In the Lisbon area and neighboring regions are sites of stunning natural beauty, sandy beaches, magnificent palaces, and fascinating historic towns. The Portuguese capital is a great base to explore different parts of central and southern Portugal, which public transportation makes easily accessible.
There is such a variety of things to see and do, that where you go will depend on your interests, budget, and how much time you have. Here are the ten best day trips from the capital city, from the most popular to the not-so-well-known:
- Costa da Caparica
- Cabo da Roca
- Queluz Palace
- Mafra Palace
(40 minutes from Lisbon by train)
According to UNESCO, this fairytale town was the world’s first center of Romantic architecture, and is now a World Heritage Site. It’s a magical forest of fantastic castles and palaces, which has become one of Portugal’s must-see destinations. You’ll need a full day to see the main attractions, but ideally you’d stay overnight to soak up the unique atmosphere. If you have time for just one monument, make it the architectural dream that is Pena Palace. With more days, escape to the beautiful and wild beaches to the west.
See the Sintra Tourism Guide
(40 minutes from Lisbon by train)
Once the summer retreat of the royal family and Lisbon’s nobility, Cascais became a cosmopolitan resort town after WWII, when it attracted exiled monarchs from around Europe. Today, their grand mansions overlook a series of beaches, and are private properties or have been turned into hotels or museums. This is the “Portuguese Riviera,” with Atlantic waters but a Mediterranean atmosphere. There are beaches for everyone, from families to surfers. Naturally, it’s mostly a summer destination, but thanks to a mild climate, it’s an enjoyable place throughout the year, for strolls by the sea. It also has a few cultural attractions for the days when it’s just too cold for a dip in the sea.
See the Cascais Tourism Guide
(45 minutes from Lisbon by ferry and bus)
The favorite beaches of the people of Lisbon haven’t yet been discovered by most tourists. Getting there involves a scenic ferry ride to Cacilhas across the river, plus a commuter bus from there. It’s a trip worth taking, as the 15km-long stretch of dune-backed sands offers everything from surfing waves to lively seaside bars to secluded spots for nude sunbathing. During the summer, a tourist train goes down this coast, taking visitors to the more remote and more beautiful sections. However, if you continue walking south from the crowded center of the town of Caparica, you’ll eventually find the perfect spot for you, with plenty of space to spread your towel and enjoy the view and the scent of the pine and acacia trees.
Before you hop on the Costa da Caparica bus in Cacilhas, you may want to stop by the Cristo Rei monument nearby, which overlooks Lisbon.
See the Costa da Caparica Beaches Guide
(22 minutes from Cascais by bus or 37 minutes from Sintra by bus)
There is no direct public transportation from Lisbon, but you may want to add a visit to this cape to your day trip to Cascais. It’s Europe’s westernmost point, and is located between Cascais and Sintra, but the bus from Sintra takes longer, and you’ll need plenty of time to see all of that town’s magnificent palaces. The bus from Cascais departs from a terminal behind the train station. The wild cape is one of Portugal’s most emblematic sites, and the attraction is not just standing on the edge of Europe, but also witnessing the raw beauty of nature from the top of the sheer cliff. From here it’s possible to walk to Praia da Ursa, one of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches. However, to reach it you’ll need to hike down a cliff, so it’s not a destination for everyone. You’ll need a sense of adventure, but the effort is rewarded by a stunningly beautiful scenery of colossal sea stacks. It should also be noted that this is also a nude beach and there are no lifeguards on duty or facilities of any kind.
See the Cabo da Roca Tourist Guide
(1 hour from Lisbon by bus)
Portugal’s (and one of Europe’s) best-preserved medieval towns is easy to reach from Lisbon. It’s an enchanting place that was a queen’s wedding present, and looks just like it did in the 1200s, with whitewashed houses with gothic doorways inside the crenellated walls of a castle. It’s possible to see it in just half a day, but it also stages popular festivals throughout the year, such as the Chocolate Festival in the spring, a medieval fair in the summer, the Literary Festival in autumn, and the Christmas Village in December.
See the Óbidos Tourism Guide
(17 minutes from Lisbon by train)
Halfway between Lisbon and Sintra is one of Portugal’s most beautiful buildings. It’s now surrounded by an unremarkable suburb, but is worth a visit if you enjoy historic monuments and regal architecture. It’s a “Portuguese Versailles” built in 1747 with lavish formal gardens, and was the official residence of the royal family in the late 1700s. One of the last great rococo palaces in Europe, it features magnificent rooms with gilt and mirrored walls, painted ceilings, and tile panels.
See the Queluz Palace Visitor's Guide
(1 hour and 30 minutes from Lisbon by bus)
This perfectly-preserved historic town is surrounded by medieval walls and was once an important Roman city, as evidenced by a landmark temple. It’s an open-air museum and a World Heritage Site, with monuments from Portugal’s different periods. The oldest is located a few kilometers outside town, the Cromlech of Almendres, a megalithic site that’s often called the “Portuguese Stonehenge.” In the center of town, the most fascinating attraction is a macabre chapel completely covered with human bones.
See the Évora Tourism Guide
(1 hour to 90 minutes from Lisbon by bus)
Once a quiet fishing village, the picturesque town of Ericeira has become a lively and cosmopolitan place, thanks to its distinction as Europe’s first World Surfing Reserve. It’s one of the continent's most popular surfing spots, but its sandy beaches also attract the people of Lisbon for a day by the sea and meals of fresh seafood. As one of the best examples of a traditional Portuguese town, it’s also a charming destination outside bathing season.
See the Ericeira Tourism Guide
(45 minutes from Lisbon by bus)
When John V became one of Europe’s richest kings in the early 1700s (thanks to the gold found in the colony of Brazil), he decided to build one of the world’s biggest palaces outside Lisbon. His goal was achieved, and the gigantic marble building incorporates a basilica and a convent. Considered a baroque marvel and classified as a World Heritage Site, it’s located by Ericeira (see above), and can be seen before or after a day at the beach, or straight from Lisbon on a half-day trip. The highlight of a visit is the library, which is considered one of the world’s greatest, and the basilica, with its sculptures that are exceptional examples of Italian Baroque.
(1 hour from Lisbon by car)
You’ll need a car, but this beach is in a region of wild natural beauty that’s worth exploring. It’s one of Portugal’s most famous nude beaches, but you may keep your bathing suit on. It has a good restaurant that attracts a trendy and bohemian crowd from Lisbon. From here you can drive north to the beautiful beach of Lagoa de Albufeira, where a lagoon meets the Atlantic, or south to the cape of Espichel, a beautiful and mystical site with massive cliffs and a sanctuary from the 18th century. Once a pilgrimage site, it’s now abandoned, but apparently pop star Madonna thought it was the perfect setting for her “Dark Ballet” video in 2019. Heading east from here, you reach Sesimbra, a popular resort town known for its seafood restaurants and with a wide bay with family-friendly beaches.
See the Meco Tourist Guide
Tip: Those with limited time but wishing to explore different parts of the Lisbon region, should join an organized tour.