If you’re planning to visit Lisbon, build in two to three extra days to allow for a couple of day-trips to the surrounding areas. One of these day-trips would be to the coastal towns of Cascais and Sintra, located on the Estoril Coast only 25 minutes away from Lisbon (by highway). If you have enough time you may even want to spend a night in Cascais, to make sure you have sufficient time to enjoy everything properly!
Cascais was born as a fishing village, but gained fame in the late 19th and early 20th century as a resort for Portugal’s royal family. It is now a popular vacation spot for locals and foreigners alike, as well as a commuter town for many who work in Lisbon but prefer to live away from the hustle and bustle of a big city.
If you’re like us, then you probably love the beach, especially one that isn’t packed with people! Soft sand, space, tranquility, and the sound of the ocean drowning out the voices of the other people on the beach… sound good? You might also not want to rush around during your holidays, packing a thousand things into each day, and prefer to maintain a more leisurely pace that allows you to unwind and relax. If so, then we’d suggest you stay a night in Cascais. It’ll make all the difference between a tourism-packed day and an overnight trip that allows you to mix tourism with leisure time.
Start in Cascais, arriving early enough to have time for a walk around old town and a drive by some of the many old mansions that have since been reconverted for more practical uses. If at some point towards the end of the morning you want a quick, refreshing break, stop by Gelados Santini, one of the most well-known and best ice cream parlors in Portugal. The ice creams are artisanal and made with fresh fruit, and you can feel the difference in every bite you take – they’re that good!
From Cascais you have access to many beaches. We would suggest you leave town and head northwest along the coast if you’re looking for less crowded beaches. Abano Beach, Guincho Beach and Cresmina Beach are all good options. Just be aware that these beaches face west and are therefore on the open Atlantic coast, rather than facing the mouth of the Tejo River to the south (like the beaches in Cascais and to the east of it do), which means that the waves will be larger and the water will be cooler. If you prefer calmer, warmer waters, and can put up with crowded beaches, then head for Cascais’s city beaches or to the beaches to the east of town.
If you do head northwest, then you’ll be going in the direction of a fantastic place for lunch: the restaurant O Faroleiro. It’s almost a landmark in this region, and has been serving incredibly fresh, delicious fish and seafood for generations.
After an excellent meal and an afternoon on the beach, head back to Cascais and stay the night at the Grande Real Villa Italia Hotel & Spa. This five star hotel was built on the site of a former Italian palace near Cascais and is a truly luxurious experience.
The following morning leave for Sintra, an incredibly beautiful and romantic municipality that was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1995. The area surrounding the town of Sintra is dotted with royal estates and buildings from the 8th to 9th century, as well as buildings from the 15th to 19th centuries.
For lunch, stop at the Casa do Preto, in Sintra. It’s more of a corner pastry shop than a restaurant, but it has incredible pastries and sweets that are typical of this region and can’t be missed! Ask for queijadas and travesseiros - once you have a bite you’ll want to keep asking for more!
Don’t leave Sintra without visiting the Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros), the Pena National Palace (Palácio Nacional da Pena), Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate) and the Sintra National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)! The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle built in the 8th to 9th century, to protect the population of an area that was predominantly agricultural. Taken back from the Moors during the Portuguese Reconquista, it was named a National Monument. The Pena National Palace (Palácio Nacional da Pena) began as a simple chapelin the middle ages and over subsequent centuries developed into a monastery, was reduced to rubble by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and was rebuilt into a summer residence for the Portugal Royal Family in the mid-1800s. It is one of the main architectural expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world, a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate) was built in the mid-1800s as a summer resort for the Portuguese court and is another example of Sintra Romanticism. The Sintra National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra), a medieval royal palace, has been incredibly well-preserved over the years and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Once you’ve wrapped up your visit to Sintra, you should have enough time for an excellent dinner before heading back to Lisbon. We’d suggest you drive a little further up the coast to Ericeira, a sleepy fisherman’s village, and dine at the restaurant Esplanada Furnas. You select what you would like to have for dinner from the display of fresh fish and seafood by the door to the restaurant and then it’s prepared for you on the spot by their incredible chef. The dishes are so good that you’re bound to leave with a stomachache from not being able to contain yourself and eating far too much!