Lisbon is a perfect walking city, with pedestrian streets connecting 'praça with praça' even up to the banks of the Tejo. Historic trams, elevators, and funiculars extend your radius in the city center too, far beyond where your own two feet can take you. But to get a real taste of the beauty that Portugal has to offer, consider renting a set of wheels. And if you drove to Lisbon, you really have no excuse. Hit the open road and head out of cosmopolitan Lisbon to see the unmatched beauty that the countryside, the coast, and the odd architectural marvel have to offer.
There’s plenty to see in the city, so do make sure to schedule time to explore the viewpoints, or miradouros. They rival anything you’ll find out on the open road thanks to the city’s many hills and the banks of the Tejo below. Driving and especially parking can be tricky, so you might want to leave the car at the hotel for at least an afternoon or two while you check out the most essential attractions in the city center. Don’t miss a visit to the Castelo de São Jorge which takes you through the hilly Alfama neighborhood. Here you’ll see local artists displaying their pieces and local residents going about their routine.
Also, while in the center, make sure to ride the Santa Justa Elevator from the lower city center or Baixa Lisbon to the Bairro Alto, or high neighborhood. You’ll be taking a public elevator that opened in 1902, and has been saving locals the strenuous hike ever since. Once you’re whisked effortlessly up the hill, head over to the Santa Catarina Miradouro. There you can drink a coffee or cerveja with views over the city’s rooftops and the river stretching to each side.
After the walking tour, jump back in the car and try your hand at driving through the city to some of its most impressive attractions, many of which are most conveniently reached by car. Some of the oldest monuments to see in the city are in the Belém district, where the gigantic Jeronimos Monastery will take your breath away. The church is even free to enter, although you’ll be enchanted enough to stay for the full tour. Together with the nearby Tower of Belém (also a must-see), the monastery was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
Wander around the riverfront and the manicured parks to your heart’s content. But before venturing out on the open road, make sure to stop in at the Pastéis de Belem bakery and café where the original egg tart pastries were first made. Couple these delectable treats with a Portuguese coffee and you’ll be ready to keep driving on to points outside of the city. There’s plenty to see, no matter which direction you go.
You may well have seen many types of garden, but quite possibly none as impressive as those at this luxury hotel in Lisbon. You’ll find them on the terrace of the outdoor pool, and they’re the perfect setting for organising your events in this wonderful city.
TO THE NORTH
Many visitors to Portugal focus their visit on Porto and Lisbon. But there’s actually lots to see in between, and plenty of it is nature only accessible on your own. When you head out of Lisbon to the north, you’re going to focus first on the interior, and then head to the coast. While Porto is a way away, there’s plenty to see within a two hours’ drive from the capital.
Just make sure to check with the concierge when you choose your route. Some of Portugal’s highways are private toll roads, easy to pay at booths with cash or card. Yet other national routes require that you buy credit in advance at gas stations in the form of a scratch-off ticket or just register your vehicle online.
Once you get that bit of preparation out of the way, you’re ready to head out of the city. The first stop is just a drive-by. From the highway, you’ll see the town of Óbidos rise in the distance. The walled city is quite a sight, and it’s worth a five-minute detour to drive around the city walls. But don’t take too long; the main attraction on this jaunt to the north is Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Nature Park, just a bit further up the road.
One of the most interesting views at the park is of Fórnea, a unique geographical feature of the park that looks a lot like the amphitheater. You can drive right up to the top and look down into what looks likes seats except that it’s naturally occurring erosion. Also, worth checking out is the Castle of Porto de Mós, which rises far above its surroundings. Plus, there are some dinosaur footprints from about 175 million years ago within the park.
From there, beeline it towards the coast. Go see Praia de Paredes da Vitória, Victory Walls Beach. There are interesting rock formations along one side and beautiful sand that stretches for ages. You can see it all from above, or get out of the car and go for a walk along the Atlantic if you prefer. From there, the prettiest way to get back to Lisbon is along the coast.
TO THE SOUTH
Venturing south out of town is perhaps the most thrilling thanks to the bridge that takes you out of the city, the Ponte 25 de Abril. It’s styled much like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge although the company that constructed it was actually responsible for the Bay Bridge instead. Enjoy the view of the Tejo as you make your way across, and then head up to the National Shrine of Christ the King, or Cristo Rei in Portuguese. Take in the large statue of Jesus that overlooks Lisbon but then turn around and take a look from the viewpoints of the bridge and the city beyond.
