Once I’d climbed the ramparts of the castello, explored the historic barrios, seen the cathedral and shopped the Baixa, it was time to take some day trips from Lisbon and see what the wider region around Portugal’s capital had to offer:
Hit the beaches at Comporta and Caparica
I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of European beaches. If they’re not pebbly, they’re crowded and dirty. But the long sandy beaches of Portugal’s Atlantic coastline were a revelation. The Costa da Caparica is a popular holiday retreat for Lisboetas and within easy reach of the city. Swimming, sunbathing and enjoying the seafood restaurants are the order of the day here and in summer an open-carriage railway runs along the coast from Lisbon. There’s over ten kilometres of beach so you can always find a quiet spot.
A bit further afield is Praia de Comporta on the Peninsula de Troia, with more miles of beautiful clean beaches. Carpets of pink and white ice-plants in the dunes lead to endless beaches of smooth golden sand washed by refreshing Atlantic swells along the coastline near Lisbon. There are a couple of relaxed bars here perfect for sundowners on the beach.
Lisbon’s summertime retreat at Sintra
The village of Sintra was the summertime retreat of the erstwhile Portuguese monarchy and you can see why as soon as you arrive in the charming old town surrounded by cool, green forests. The Palacio Nacional de Sintra was built in the 14th century and was the royal summer residence until the 1880s.
Walking up the winding, forested pathways from the town to the Palacio da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros. The palace was built in the 19th century for Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha – consort of Queen Maria II and cousin of England’s Prince Albert. It is filled with architectural and decorative oddities, including the romantic Arab room and the sumptuous ballroom. It’s easy to get to Sintra from Lisbon!
The best views of the palace are from in the adjoining parkland – in particular from a spot called the “Queen’s Chair”. Below this is a lush valley of ferns – created for another queen and including exotic plants from around the world. The castle is an old fort from the days of Moorish occupation. It can be seen standing proudly on its hilltop from the battlements of the palace.
The Quinta da Regaleira was built during the last years of the monarchy (in the early 20th century) and I spent several hours exploring this fantastical house and its magical gardens. It’s like a playground for grown-ups, filled with grottoes and toy castles. Designed to represent the journey from hell to heaven, you can creep through underground tunnels and climb winding staircases into a paradise of warm air and birdsong. The terrace cafe here is a pleasant spot for lunch or a snack.
Trendsetting in Cascais
Cascais is a popular holiday resort less than an hour’s train ride up the coast from Lisbon and its chic shops and cafes lining pedestrianised streets have made it cosmopolitan and fashionable for over a hundred years. Once more important as a fortified port and fishing base, in the 1870s the king turned the citadel into a summer palace and wealthy families followed suit by building holiday villas.
These days holidaymakers head for the nightlife of Guincho beach and partying on the sandy beach at the Guincho Bar. Sandy Guincho beach is also great for surfing and windsurfing.
Once you’ve wandered about the shops and the portside have a look at the Museu Biblioteca in Gandarinha Park. This former aristocratic residence has a fascinating collection of Indo-Portuguese azulejos tiles, porcelain, furniture and paintings. For a satisfying evening meal I recommend Restaurante O Viriato (34 Avenue Vasco Gama).
Spirituality in Belem
Belem is only a short tram or train ride from central Lisbon and is where the Portuguese royal family took refuge from the devastating 1755 earthquake in a pink palace that is now a coach museum. But it is the Mosterio dos Jeronimos (the monastery of St Jerome) that is the star attraction.
The high vaulted ceilings, gleaming white turrets and exquisite cloisters have been beautifully restored and this is one of the best examples of the architectural style of Portugal’s golden age – the time of Manuel I in the early 16th century.
Lisbon’s history of travel and exploration
Once you’ve seen the monastery and the various museums take a stroll through the gardens and along the waterfront to see the magnificent Navigator’s Monument and the tower of Belem. Both are a testament to Portugal’s epic history of exploration.
Make sure to go to the Antiga Confeitaria de Belem and taste the famous pasties de Belem (rich custard in pastry tart) in a 19th-century cafe, a must for any visit to Lisbon.
By Natasha von Geldern
What are your recommended day trips from Lisbon?
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