How to visit Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais in one day: travel guide to the perfect day trip from Lisbon, Portugal – updated 2019
Lisbon sits in an area of great natural beauty.
Built on the mouth of the river Tagus, it is close to a beautiful stretch of Atlantic coast and lies on the edge of the protected area of Sintra and Cascais, famed for its peculiar ecosystems and culturally significant landmarks.
During our last city trip to Lisbon, we decided a stay in this area wouldn’t be complete without an excursion to some nearby attractions and organised a day trip from Lisbon to cover three of the most famed landmarks: Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais.
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How to choose a day trip from Lisbon
Lisbon is in the centre of Portugal and an excellent base for day trips. The most popular day trips from Lisbon are:
- Sintra: Sintra is the most popular day trip from Lisbon and it famous for being a UNESCO world heritage site. Perched on a volcanic hill, it is the home of some incredible castles dating back to medieval, Moorish times and of some more recent constructions from the XIX century. Perfect for: people interested in architecture and history. Not recommended if: you are severely afraid of heights (more about it later), you are hoping for a day on the coast (Sintra is inland)
- Cabo da Roca: this is the Westernmost promontory in Portugal and a wonderful stretch of coastline. Come here for a cliffwalk and beautiful views over the Atlantic ocean.
- Cascais: perfect for beach lovers and if you are looking for a day in the sun and delicious seafood in an elegant town.
- Obidos: one of the most picturesque towns in Portugal, a fantastic description of which can be found in this article. Perfect if you want to stroll around a walled, historical town
- Evora: a beautiful town in the region of Alentejo and famous for being the second city in Portugal in terms of concentration of monuments. Highlights include a Roman Temple, a cathedral, prehistoric stones and the Chapel of Bones. Evora is a longer stretch from the city and it is only recommended as a day trip from Lisbon if you have a whole day and are not afraid of a bit of travel time.
For this trip, we decided to combine some of the above locations and ended up with a long yet beautiful day trip to Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais.
These are our recommendations on how to visit them.
Lisbon – Sintra – Cabo da Roca – Cascais: best transport options
There are two main ways to visit this area: private car or a combination of train + bus.
If you travel by car, you have maximum flexibility however, you are up against the significant traffic bottleneck that is Sintra.
Even with a very early start, you are likely to find yourself stuck in traffic when entering the city and will have to spend time and money to find a parking spot, time that will inevitably eat into your sightseeing opportunities.
If you can, I recommend you do not drive to Sintra or, if you do, chose a tour with a driver to they can drop you/collect you at your attraction of choice.
What I believe is a better option is to go by train and bus.
Lisbon is connected to both Sintra and Cascais by an excellent train system and Cabo da Roca is on the bus route between Sintra and Cascais.
While this system will require some attention to the train and bus schedule, it is budget friendly, more sustainable than private car and very easy in terms of logistics and it is therefore the one I recommend.
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Sintra is a very popular destination for a day trip from Lisbon and the best way to visit is getting there early in the morning.
There are very many attractions you can see in Sintra, so many I recommend you find accommodation in the area and take a few days to explore.
You can find a comprehensive guide about where to stay in Sintra here
However, on a day trip such as this one you only really have time for one thorough visit plus lunch in the town center.
The ones I recommend are below.
Pena Palace, Sintra’s most famous site
The most famous attraction in Sintra and, for many, the jewel in the crown is Pena Palace.
Pena palace is a bright coloured extravaganza of a castle and probably the finest example of Portuguese romantic architecture.
The palace dates back to the 19th century and was built by Dona Maria II, Queen of Portugal and Don Fernando II and his wife and opera singer the Countess of Edla.
The castle sits at the top of a steep hill and can be reached by a shuttle bus climbing the steep 300 metres pathway (you need to pay for the shuttle but especially if travelling with kids, take it! The hill is steep).
When you step off the bus you find yourself in a small square sheltered by tall trees.
A short walk leads you into the castle proper and here the colors explode in front of you.
We were in Sintra on a bright April day and the paint covering the castle was a technicolour vision.
The castle main area is painted in the brightest yellow colors you can imagine, part of its bastions is blue and one of the towers is dark red.
This is an interpretation of romanticism like no other: if you are thinking of subdues and contemplative atmosphere, this is not what you find in Sintra, at least not on a sunny day.
The palace is loud, beautiful and fun.
We spent in the palace a little over an hour.
Our first stop was the cafeteria: located on the first floor the cafeteria has a lovely terrace overlooking the valley and it’s a great first stop especially if you have kids as it allows to have a rest while enjoying the view.
From here, we ventured to the rest of the castle and battled the crowds to see the different cloisters, terrace and rooms of the castle.
Please note: Pena Palace is very crowded and this does affect the quality of your visit. Expect long queues.
Pena Palace highlight: for me and for many, the highlight of a visit to Pena Palace is the walk along the bastions. Very high up on the side of the castle and to be avoided if you have any issues with heights, the walk offers you stunning view over the Sintra valley and allows you to see as far as the coast. The most beautiful part of it, for me, was the belvedere in front of the castle of the moors, located just in front.
