Lisbon for Christmas: Why You Should Gift Yourself a Trip to Portugal

Lisbon for Christmas: Parque Eduardo VII
Why visit Lisbon in December? Christmas is an ideal time of year to visit Portugal. Lisbon is not too hot and has a festive air. Read on for ideas of how to make the most of a trip to Lisbon for Christmas. I'll share ideas for things to do in Lisbon as well as Lisbon day trip ideas to make the most of your December holiday. Get into the Christmas spirit and let's go!

Getting to Lisbon

We've visited Portugal twice and both times it's been in December for Christmas. On our first trip, we combined our trip to Lisbon with Faro and the Algarve and decided to take the train from Faro to Lisbon. How long is the train ride from Faro to Lisbon? About 3 hours. On our second trip, we flew. Lisbon is well-served by both national and low-cost airlines. We took a direct flight from Dublin to Lisbon Airport on TAP Air Portugal. The flight leaves incredibly early, but 5 am departures have their perks. We loved the sunrise views on our way from Dublin to Lisbon. Definitely request a window seat. The approach into Lisbon definitely gets an A+! I could see Belem from the plane. 

It was smooth sailing on arrival in Lisbon. There was no line at immigration (most people on our flight were connecting to the U.S. or Brazil). Our bags were waiting on the belt when we got to baggage claim.

On our most recent trip, we decided to wait out rush hour in Lisbon and stopped for a coffee and pastel de nata. Go to Just Arrived by baggage claim. It's a nice and quiet spot. Once you exit, the secure area of the airport, it's much more crowded. 
Outside Lisbon Airport

Getting around in Lisbon

I don't recommend getting a car if you plan to stay in Lisbon. You can easily get around on foot and public transportation. If you plan to go further afield to Lisbon day trip destinations like Sintra or Cascais, a car gives you a bit of flexibility. You can also drive from Lisbon to Porto in about 3 hours. We did this on one of our Christmas in Portugal trips. The time we rented a car, we were glad we waited out rush hour. You'll need to navigate a large and scary traffic circle to get onto the motorway and I found it to be super confusing. I actually had to drive around twice to get to the exit that I wanted.

I learned two important things about driving in Lisbon that day. You should only use the right lane entering a traffic circle in Portugal if you are taking the first exit. Also, the rumor that Portuguese drivers love to tailgate is most definitely true! 

Booking.com

Where to Stay in Lisbon

We decided to rent an apartment for the week rather than stay at a hotel in Lisbon and we're so glad we did. We find that it's easier to pretend for a moment that we're locals when we rent a place like this rather than staying at hotels like the usual Marriott or Sheraton. We met our host from Lisbon Apartments near one of the Metro stops and he guided us up the winding pedestrian streets to our temporary home in Mouraria. Our apartment had two stories (the second floor had a seriously sloped roof so it was hard to stand up in parts of the bedroom). There was a window embedded in the slanted ceiling and we were able to pop our heads out and enjoy views of the surrounding city anytime we liked. The view from the kitchen was also nice -- we enjoyed getting some sun following a rather gray December in Dublin. Each morning, we would wind our way down the staircase and emerge with anticipation of what the winter day in Lisbon might have in store.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Portugal is one of my favorite countries to explore. Spend 3 days in Porto for a relaxing weekend break anytime of year. Pro tip: stay in Vila Nova de Gaia to be close to the historic port cellars and easy access to the best Porto day trips like Coimbra, Portugal's historic university city. Head to the Algarve in winter for an off-season adventure. Alternatively, you could fly to Madeira for a weekendMadeira is an island full of surprises with great food.

Things to do on a Lisbon Christmas Itinerary

Now that we've arrived in Lisbon and have settled in, let's take a look at the cool things to do in Lisbon on your winter itinerary.

Getting Our Bearings in Lisbon

We went for an evening walk through the cobbled streets of Mouraria (our new 'neighborhood') to get our bearings when we first arrived in Lisbon. We noticed a series of photos posted along the narrow and winding Beco das Farinhas. A plaque said:
A Tribute by Camilla Watson. The photographs on these walls are a tribute to the elderly who live here. They walk this beco daily and their spirit makes this corner of Mouraria special.
I thought that was simply a lovely sentiment. The Mouraria neighborhood is pretty hilly with all sorts of winding staircases and nooks and crannies. Just like elsewhere in Portugal, I love the tile work on the buildings. I felt that Lisbon derived some of its unique character from the various textures of the buildings (ornate tiles, peeling paint, soot and water spots) and graffiti.

