When I began asking friends where we should visit on our family trip to Portugal, their answers ranged from Porto in the north to Faro in the south, from the Douro Valley vineyards to the Algarve coast. And while I would’ve happily spent two weeks zigzagging across the country, I knew one of us would not be so willing: The toddler.
So we shrunk our itinerary; and then we shrunk it again.
But how much could we really see of Portugal without leaving a 25 mile radius? Much much more than I expected.
A slice of city life in Lisbon (0 miles). I was skeptical when I heard Lisbon referred to as “the San Francisco of Europe.” But boy, was I wrong. From the calf-aching hills to the vintage trolleys and Golden Gate Bridge replica, Lisbon actually made me homesick for California.
We stayed at the Lisboa Pessoa Hotel and I highly recommend it for the location, design and view from it’s rooftop restaurant. You won’t have to leave the Chicado neighborhood to try some of our other favorite spots: São Jorge Castle for history, Taberna Rua das Flores for local cuisine and A Tasca do Chico for live Fado music. Also, the upscale food court at the Time Out Market was perfect for a family dinner after sightseeing — they even have high chairs.
A spiritual respite in Belém (5 miles). If you have even 48 hours to spend in Lisbon, you have to get out of town. Belèm offers the Jerónimos Monastery and the best pastries in Portugal at Pastéis de Belém. If you don’t have a rental car, take a taxi or the #15 tram from Lisbon. Get there in time for a leisurely lunch at Restaurante Caseiro, cross the street and buy a box of warm pastries to eat in line for the monastery. Or skip the line completely by using the monastery’s museum entrance on the side for an extra two euros.
A beach break in Estoril (15 miles). Our intent was to stay in the bustling coastal city of Cascais, but we ended up in Estoril when we couldn’t pass up renting this home with private beach access. I have to admit, this house with its tiny steps down to a secluded beach, really made the whole vacation. Moreover, we realized that we could walk to Cascais from our home, since the two towns are connected via a long boardwalk, dotted with restaurants. (You can also get around on the local train, in fact it runs all the way from Lisbon to Cascais in less than one hour).
While there we quickly fell into a daily routine — mornings on the beach, Cascais for lunch and shopping, sangria bianco on the boardwalk and grilled fish for dinner at home. We even checked out Estoril’s famous casino one night (the site of James Bond’s first appearance), but it’s no rival of Vegas. Try Cascais’ Tasting Room for local wine and Estoril’s beachfront Bolina for fresh seafood. Rent a bicycle at Portugal Bike Rental to visit all the beaches along the boardwalk, as well as the dramatic Boca do Inferno.
A history lesson in Sintra (20 miles). We spent one day exploring Sintra, but could have easily spent two or three. The hilly, pine-covered region is where Portuguese royalty chose to make their home, therefore the area is covered in palaces, mansions and gardens that are now open to tourists. On our day in Sintra we visited the whimsical Peña Palace in the morning and explored the enchanting Quinta da Regaleira gardens in the afternoon. We left time for a leisurely lunch in the charming village of Sintra, as well.
If you go, do take the free visitor bus from Sintra village to Peña Palace (or you’ll be hiking uphill for hours). Definitely leave the stroller at home.
A taste of the terroir in Colares (25 miles). You don’t have to give up the dream of sitting on a Portuguese vineyard if you can’t make it to the Douro Valley; Colares boasts fantastic reds and lies just 25 miles from Lisbon. After marveling at their rolling green vineyards by car, we spent an afternoon tasting local wines in the Adega Regional de Colares‘ nearly 100-year-old barreling room. Although you’ll find more adorable vintage trolleys in downtown Colares, you’ll need a car to reach this area.
Have you been to Portugal? Where did you go? As is true with so many places we visit, we hope to return someday and explore more of Portugal.