Portugal’s capital city is surrounded by several amazing places to explore. Lisbon day trips allow you to discover the coastline, a bit of History, places of faith, places of fun and great food and wine.
When it comes to organizing things, Lisbon’s location – roughly in the center of the country – is the best starting point, either you choose to go North, South or East. By car, train or bus, there are multiple ways of getting around and still return to the city, at the end of the journey. Just be sure to start as early as possible, to make the most of the day. Another great way to save time is to buy tickets and entrances in advance.
If you have a chance, try not do too much. For instance, visiting Setúbal and Évora in the same day may sound tempting, given that both areas are pretty close. It is possible to do it but, at the end of the day – literally! – you will notice that there is so much to see and do that everything seems a bit rushed, or you are feeling exhausted.
And now, let us show the best ways to enjoy Lisbon day trips.
Lord Byron, the XIX century English poet, called Sintra a “Glorious Eden”. No wonder his romantic mind thought of the area as a piece of Heaven. Sintra is mysterious and mystical. It has an exuberant forest, rich palaces, hidden love nests and even a centuries-old monastery. It was the home for kings and queens and the place where secret societies members would gather.
Also in the XIX century, a monarch was so much in love with is wife that he decided to build her the ultimate fairytale scenario. Fit for a queen, the Pena Palace, with its mix of styles, colorful facades and lush Park, is the place to see if you want to feel absolutely regal.
There is so much to see and do in the Sintra area – just one hour from Lisbon city center and a Unesco World site – that the biggest challenge when planning the day is to pick what to do, what to see and where to go. Before choosing, think about what is more appealing to you. Besides the Pena Palace, if you love historical and royal buildings, you can visit the National Palace, in the village center, or the Moorish Castle, on the top of the hill.
Secrets and Spirit
However, if you are more attracted to spirituality, philosophy or a mix of both, you shoul really check out the Quinta da Regaleira, near Sintra’s town center. It is said that this XIX place was a set for secret gatherings of the Free Masons in the area. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that you can spend a great time enjoying the gardens. Or exploring the man-made caves and the Initiation Well with its nine levels of “Dante’s Inferno”.
The Capuchos Convent, embedded in the forest greenery and almost with a druid feel, is another of Sintra’s jewels. Build in the XVI century, it was the home from Franciscan monks, dedicated all of their lives to prayer and contemplation. Excavated in to stone boulders, protected by humble cork and a place for the spirit, it allows you really travel back in time.
And what about visiting the place where Europe ends? Sounds dramatic, but it is absolutely true. Cabo (Cape) da Roca is the geographical westernmost point of the Continent. And, for centuries, many believed that after these dramatic cliffs, no other lands existed. Just the mighty Ocean. That is, until the Portuguese started the Age of Exploration giving “new worlds to the World”.
You can travel from Lisbon to the Sintra area by car, bus or train. Still, be aware that using public transportation can be a lot more time-consuming. Another thing you have to consider is where to park in Sintra. There are not many places, and they became fully booked early in the morning. If you don’t want to worry, a good option is for someone to drive and wait for you. It saves time, allows you to see more and makes the Sintra experience a lot better.
Fátima is one of the most important shrines in the World. An absolute place of devotion, it attracts not only roman catholics but also people from other faiths. It all started in 1917, when three sheep herding children claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. More than 100 years after the first apparitions, Fátima – located 90 minutes north of Lisbon – is one of Portugal’s most visited areas.
The Old and New Basilicas, the little Chapel of the Apparitions and the tombs of Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta are the top spots to see. You can also attend one of the several daily services. They are celebrated in Portuguese, but also in other languages, including English, French, Italian and Spanish. And, wishing to explore a little bit more, you can visit the small village where the children were born and even their family homes. Just be sure to have a car to do just that, since public transportation is scarce.
