Due to it’s location, Lisbon acts as a great central point for various day trips. Portugal as a whole is fairly small, so you can get anywhere from Lisbon in a matter of a few hours. But for the sake of this post, I’m honing in on two places that are perfect for a day trip or even a half-day trip (like we did!). One that I think anyone would enjoy, and one that might only be appreciated by a select few 😉
Day trip #1
(30 minutes from Lisbon by car, 45 minutes by train)
Likely the most recommended day trip from Lisbon – and for good reason. A longtime royal sanctuary, Sintra is home to multiple famous castles, palaces, and gardens. On top of that its geography affords visitors incredible views and the town itself is super charming. There are four main sites within the city of Sintra: Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, the National Palace, and Castle of the Moors.
If you can drive a few minutes outside the city center, additional sites include Monserrate Palace, Coba da Roca (the westernmost point of Europe), and various beaches.
We took the train straight from Lisbon to Sintra as we heard that the roads in Sintra are very hilly and narrow and parking can be difficult to come by (all true!). At just 45 minutes each way and roughly €5 round-trip, the train is really the way to go.
Since we only had a half day (we wanted to get back in time for the World Cup watch party at Praça do Comércio), we chose to visit just Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira. Based on the research we did prior to visiting, those were our top two and they did not disappoint!
That said, you could easily spend a full day here.
Tips for visiting Pena Palace
You’ll want to dedicate about an hour or two to tour the palace.
Arrive early! As the day goes on, bus after bus will begin arriving, each one unloading multitudes of visitors. Plan to get there early so that you can enjoy the palace before the massive crowds – and also get better pictures (for example, in the pictures below, the one on the left was when we first arrived and the one on the left was when we left about an hour later).
When you arrive at the front entrance, you will want to take the bus up to the palace itself. You’re welcome to walk, but it is super steep and quite long. The bus only costs a couple euro and was 100% worth it.
It may be really foggy. Just to forewarn you: due to its location at the top of a hill surrounded by valley below, fog is very common. As we were driving up the hill, we could barely see the palace and I got a little worried. However, once we got to the top, it had mostly burned off and within an hour or so it was clear blue skies and views for miles (including a great view of the Castle of the Moors – see photo below)!
Tips for visiting Quinta da Regaleira
Again, you’ll want to dedicate an hour or two to visiting the estate.
Start at the top and follow the map. This will make more sense once you get there and see the layout, but the estate is located on a slanted plot with a pathway that zig zags all the way to the bottom with sites along the way (a well, a grotto, etc). If you go off track and miss one, trust me you won’t want to backtrack uphill.
Day trip #2
(1 hour 20 minutes from Lisbon)
A Catholic pilgrimage site, the Sanctuary of Fátima was a must-visit for us while we were in Portugal. It’s not often you are so near to a Marian apparition site, so this was at the top of our list from the beginning of our Portugal itinerary planning phase.
The story of the miracle of Fátima is so beautiful, if you haven’t heard it before this is a great overview.
Tips for visiting Fátima
We spent a half-day in Fátima and it was perfect – you’ll just need a few hours.
You can view the daily schedule here to plan your visit around service times in your preferred language.
You will need a car to visit Fátima as there is not a train route from Lisbon.
The homes of Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta are located nearby and are worth driving by. I’m not sure if you can tour them or anything of the sort, but it is pretty fascinating to drive through their little village and see the actual homes that they lived in. With a little imagination, you can envision them walking from there to the site of the apparitions as they shepherded their sheep when it was all just open pasture.
If you are not Catholic, Fátima really holds no draw. It’s not a cute town, restaurants aren’t great, and other than the site itself, there isn’t much to see or do. That said, if you *are* Catholic, you’ll love a few hours spent here!
We have been to three Marian apparition sites so far (Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and now Fátima) and of those three, it is our least favorite. The grounds of Lourdes and Our Lady of Guadalupe are much more beautiful and there is more to see and do at each of those. That said, it was still a profoundly wonderful experience to visit such a sacred place; we are so glad we went! It’s a remarkable experience to be surrounded by fellow believers speaking in varied languages, everyone there to worship and experience the magic.