In case you haven’t already figured this out from my blog posts, day trips are my favourite. You get to see new places without all the inconvenience of dragging your luggage around with you. At the end of the day you return to your base, a place of familiarity after a day of seeing the unfamiliar.
I know there are arguments against this style of travel. If you move to a new place every night you will obviously be seeing just as much, and save yourself the cost and time associated with the return journey. There are certainly times when it makes more sense to do it that way. But let me assure you – a day trip to Belém and Cascais is a pretty good way to go if you are staying in Lisbon. It’s easy, cheap, and there is just the right amount to see.
Getting to Belém
Belém is actually part of Lisbon – it sits just to the southwest on the edge of the city limits. Its name is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem and is pronounced “bih-LANG”.
I caught Tram #15 from Praça da Figueira in Baixa towards Algés. You could also get a train to Algés station if you wanted to, but the tram was nice. You can buy a ticket on board, or use your Via Viagem (which I explain here in my Lisbon post).
You can choose to get off at a few different stops. I got off near Pastéis de Belém – one of the oldest pastry shops around. If the lines aren’t too long you should grab dois Pastéis de Belém (two Portuguese tarts) to eat as you walk.
From here you can walk through the gardens and turn left across the footbridge (or the underpass a bit further along) so that you can walk along the shore and get a good view of the Discovery Monument. Or you can stay on the near side of the highway and visit the Jeronimos Monastery first.
The Jerónimos Monastery or Hieronymites Monastery, is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome. Sadly, it was closed on the day I was there (a Monday). This is one of those times when it pays to do your research. I was quite annoyed at myself because I had really wanted to see it. Nevertheless, above is what it looks like from outside.
The Monument was originally built for the 1940 World Exhibition. It celebrated the achievements of explorers during the (politically incorrectly named) Age of Discoveries and the creation of Portugal’s empire. It was demolished a couple of years after the closure of the exhibition and what we see today is an exact replica of the original. It was built in 1960 on the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death. Henry the Navigator was a driving force behind Portugal’s overseas exploration and he financed many of the expeditions. The monument shows more than thirty statues of people who played an important role in the discoveries. There is a small museum inside and a viewing platform for a panoramic view over the Tejo estuary and Belém .
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After you have passed the Discovery Monument, keep walking along the shoreline and pretty soon you will see the above lighthouse, and the gorgeous Belém Tower.
Built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belém Tower was the starting point for many voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland.
This was also closed on Mondays! But that was ok because I was most interested in seeing it from the outside, and how else would you get a picture with no one on the bridge?
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After Belém Tower I continued walking to Algés station. It took about 20 minutes, but I didn’t mind because it was a nice day. The walk takes you past the maritime museum. You could instead get back on tram #15, which terminates at Algés station.
To get to Cascais I hopped on a train (it’s included in the Via Viagem card and costs only €2 or €3). The trains are direct and depart every 20 minutes or so. The journey is about half an hour.
I got off the train one stop early at Monte Estoril so that I could walk along the seaside footpath. I think that was a good choice.
To return to Lisbon at the end of the day I hopped on a train at Cascais station, which went direct back to Cais do Sodre. From there you can connect with the Lisbon metro system.
If you are staying in Sintra there are also buses to Cascais (number 417), taking around 45mins.
Cascais is a former fishing village with colourful decorated buildings lining cobblestoned streets, populous harbours, numerous shops and cafes to explore, and many popular beaches.
So there is plenty to look at. Just wander about! Make sure to walk the whole coast line, at least as far as the very pretty Santa Marta lighthouse and museum, and the above (above above) museum thing (?).
If you go just a little further you will see Boca do Inferno where rough ocean waves crash against the cliff face. It is Aleister Crowley, the famed astrologer, magician and occultist faked his death in 1930 for publicity.
My main lesson learned is that Monday is not a good day to visit Belém. Possibly, if I had not visited Belém on a Monday, it would have been better to do Belém as a full day and visit Cascais separately. But I was pretty happy with what I was able to see and do, and it was a fun day out of Lisbon.