We have visited Portugal in winter of 2020 and spent a full week there. Luckily for us the weather was nice, warm (with temperature of up to +20 C on some days) and mostly sunny.
Our starting point was Lisbon, which on its own is a great place to visit for a few days (post about Lisbon is coming soon). But as we had the whole week we also wanted to travel around and explore few places nearby.
Below are 3 easy one-day trips from Lisbon we would recommend. All trips are child-friendly – with no long driving times and with a mix of sightseeing and nature.
Trip 1 – Sintra castles and palaces (by public transport)
The town of Sintra is located in the Sintra mountains and is famous for its beautiful nature and a number of castles and palaces in the area. At first we thought of renting a car and viewing all the things in a one day car trip. But after researching places to visit and transport options we decided that one day in Sintra region won’t be enough.
There are at least 5 major places to visit there, being Sintra National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, Pena palace, Monserrate palace and the Moorish castle. Plus some really nice beaches and picturesque coastline on top of it. Seeing it all in one day is only possible if you allow yourself a quick glance from the outside and move on without really spending time and enjoying the places.
If you are limited in time and have only one day in Sintra, then perhaps you can choose few places you want to visit instead of trying to see and rush through all of them.
How to get there
Important: There have been recent changes to the road use rules near Sintra and now some of the roads are only accessible by authorized vehicles. For example, getting to Pena palace or Moorish castle on a private car is no longer possible.
Taking into account two main attractions in Sintra – Pena palace and Moorish castle – are no longer accessible by private car, the most practical and easier option would be to take a train from Lisbon and travel by bus within Sintra. Trains run often between Lisbon and Sintra and it takes about 40 minutes to get there. Tickets can be purchased at the machines on the train station.
Tip: Be aware that when buying a tiket you cannot reserve a seat on the train, so it’s worth boarding a train early to ensure you have a seat during the 40 minutes ride (which is especially important when travelling with kids).
Once you arrive to Sintra by train, leave the train station and find your way to the bus stop no 434 nearby:
Sintra is very popular and 434 bus is usually quite full, so be ready to wait in line to get on the bus. Bus tickets are sold right there – while quieing for the bus you will be approached by an authorised agent selling the tickets. Keep in mind, that the bus follows the route on a one-way road, so if you miss your stop you will have to do the full circle again (or get off on the next stop and walk back to the desired stop).
So, in the morning we took a train from Lisbon’s Rossio station, arrived at Sintra and took bus #434 to get to Moorish castle, which was our first destination.
Moorish castle (or The Castle of the Moors) was built by Moors in the 9th century and is located on the top of the hill with a beautiful view to the old town of Sintra below.
Not much left from the castle but its stone walls. Once on the site you can walk along the stone walls and get up on the few watch towers to enjoy great views to the valley and hills around it. It took us about an hour to walk the trail of the castle walls with multiple stops along the way to take in the view and take pictures. You can easily walk there with kids (under adult supervision, because the walls are quite low at places), but there are no ramps for a stroller if you’re travelling with smaller kids.
After Moorish castle you can return back to the route of bus 434 and take the bus to Pena palace. Alternatively, you can take a 10 minute walk to the entrance of Pena park. But keep in mind that Sintra area is hilly and you might need that energy later – to climb uphill to the Pena palace.
Pena palace is one of the most famous places to visit in Portugal. It’s a vividly painted romanticist palace you have probably seen on many “visit portugal” pictures.
It’s possible that while converting the old monastery into a palace, king Ferdinand was influenced by the appearance of Rheinstein castles.
There is an option to see inside the palace and the terraces or just see the terraces (and palace only from the outside). Check the options and ticket prices on their website. We took the terraces only option and climbed around multiple viewpoints of the palace. Keep in mind that queue to enter inside the palace may take as long as one hour!
When finished with the Pena palace, take the same 434 bus to Sintra old town. The stop is called “NewsMuseum”, from there you can explore more of the old town itself and Sintra National Palace as well as Quinta da Regaleira palace.
