• Leslie

Pretty Villages and UNESCO Sites Near Lisbon Portugal -- 15 Day Trips From Lisbon

Updated: Apr 1


Rossio Square in Lisbon Portugal


Here's my guide to the best day trips and weekend getaways from sun-kissed Lisbon Portugal. Lisbon is a feast for the eyes, and one of my favorite cities in Europe. With its alluring old world charm, you may never want to leave.


But if you want to experience Portugal's other delights, I have15 amazing getaway ideas. There are myriad places right near Lisbon where you can indulge your passion for cozy villages, UNESCO sites, beaches, and architectural wonders. Whatever strikes your fancy.


I've found it easiest to drive around Portugal. This is a particularly good option if you can drive a manual transmission. With a car, you have ultimate flexibility and can sometimes combine a couple sites in one day. Just be sure not to drive into the center of an ancient town. Park on the outskirts.


If you'd like to day trip from Lisbon, grab a pasta de nata and read on. I give you the best and prettiest sites outside Lisbon. And I explain how some of them can be combined in a single day for maximum sightseeing punch.



roses on a yellow trimmed wall in Obidos Portugal


15 Best Day Trips From Lisbon


1. Obidos: the Queen's Present


Just an hour north of Lisbon, lies the charming and cobbled Old World cornucopia of medieval Óbidos Portugal. Obidos is the perfect easy day trip from Lisbon. It's more laid back than the buzzy tourist town of Sintra. In fact, I think Obidos may be Portugal's most adorable and authentic village.


The dreamy UNESCO town is perched fetchingly on a hill and encircled with stout medieval walls. It's decorated with splashes of blue and yellow paint and filled with bougainvilla-covered whitewashed homes. You'll be seduced by its beauty and shabby chic romantic aura.






What you can't miss in Obidos:


  • City Walls: The fortified walls give you stunning views over Obidos' pretty town center and tiled rooftops.

  • Obidos Castle: Though the doughty castle is now a hotel, it still dominates the city skyline.

  • Bookstores: Obidos is a UNESCO city of literature and overflowing with adorable bookstores.

  • Ginja: Ginja is the local specialty in Obidos, a cherry flavored liquor served in shots.


How to get to Obidos from Lisbon: Obidos is a one hour drive from Lisbon. There are car parks outside the town. An express bus service leaves from the Campo Grande bus station in Lisbon. The train is not a good option because it takes 2 hours.



Sintra's most famous castle, Pena Palace


2. Sintra Portugal: UNESCO Palaces Galore


Sintra Portugal is the most popular day trip from Lisbon. It's rock star glamorous. Sintra has ancient castles and sumptuous palaces galore. It's dazzling, colorful, and romantic. Even the town itself is quaint, filled with artisan shops, and well worth exploring.


Sintra packs a punch and delivers on its hype. But it's chaotic and there's so much to see and do there. You'll need to have a plan of attack to see everything efficiently. There are castles, convents, parks, and nearby quaint villages and beaches. You may feel cheated with just one day in Sintra.




the Moorish Castle in Sintra


What you can't miss in Sintra:


  • Quinta da Regateira: This is my favorite palace in Sintra. It's divine and bewitching, a misty Gothic building seeped in opulence and mysticism and set amid leafy palms and hot pink bougainvillea.

  • Pena Palace: The romantic and colorful Pena Palace is a must see Sintra site, one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Built by King Ferdinand II, it's a Disney-like mishmash of architectural styles that still dazzles.

  • Moorish Palace: The Moorish palace is a 9th century fortress-castle that offers the best views in Sintra. It's a hike up to the ramparts, but well worth it.

  • Sintra Historic Center: The town is lovely. There's not an abundance of food. But you can wander the cobbled streets and snap up some souvenirs.


How to Get to Sintra from Lisbon: Drive and park outside the town. Or take the 434 train from Rossio Station in Lisbon and walk 15 minutes into town from Sintra's train station.