Get back in the car and continue on to Serra da Arrabida National Park, home to one of the prettiest sections of the coast south of Lisbon, and just under 50 minutes past the Christ the King shrine and viewpoint. The park is great because the drive itself showcases the coast and the cliffs. Follow the Estrada de Escarpa (N379-1), starting near Aldeia de Irmãos, and let the winding roads take you to the Serra do Risco cliffs some of the tallest cliffs along the coast at 380 meters high. The Miradouro Mina de Brecha da Arrábida viewpoint is the perfect spot to take it all in. You can also stop by the Arrábida Convent to stretch your legs and take in even more views of the hills and coastline.
TO THE EAST
The interior of Portugal is less explored than its fabulous coastline. But there’s plenty to see here too, especially from the wide-open road. For this mini road trip from Lisbon, you get the experience of driving across the Vasco da Gama Bridge, the longest bridge in all of Europe. It was named after the Portuguese explorer who discovered a sea route from Europe to India more than 500 years ago.
Instead of following the coastline, this trip will take you along the Tejo River into the country’s interior. From the bridge, follow the Tejo upstream, crossing back and forth across the river at historic bridges like the Rainha D. Amélia Bridge near the town of Morgado. It’s an old railroad bridge from the turn of the century that has been renovated to carry car and pedestrian traffic.
From here head to Santarém, a bit further upstream where you can get a good view of the entire Tejo river valley from above. Put the Jardim das Portas do Sol in the GPS and park in the small parking lot just next to the public garden. Get out and walk just a few meters to the lookout point, with views over the river and as far as the eye can see into the lush valley. While you’re stopped, consider getting a glass of the fabulous red wine that comes from this region.
The last step on this jaunt into the interior is also an architectural marvel, albeit much older than the other bridges that you’ll explore. The Aqueduct of Pegões, near the city of Tamar, springs up just alongside the highway. It’s more than 3.7 miles long, 98-feet high at points, and has some 180 arches that were designed by architect Filipe Terzi and built in the 1600s. Perhaps most remarkably, you can drive right alongside much of it, although you might want to get out to fully absorb the top engineering of the 17th century.
TO THE WEST
It might not seem like there’s much west of Lisbon; the city is quite close to the Atlantic Coast. But don’t confuse the Tejo and its estuary with the actual Atlantic-not to mention everything in between. With a car, you can truly take advantage of this beautiful corner of the country. From Lisbon, you can drive along the Tejo until it meets the Atlantic. The upscale town of Cascais starts your exploration. Grab a coffee and a pastel de nata to start off the day, and then drive to the Boca do Inferno. This is a cliff formation right along the water that sports a naturally formed arch.
Then get back in the car and continue along the coast to Cabo Raso, home to an active lighthouse. From there, head up into the mountains in the direction of Sintra. The tours of the many palaces, castles and fancy country estates near the hilltop town is best done on a separate day, you’ll want plenty of time to explore. But in the hills are amazing views, only accessible by private car. Make sure not to miss Santuário da Peninha. The lookout point shows the Atlantic and the Tejo and its estuary to the south.
Then to finish the day, and that does mean about an hour before sunset, head to Cabo da Roca. This is the westernmost point in continental Europe. Here there are a few monuments and another lighthouse, but what you’re really here for is to see the horizon. Park the car and take a seat at the viewpoint on the cliff. Look out and gaze into the distance as the sun begins to set. Take in that beauty fully. But once the sun is no longer visible, pay attention to how the ocean and the sky meet in the distance. You’ll swear you can see the curve of the Earth. It’s breathtaking.
Once you’ve had your fill, head back to Lisbon along the coast as night falls in time for dinner and an exciting night in the city. Surely you can fill your Lisbon vacation with fun, never leaving the city limits even to hit the beach. But there’s so much more out there to explore. So, choose a direction, and let the road lead you to these beautiful spots all under two hours from Lisbon. No matter where you go, the majesty of Portugal won’t disappoint.
To help you enjoy these experiences, we encourage you to book and discover our Iberostar Lisboa hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. Its unbeatable location is in the proximity to Marquês de Pombal Square, Avenida da Liberdade that is full of luxury stores, and Eduardo VII Park which is a perfect place for you to start exploring the city streets that captivated the celebrated Fernando Pessoa.
JOSEPH D. LYONS
Photography by Cordon PressMAKE IT REAL NOW