The National Palace of Sintra
The National Palace of Sintra is just 2 minutes walk from the “NewsMuseum” bus stop. They say this palace is one of few that remained relatively unchanged since roughly the mid 16th century. Have a look at the description, opening times and tickets on their website.
Quinta da Regaleira
10 minutes walk from the National Palace of Sintra is Quinta da Regaleira. This is a relatively new palace (from the early 20th century). Next to the romantic palace is a beautiful park featuring lakes, fountains, wells (you can walk down 27 metres in one of them), grottos and exotic plants. You can learn more about this palace and book tickets on their website.
From Sintra back to the train station you can take the bus 434 at the same stop in old Sintra.
That was the end of the Trip 1 in Sintra for us – more than enough palaces and sightseeings for one day (especially with kids!) 🙂
Tip: Buy entrance tickets to the palaces online – you can combine tickets and save on the price. We bought and printed all the tickets in advance and avoided queues at the entrance. Check ticket options on Parques de Sintra website.
Trip 2 – Sintra beaches and Palace of Monserrate (by car)
Day one in Sintra was a bit overwhelming for us, with several places to visit one after another. We decided that the second should be more relaxed and include some nature seeing in the region.
We rented a car in Lisbon city center (near the appartment we stayed while in Lisbon) and drove to the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. It took us about 35 minutes to get to the first point of interest – Palace of Monserrate. The Palace is not as easily reachable by public transport as Pena or Moorish castle, and it has its own parking (free), so that’s why we decided to visit Monserrate palace by car.
Park and Palace of Monserrate
This 19th century mansion is definitely worth a visit. Not just the palace, but the park surrounding it was a pleasure to explore. It appeared calm and quiet, especially after super-busy Pena palace. The gardens are nicely planned and well looked after. You find there walking tracks, terraces with variery of plants, lake and fountains. The park was actually awarded in the “Best Development of a Historic Park or Garden” category by the European Garden Award.
Monserrate palace itself is not big, but amazes by detailed ornaments of the exterior and interior walls, passageways with multiple arches and ceilings.
Allow at least 2 hours if you go inside the palace and walk around its beautiful park.
Praia da Adraga beach
We planned our next stop after Monserrate palace to be Miradouro Praia do Carneiro – a viewpoint over a nice beach. Unfortunately, we didn’t get there – the road was unsealed and due to a hiccup with the car rental company we ended up with a nice and new Mercedes with really low clearance suitable for a city driving. So, we didn’t risk to drive it on a rough unsealed road and instead went to a beach nearby.
We spent some good time on the Praia da Adraga – pretty beach with an arch-like passage in the rock formation. There is also a cafe at the beach – if not for a meal, but at least for a snack break, or better yet – an ice cream – on a warm day.
Cabo da Roca and Praia da Ursa
Cabo da Roca and Praia da Ursa (or Ursa beach) were the next places we wanted to visit. If you drive to Cabo da Roca and want to see the really picturesque surroundings of Ursa beach, consider parking your car off the road or even drive on one of the side roads and then walk a little bit for these magnificent views. Even if you park off Estrada do Cabo da Roca, it’s a 15 minutes walk to see most of it – we enjoyed the walk and the view to the Ursa beach.
Cabo da Roca itself is a nice place to visit as well. It offers you panoramic views over the sea and surrounding cliffy bays. It was a bit busy though as lots of tour operators take bus tours there.
If you were in doubt whether to walk 15 minutes to see the Ursa beach – from Cabo da Roca you can take a glimpse of it and decide (my personal advice: totally worth it!).
Next out stop was Boca do Inferno. Don’t take straightest and shortest route there. Instead, take a road along the coast to enjoy more stunning views, beaches and the coastal line of Sintra-Cascais natural park.
Boca do Inferno
Boca do Inferno is on the way to Cascais. The ocean facing cliffs have formed an open cave that you can see from the viewpoint.
An easy place to visit and admire if you are in the vicinity. There are few cafes and souvenir shops near the viewpoint of Boca do Inferno.