Sintra can be combined with: The nearby Monserrate Palace, a beautiful palace just 10-15 minutes away, or with Queluz Palace, which I discuss below.



the Dominican monastery of Santa Maria de Vitoriathe Dominican monastery of Santa Maria de Vitoria in Batalha


3. Batalha Monastery: a Gothic Masterpiece


In Batalha, you'll be dazzled by the Dominican Monastery of Santa Maria de Vitoria. The ornate UNESCO-listed complex has Gothic and Manueline elements. Building began in 1388 and continued for centuries.


The historic structure was built to celebrate a pivotal 1385 battle, when Portugal overcame the mighty Spaniards in the Battle of Aljubarrota. The monastery and its church, the symbol of Portugal’s national pride, were built by Portugal’s prolific builder King Joao I, whose tomb is inside.


Characteristic of Gothic-Manueline architecture, you'll be delighted by the intricate carved floral and marine elements. The monastery is a must see for lovers of architecture, history, religion, or warfare. You can visit the church for free, but must pay to see the beautiful cloisters.


How to get to Batalha Monastery from Lisbon: It's a 1.5 hour drive from Lisbon. It's over 2 hours by bus from Lisbon's Sete Rios station.


Batalha can be combined with: Fatima, Obidos, or Alcobaca Monastery



my daughter walking toward the grand entrance of Alcobaca Monastery


4. Alcobaca Monastery: Portugal's First Gothic Building


If you love history or architecture, the UNESCO-listed Alcobaça Monastery is a must see site in Portugal. Alcobaca is a pretty town on the Silver Coast. It lies between Coimbra and Lisbon and can be accessed as a day trip from either city or visited en route between them.


The town is dominated by the austere and atmospheric 800 year old Monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça, the largest Gothic religious structure in Portugal. It's one of Europe's oldest and best UNESCO sites. Alcobaça is a 12th century masterpiece of Gothic Cistercian art. Its vaunted architecture and history are bewitching.


I found it more beautiful and compelling than the vastly more crowded Jeronimos Monastery outside Lisbon. Inside, you'll fine the ornate tombs of King Pedro I and Ines de Castro, Portugal's famous star crossed lovers. I was so besotted with their story, that I wrote a separate blog post about them.



the ornate tomb of Inês de Castro in Alcobaça Monastery

reliving Alcobaca's love story in the arched stairway of the Refectory of Alcobaça Monastery


How to get to Alcobaca Monastery from Lisbon: It's about a 1:20 minute drive from Lisbon. There's a parking lot in front of the monastery. It could be full in high season. If so, just park on a street nearby.


Alcobaca can be combined with: Fatima, Batalha, Obidos, or Coimbra



decorative stone torches on the balcony of Evora Cathedral


5. Evora: Strategic Roman Town


The UNESCO-listed Evora is tucked away in the Alentejo region of central Portugal. Evora was untouched by the great earthquake of 1755 and its historic center is well preserved.


Evora is topped by a grand 14th century cathedral, commonly refered to as Evora Cathedral. But its official name is the Cathedral Of Nossa Senhora Da Assuncao. While not particularly pretty itself, it's worth it to go inside just for the beautiful vistas over Evora from its balcony.


The star of Evora is an ossuary, the Chapel of Bones, attached to the large Royal Church of St. Francis. Franciscan monks slaved away in the early 17th century building this unusual site when cemeteries were overflowing.


Evora was also an important Roman town, lying on a trade route to Rome. In Evora's center, you'll see 14 Corinthian columns rising to the sky.



the eerie Chapel of Bones in Evora

the Roman Temple of Evora


What you can't miss in Evora:


  • Praca do Giraldo: This is Evora's atmospheric main square. Sit in the sun and watch the world go by, preferable while sipping a suitably chilled beverage.

  • Chapel of Bones: 17th century monks created this chilling chapel to solve the problems of overflowing cemeteries. The bones and skulls of 5,000 people line the chapel.