The castle of the Moors
Another gorgeous castle worth visiting in Sintra, very different from Pena Palace is the Moorish castle.
This is a medieval castle now in ruins perched on the hill in front of Pena.
The castle was built in the 10th century by North African Moors as a strategic outpost from Lisbon and to defend the area of Sintra.
The Moorish Castle remained in use until the Christians conquered the area and was severely damaged by the earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in the 18th century.
Most of what remains of the castle are its huge stone walks and many friends had warned us that they were hard to negotiate with kids (you can find a good report here).
The walkways are sometimes narrow, uneven and full of steps and while the views do reward the effort, it is paramount that you take this into account if you have any mobility issues.
Quinta da Regaleira
One of Sintra’s most peculiar landmarks is Quinta da Regaleira, an extravagant complex of palace and gardens located a few minutes from Sintra city centre.
Quinta da Regaleira has been declared UNESCO world heritage site and even the quick glimpse we got of it from outside makes clear why.
The palace was built in the 20th century and is, as such, quite recent, but the person who commissioned it stuffed every corner with symbols and mysterious references to secret orders and societies.
There are references to the Knights Templar, the Masons and dark alchemy, all hidden within the grounds.
The most peculiar and visually significant element of the estate is probably the well: deep and covered in moss, it conceals a passage that after descending 27 meters connects to a series of tunnels that run the length of the gardens and symbolises the initiation ceremony for the Knights Templars.
The town of Sintra itself
Whichever palace you decide to visit, you still have some time to enjoy the town of Sintra.
To make the most of your time, I recommend you venture up the town’s small alleys and pick a local restaurants.
While the main town square is filled with people, it is very easy to escape the crowds and the small whitewashed alleys of this town will reward you climbing efforts with charming corners and lovely views.
Make sure you take some time to see the beautiful Sintra National Palace at least from the outside: it towers above the main square and it is said to be the best preserved Royal Palace in the whole of Portugal.
Early afternoon: Cabo da Roca
After lunch in Sintra, head to Cabo da Roca.
Cabo da Roca is the most Westerly point of continental Europe, a beautiful peninsula stretching into the Atlantic with cliff plunging into the Ocean.
It is overlooked by a lighthouse and your sight stretches all the way out to the Atlantic and to the coastline between Sintra and Cascais as you step along pathways surrounded by grass and spring blooms.
Cabo da Roca is a place of natural beauty and the main things to see here is to enjoy the expansive views of the Atlantic ocean that open up in front of your eyes.
A short cliff walk allows you to stretch your legs along the cliffs and a small concession near the bus stop is equipped with snacks, restrooms and a small souvenir shop / visitors center.
People spend in Cabo da Roca about 30 mins to an hour.
How to get from Sintra to Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca is 18km West from Sintra, 15km North from Cascais and 40km west of Lisbon.
It is a short drive from Sintra by private car but it is also easy to reach by bus.
The line getting here is n. 403, covering the Cascais-Sintra Route and, at the time of writing, the cost of a bus ticket to Cabo da Roca is 4.50 Euro.
Cabo da Roca with toddlers and kids: Cabo da Roca can be visited safely with kids but you do need to be cautious as the wooden fences between the path and the edge of the cliffs are not child proof. Especially with an active toddler or young kids, it is paramount to hold hands and to keep your distance from the fence (you don’t need to get too close to enjoy the view)
Late afernoon: Cascais
The last stop on our day trip and our home for the night was Cascais (we stayed in the wonderful Martinhal Cascais family resort).
Cascais is a coastal town on the Atlantic ocean: it is a paradise for golf lovers and one of the most sought after areas to live in Portugal.
It is the place with the most expensive real estate in Portugal and for centuries has been attracting the nobility of Portugal and the rest of Europe as summer station.
The centre of the town is beautiful, clean and elegant: it reminded me closely of Monaco or the French riviera but with a more laid back and more family friendly vibe to it.
The many tourists mean you hear a lot of English and Spanish around but the glorious seafood served in restaurants and the architectural details make the town unmistakably Portuguese.
My biggest surprise in Cascais was the beauty of its coastline. The coast around Cascais comprises of a mix of wide sandy beaches and rugged cliffs.
For us, one of the highlights was a spot called ‘Boca do inferno’, a stretch of rocky coast with a peculiar geological formation.
This spot is right outside Cascais and town centre is breathtakingly beautiful: a well-preserved path lets you reach a belvedere and from here to can see the Atlantic waves crashing against the Portuguese coast and its meandering caves.
On a bright day, it is light to behold and an assault to the senses between the blinding light and the roar of the waves.
From Cascais, regaining Lisbon is easy. The train station is walking distance from the town center and the train goes at regular intervals, up to every 20 minutes at busy times.
The train leaves you back in Lisbon Cais do Sodre, well connected with the rest of the city.
I hope you enjoyed this article and it helped you decide on the best way to tackle this most beautiful day trip from Lisbon. Safe travels!