Travel

Sarah Nagaty: Need a break from Lisbon? Here are my five best weekend getaways (updated)

(Editor’s note: Portugal was one of the first countries in Europe to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and revive its travel sector. Now, in 2023, this updated post has caught fire as Lisbon is more popular than ever.)

Cascais

No matter how crazy in love with Lisbon you are, when you live in a city for a long time, a break away from it becomes much needed. One of Europe’s hottest destinations at the moment, Lisbon might feel a bit crowded during the weekend, which is the ideal time to get away from the capital for a couple of days.

There are, of course, the obvious destinations such as the big cities: Porto, Algarve, etc. However, if you feel like going somewhere quieter, less touristy and totally worth exploring, then Portugal always has something that will speak to you. Wild nature, historic places, beach towns … there is always something for everybody.

I came up with the following recommendations for the best weekend getaways based on personal experience which was, in its turn, based on suggestions of locals. They vary greatly in terms of the kind of holiday they offer as well as their distance from Lisbon.

However, what they all have in common is that you will definitely chill!

These destinations are listed by distance from Lisbon, with the closet first:

Cascais and Estoril

This is the easiest destination to get to for a weekend away from Lisbon. The two neighbouring resort towns (if we can actually call them towns) are only an hour train ride away from Lisbon. Once a fishing village, Cascais has a beautiful coast and attractive beaches. The two towns have an amazing night life and some of the best seafood restaurants.

One of the recommended activities is going on the Cascais-Estoril promenade which is around a 3-kilomter walk from Cascais to Sao Joao do Estoril. The walk allows you to enjoy the beautiful coast and to pass by some historical buildings as well as the area’s best beaches.

Óbidos

If you feel like exploring some Portuguese history, then Óbidos should be your next weekend getaway. Its magical castle goes back to the Romans.

Located on a hilltop, the town offers amazing landscapes and viewpoints. If you go in July, you will get to experience the traditional medieval market which takes over the castle and its surrounding area creating by that a medieval spirit everywhere. If you go around Christmas time, then you will surely catch the Vila Natal, Portugal’s most popular Christmas market.

Most importantly, Óbidos is most famous for the cherry liqueur Ginja. Portuguese people believe Óbidos to be the best place to get the real deal on the traditional Portuguese liqueur.

Ericeira

An hour and a half away by bus from Lisbon is all it takes for you to be in this breathtaking surf town. Ericeira is one of Portugal’s most attractive coastal towns. The great thing about it is that you can just chill! It is not one of those places where there are tons of things to cross out from your checklist.

The town is perfect for lying on the beach, surfing, walking around and trying the freshest fish and seafood you will ever have. What is also surprising about Ericeira is that you would not expect such a small town to have such a variety of cafes. And I have to say, they are all quite impressive.

Some of the pastries and desserts I tried there were better than what you will get in similar cafes in Lisbon. Moreover, the town has quite a few bars and clubs where locals go for a long night out. In Ericeira, there are plenty of beaches to choose from and many of them are right in the heart of the town.

Sesimbra

Sesimbra is even quieter and more local than Ericeira. It is only 40 kilometer due south from Lisbon and lies at the foot of the hills of Arrábida Nature Park.The beaches in Sesimbra allow you to enjoy the beautiful blue water along with a view of the mountains. It is also the right place for you if you are into fishing or simply into fish in general, and there are also great seafood places there).

On top of the hill, there is a Moorish castle which dates back to the 13th century from which there is a stunningly picturesque view of the town and the surrounding area. There is a local festival in Sesimbra every March as well as another in June where the town is transformed with decorations, food and lively music.

The highlight of your visit will be exploring the surrounding Serra da Arrábida. The nature park is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal and offers a great opportunity for hiking with wonderful scenery of the ocean from the mountains. Autumn and spring seasons are the best times of the year to go hiking in Serra da Arrábida. Temperature are dropping in Portugal now, so you are just in time for a beautiful hike!

Serra da Estrela

Having recommended towns quite close to Lisbon, it is time for a longer getaway. Do not let the 3-hour drive discourage you from going to Serra da Estrela. It is more than worth it.

Magnificent nature, lakes, forests, and mountain peaks, Serra da Estrela has it all. The region is located in the middle of Portugal and if you miss snow, this is the destination for you (though make sure there is snow before you plan a skiing trip). Manteigas is one of the region’s main villages where you would get a feel of an untouched mountain town. There is also Monsanto where you can take the shepherd’s path to the castle atop of the hill. There are countless nice hiking trails there.

The Natural Park of Serra da Estrela

Visiting the Torre, mainland Portugal’s highest peak, is a must do. Many travellers go there in winter for skiing. Make sure to taste the delicious Serra da Estrela cheese and to drink the freshest water ever from a river source. Serra is also a great place for traditional Portuguese lamb dishes.

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See all of Sarah’s Dispatches posts here.

See Dispatches’s Lisbon story archive here.

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Sarah Nagaty has a PhD in cultural studies, She’s lived in Portugal for six years.

As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.

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