I am constantly asked what I love about Portugal. There are way too many things to list, but I will give you an idea of what I think are musts and if you need more advice, just ask.
CASCAIS. This has been our home for three years. It is called the “Jewel of the Atlantic Coast” and for good reason. It is lovely. It easily warrants a full day (if not more) to explore. I love to walk along the promenade from Estoril to the center of Cascais. It is a wide and lively path on the ocean. The views are spectacular. This is a year round activity, but in the summer, the beaches are great for swimming. There is an inflatable water park in the summer (€7 per hour) and you can rent SUP to explore on. There are loads of cafes and restaurants that line this strip and are frequented by locals and tourists alike.
Top Sites/Food in Cascais according to my family:
- Cresmina Dunes and Guincho beach. Amazing walk on the sand dunes. Cool cafe to admire view (closed Mondays). Guincho is an awesome place to watch surfers (not great for beginner surfers). Great hiking trails along the coast, plus the Bar do Guincho has great food and was rated one of the best beach cafes in Europe.
- Castro Guimaraes museum is located right overlooking the ocean and it is magical. A very quick visit, but so worth it. The little bridge in front of the castle is the smallest bridge in the world that crosses the Atlantic Ocean (kind of a joke, but cool nonetheless). My kids love to swim in the castle moat, which depending on the tide, can be chill or they are almost pulled out to sea, either way, they love it.
- Marchel Carmona Park is right beside the Castro Guimares house and it is amazing! There are free roaming peacocks everywhere and chicken and roosters too. If you are lucky, the roses are in bloom and the smell is incredible. There is a small, but good cafe in the park that donates their proceeds to a charity for people with special needs. A great place to enjoy a coffee and pastry while the kids play in the extensive park.
- Boca do Infero (Hell’s Mouth) is a cool spot to view the ocean and some neat cliffs. If you have time, I would walk from the city center to here and then continue to this hip shopping and eating spot called Casa da Guia. It is probably no more than a 30 minute walk…maybe a bit longer, but you will be rewarded with amazing views.
- We love to grab a coffee on the Main Street at Sacolina (they only take cash). Maggie would eat daily (if we let her) at 100 Montadito’s (across from the Cascais train station). It is a Spanish tapas chain that offers 100 mini sandwiches for €1 each. They also have my favorite cider on tap- Bandito and tinto de Verano (wine mixed with a lemon lime soda—more popular with the Spanish than sangria). For sit down restaurants…hands down Lamassa in Estoril. It is the best handmade pasta in this country. I will dream of it often. They only have 6 tables. You must reserve. They open at 7 pm for dinner.
- Cascais market on Wednesday morning. It is an explosion of colors and sounds. The best fresh fruits and vegetables I have ever eaten. Plus, there are stalls that sell everything from clothing to pottery. I never missed a Wednesday.
Sintra is enchanting. If you have the time visit every castle, but don’t miss the hiking here too! I won’t list the castles because they are easy enough to find, just letting you know our favorites.
- We love Quinta do Pisão. It is a free nature park with trails that wind through cork forests. They have endangered donkeys and sheep grazing in the field. It has archeological sites dating back to the Paleolithic times. A must!
- Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are both so unique. Pena for the architecture and Regaleira for the grounds. Love them both. Pena needs way more time than you think to see it because the grounds are enormous and they are not to be missed. This should take you a half day alone.
- Monserrate is very special. Pretty grounds and unique architecture, but my favorite part is the free old hunting grounds across from the palace with miles of trails. One of my go to hiking routes. Glorious.
- Eat at cafe Saudade! It is in the town center and have the largest and best scones ever!
- Cafe Da Natalia is a little out of the way, but apparently it is frequented by the elite in Portuguese society. I never saw anyone famous, but I did eat here weekly. Great homemade pastries and at lunch don’t order off of the menu…they have this mini buffet of Portuguese food and you just point to what you want and they plate it for you. It is reasonable and good. Try the fish of the garden, a green bean that they deep fry…yummy.
Lisbon is a city that has a little something for everyone. There are the obvious tourist sites that every guidebook will include, so I won’t bother mentioning those, I will just tell you what we love.
- The Estrela Park is a favorite spot. The kids would ride their bikes here and play in the park. It is a great spot to come and sit under a tree and rest your feet. It is also across the street from where my priest worked. If the British Cemetery and St. George’s church is open, it is a wonderful spot to visit. Close by is a great cafe with the world’s best salted caramel chocolate cake…Padaria Portuguesa. It is a small chain which serves up great deals of soup, sandwich and fresh squeezed orange juice for under €5. Don’t go one day in Portugal without fresh squeezed orange juice. It is cheap and it tastes like Heaven.
- The Prazares Cemetery is fascinating. The Portuguese have a very unique way of burying people in these little houses and my kids were transfixed. It is also the best place to get a seat on the #28 tram. It is the start of the line. The 28 is a must! Like a Disney ride as it winds through the city. Beware of pickpockets. Also right nearby are a lot of fabric shops that sell Portuguese patterns and linens. I love looking at them. Then you can catch lunch at the Campo D’Ourique. It is a hip, but reasonable place to eat. It is like the more popular Time Out Market, but less busy. Great food options for everyone. Love having lunch here…not open for dinner.
- Time Out Market is insanely popular and for good reason. It offers a great sampling of Portuguese food in a food hall setting. Everyone can find something they like and meet at a table to enjoy it. It has become very busy!! Get there early. My kids love the 100 Montadito’s across the street…less busy and cheaper but not Portuguese food.