  • Evora Cathedral: Guarded by rose granite towers, Evora’s fortress-like medieval cathedral boats fabulous cloisters and religious relics.

  • Roman Temple: The temple, erroneously dedicated to Diana, is regarded as the best preserved Roman ruin in Portugal.



the whitewashed village of Monsaraz, 50 minutes from Evora


How to get to Evora from Lisbon: Evora is a 2 hour drive from Lisbon, the best way to get there. There's free parking right outside the historic center. Four trains per day go to Evora. Evora's train station is a beauty, decorated with azulejos. It's a 20 minute walk into the town center.


Evora can be combined with: A visit to the stunning town of Monsaraz, 50 minutes away, which has spectacular pottery. It's whitewashed homes nestle in a hill topped by Monsaraz Castle.



the UNESCO-listed Coimbra University in Coimbra


6. Coimbra: the "Athens of Portugal"


Coimbra is an atmospheric town that should definitely be on your itinerary for Portugal. Known as the "Athens of Portugal," Coimbra has a melancholy beauty all its own.


Coimbra has its own pottery style, its own version of Fado, the oldest library in Portugal, and an attitude. It's a stylish place, where black caped students, tony cafes, and ancient monuments all blissfully co-mingle.


The star of Coimbra is its UNESCO-listed Coimbra University. Perched on the town's hilltop, it's one of the oldest universities in the world, older than Oxford University. It boasts some of the most ornate, richly decorated buildings of any university.



the Se Velha Cathedral in Coimbra

Carlos Thomas pottery studio, where I picked up some authentic Coimbra souvenirs


What you can't miss in Coimbra:


  • Coimbra University: Be sure to see the Royal Palace, the Hall of Great Acts, the Private Exam Room, and the glorious Baroque Joanina Library. Climb the 18th century bell tower for panoramic views.

  • Se Velha Cathedral: The austere 12th century Sé is one of Portugal's finest examples of Romanesque architecture.

  • Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha: This 17th century Gothic convent was founded in 1330 by the saintly Queen Isabel.

  • Coimbra pottery shops: Stop in at Carlos Tomás Studio to inspect the unique style of Coimbra pottery.


How to get to Coimbra from Lisbon: Coimbra is a 2 hours drive from Lisbon on the A1. High speed trains run every hour, taking 2 hours.


Coimbra can be combined with: Coimbra really merits an entire day. The best attraction to combine it with is the Conimbriga Ruins, just 30 minutes away. Conimbriga was a large Roman settlement, which still has exquisite floor mosaics. Coimbra also makes a good base in Portugal. From there, you can easily access Tomar, Batalha, Alcobaca, or Aveiro.



the Baroque facade of Queluz Palace, with the Neptune Fountain taking pride of place


7. Queluz National Palace: the "Versailles of Portugal"


Often referred to as Lisbon's Versailles, this gorgeous 18th century palace is located 15 minutes from either Lisbon or Sintra. It's a national monument and hidden jewel-like gem in Portugal.


In 1747, Dom Pedro III (then prince regent) commissioned an architect to transform his hunting lodge into a swishy Rococo residence. Queluz Palace was later extended to add a pavilion, gardens, a throne room, and music room.


Dom Pedro lived there with his wife Maria. But there history is sad. Maria reputedly suffered from severe bouts of melancholy. When her son Jose died of smallpox, she went mad, suffering hallucinations and was confined to the palace.






The palace facade is stately and sober. It overlooks the spectacular Neptune's Fountain. The formal gardens were decorated with mythological statuary and used for entertaining. There's also a canal decorated with azulejos depicting the royal family.


The highly decorated interiors are stunning. The highlights are the Ambassadors Hall, the Throne Room, and the Music Room.


How to Get to Queluz Palace from Lisbon: Queluz is located between Lisbon and Sintra. It's a 20 minute drive from Lisbon. The train ride from Rossio Station is 20 minutes, with a 15 minute walk from Queluz train station.