We wandered down to the main road and caught a glimpse of Lisbon's tram. The city was already starting to remind me of San Francisco. I kept thinking back to the F-Market street car rattling around town.

Dinner from São Tomé and Príncipe

We stopped for dinner at a restaurant in our neighborhood run by a family from São Tomé and Príncipe in Africa. The place was really small and homey feeling and was actually pretty crowded for a weeknight so we had a feeling this would be a good meal. We started with some bread and cheese. In Portugal, most restaurants serve couvert which they bring automatically and charge you for it if you don't send it back. In general, we found the prices were pretty reasonable and had some tasty treats we wouldn't have ordered otherwise. They brought us a second couvert -- a type of seafood turnover; delicious! We also ordered a small pitcher of sangria. We ordered a typical stew and a lamb dish. The best part of the meal though were the plantain fries. They look like french fries but they are actually plantains (savory bananas) which we simply love. For dessert, our waitress talked us into trying a specialty from Africa. I'm still not exactly sure what it was. She brought out a picture of a giant tree and then cut up an apple to show us the seeds to give us a sense of what it was. I think it's a pudding made from seeds from the fruit of that tree. It was starchy and tasty.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: The Christmas season in Europe is a great time to travel. Here are some of my favorite Christmas travel destinations.

The Baixa

On our first full day in Lisbon, we decided to begin by exploring the Baixa or central business district. This neighborhood was designed and built after the 1755 earthquake destroyed Lisbon. We passed by Confeitaria Nacional, a popular bakery, and stopped instead at Casa Brasileira. We couldn't resist all the goodies in the window. We enjoyed our first pastel de nata (cream custard tart) at Casa Brasileira. We continued our walk through the Baixa past the maritime logo of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino. We emerged at Praça do Comércio. We caught our first glimpse of Lisbon's own Golden Gate Bridge.

ViniPortugal

It was raining pretty hard so we sought a place where we could relax and wait out the storm. We found it at ViniPortugal, a venue that showcases Portuguese wines with free tastings. In return, all they ask is that visitors fill out a form summarizing their impressions of the wines. Each person can taste up to 4 wines and 3 different wine regions in Portugal are featured each month. We sampled wines from the Beira Interior (Quintas dos Currais, vinho blanco; Piornos, reserva tinto; Quinta dos Termos) and Tejo (Quinta do Casal Branco, vinho tinto; Quinta da Rocha; Quinta da Lagoalva; "Yes We Can" red wine from Herdade de Cadouços). The wines were hit or miss. The ones that were good were very good -- especially given the typical price point of 5-10 euros a bottle. Overall, it was a fun way to spend an hour while we waited out the rain.

More of The Baixa and Cherry Brandy

As we emerged from ViniPortugal, a bit of blue was beginning to peek through the clouds. We stopped to have a look at Vasco da Gama's likeness sculpted into the arch framing the plaza. We walked back into the Baixa and explored the grid-like streets. We found a statue commemorating the local tile workers in the neighborhood outside Igreja Paróquia de São Nicolau. We passed through Praça da Figueira and stopped at A Ginginha, an establishment specializing in Portugal's finest cherry brandy. For about a euro, we got a shot complete with a sour cherry garnish. It was just before lunchtime, but there was a constant stream of people coming up to the counter. It was a welcome treat on a cold day December day in Lisbon.

Christmas in Lisbon: Cherry Brandy

Rossio Station and Lunch in Lisbon

From here, we walked to Rossio station, a fine example of neo-Manueline architecture. We admired a rainbow over the Rossio Square and wound our way down a side street nearby to conjure up lunch. We had an egg sandwich and fish cake at Ginjinha Popular, a place full of local feel and flavor. We could see Castelo São Jorge beckoning to us in the distance and that's when the inspiration struck for our afternoon walk.

Walking the Alfama

We took an extended walk to Lisbon's Alfama neighborhood and detoured up the hill to see the castle (Castelo de São Jorge). Once again, the streets were narrow and winding with laundry saluting us from every terrace. We caught another glimpse of the 25 de Abril bridge (Lisbon's own Golden Gate Bridge). We finally arrived (winded from the uphill climb) to the entrance of Castelo de São Jorge. A terrace runs around the property. We wandered around the grounds. The castle itself is several hundred years old but was 'remodeled' back in the 1960s by the dictator in power at the time.