- Port tasting in Time Out market. Really fun and a great chance to learn about the famous Portuguese drink.
- Drink Ginja often! It is a sour cherry liqueur sold in a chocolate shot glass. I have one every night. I might have a problem. It is sold everywhere for €1 a shot. The most famous spot for locals to get a shot (not served in chocolate) is called Ginjinha Sem Rival. It is near Rossini Square. You feel like a local when you come here.
- Around the corner from Ginjinha Sem Rival is the coolest church in Lisbon. It had a fire in the church in the mid-1950’s and they left the scared walls for all to see. It is so untouched and I find it mesmerizing. The Saint Domingos Church (Igreja Sao Domingos) is a must.
- The Carmo Convent is in ruins, but it is really worth going into. It has a small museum inside, but it is the remains of the building destroyed in the 1755 earthquake that is exciting to see. Right around the corner is a flight of stairs that goes up to a cafe called Bella Vista, if you go up those stairs you pass the restaurant and you are on top of the famous Santa Justa lift. No need to take the elevator and wait in line, just walk past the cafe and you are rewarded with a kick ass view. The elevator is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower. It was designed by one of Eiffel’s protégés.
- The Tile Museum. Portugal is famous for its azulejos. This museum shows you everything you need to know about how and why tiles are so popular in Portugal. It is a great place to spend a few hours. If you contact the museum in advance, they will teach you how to paint tiles.
- The Money Museum. This is free and it really is a great spot for the whole family. Yes, your learn about money, but it used to be a church before the earthquake of 1755 and it shows you what happened in the city it shows you where they found bodies are they excavated years later. Fascinating stuff.
- Cork store…JS Cork. Don’t buy cork on the street or from a tourist shop because then it probably comes from China and it is fake. Cork is most abundantly grown in Portugal and North Africa. It is an amazing product. The bark from a cork tree is stripped every 7 years and used for everything from flooring, to insulation in the space shuttle. It is an extremely versatile product and completely waterproof. Buy it from a reputable source.
- Pizzaria Lisboa is owned by famed Michelin star chef José Avillez. Some of his restaurants take months to get into, but his pizza and pasta place is pretty easy to find a table if you book a day or so before or for when it opens for dinner at 7 pm. Get the bread service. It comes with truffle butter and a tomato and marscapone dip. The appetizer of eggplant parmigiana is great. Also the dessert of Chocolate x3 is lush. Pretty reasonably priced. You might notice I don’t recommend a lot of Portuguese places to eat. It is because they are heavy on the fish and meat and I am a vegetarian. If you dig on fish, you will love Portuguese cuisine.
- Tuk-tuk ride. My kids love this! They are everywhere in Lisbon and since it is such a hilly city, it is a fun way to get your bearings. They don’t charge a fortune and they speed through the hills making it like you are on an out of control roller coaster. Negotiate hard. You can get a good deal. Make sure you tell them you want to see the Afama district. It is the old Arab part of the city and retains its crazy winding streets. Many are very steep. Better to see it the first time by tuk-tuk.
- El Cortes Inglese is 12 story department store that always makes me happy. It is a Spanish chain and it has everything. While stunning at Christmas, I like it year round. It reminds me of an old fashioned department store from my childhood. They have taken a cue from the success of the Time Out Market and on the 7th floor they opened a food hall. Avillez has a small restaurant, along with other famous Portuguese chefs. Our favorite gelato shop Nannarella opened up inside as well. Best gelato in Portugal. They have another location in the city too.
Belém is just outside of Lisbon and it is home to the most famous pastel de natas bakery in the world, Pastéis de Belem. I really don’t like these egg custard tarts, but I am probably the only one. The bakery is in the Main Street and people cue outside to buy the tarts…DON’T CUE…go inside. There are over 400 seats inside and you almost never have to wait to get a table. A bit of advice…put cinnamon on top of the pastry. That’s the way the Portuguese do it.
- Do visit the Jeronimos Monastery. The Manueline architecture is very unique to Portugal and it is captivating.
- The tower of Belém is a symbol of Lisbon. Maggie always thought it was lame to be the image of Lisbon because it isn’t very big, but it was a defensive fort and it is in a great location. It can be insanely busy!! You might wait a long time, so plan it early in the day.
- The Coaches Museum. This is my favorite museum of them all. It has been recently redone and it gives you a look at all of the types of coaches used by everyone from Royalty to commoners before cars. They are beautifully displayed and it is a real treat to step back in time and see these magnificently preserved vehicles.
- Discoverers Monument. This is well worth a visit if you like a good view. The monument itself is free to see. It is located on the water in Belém. You only pay to get to the top, up a tiny elevator. Once there, there is a small viewing platform that offers an amazing view. You can pass on this, if it is really busy.
If you love surfing, or think you might like surfing…this is the beach. It is 20 minutes outside of Lisbon and it is one of my favorite places to swim and walk. It is a long and wide beach filled with cafés and restaurants. There are trails that let you walk from Carcavelos past other great beaches like Oerias and the Oerias Marina. There are multiple surfing schools here and they even offer boogie boarding lessons. If you have time, park here and walk a few miles along the coast towards Lisbon. They are fortresses and castles and clear blue water to keep you occupied.
I have covered some of my favorites, but I will write another post about things a little further afield soon. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I hope you fall in love with Portugal…I did.