Queluz Palace can be combined with: Sintra, although it's best done as a day trip from Sintra or Lisbon.



historic walled city of Marvao


8. Marvao: Hidden Gem in the Alentejo Region


Marvao is a tiny medieval hamlet. It's got a dramatic setting, on a craggy escapement facing Spain. It was formerly an impregnable stronghold occupied by the Romans, the Moors, and then the Christians.


The city walls enclose a collection of white sugar cube homes. The village is dominated by the well preserved Marvao Castle, built by King Dinis in 1299 to help push out the Moors. Now, there's an artist's shop inside. This is a proper castle indeed, with breathtaking views.



Marvao Castle


What you can't miss in Marvao:


  • Marvao Castle: Marvao Castle itself is a perfect example of a crusader era medieval castle.

  • Marvao Museum: The museum is housed inside St. Mary's Church and boasts quirky artifacts.


How to get to Marvao from Lisbon: The easiest way to get to Marvao is by car. It's a 2.5 hour drive.


Marvao can be combined with: Marvao is pretty remote. But the pretty spa town of Castelo de Vide is just 20 minutes away. It's a better spot to find restaurants and such.





9. Cascais: Beachy Paradise


Only 19 miles from Lisbon, Cascais is an incredibly beautiful place, dressed in blues and yellows. Cascais boasts some incredible beaches nearby -- Carcavelos Beach and Guincho Beach. It's a great place to sunbathe near Lisbon.


In addition to pristine white beaches, Cascais' historic town center is quite pretty. It's home to 19th century villas of the Portuguese nobility. If you're an art lover, there's plenty of museums and other artsy enclaves. It's also a culinary delight. Try Sentidos Casa do Largo, hidden away on a side street, for authentic Portuguese cuisine.



the main square in Cascais


What you can't miss in Cascais:


  • Cascais Fortress: The Cidadela de Cascais is a 15th century fortress offering lovely views of the harbor.

  • Condes de Castro Museum: A museum housed in a Revivalist style mini-palace, with paintings and ancient artifacts.

  • Parque Marechal Carmona: Pretty park in Cascais, the perfect place for a stroll amid peacocks and turtles.


How to get to Cascais from Lisbon: Cascais is a 35 minute drive from Lisbon. Use one of the public car parks. Trains leave frequently from Lisbon's Cais do Sodre train station, which is connected to green line metro. Get off at the last stop, Cascais Station.


Can be combined with: Estoril, another resort town with gleaming white sand beaches, is only 15 minutes away.



aerial view of Tomar Convent of Christ and aqueduct near the Templar castle in Portuga


10. Tomar: Architectural Wonderland


Often overlooked, Tomar is hidden away in central Portugal. It's a history's buffs paradise. For 700 years Tomar was the headquarters of the Knight's Templar, an elite crusading force. They were later renamed the Order of Christ.


As such, Tomar boasts one of Portugal's most important buildings -- the complex of the Convent of Christ. As an ancient building, it has Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline architectural elements. It became a UNESCO site in 1983.


Tomar itself is also charming, sliced in two by the Nabao River. The main square is Republic Square. It's filled with lovely homes, a 15th century church, and a black and white checkerboard pavement. Head down the Via Rea de Serpa Pinto for a picturesque stroll of the town. Try one of Tomar's special sweets, Beija-me Depressa (kiss me quick).





What you can't miss in Tomar:


  • Convent of Christ: Founded in 1160, the UNESCO-listed convent is a magnificent complex consisting of a medieval castle, churches, and Manueline cloisters.

  • Basilica Nossa Senhora da Conceicao: This is a beautiful 16th century basilica on the slopes of a hill. It's the oldest medieval cathedral in Portugal. The interior boasts three towering naves, Corinithian columns, and Manueline designs.

