The Portuguese capital of Lisbon is clearly going through a Renaissance of late and everywhere you turn, people are falling in love with the city. It appears on many ‘must-visit’ lists for good reasons: affordable, packed with culture and just plain fun, there’s always something to do in Lisbon. One of the city’s greatest strengths is the many cool destinations nearby. None are as high-profile as Lisbon but through them, you can see Portugal’s many sides. Beaches, forests, castles and historic towns all are within reach via a day trip from Lisbon. So, whether you’re planning on heading out to explore Portugal, or find yourself with time up your sleeve, day trips from Lisbon are the answer.
Once a resort town for the royal family, Sintra is now a beacon for tourists and an essential day trip from Lisbon. Rather than deciding whether to visit a palace while sightseeing, in Sintra it’s more a matter of which palaces you’re going to visit. From the Sintra National Palace in the town centre to playful Pena Palace in the hills nearby (plus a whole load of summer palaces like Quinta da Regaleira too), Sintra is simply filled with palaces. To be honest, fitting everything Sintra has to offer you in a single day trip from Lisbon is going to be a challenge. Even though it’s only an hour away by train, many of the sights are spread out over the surrounding countryside. The quickest option is to make use of the pricey hop-on-hop-off buses but hiking up to the likes of the epic Moorish Castle lets you take in Sintra’s beautiful wooded scenery and see its many regal manor houses. Even with its immense popularity, Sintra has its secrets: The Convent of the Capuchos submerged in the hillside forest is a historic sanctuary and hiking the forest trails there couldn’t possibly be more serene. Just make sure not to get lost!
Costa da Caparica
The beaches close to Lisbon are nice and convenient, but also a little sheltered and compact. If you’re looking for space or some fun in the surf, then it’s best to head over the Tagus River to the Costa da Caparica. This long, almost endless series of beaches is the perfect place to walk in the sand or get settled in for the day without feeling crowded. The best part is only locals seem to know about it. To reach this coast as a day trip from Lisbon, catch the ferry across the Tagus River to the little village of Trafaria (if you’ve yet to take a ferry in Lisbon, this is the perfect excuse). From Trafaria, a short local bus ride will take you out along the coast. Praia de São João is the northernmost of the beaches and there you’ll find sunbeds for rent, not to mention beach bar after beach bar.
Looking for that new profile pic? Maybe something with bright and colourful backgrounds decorated with roses and vines? Or how about the classic travel shot of you looking out from a city wall over quaint rooftops? Then Obidos in central Portugal is where you need to visit. This wonderfully preserved walled old town makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, even with its vibrant colours. Due north of Lisbon, Obidos is 2.5 hours by train but well worth the journey. Visiting Obidos is much more than a photoshoot opportunity though. A walk around the town’s high city walls comes with some awesome views but be warned: it can be quite narrow up there and there’s not a rail in sight, which is rough if you’re not good with heights. Still, roaming its cobbled streets and stairways past delightful traditional houses is bound to keep you entertained. The town even has its own twist on the beloved Portuguese cherry liqueur, Ginja. Rather than drinking it out of something as ordinary as a shot glass, in Obidos Ginja is served in a little chocolate cup that you can eat once you’re done. I know, a dangerous combination!
Still craving castles and azulejos, the artful Portuguese tiles? Then get your fix in the small city of Leiria. Seriously off the beaten path, Leiria is a good choice if you want to get away from the crowds for an authentic look at old Portugal. 2-hours by bus from Lisbon, this truly modest town wears scars from Portugal’s past economic hardships and feels totally unfiltered by tourism. Its biggest draw is the attractive medieval castle, perched high above the town centre in plain view for all to see. Wandering the walls and ruins, it’s hard to deny their impressive presence. Plus, you’ll get some beautiful views back across Leiria itself. In the town centre itself, you’ll find several charming squares, not to mention beautifully tiled buildings and bridges that are past their glory days. In Leiria, you’ll experience a less polished but still charming slice of Portugal.
Need a break from your holiday? Then why not visit the beachside town of Cascais. Simply catch a train along the coast west of Lisbon and enjoy 40 minutes of watching the Portuguese seaside. Stepping foot into Cascais, you’ll immediately be able to tell that the vibe here is totally different. Lisbon may not be “hectic” hectic, but Cascais is on a whole other level of chill. A great place to start is one the many little sand beaches, like Praia da Rainha which is literally in the town centre. Moving between the beach and Cascais’ bars and cafes couldn’t be easier but it’s not just the town’s many beaches that give this town a relaxing atmosphere. Everything from the architecture, the colours and the occasional palm tree lends it a breezy, laidback vibe. As for sights, Cascais has a few: just opposite the central harbour lies the vast Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Luz and the Cascais Lighthouse. Further along the coast, you’ll also find dramatic cliffs and the open-air cave of Boca do Inferno. Essentially though, Cascais is where you go to escape the big city.
After Lisbon and Porto, one of Portugal’s largest and most captivating cities must be Coimbra. Found inland in the Centro region of Portugal, Coimbra is known for its historic university that has been teaching students since 1537. You won’t regret the 2-hour train ride here, as Coimbra offers such an interesting glimpse into Portugal’s past, as well as some stunning views. The importance of the university couldn’t be more obvious when you discover its location: housed inside the Coimbra Royal Palace, the architecture both inside and out is breath-taking. Plus, the Baroque Biblioteca Joanina may well be one of the most extravagant libraries you ever see! A day trip to Coimbra is bound to focus on the city’s university, but there are other sights to be enjoyed too. In the old town, you’ll come across several medieval churches and cloisters that are worth exploring for their elaborate tile mosaics. Just below the university, you’ll also find a historic aqueduct near the lively Botanic Gardens. Coimbra is definitely a place for those keen to dig into Portugal’s history and culture.
Which day trips from Lisbon have you enjoyed? Comment below and let us know!
About the author
David has a passion for writing about lesser-seen, quieter pockets of the world, particularly throughout Europe. With a love for historic old towns and great hikes, he enjoys encouraging others to look further on his travel blog.
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