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The five best day trips from Lisbon, Portugal

Heading to the Portuguese capital? Stay a little longer and venture out to deserted beaches, chic coastal towns and fairytale palaces.

By Connor McGovern
Published 26 Sept 2019, 14:15 BST, Updated 11 May 2021, 09:19 BST

Whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs, hanging baskets, bright splashes of azulejo tiles and twisting cobbled streets all combine to make Óbidos one of Portugal’s prettiest towns.

Photograph by Getty Images

If you’ve not been already, be warned — visitors quickly fall for Lisbon’s charms. It’s hardly a surprise in a city that has it all: vibrant neighbourhoods, fine food, rich cultural heritage and the infectious love of a good time. As a result, many who come don’t ever venture out of the city, but those who do are well rewarded. Lisbon provides the perfect base for discovering some of western Portugal’s natural and cultural treasures, and a good local transport network means many excursions are an easy train or coach ride away, too. Within an hour, visitors can be exploring sandy strands with some of Europe’s best surf; decadent mountain palaces with intriguing pasts; historic towns and villages; vineyards, forests, and wild natural parks that teem with wildlife.

Just 50-minutes from Lisbon, the town of Cascais offers a chic seaside escape.

Photograph by Getty Images

1. Cascais

With its palm-lined promenade and discreetly chic vibe, there’s a whiff of St Tropez about Cascais. The town — along with nearby Estoril — became King Dom Luís I’s preferred seaside escape in the 1870s, and it has held onto its low-key glamour ever since. Start a visit at a bar on Largo Luís de Camões square for the best people-watching in town, before stopping by the 15th-cenutry Citadel of Cascais, which now houses an arts complex. Any hunger pangs should be seen to at Marisco na Praça for some of the finest seafood in town, finished off with ice cream from Santini. There are plenty of boutiques to while away an afternoon, too: Sabão & Limoã does stylish dresses and swimwear; Happy Sardine has sea-themed souvenirs; and Cura, over in Monte Estoril, does minimalist get-ups for men and women. Sun-seekers should make a beeline for the town’s pretty beaches, but for a wilder experience, head for the surf-lapped sands of Praia do Guincho.

How to get there: Take the commuter train from Cais do Sodré station (around 50 mins), which follows the Tagus Estuary on its way to the Atlantic. Return fares from €4.50 (£4).

Arrábida Natural Park offers a taste of Portugal at its most wild.

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Arrábida Natural Park

Day-trippers dedicated enough to make it to the Arrábida will find Portugal at its wildest: a landscape of every shade of green, quiet cycling trails in fragrant shrubland, and spectacular views across the Sado Estuary. Inland, the postcard-pretty town of Azeitão is known for both its vineyards and eponymous cheese, but it’s the beaches that beckon: Portinho da Arrábida, with its teal-blue waters and the Oceanographic Museum; and Praia de Figueirinha, a huge flank of golden sand that juts out into the sea, are two of the most idyllic. The park is also a haven for wildlife, with everything from birds of prey to butterflies and wild boars. But the star of the show? The bottlenose dolphins that thrive in these coastal waters, best spotted on a boat trip from Portinho or Setúbal.

How to get there: It’s easiest to hire a car from Lisbon and head south on the A2 towards Setúbal, before picking up the N10 to Azeitão, or pushing on to Portinho da Arrábida. Alternatively, take the Fertagus train to Setúbal from Sete Rios or Entrecampos stations (around 50 mins, single fares from €4.55/£4.10), but there’s no public transport in the Park itself, although some local buses serve the beaches in summer.

The National Palace of Mafra was completed in 1755 and dominates the town of Mafra.

Photograph by Getty Images

3. National Palace of Mafra

A masterclass in baroque extravagance, this is the Portuguese answer to Versailles. Made up of a basilica, grand halls and rooms, cloisters, courtyards, gardens and long, ornate galleries, the palace was completed in 1755 and dominates the pretty mountain town of Mafra. But despite its size and opulence, the palace was never a permanent home to the Portuguese monarchy as its rooms were seen as too drab; instead, it was preferred as a hunting base for the Tapada, the walled parkland that sits nearby. Nevertheless, its historic and architectural value was confirmed earlier in 2019 when it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set aside at least a couple of hours to take in the vast abode, and don’t miss the library with its marble floors, rococo bookcases and 40,000-strong collection of books.

How to get there: Buses to Mafra depart regularly from Campo Grande bus station and take an hour, on average. Return fares from €7.45 (£6.80).

4. Óbidos

Could this be the prettiest town in Portugal? Whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs, hanging baskets, bright splashes of azulejo tiles and twisting cobbled streets all squeezed in between ancient stone walls make a good case for this title. Its good looks mean it’s a popular spot with day-trippers, but that doesn’t detract from the town’s appeal: the real joy of a visit to Óbidos is stumbling upon its historic treasures, including the 15th-century aqueduct, quaint churches, the castle (now a beautifully restored luxury hotel), and the intact Moorish walls, from which the best views of this historic tangle of a town can be had. However, no visit here is complete without tasting the local ginjinha de Óbidos — a punchy cherry liqueur that’s served in an edible chocolate cup.

How to get there: Buses depart regularly from Campo Grande station and take about an hour. Single fares from €7.95 (£7.30).

Sintra is home to Pena Palace, a gaudy, red-and-yellow 19th-century castle surrounded by wild, sprawling gardens.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Sintra

You could easily spend a day or two discovering all Sintra has to offer. Highlights are the medieval Castle of the Moors, the Arab-inspired Monserrate Palace, and Sintra National Palace, where the golden coffered ceiling of the Sala dos Brasões is worth a visit in itself. But the jewel in Sintra’s crown is arguably the Pena Palace: a gaudy, red-and-yellow 19th-century castle surrounded by wild, sprawling gardens, built as a mountain retreat for the Portuguese nobility with a sizeable collection of royal artifacts and furniture. Take the forested walk and steal views across the landscape along the way, otherwise save your energy and hail one of the tuk-tuks in the town. But a word of advice: don’t be put off the grey clouds that linger at the summit; the microclimate adds to the drama of this fairytale mountain town.

How to get there: Take the commuter train from Rossio station (around 30 mins) or Oriente station (40 mins). Return fares from €4.50 (£4).

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