  • Pegoes Aqueduct: Dating from the 17 century, this is a four mile aqueduct that was used to transport water from Pegoes to the Convent of Christ.

  • Tomar Synagogue: This 15th century building is also a Portugeuse national monument.



Pegoes Aqueduct near Tomar


How to get to Tomar from Lisbon: 1:30 drive on the A1 and IC9. You can take a 2 hour train ride from Lisbon's Santa Apolonia and Oriente stations.


Tomar can be combined with: A visit to the nearby Almourol Castle, a hidden gem on an island of the Tagus River just 20 minutes from Tomar. You can also combine Tomar with a visit to Portugal's other must see architectural/religious sites: Fatima, Batalha, or Alcobaca.



the Sanctuary of Fatima, built in a Neo-Classical style with a tall central tower


11. Fatima: Modern Religious Architecture



The tiny town of Fatima, like so much else in Portugal is steeped in legend. This particular legend holds that three shephard children saw visions of Mary, the so- called Marian Apparition. They returned to the same spot and learned three secret prophecies. The final one was stored in the Vatican until 2000.


From 1928-54, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima was built on the miraculous site. It's now a popular pilgrimage stop for Catholics. The architecture is impressive with a sweeping circular courtyard, a basilica housing the children's tombs, and the chapel of apparitions.


How to get to Fatima from Lisbon: Fatima is a 1.5 hour drive from Lisbon on the A1. Rede Express buses run from Lisbon's Sete Rios station, taking about 90 minutes. There are no train stations in Fatima.


Combine Fatima with: Batahla or Obidos. Or channel your inner paleontologist and visit the Natural Monument of Dinosaur Footprints, Pedreira do Galinha.





12. Aveiro: Art Nouveau Lagoon Town


On the shore of a lagoon, Aveiro is a popular stop on the way from Lisbon to Porto. Aveiro is a buzzy town with Art Nouveau architecture and plenty of tony eateries. If you're arriving by train, you'll be dazzled by the old train station adored with azulejo tiles.


Aveiro is occasionally dubbed the Venice of Portugal (which is an exaggeration) thanks to its small network of canals. Italians use gondolas, but Aveiro has moliceiros – colorful boats formerly used for seaweed-harvesting now used cruising tourists.


Stroll down the lovely patterned streets, enjoy the pretty pastel architecture, and wile away time in one of Aveiro's cute eateries.



an art noveau facade in Aveiro

striped houses on Costa Nova Beach


What you can't miss in Aveiro:


  • Igreja da Misericórdia de Aveiro: A pretty 16th century church completely tiled in blue and white azulejos.

  • Mosteiro de Jesus: Built between the 15th to 17th centuries, this is Aveiro's prized historic monument.

  • Art Nouveau Museum: Aveiro has six museums, but I liked this one best. It's worth it just to see the highly decorated interior. There, you can pick up a map of Aveiro's Art Nouveau buildings.


How to get to Aveiro from Lisbon: 2.5 hour drive. Or


Aveiro can be combined with: Costa Nova Beach, with its pretty striped homes and fresh seafood, is only 20 minutes from Aveiro. Or combine Aveiro with Coimbra, only 50 minutes away.



intricate floors of Mafra Palace


13. Mafra: Grand Palace Town


There's really one reason to visit Mafra -- to see the enormous, extravagant and grand Palace of Mafra. It's one of Europe's largest palaces. Built in the mid 18th Century by the Portuguese ruler King John, it was intended to impress and intimidate.


A lavish display of wealth and power, the palace was built when Portugal's maritime fortunes were at their zenith. You can spend hours exploring the chambers, corridors and rooms.


How to get to Mafra from Lisbon: Mafra is an easy day trip, just 45 minutes from Lisbon by car. Buses to Mafra depart from Campo Grande station and take 1:20.


