Exploring Sintra, Estoril and Cascais

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This post continues from where I left off with my last post, describing our visit to Lisbon and the surrounding area. If you haven’t already seen it, it’s probably best if you read this first, then come back here.

Sintra is a beautiful hilltop town on the outskirts of Lisbon. Luckily our hotel was located near a station with convenient trains. The journey surprised us with the sheer density of housing in the suburbs between the city center and Sintra. After 30 mins of travel past countless tower blocks, we suddenly arrived in Sintra, a total contrast to everything we had seen on the way there.

Beautiful Sintra, near Lisbon
Beautiful Sintra, near Lisbon

Sintra is a UNESCO world heritage site and boasts a range of palaces and museums. The town is beautiful and the architecture really different to the Moorish influences we are used to where we live in the Algarve.

We really visited to get a general sense of the place, rather than visit specific attractions, but unfortunately, our failure to properly read the guidebook resulted in us visiting on the one day that the main Palacio National that we did wish to walk around was closed to the public. We did have a good look around the outside though, and were a little surprised how poorly maintained it seemed to be – certainly not the bright white Disneyesque building shown in our guidebook!

View of Sintra Portugal
View of Sintra Portugal

After visiting a pasterlaria and stocking up on seriously delicious queijadas (super sweet cheese-based sponge cakes), we strolled around the “semi-tropical” gardens and up through the town, visiting a range of tourist tat shops, and a fabulous antique shop specializing in scientific instruments and old fashioned technology. We then headed to the wonderful toy museum.

I’m not a great one for museums, but I loved the toy museum, although it was quite depressing that so many things I had as a child are now considered museum pieces! The museum has everything from vintage Hornby train sets to Barbies, Action Men and 3000 year old stone toys. It is well worth a visit – my only piece of advice would be that all male visitors should perhaps start on the top floor and work down. After getting very excited about Star Wars figures and toy cars, I was quite disappointed when I got to the top and only had dolls left – I should have saved the best till last!

Sintra Toy Museum - Hornby Trains
Sintra Toy Museum - Hornby Trains

We headed back to Lisbon by train, stopping for a quick expresso and pastel de nata before heading across town on the metro to Cais de Sodre, ready for the train out to Cascais.

The train to Cascais is a “must-do” for visitors to Lisbon. The views are incredible as you leave Lisbon, initially right next to a major road, which delivers the strange sensation of travelling on a road whilst on a train. The train tracks then hug the shore, nearly close enough for waves to break against the train carriages.

We passed through some far more upscale, and no doubt very expensive, suburbs on the way to Cascais, the beach resort of choice for Lisbon residents.

A lot of people had recommended Cascais to us, and it did deliver, in all but two respects: beach space, and sea water temperature, which was bloody freezing compared to the Algarve, which itself isn’t really all that warm!

After a quick walk round the town, which included a stroll around an antiques fair and a stop for bifanas (pork sandwiches) and beers, we walked around the marina, which was preparing to host the Americas Cup. As such, it was also hosting a large collection of ostentatiously wealthy Europeans and their spoiled and noisy children, so we quickly got away and searched for somewhere to have a rest.

Cascais - Our Secluded Beach Spot
Cascais - Our Secluded Beach Spot

We found just the place, a tiny “beach” on the edge of a park on the way out of town. It was really just an inlet, where the sea was still flowing into the land between the parts of the marina, but it was an oasis of calm that seemed undiscovered by the tourists. We finished the rest of our quiejadas and had a dip in the water.

With our energy restored, we found the main seafront and joined the hundreds of locals in the early evening promenade tradition, stopping for a drink en route to Estoril, a couple of miles away.

We didn’t explore much of Estoril town, other than to buy an ice cream and sit on the pretty park in front of the huge casino, said to be the inspiration for many of Ian Fleming´s James Bond tales. We then rejoined the prom back into Cascais, which by now was packed with people looking for somewhere to have dinner.

We were lucky enough to grab the last table at a low priced grill restaurant and tucked into some very succulent piri piri chicken, chips and salad. The clearly very wealthy English family who came to sit at the next table towards the end of our meal provided some entertainment, and their embarrassing, squabbling behavior while we drank our coffees gave us something to talk about on the way home!

We boarded quite a late train back to Lisbon, with surprisingly few people on it considering the number of people in Cascais. A late night underground train then dropped us almost at the door of our hotel.

Our stay is Lisbon was over when we awoke the following day, so we checked out of the hotel and headed out of the city, this time choosing to drive over the stunning, seven mile long Vasco de Gama bridge instead of joining the horrific traffic for the 25 de Abril bridge.

On the way back to the Algarve we stopped at Freeport, a huge outlet mall for designer goods, which proved to be a huge waste of time, with nothing seeming to be particularly good value. Promises of shirts from 10€ and jeans from 15€ on the windows never seemed to materialize in the shops themselves-we wouldn’t bother with a repeat visit.

After this stop, our journey back was over very quickly, with a planned detour to the west coast of Portugal proving unsuccessful when we realized our borrowed satnav didn’t contain beaches as points of interest. So we headed home, tired but content after our break in Lisbon, and ready to get back to work.

As I mentioned in my previous post, our chosen guidebook was really accurate and helpful on our trip to Lisbon and the surrounding area. You can find the book we used here:

Rough Guide Directions Lisbon

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7 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Hi,my name is José, i’m portuguese and i’ve 22years old.
    I found your blog some months ago. I usually like to check on your thoughts about Portugal and the way you live here, specially because i would like to do the same, but obviously, in the other way around. So, after reading most of your posts, i would like to ask you a favor.
    In this Sintra post, you said you were surprised about the density of housing areas in the suburbs (usually i say they are the prime example of portuguese unorganized life). So i would like to read a post comparing that kind of behaviour in Portugal with the ones in UK (Scotland mainly?).How you think a portuguese would fit in the sociaty? How you think he would feel? What would resemble Portugal(or not)? And so on…
    Can you do that?
    Thanks and congratulations about your blog…

    PS: I am sorry about my poorly lern lessons of english, and i am sorry if i used both, american and british, version of your language.

  2. Sintra is a place that I want to visit, I read that there is good hiking there. Im not too fussed about seeing Lisbon itself.

  3. Hi José

    Thank you for reading the blog. I like the idea of the post you have come up with and it is something I am going to try to do for the future, though it would have to be about England and not Scotland, somewhere I have only visited on business.


    Hi Dreamer,

    Sintra is indeed beautiful and a great place to hike (if you like hills!) To me it would seem a shame to skip Lisbon if you are so close!

    Best wishes

  4. Thank you for the atention. I am glad you can spare a moment for me.

    PS: Just don’t be condecending with the many portuguese defects. Try to be impartial (althougt it seems to me you really are an optimistic).

    Thank you once more.

  5. Hi Ben!

    Have come late to your blog via Alyson’s interview, so apologies for late arrival. I have a home in Tavira though am not yet lucky enough to live there permanently. I’ve read and agree with quite a few of your observations on Portugal, so will carry on reading with interest.

    I’ve been twice to Lisbon and loved the city, even though on the second occasion I was pickpocketed and had to spend a fair amount of time with the police. We made the very foolish decision to walk up the road to the Palace at the top of incredible Sintra and my husband has not forgiven me to this day. So much so that I wasn’t allowed to catch the bus from Sintra to Cascais and train back to Lisbon which was my planned route. So I was deprived of Cascais and that’s one for another day. Did enjoy the queijadas though. Cheers!

  6. Hi Johanna,

    Welcome and glad you discovered the blog. I’ve been thinking about queijadas a lot recently, must be time to buy some – they actually do some pretty good ones in Pingos!

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