If you are in Lisbon, you must visit Sintra or Cascais. Both places are an hour by train to the east of Lisbon. Thus, you can go to either and be back in Lisbon the same day. We are talking about two magical towns full of historic architecture and fantastic nature. All you have to do is walk, admiring churches, palaces, gardens, beaches, and parks. No matter which one you choose, your mind will be blown away. Of course, visit both if you have time.
Sintra or Cascais: How to Choose
If You Have to Choose
Sintra is a fairytale town on the hills overlooking the sea. UNESCO included it in its World Heritage Site List due to its plethora of unbelievable castles, villas, and palaces set in the most gorgeous gardens you’ll ever see. Cascais is a seaside resort lined with palaces, villas, and lovely trees. The town extends along a splendid coast line. We believe Sintra offers a bit more. No matter how many palaces you’ve seen, the ones in Sintra are in a league of their own.
One Day Two Places
If you have no other choice and are willing to rush, you can visit Cascais and Sintra on the same day. Wake up early and take the train to Sintra. You can stop there for a couple of hours, see the basics, and then hop on the bus to Cascais. Take the train back to Lisbon. Though you won’t be able to see it all, you will get a great impression. Another brilliant day excursion from Sintra is to the Palacio Nacional de Queluz. Two other great day trips from Lisbon are to Evora and Obidos.
The city is nestled in the middle of a forest and boasts several colorful castles and parks. The mix between nature and architecture in Sintra is stunning. Every castle has a lovely garden, so take your time. We loved walking about the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, where the fortress is. The views from the hill are memorable. History buffs and nature lovers will need more than a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon.
Sintra City Center
As soon as you enter Sintra’s Old Town, you will see the Sintra National Palace, a 15th-century masterpiece presiding over Praça da República. Explore the twisted and grand Quinta da Regaleira (Regaleira Palace and Gardens). Be sure to look for the mythical and esoteric elements that populate the luxurious gardens. Everything is part of the UNESCO-listed cultural landscape of Sintra. Especially interesting are the Town Hall and the Quinta do Relogio, Portugal’s best Moorish building.
The Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace) is the most epic palace in Sintra and Portugal. Since it’s a bit far from the Sintra City center, its better to take a bus. Be sure to grab a window seat and enjoy the ride. Once there, explore every corner of this architectural masterpiece. Don’t forget to check the watchtowers with outstanding views to the entire town. Though the palace was super crowded, we didn’t care.
If you have to visit Sintra in one day, the other buildings you must not miss are the Park and Palace of Monserrate and the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). The Mouros is the stunning fortress perched on the hill overlooking the town. The other one is a massive garden with a beautiful church over half an hour from the center. Finally, if you have extra time, go to Praia das Maçãs. You won’t forget the views.
Where to Stay in Sintra
Sintra has some of the best hotels in the world. Book a room at the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais Hotel, an original neoclassical palace built between 1783 and 1787. It doesn’t get any better than this hotel. Don’t miss it! Another hotel that is a historic building is the Sintra Marmoris Palace Hotel. This boutique luxurious hotel has everything you ever dreamed of.
Cascais is one of the most luxurious seaside resort towns in the world. The Portuguese Royal family chose it over 100 years ago to chill by the beach, and soon the rest of the aristocrats followed. Today, it’s as grand as ever. That’s why a day trip to Cascais from Lisbon is a must. The town extends along several sandy beaches. Mansions and trees line the city’s streets. We spent several days walking about, discovering new buildings and gardens.
Cascais City Center
Cascais city center begins by the casino. Walk along the sea all the way to the Bay of Cascais, where the palace is. The area around Rua Federico da Arouca, Largo Luis de Camoses, and 5 de Outubro plaza is mostly pedestrian. To the left, you will have splendid beaches, including Praia de Tamariz, Conceicao, and Duquesa. To your right and beyond, a plethora of fantastic architecture. Don’t worry if you get hungry, there are plenty of good restaurants in Estoril or Cascais.
Estoril is the first stop on the train from Lisbon. Europe’s rich and famous have been coming to Estoril for over a century. The entire neighborhood is stunning, full of mansions and manicured gardens. The seaside promenade offers incredible views of the beaches and the sea. The world-famous Palacio Estoril Hotel presides over a fantastic garden. All you have to do is admire the coastline and palaces.
You will have to rush to cover what to see in Cascais in one day. Spend some time in the Parque de Palmeras on a mount slope. Over 12 museums are worth your time, including the Casa das Historias de Paula Rego and the Condes de Guimaraes Museum. The Citadel of Cascais offers breathtaking views of the city. The museum in the lighthouse is fascinating too. From there, walk along the rocks.
Where to Stay in Cascais
Cascais and Estoril have some of the best hotels in Europe. You must spend at least one night in the Palacio Estoril Hotel. We loved the experience, and the spa complex too. The first time we went to Estoril, we never left the hotel! James Bond was born in the Palacio. Stay another night in Cascais at the Grande Real Villa Italia Hotel & Spa, the former residence of the last king of Italy Humberto II. You will feel like a king enjoying the rooms, views, restaurants, and huge spa.
How to Get to Sintra and Cascais
Getting to Sintra
The train from Lisbon to Sintra takes approximately one hour. It’s the green line that departs from Rossio station in central Lisbon. In Sintra, the train station is in the center, within walking distance of the main attractions. The earliest train is at 5:35 AM. The latest train back from Sintra at midnight. Buses depart from Lisbon’s bus station, easily accessible by metro from anywhere in the city. Be sure to check the official webpage for schedules.
Getting to Cascais
The train from Lisbon to Estoril and Cascais takes less than an hour. There are several during the day. Trains leave from the Cais do Sodre train station on the city’s coast. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Praça do Comercio. Cascais is the last stop. Go down here and walk back to Estoril or the other way around. The station in the middle is Monte Estoril. You can also take a bus from Lisbon. It takes less than an hour and stops both in Estoril and Cascais center. The earliest train from Lisbon is at 4:45 AM, the latest back at midnight.
Between Sintra and Cascais
There are no trains from Sintra to Cascais or Estoril. You have to take a bus. The journey takes some 45 minutes to Estoril and an hour to Cascais. There are several buses all day long. The best way to do the Sintra and Cascais loop in one day is first the train from Lisbon to Sintra. Leave early in the morning and spend a bit over half a day in Sintra. Then, head after lunch to Estoril on the bus. Check out Estoril and walk to Cascais, admiring the best of both places.
Take the train from Cascais back to Lisbon after having dinner overlooking the sea. That said, we strongly recommend spending at least a night or two in Sintra and Cascais/Estoril. The hotels we recommend are worth your trouble.