Dreaming of a sun-filled escape? Maybe it’s time to start thinking about next year’s big holiday! One of the best I think we’ve had as a couple was our week in Lisbon, not least because of the day trips to sunny seaside Cascais, historic Belém, and leafy mountainous Sintra, all easy to travel to by train.
You can get to Cascais from Cais do Sodré, the train station on the western side of Lisbon centre.
Heads up, this station is difficult to navigate if you don’t speak Portugese. We queued for ages for the self serve machines only to discover you can’t use your Lisbon Metro card to travel outside of the city. What you need to do is queue to talk to a real person, so you can ask for return tickets to Cascais.
This funny little seaside town almost feels like a beach theme park, with striped cobbled streets, brightly painted buildings and hoards of visiting tourists.
Bar Praia da Rainha
Did I mention I’m not great with heat? I needed a break from the sun after just the walk from Cascais station. We found a parasoled table at Bar Praia da Rainha with a beautiful view over the beach, and tucked into some cold drinks.
Next up, lunch. We strolled around the stripy streets looking in at the bustling restaurants, all of which were completely packed.
We ended up at Restaurante Marítimo on Largo Cidade de Vitória, and enjoyed some very fresh fish and delicious crusty bread.
Praia da Ribeira
It’s safe to say if you spend the first half of this day like we did, you’re fueled up and ready to enjoy an afternoon on the beach. There are a few beaches in Cascais, and we chose the least crowded of the options, Praia da Riberia. It also seemed to be the one most popular with the locals, and the Cascais volley ball team even rocked up to practice.
To get from Lisbon centre to Belém, you need to get the train from Cais do Sodré, the station just west of the Praça do Comércio.
Torre de Belém
When you arrive at the station, walk along Avenida Brasília and you’ll get to the Torre de Belém, another ceremonial gateway to Lisbon from the sea. It’s built on a small island away from the shoreline, so you have to cross a wooden walkway to get to it.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
The Monument of the Discoveries was built in 1940 on the spot where ships departed to go to India or the Orient during the 15th and 16th centuries, to celebrate the Portugese Age of Discovery.
Just on the water looking out over the monument is our lunch spot, Nosolo Italia, which as you may have guessed serves Italian food. We were famished after our walk to the tower and back, so a pizza was just what we needed.
We also treated ourselves to some Italian gelato before heading into Belém, which as you can see started melting almost immediately!
Jardim da Praça do Império
We enjoyed our gelato on a bench in the beautiful Jardim da Praça do Império, the first of three large gardens on the riverfront of Belém.
Museu Coleção Berardo
The Berardo Collection Museum houses contemporary and modern art, with permanent collections of Picasso, Pollock and Warhol, and temporary exhibitions that change regularly. We spent a couple of hours walking around, a very interesting way to escape the hot sun for a moment.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Next up we popped into the gothic style Jerónimos Monastery, which used to house the monks of the military-religious Order of Christ. Now it houses the Museu de Marinha and the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium, and often plays host to exhibitions and ceremonies.
Pasteis de Belém
Visiting the Pasteis de Belém bakery was easily one of the highlights of the whole trip. The bakery itself was in a beautifully bright and airy building, with tiled walls and stone floors, and the sounds and smells of fresh pastry being made wafting through archways from room to room.
We ordered some pasteis and the warm crispy pastry filled with creamy centre, perfectly caramelised on top, arrived at our table for us to enjoy. My only regret is that we didn’t have more.
You can get to Sintra from Lisbon by train from Rossio station.
The beautiful town of Sintra nestles in the foothills of the Sintra mountains, with forested views stretching out all around. If you have the time you can also visit the hilltop Pena National Palace, known for its whimsical architecture and colourful design. Since we only had a day, we focused our time on the Moorish- and Manueline-style Sintra National Palace.
The walk from the Sintra train station to the palace weaves its way around the valley, on a road called Volta Duche that has many of its own attractions worth visiting, including the Museu Anjos Teixeira and the Fonte Mourisca. It is also littered with people selling local items, jewellery, art and crafts, making it a very pleasant walk.
We grabbed a bite to eat in one of the many restaurants before heading into the palace to have a look around.
The Sintra National Palace is the best preserved royal residence in the whole of Portugal, and now serves as a historic house museum. My favourite section was the kitchen with its enormous twin chimneys.
The oldest part of the palace is the royal chapel built in the 14th century, but many different sections of the palace were built at different times in history, giving it a patchwork of architectural styles including Moorish and Gothic-Renaissance.
All in all Sintra was our favourite Lisbon day trip, with its pastel villas spread out over the leafy hillside, and all the history of the palace to learn about. We also wished we’d stayed in Belém longer and eaten more pasteis!
Read more about our holiday in my post 7 days in Lisbon, Portugal