Once a well-kept secret, Portugal has become an increasingly popular tourist destination over the past decade. It’s no surprise that the country has captured the hearts of visitors: It has it all — rich culture, history, architecture, stunning beaches and delicious cuisine. But while Lisbon is an incredible city with plenty to offer, it’s significantly smaller than other European cities like Paris and London. Don’t let that stop you though — instead, you can plan an itinerary that includes visits to villages and cities outside Lisbon.
One option is to rent a car and drive from destination to destination. But driving in Portugal is difficult due to narrow roads and limited parking at “must-see” attractions and switching hotels every few days can be stressful. Luckily, there are a number of day-trips from Lisbon that are easily accessible by bus, train, or even Uber. If you don’t want to deal with the stress of driving and repacking your suitcase every few days, make Lisbon your home base for a week or two — UNESCO sites and stunning coastal villages are less than an hour away.
Where to stay in Lisbon
If you’re looking for a place where you can treat yourself when you return from your day-trip, book a stay at the luxurious Iberostar Lisboa. Located in central Lisbon, it features a sauna and spa offering massages and facial treatments. Be sure to eat at the on-site Luz Restaurant, where executive chef Jorge Fernandes serves up seasonal authentic cuisine.
If you’ve ever dreamed of living in a palace, you’ll find the next best thing at The Pestana Palace Hotel, a Portuguese national landmark. The restored 19th-century palace features beautiful views of the Tagus River and a private park and garden full of subtropical plants and trees.
The cultural landscape of Sintra is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Known for striking palaces straight out of a fairy tale, Sintra is an absolute must-see. Take a 40-minute train ride from Rossio Station in the city center. Be sure to visit the Park and National Palace of Pena. Located in the Sintra hills, the palace’s red-and-yellow hues provide a picturesque contrast to the lush gardens surrounding the structure. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the palace so you don’t miss any of its lookout points and stunning views. Other Sintra highlights are the Moorish Castle and Quinta da Regaleira.
Sintra is one of the more touristy, crowded day-trip destinations; arrive early to beat the crowds. While you’re waiting for the palaces to open, stop at Casa Piriquita or Pastelaria Gregório for a coffee and a pastel de nata, Portugal’s signature custard pastry.
This charming coastal town is a relaxing, peaceful day-trip. Take the train from Cais do Sodre station; it runs approximately every 20 minutes during the daytime and it’ll get you to Cascais in less than an hour. Grab a bite at Cascais Market; options range from seafood and sweets to wine and beer.
Wander the cobblestone streets of Cascais Old Town. Once a fishing village, it’s now full of shops and bars and restaurants with plenty of outdoor and rooftop seating. Make your way to Casa de Santa Maria, a beautiful 19th-century mansion full of Portugal’s signature tile patterns. Located directly next door is the town’s famous blue-and-white lighthouse, which also houses a small museum.
Don’t leave Cascais without walking along the coastline to Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth). This chasm in the seaside cliffs offers striking views as the waves dramatically crash into it. Fun fact: This is the first cave to ever appear in a motion picture: It’s featured in the opening shot of the 1896 British film “A Sea Cave Near Lisbon.”
A tiny medieval village with a population of just over 3,000, Óbidos is located on a hilltop and its narrow, winding streets are surrounded by a fortified wall. Once you enter, there’s not a car in sight. Well-preserved medieval architecture makes a visit to this village feel like time travel.
The quickest way there is by bus from the outdoor Campo Grande station; the trip takes about an hour. Because the buses aren’t clearly marked and there are few guides at the station, allow an extra 10 to 15 minutes to locate the correct vehicle headed to Óbidos.
Once there, stroll along the main street, Rue Direita, and explore the many side streets and staircases — the town is full of picturesque whitewashed houses trimmed with blue-and-yellow borders. In the spring and summer, blossoming bougainvilleas add to the beauty. You’ll also find well-conserved medieval architecture at sites like Óbidos castle, Praça de Santa Maria, Igreja da Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Óbidos and Porta da Vila, a small baroque chapel located at the village’s southern gate.
Before you leave, try ginja, a sour cherry liqueur served in a dark chocolate cup. It’s the signature drink of Óbidos — the cherries come from orchards in the town’s countryside and are macerated for at least a year before the final liqueur is produced. If you enjoy it, a bottle of ginja makes a good souvenir.
You can also take the bus from Campo Grande to Mafra (it takes approximately one hour, and the same “allow extra time” caveat applies). Constructed in the 1700s in Baroque style, Mafra National Palace is the city’s biggest attraction. Explore the basilica, monastery and the royal palace apartments on the second floor. The true gem of the palace is its massive library, also located on the second floor. Its wooden rococo shelves hold 36,000 volumes from the 14th to 19th centuries. Don’t be alarmed if you spot a bat or two — their presence protects the tomes from book-eating insects.
The massive palace will take up most of your day, but if you end up with extra time, check out the Jardim do Cerco, , directly outside the palace. Go to the city center for a relaxing lunch break at one of its many charming, affordable cafes.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Évora is easily accessible by both bus and train — the journey takes approximately 90 minutes by either mode of transportation.
It’s not every day you have the opportunity to visit a building constructed from human bones, so if you are intrigued by all things unique and macabre, visit the Chapel of Bones — it’s constructed from bones exhumed from the city’s graveyards.
Other architectural highlights include the aqueduct, the Roman temple, Convento dos Lóios and the cathedral. Visit Museu de Évora, which showcases paintings, jewelry, furniture, ceramics and textiles.
If you enjoy wandering in search of hidden gems and beautiful photo opps, you’ll want to spend at least an hour or two strolling Évora’s historic centre. Get lost on the maze of streets and take in the beautiful houses and azulejos, Portugal’s signature blue-and-white tiles.