I spent six nights in Portugal’s largest city, partly because I had a long list of day trips from Lisbon I wanted to make. I was most excited about Sintra, but I read about Cascais on another travel blog and decided I wanted to go there as well.
This post is practical information that will hopefully help you plan a visit to these two small Portuguese towns, and to help you get there and get around without missing a thing. I made a few mistakes. You can learn from mine and save yourself some time. There are many more day trips from Lisbon you can make besides these two. I also went to Evora. If you missed Part 1 of my Portugal series, you can read about Lisbon here.
The Palaces of Sintra
Getting here: There are two ways to get to Sintra from Lisbon if you don’t have a car. You can take the blue metro line to Reboleira and then take the comboios to Sintra, or you can go to Rossio Station (green line) and take the comboios directly to Sintra, which is probably easier. The cost is about the same, 3.50 euros. I took the blue line and well, it took a long time. Coming back I went to Rossio Station and then got on the blue line and that was faster.
Getting around Sintra: My advice? Spend one night here and take the time to walk everywhere. I wish I had. Lots of people had rental cars, but there’s no need, even if you don’t want to walk to the palaces. There are tuk tuks that will take you to Pena Palace for 5 euros per person. There are Mercedes taxis, but I don’t know how much they cost. I got a ride from a guy in an old VW advertising rides to Pena Palace, but I wanted to go to Monseratte Palace first, which is the furthest away at about 4-5km, and quiet an uphill climb. He charged me 15 euros. It would’ve taken about an hour to walk I think, maybe a bit more, and I didn’t have that kind of time.
From Monseratte, I walked back down the hill, on the main road, to Regaleira Palace. If you walk from Monseratte Palace back to Sintra, you’ll see several beautiful, old fountains along the roadside. From there, it was a short distance back to town, where I took a tuk tuk to Pena Palace, and back to town because it was raining. I really wanted to walk back. I still recommend spending one night in this charming town so that you can take your time and walk.
Side note: I saw Rick Steves filming at Pena Palace! He walked right by me and all I could think to say was, “You’re Rick Steves!” Like he doesn’t know that! I must admit, I was more excited than I ever thought I would be to see him. He was working hard and seemed a bit frazzled, so I didn’t try to talk to him. I think his camera guy saw me taking photos and he just looked at me like, “What a weirdo!”
Things to do and see:
Whether you have one or two days, you can see the top palaces, but if you have two days, here’s what I suggest:
Day 1: Walk or drive up to Monserrate Palace (8 euros), one of the lesser visited palaces in Sintra, but truly spectacular. I’m not sure why it doesn’t get more visitors, perhaps because it is the furthest away from Sintra. This worked to my advantage as I was able to get photos without any people in them! Restored in 1856 by English architect James T. Knowles, it became the summer residence of the Cook family. The plaster work is just amazing, but the most spectacular feature is the corridor that connects the three towers of the palace. There are 33 hectares of gardens here, and I didn’t have time to see it all since I only had one day here.
After visiting Monserrate, walk (or drive) back towards Sintra and stop to visit Quinta da Regaleira Palace (6 euros) and the grounds, including the Initiation Well which is AMAZING to see! This palace and its gardens is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. It was the summer residence of the Carvalho family and the style of it is neo-manueline, which is truly unique. While the inside may not wow you, the outside and gardens definitely will.
Take a break in Sintra and have some wine and dinner at one of the many eateries. I ate a late lunch at Paco Real, outside, and while it was pricey for Portugal, the service was excellent and so was the food and wine. There are so many places to choose from, some much more romantic than others. I was here on my own, but Sintra is a very romantic place, which is another reason to spend the night.
Day 2: Make the steep trek to Pena Palace, or take a tuk tuk for 5 euros per person. This colorful palace bedazzled with Portuguese tiles is so photogenic from the outside. You have a choice to buy a ticket to see the “gardens” for 7 euros, or the gardens and the palace for 14 euros. If you choose the first option, you can still get all the photos you want of the outside of the palace. I went inside as well. I’d say if you’re not passionate about palaces, give the inside a miss and spend your time in the vast outdoor property of the palace. However, if you want some iconic shots of the palace, you’ll have to enter to have access to the terraces. This is the real reason to see the inside of the palace. And if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see Rick Steves!
The park surrounding the palace is 85 hectares, and I didn’t have time to see nearly enough. The palace itself is pure Portuguese romanticism. It looks like something out of Disney, only it’s real! All of Sintra is a World Heritage Site, but Pena Palace is considered the most important aspect of the cultural landscape.
Now head back to Sintra, on foot or by tuk tuk, enjoy a leisurely lunch, and then head over to the National Palace (10 euros). This was merely a summer home for royalty, but it’s pretty impressive. It is the only palace that doesn’t have gardens, but when you get to the exit, which is to the left, I recommend going to the right where you’ll enter a small but beautiful terrace garden and the view of Sintra from here is really beautiful. The people in front of me just exited, but I’m glad I turned right to visit this garden and terrace.
Other Palaces in Sintra: I didn’t have time to visit these because I was only there for the day. By spending the night, you have time to visit more.