The West Coast
Besides Fátima, on the West Coast near Lisbon, you can also visit other places where History, Faith and Heritage are combined. One of our favorites, and still off the tourism more “beaten tracks”, is Alcobaça. This village is dominated by one of the most impressive monasteries in Europe. A Gothic jewel, encased in a XVIII century shell, it’s a mix of simplicity and grandeur. When visiting, don’t miss the tombs of Pedro and Inês, the Portuguese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. But with a darker twist…
For decades, Nazaré was known as one of the most charming Portuguese fishing villages. The golden sand beaches, the food, the catholic shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Nazaré and the views, specially from the Sítio, where, and still are, main attractions. However, some years ago, Nazaré wad discovered as Europe’s best spot for surfing some of the biggest waves in the World. The reason for the impressive surf – some are higher than 30 meters (100ft) – is the underwater “Nazaré Canyon”, which creates perfect giant waves that crash, mainly, at Praia do Norte. But, be aware that this phenomenon doesn’t exist all year round, and you have a bigger chance to witness it from October to March.
Some call it a real Nativity Scene. Others, a glimpse to the country’s medieval past. The castle town of Óbidos – roughly one hour from Lisbon – is a must-see in the west coast region. Protected by strong stone walls, it shows a perfect example of traditional architecture, with red rooftop buildings clustered to form narrow streets and alleys, paved with cobblestones. It is old Portugal in a nutshell.
Want to spend the day between the beach, a National Park, great food and wine, roman ruins and dolphin watching? If so, Setúbal is the day trip for you. Leave Lisbon and in one hour you can be trekking at the Arrábida mountains. This National Park has one of the last pristine Mediterranean forests in the country and amazing viewpoints to the estuary of the Sado river and the Atlantic. Go all the way to the sea level and enjoy the beaches, with their golden sand and turquoise waters.
It is precisely in the Sado waters that you can see several families of dolphins. The best way to do it is aboard one of the many vessels that offer river cruises. These same vessels can drop you off at the Tróia pier. This peninsula faces the city and beside the beach, hotels and a casino, is the set for some of the best preserved roman ruins on the Iberian Peninsula.
Setúbal is known for the quality of its food, specially the fish, seafood, vegetables and fruit. The Mercado do Livramento is a fishermen and farmers market famous all over Portugal. Visiting this place is a great way to feel inspired for your next meal. The region is also home to some of the best wines in Portugal and has several wineries you can visit.
Some historians say that the city of Évora shows what Lisbon would look like, if the Great Earthquake of 1755 hadn’t happened. Its XVI and XVII palaces, mansions and churches have witness a time in History where Portugal ruled the waves and was a key player in international politics.
However, this area, reachable from Lisbon in about 90 minutes, has seen human occupation way before the country even existed. At the site of the Almendres, on the outskirts of the city, you can see how pre-historical civilizations built several a circular field of stones. Historians say that the purpose was religious and astronomical. The place is even considered Portugal’s answer to Stonehenge.
One of Evora’s unmissable sites is the imposing II century Roman Temple. Dedicated to Emperor Augustus, it is one of the best preserved examples of Roman Iberia. In the city you can see other signs of this civilization: a defensive wall, an aqueduct and thermal baths, right below the City Council building. And you can visit them all.
The Moors also left strong influences in Évora, mainly in architecture and urban design. In the XII century, when the Portuguese arrived, the city soon became one of the most important in the country. Many kings and queens chose the area to gather their courts, to escape Lisbon in times of plagues and even to show off, with magnificent religious buildings.
Bones and more bones
One of the most interesting temples is the Bones Chapel, right next to Saint Francis Church. You can find it spooky, fascinating or a mix of both. The walls and pillars of this XVII century chapel are completely covered with human skulls and bones. Gathered from some of Evora’s graveyards, their mission is to make people ponder how fleeting life can be. At the entrance, the ominous inscription sets the tone: “We the bones that are here, for yours we wait…”
To forget darker thoughts, Évora offers a great food and wine scene. You can choose from Michelin stars restaurants to small, family owned, places and be amazed by our southern gastronomy. There is no better way to enjoy even more your day at Alentejo’s capital city.
Lisbon day trips with friends
To make the most of your time and really enjoy Lisbon day trips, the key is to be organized. Skip the crowds and the not-so-interesting sites, choose the best way to get to places, the best timing to visit monuments, make sure to buy tickets in advance. And if you are a foodie, make sure to have time for great meals or tastings. If all of this seems a lot of work, leave it to us. Reach out to Your Friend in Lisbon and let us custom your experience. Sintra, Fátima, Setúbal, Évora or anywhere else you want to go, with private guides and drivers that can easily became friends.