The last destination on the Trip 2 is a coastal town of Cascais.
Cascais is a nice little town with lots of boats and yachts in the marina, pretty seaside, cafes and restaurants offering not so expensive but fresh and delicious food.
While in town, consider visiting some of its worthy points of interest. Palácio da Cidadela which used to be a summer residence of the royal family and presidents is now open as a museum. Cascais city hall and adjoining square are the beautiful samples of traditional Portugeses city architecture.
We had a nice dinner in one of the restaurants and a short walk around the city beach afterwards. After that we headed back to Lisbon (about 30 min drive).
Trip 2 example route:
Trip 3 – Serra da Arrabida
Serra da Arrabida is a national park, less than 1 hour drive south of Lisbon. We were on a mission to find those beautiful beaches we’ve seen on pictures when researching what to see in Portugal. There are three of these in the area – Galapinhos, Portinho da Arrabida and Figueirinha – and that’s where we headed to.
National Sanctuary of Christ the King and 24th of April bridge
Since we were driving we decided to also visit another Lisbon’s landmark on the way – National Sanctuary of Christ the King. This monument is inspired by a famous statue in Rio, located in Almada district, just 20 minutes drive from Lisbon centre. Located on the hill it’s visible from many places in Lisbon. It also offers magnificent views over Lisbon from its viewpoint plus for a small fee you can get on top of it (on a lift). We took the lift to the top, but to be honest the view from the top is not that much better than from the foot of the statue.
Yet another reason to go there is to see the 2 km long 24th of April bridge. It’s very similar to the famous Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco – see for yourself:
Lapa de Santa Margarida
After looking at the 24th of April bridge and having a coffee in the cafe at the 24th of April bridge we headed to Parque Natural da Arrabida.
Our first stop there was Lapa de Santa Margarida – a cave chapel near Portinho. We parked off the Rua do Portinho da Arrábida and took steep stairs down towards the chapel. It’s a 10 minutes walk down to the cave and a nice stop over to stretch the legs. I couldn’t say that the chapel itself impressed me, but the area – the cave, the cliffs surrounding it and the sea looked really nice.
Praia do Creiro beach
Praia do Creiro is a perfect place to unwind and enjoy the beach for an hour or two. We visited Portugal in February when the beaches are usually empty, but the weather was so warm that you could easily swim in the sea.
While the boys were enjoying running knee-deep in the water, me and Elena enjoyed walking on the practically empty beach and taking in the view. Going there in high season might be more crowded and not that quiet.
On the way to Praia do Creiro make a short stop at Forte de Santa Maria da Arrábida – small seaside fort with nice views towards the beach and surrounding hills.
There are several large and many small beaches off the road to the South of N379-1, it would take much longer than a day to see them. The roads in the area are picturesque and stopovers on beaches worked really well for us.
Miradouro do Norte
If you have time and like scenic roads and views, take N379-1 and go to Miradouro do Norte – a viewpoint overlooking a valley to the north. This area is quite popular with paragliders, we’ve witnessed at least a dozen enjoying the scenery in their own way.
Also on the way to Miradouro do Norte viewpoint you can stop on the roadside to admire the view towards the sea and Península de Troia.
Setubal is a small coastal city in the Lisbon metropolitan area and will make a perfect stop on your way back to Lisbon.
We reached Situbal quite late in the day and didn’t spend much time in it. But if you still have time after spending a day in the Arrabida park and its beaches, then at least have a walk on Setubal’s waterfront, take a picture on central square Praca de Bocage and enjoy a seafood in one of the waterfront restaurants. Or perhaps go a bit further and visit Fortress Sao Filipe – remains of the 16th century castle and fortress standing on a hill overlooking Setubal city.
Points of interest on our trip in Serra da Arrabida:
We enjoyed our day trips around Lisbon quite a lot. The area offers diverse options for tourism, sightseeing and leisure for different tastes and in different seasons. We would definitely recommend visiting not just Lisbon but its region too – it won’t dissapoint you!