Lisbon has many attractions to hold the attention of its thousands of foreign visitors. Often regarded as the perfect weekend city break it offers a pleasing blend of history and culture along with a fine reputation for locally produced food and drink.

It is worth taking a day of your schedule, if time permits, to venture beyond the city and explore some of the many places of interest that are only a short drive or train ride out of the Portuguese capital. Below is a selection of five of the most popular day trips from Lisbon.

1. Sintra

Around 30 minutes out of Lisbon, Sintra is home to three royal palaces and a selection of important national museums. Perhaps the most popular is the Palacio Nacional de Sintra (also called the Palacio da Vila), which displays a fascinating blend of European and Arabic influenced art and architecture dating back to the 15th century when the palace was constructed.

From personal experience I would advise visitors to arrive early (before 10am) to avoid sharing the narrow one-way route around the palace with masses of large tour groups.

2. Estoril

This popular seaside resort lies around 30km to the west of Lisbon.  It rose from quaint fishing port to haven of exiled royals in the mid 20th century when a host of foreign leaders chose this coast to make their home after fleeing their homelands. In its heyday Estoril became home to King Umberto II of Italy, Juan de Bourbon of Spain, Karl Habsburg of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and King Carol of Romania. Nowadays the odd sign helps point out who lived in what mansion but the fishing port has long since become a stylish resort and weekend retreat for the wealthier Lisbon folks.

Estoril is perhaps Portugal’s version of Monte Carlo, with casinos, clubs and its fair share of people flashing their cash. It also plays host to major sporting events such as the Estoril Open annual tennis tournament and boasts many quality golf courses.

3. Obidos

Portugal is home to several walled cities and Obidos might well lay claim to being the most perfectly preserved. To wander around the city walls is to step from one photo opportunity to another. The residents of the whitewashed houses do their bit to keep the place picture perfect by setting out almost universal window boxes of brightly coloured flowers.

4. Fatima

One of the most important Catholic shrines in Europe, the small town of Fatima attracts around 4 million pilgrims each year. They come to pray at the site where a vision of the Virgin Mary was said to have occurred in 1917. Visitors to Fatima will be able to see the main shrine with its multiple chapels and learn a little about the controversial mysteries of Fatima.

5. Cascais

This seaside resort is the down-to-earth alternative to its exclusive neighbour Estoril. Offering a lively mix of great food, shopping and nightlife Cascais is also a good place to come and enjoy the beach and take a stroll among its sandy dunes. If you visit you’ll no doubt hear the story of Alfonso Sanches, a son of Cascais who allegedly discovered America 10 years before Colombus. Columbus apparently got his hands on Sanches’s diaries and so obtained the information he needed for his successful voyage.

Check out our special section on holidays in the Lisbon region for more information.

by Andy Jarosz