Castelo dos Mouros – This Moorish Castle was restored in the 19th century as part of Pena Park, but it has a separate entrance fee of 8 euros.
Palacio de Seteais (Near Quita de Regaleira, walk down the driveway and stand in front, turn around, and you’ll have an amazing view of Pena Palace on the hill. Get your camera ready!)
Santuario da Peninha – The ruins of Peninha are a bit remote, but provide stunning views. It’s a small mansion (oxymoron?) and a chapel on a rocky outcrop where you can see all of Sintra and the surrounding coastline. It is free to visit.
The Beaches of Cascais
Getting here: Cascais is about 20 miles outside of Lisbon. Take the green line to Cais do Sodre and then take the comboios to Cascais. Altogether, about 3.50 euros.
Tip: Get off at Estoril and walk along the sea to Cascais. It only takes about 20 minutes and it’s a beautiful walk along the sea. Estoril is also a cute seaside town worth exploring a bit. There are actually 3 or 4 stops for Estoril. Get off at the one that just says “Estoril”. You’ll be near the castle and not too far of a walk from Cascais.
Getting around: This day trip from Lisbon is easy to get around. Just walk everywhere. It’s quite small. Parking spaces looked pretty hard to come by and May isn’t high season.
Accommodation: Cascais is definitely a beach holiday location with a wide range of hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and Airbnb options.
Things to do: Many people come here for a beach holiday and stay at one of the hotels. There are also a number of monuments and museums in the area. I was just here for the day, and I had one main objective. Rent a bicycle and ride the 10km along the sea to Guincho beach. It’s not flat terrain, although the inclines are gradual. I hadn’t ridden a bike in years and I made it with no problem. Well, there was one problem. My ass will never be the same after 20km on that bike seat, and I don’t mean that in a good way.
I rented a bike from the guys at Bike and Scooter Rental near the platforms at the train station. You can see it as soon as you get off the train. These guys were great. 2hrs = 5 euros, 4hrs = 7 euros, and all day is only 10 euros. They will give you a business card and if you have any problem, call them and they’ll pick you up. Luckily, I didn’t have to do that, although my ass was wishing I had. You’ll have to walk the bike through the train station to exit. The guys at Bike and Scooter Rental will give you a map.
Tip: Put sunscreen on your hands. I now have a very funky tan line thanks to a ¾ length sleeve…
Dining: If you’re tired of local cuisine, there are lots of international cuisines in Cascais, including two of my faves, Indian and Thai. After my bike ride, I was in the mood for some spice. And a very cushy seat. I headed to Asian Restaurant, opposite Restaurante Clo Clo which serves Portuguese cuisine. Tom Yum soup and Thai green curry really hit the spot. I didn’t have a view, but I had excellent service and great food for a reasonable price. If you eat at any of the restaurants with a sea view, you’ll pay a premium for that view.
These two day trips from Lisbon, or overnight trips if you have the time, will definitely make your visit to Portugal richer and more enjoyable. It’s easy to get to the both of these towns, and easy to get around.
The History of Evora
Evora is a small town outside of Lisbon that is steeped in history and has the architecture to show it. The yellow and white buildings line narrow alleys and streets, leading to open squares with the obligatory cathedrals on each one. This quaint town is brimming with charm and best experienced on foot. I didn’t bother getting a map, and I managed to walk by all the major sights. Of course, I came across the main tourist boulevard with it’s many shops selling all manner of things I could find anywhere else in Portugal.
Getting here: Make your way via metro to Oriente Station (red line, pretty cool station), and take the comboios to Evora (12 euros). The train ride is about 1.5 hours.
Getting around: Evora’s old town is small. You can walk everywhere. From the train station, cross the road slightly to the right as you exit, head up the street and after about 15 minutes walking, you’ll be in the center of town. I didn’t have a map, but everyone I saw did. Not sure where they got them, but a map would’ve actually been helpful, although I do recommend just wandering around to see what you can see.
Things to see:
#1 Chapel of Bones – (4.00 euros including the monastery) I love anything to do with cemeteries, skeletons, old bones, catacombs, so this definitely tops the list for me. This chapel is constructed on the inside of the bones of people who were buried in Evora, and the skeletons of the man who thought of it and a bishop killed by Napoleon are also in side. I had it all to myself, and it was quite peaceful and very beautiful inside.
#2 Evora Se de Cathedral – (free to enter, 3.50 euros to visit the cloister and tower) The main cathedral in Evora is hard to miss. It’s like all roads lead here. It’s a beautiful cathedral with a long history and definitely worth a visit, even if you’re like me and had already seen about 20 cathedrals on this trip. The cloister is beautiful, but fairly standard as cloisters go. But the tower? This short climb is totally worth it and provides not only stunning views of Evora and mountains, but a cool walk around on the roof, which I thought was the best part!
Dining: There are loads of pasteleira type places here, but I ended up at Pateo, which is just off the main shopping street. It’s an outdoor seating area serving up drinks, snacks, and meals. I think this is a frequent tour stop, but they seemed to be small groups. There were lots of non-group travelers here as well, the service was good, and the cheese plate with tomato jam and a sangria really hit the spot after walking around Evora all day.