all the way to the Comércio Square. Some great views all the way!
Have questions about Sintra and Cascais or favourites to share? Let us know in the comments below. 🙂