Portugal is a relatively small country, but there is so much to see and do. If you add in the islands of the Azores and Madeira, it becomes even more difficult to see all of the best places on a single-family vacation.
Portugal has several international airports, including three on the mainland (Porto – OPO, Lisbon – LIS, and Faro – FAO). Despite this, most families will find that the majority of good flights from the United States go to the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon in Central Portugal. Although we would recommend that any trip to Portugal include stops in both Porto (in the North) and the Algarve (beach region along the south), there are plenty of things to do in Lisbon if you just want to stay in the one area.
Even if you stay in one hotel in the capital city of Lisbon, be sure to take the time to take some day trips throughout the region. There are several great day trip destinations for a quick road trip. You can either choose to rent a car and drive yourself, take public transportation, or find a guided tour of the destination. Your hotel concierge should be able to assist with finding the best way for your family.
For your next family trip to Portugal’s capital, here are the best day trips from Lisbon.
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Family Day Trips From Lisbon
Sintra Day Trip
You cannot visit Lisbon without spending at least an afternoon in Sintra. Both a city and a municipality, Sintra actually encompasses a large area north of Lisbon. While it does include the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park and the Serra de Sintra (Sintra Mountains), the Sintra region is most known for its historic attractions and palaces. It’s located in an area known as the Portuguese Riviera.
Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to three former palaces – the Castle of the Moors (Moorish Castle), the Sintra National Palace, and the colorful Pena National Palace. Pena Palace is the most famous, known for its bright red and yellow colors, and positioning on a mountain above the town. Pena Palace is among the main attractions on any Portugal itinerary, and a trip to Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon.
Municipal bus service and tuk-tuks are available to take you to the palace. It is an extremely popular place to visit, with lines growing long throughout the day. Arrive early if possible. Keep in mind that it can be cooler up on the mountain, so you may want to bring a sweater or sweatshirt, even in the summer months.
The Villa of Sintra is a beautiful historic town. It includes quaint shops, restaurants, cafes, and more. I would definitely recommend spending some time exploring the local area. We found some really cute souvenirs from Portugal in the tiny shops on the cliff, so don’t miss these more hidden spots.
Unless you are already in a car traveling, I’d probably recommend either doing a guided tour or taking the train to Sintra. Parking may be limited, and there are some very narrow streets. It would definitely be less stressful to let someone else handle the driving and just take public transport.
A guided day tour could be the easiest way to visit the town of Sintra, especially if you are interested in the guided aspect of the trip. It’s located about 30-40 minutes outside Lisbon, so it’s a very easy day trip or even a good spot to visit for a half-day.
Cascais Day Trip
One of the most popular destinations in Portugal is the seaside town and municipality of Cascais, also located in the Portuguese Riviera along the Atlantic Coast. This beautiful coastal town has a rich history as the summer vacation destination of Portuguese royalty, and as a small fishing town. It’s a great place for a day trip – it’s a place you won’t want to miss.
To reach Cascais, you’ll have several options, including public train transportation and private car rental. It’s fairly close to Lisbon, so you won’t have to spend much of your time getting there. However, there are also some great hotels in Cascais, including the Martinhal Cascais Luxury Resort, which is perfect for families.
Within the resort town of Cascais, you’ll find beautiful beaches, quaint shops, independent restaurants, and more. It’s extremely picturesque, with beautiful palm tree-lined streets, and an adorable little carousel in the center for kids. Don’t miss a stop at Santini’s gelato, which has several locations right in Cascais.
Estoril Day Trip
During my first visit to Portugal, I really enjoyed walking around Estoril. This coastal small town is also part of a Cascais, but it definitely has a very separate ambiance. It’s an affluent community, with beaches, shops, restaurants, and premium hotels.
Estoril is also home to the Casino Estoril, which was the inspiration for the Casino Royale novel. There are also several golf courses in the area. While I didn’t stay in Estoril, I did enjoy touring the area for a morning. It’s located about a half hour from Lisbon.
Cabo da Roca Day Trip
For a unique experience, be sure to stop at Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca in English). This area, located on the edge of the Sintra Mountains, is part of the Sintra Municipality. It’s the westernmost point of Continental Europe, with gorgeous clifftop views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Besides the views, Cabo da Roca has a nice gift shop, a tourism office, a lighthouse, and a stone statue with a plaque. You’ll want to take photos of the view and the mountains, but the stone statue is also a great spot for a family portrait to commemorate your time at Cabo da Roca.
We visited first thing in the morning, because moving on to Cascais and Sintra. It was a bit foggy, however, so I’d recommend making sure it’s clear for your trip. You’ll want to have good visibility, especially for your photos.
There are a few places in Portugal, in addition to Lisbon, that I’d recommend visiting. Both of these destinations are about three hours away, however, so they really are too much for a single-day trip. There are several transportation options, including trains and rental cars. The train ride could be your best option if you don’t want to rent a car or navigate the Portuguese roads.
The Algarve is the southern region of Portugal, where many Europeans vacation. It’s the perfect spot to relax for a few days. There are many gorgeous resorts along the coast, offering fantastic amenities and spectacular views. The Algarve also features sandy beaches, cafes, and much more.
When I first arrived in Portugal this summer, our first destination was Porto, north of Lisbon. I had heard great things about this gorgeous city but wasn’t fully prepared for how lively, fun, and beautiful it is. I’d definitely recommend spending a few days in Porto. There’s also an international airport in the city, making it even more convenient.
We enjoyed our stay at the InterContinental Porto – Palacio Das Cardosas. It’s located in the historic center of the city, near the São Bento train station and city hall.
Where to Stay in Lisbon:
Lisbon is filled with international and luxurious hotels and hotel chains. Here are a few we recommend:
Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Luxury Hotel and Apartments – I had the opportunity to tour this hotel before it opened, several years ago. It’s a family-friendly hotel in the trendy Chiado neighborhood and offers luxury apartments that are specifically designed for families.
The Olissippo Lapa Palace Hotel – we stayed here on our last night in Portugal, and I wish we had more time there. The home of a former palace, this hilltop hotel offers some rooms with views of the Tagus River. It also has a beautiful lagoon-style pool which is a surprising oasis for a city hotel.
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade – we spent three nights at this city hotel, located on a luxurious and swanky street in downtown Lisbon. It offers several restaurants and bars, including a trendy rooftop bar with beautiful night views of the city.