Mafra can be combined with: Obidos, which is about 30 minutes away. Ericeira, a seaside resort famous for its beauty and surf break, is 10 minutes away.



the Luis I bridge connecting Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia


14. Porto: Postcard Perfect Azulejo City


Colorful vintage-y Porto Portugal is a travel photographer's dream. Or just a dream. It's so dreamy that, right now, Porto is one of Europe's hottest destination.


It's doable as a day trip from Lisbon. But it will be a lengthy day indeed. Start early. Porto is overflowing with cultural sites and its historic center is itself a UNESCO-listed site.


Porto boasts Baroque churches, azulejo tiles, and dreamy cobblestone streets. And hills. While those hills may make your quads burn, they provide amazing vistas to view some of Porto's visual treats.


Take a romp around the hilly backstreets and alley-woven mazes of Miragaia, Ribeira and Massarelos. Visit Porto's best photo spots, sky high miradouros (lookouts) and roof terrace bars. Head across the iconic Luis I bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia to sample port and lounge in the Jardim do Morro.



Capela das Almas and its Instagrammable tiled exterior

the Cais de Ribeira riverfront of Porto


What you can't miss in Porto:


  • Porto Cathedral: This hilltop cathedral boasts one of Porto's best views from its terrace and has a pretty Gothic cloister.

  • Bolsa Palace: This Neo-Classical monument was Porto's former stock exchange. Inside, you'll be dazzled by the Hall of Nationals and the gilded Arabian Hall.

  • Livraria Lello: This bookstore is a neo-Gothic fantasy full of carved wood, boasting a stunning stained glass ceiling and a Harry Potter association.

  • Igreja de São Francisco: Outside its austere, but inside this ornate church is smothered in gold.

  • Capela das Almas: This little charmer of a church is completely wrapped with an ornate blue and white tile mural on its entire exterior.


How to get to Porto from Lisbon: It's a 3 hour drive from Lisbon to Porto. Frequent trains leave from Santa Polónia and Oriente stations. The high speed train takes 3 hours. Buses leave from the Sete Rios bus terminal or Oriente station and take 3.5 hours.



the UNESCO-listed Tower of Belem


15. Belem: Lisbon's UNESCO Suburb


In the architecturally-rich suburb of Belem, you'll have a respite from the hustle and bustle of glamorous Lisbon. Atlantic breezes flow, grandiose Manueline monuments dazzle, and boats glide along the wide Tagus River. You'll be cast back to the Age of Discoveries, when the world was Portugal’s colonial oyster.


At dusk, the crowds subside and return to Lisbon. The softening light paints the monastery’s Manueline turrets gold. And the riverside UNESCO neighborhood is yours alone for exploring. Belem is an unmissable destination in Portugal, and an easy day trip from Lisbon.


Here's my guide to the 10 must see sites in Belem.


--

the marina in the Belem neighborhood of Lisbon

of

the elaborate Manueline south portal of the monastery

my daughter and I admiring the Manueline cloisters at Jerónimos Monastery in Belem


What you can't miss in Belem:


  • Jeronimos Monastery: The monastery is a glorious 500 year old UNESCO site. It's the premiere example of Manueline architecture in Portugal and the #1 site in Belem. The church is free. But you have to pay to visit the absolutely dazzling cloisters.

  • Tower of Belem: UNESCO has listed the bewitching Game of Thrones-like building as a World Heritage monument.

  • Monument to the Discoveries: Monument to the Discoveries is the cement and rose-tinted stone monument poking out over the Tagus River. It honors Portugal's maritime age.

  • Pasteis de Belem: Portugal is famous for its custard tarts. The best place to taste these treats is at the Pastéis de Belém.

  • Berardo Collection Museum: A hidden gem museum just packed with modern and contemporary art.


How to get to Belem from Lisbon: Take the number 15E tram or 729 bus from Praca do Comercio. This journey takes 20- 30 minutes. It's a quick drive, but you need to leave early to secure a parking space.


If you'd like to day trip from Lisbon, pin it for later





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