posted by Guest blogger – Fiona Hilliard |
Our latest guest blogger is Fiona Hilliard, travel writer and blogger from Dublin who writes for The Glove Box Blog, the official blog of ArgusCarHire.com. She counts Lisbon as one of her favourite cities in the world and in this post gives us three good excuses to explore its surroundings.
I have been to Lisbon five times now. Every time I visit I discover something new, different or amazing. The city is young and vibrant and is famous for having the best hostels in the world. But that’s not all. The surrounding towns and neighbourhoods are home to some of the most beautiful and interesting attractions in Europe.
Next time you visit the Portuguese capital, take some day trips, you’ll find the local rail system from Lisbon is cheap, clean and efficient and the perfect way to get around. If you prefer to take things at your own pace though, you can rent a car in Lisbon for a few euro a day and explore the sights at your leisure.
The following are three of my favourite day trips from Lisbon…
Belem can be easily reached by train from Cais do Sodre Station. It is the first major stop after Lisbon and a town of great historical importance.
Grab a window seat and sit on the left hand side to experience some of the most stunning views of the Lisbon coastline. Once you reach Belem, take a walk along the pier and check out the Discoveries Monument and Belem Tower.
Belem has two major claims to fame – explorers and the heavenly, delicious Pasteis de Nata tarts. After you’ve navigated your way through the history of Vasco da Gama and his fellow Portuguese adventurers, discover the best custard tarts in the world at Café Pastéis de Belém. Ponder the famously top secret recipe over a coffee within the café or take a picnic over to the local park where an antiques and arts and crafts market takes place on weekends. While you’re here, pop into Jerónimos Monastery and marvel at the exquisite architecture.
I heard about Cascais from locals during my first ever visit to Lisbon in April 2009 and gladly used it as a reason to return to the Lisbon coast that summer and the summer after that and the summer after that…
Cascais (pronounced ‘Kesh – Kaysh’) is the final stop on the train from Lisbon’s Cais de sodré station. It is a small seaside resort that has a by-gone era charm – a fairy lit evening book market, delicious seafood restaurants and open –air concerts on the town square.
The beach is small but retains its ‘fishing village’ character –sea trawlers are docked all along the bay and there’s a seafood market nearby. The much more expansive Tamariz beach in Monte Estoril is a pleasant walk along the promenade and is also home to an excellent open air nightclub during the summer months. In terms of bars in Cascais, there are plenty to choose from on Largo do Camoes Square. Don’t be fooled by the sleepy daytime appearance. As night falls, local DJs compete for your attention in bars including Chequers, The Palm Tree and The Duke. O’Neill’s Irish pub is a lovely spot too, great live music and if you can secure one of outdoor the tables by the front door, it has the makings of a perfect evening.
Heading inland, take the train from Lisbon’s central Rossio station to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Sintra. The leafy hideaway is where Portuguese monarchs used to go for some R and R when the summer heat became oppressive. Once you arrive, you’ll feel like you’re a million miles from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon. The elegant palaces, tranquil gardens and winding roads are the stuff of fairytales. And quirky ones at that.
The National Palace in the centre of the old town is the oldest and most historically important. It was redesigned so many times that it looks like a mish-mash of Gothic, Manueline and Moorish styles. The Pena Palace meanwhile is the newest and most romantic. It was built in the 19th century and sits above a hill where ancient Romans used to worship the moon.
En-route to Pena, it’s possible to visit a 9th century Moorish castle where there are gorgeous views of the surrounding area. From here you can catch a glimpse of other palaces including Monserrate, Seteais (an 18th century palace converted into a hotel) and the fabulous Quinta da Regaleira. I have to say if you visit just one, go for Quinta da Regaleira. In 1892, the palace was purchased by eccentric millionaire Carvalho Monteiro who set out to curate a bewildering collection of symbols to reflect his interests, ideologies and wild imagination. The result? Elaborate gardens, creepy grottoes and dazzling fountains as well as the wonderfully over the top interior of the palace which is worthy of Sleeping Beauty herself.
ChrisYunker and lele3100. All images used under the Creative Commons license.