Christmas in Lisbon: Castelo de São Jorge

Supposedly, the castle looks authentic, but it's not authentic anymore. Flags waved at us from above and invited us to climb up on the turrets. We found the drawbridge and went inside. There is a flock of peacocks that live on the property! We did indeed climb the turrets and checked out the sun-drenched buildings against the backdrop of some darker storm clouds. We left the castle and wandered back down the hill getting just a little lost along the way. We were serenaded by a guitar player just outside the castle walls. Good things come in threes and I saw three adorable kitties sitting on the cobbled sidewalk.

Christmas in Lisbon

We were in Lisbon for Christmas. One thing we noticed (in the Algarve and Lisbon) is that the Portuguese love to hang Santa on the outside of their apartments. We saw one example dangling from a drainpipe and there were many, many more. The sun began to set as we emerged into Jardim Julio Castilho. The garden offers sweeping views over Lisbon and more brilliant tile work. We descended a steep staircase and passed a lovely piece of street art. Christmas lights danced on the front of a local church. We arrived at Santa Apolonia station and decided to take the Metro back to our apartment from there. When we first approached the station, we thought there was a fire inside because there were a lot of people milling around and there was smoke everywhere. It turns out that a chestnut vendor was responsible for both the smoke and the commotion. We bought a cone of roasted chestnuts to enjoy. It was our first time trying them and they were delicious! Roasted chestnuts are a great Christmas treat in both Portugal and throughout Europe. Our final stop was the supermarket (Pingo Doce) for some supplies. Want to know one thing we passed on? -- a side of bacalhau (salt cod). We could smell it as we walked into the store -- no thanks!


See Fado

Catching a Fado performance is a 'must do' in Lisbon. We took the tram back into the Alfama neighborhood. We had reservations at Sr. Fado which was recommended by Lisbon Apartments. The decor was lovely and featured a variety of stringed instruments hanging on the wall. Duarte and Ana Marina own the place and do double duty as chefs and entertainment. We enjoyed a supper of chicken and rice followed by a creme caramel for dessert. After everyone finished their meal, Duarte and Ana Marina took off their aprons and started to play. It turns out that we were the only visitors there that night -- several others canceled because of the snow storms in Europe at the time. We felt a bit like we were crashing a private gathering of friends and family as different people picked up an instrument to join in or were called upon to belt out a tune. Each musician drew new energy from the others and the effect was magical. It's a bit hard to capture here but I tried my best. Lisbon Apartments was spot on in recommending Sr. Fado -- it's an experience we won't soon forget.

Explore Lisbon by Tram

Tram 28E is the perfect way to sample all that Lisbon has to offer. For 3.00 EUR, you can ride through the Alfama, Bairro Alto and beyond. We queued up to board near Praça Martim Moniz and managed to snag a prime standing space near the back window. We looked out at more tile buildings and locals going about their business. The trams run pretty regularly so we snapped a picture of another car approaching from behind. We saw an older lady disembark and walk right in front of the tram behind us without a second glance. The driver hit the brakes and somehow neither person seemed fazed by this occurrence. We debarked in Bairro Alto and walked home again through Baixa-Chiado satisfied with our economical tour of the city on Christmas Eve.
Things to do in Lisbon for Christmas: Ride Tram 28E

Celebrate Christmas Eve Dinner in Lisbon

In Portugal, the traditional Christmas dinner takes place on Christmas Eve. Most people spend time at home with family, but select restaurants are open. We dined at Hotel Inspira. We were treated to four gourmet courses including chestnut and pumpkin soup (the highlight of the meal), a modern take on bacalhau com todos, and goat with potatoes. For dessert, we enjoyed a glass of port 'on the house' and three typical Portuguese sweets including a chickpea turnover, french toast, and pumpkin fritter. All were sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar -- Yum! The service was excellent and we definitely felt the Portuguese Christmas cheer.

Lisbon on Christmas Day

One of the challenges of being on vacation over Christmas is that many things are closed on Christmas Day. In Lisbon, we discovered that their aquarium (Oceanário de Lisboa) was actually open on December 25th in the afternoon. We took the Metro to Oriente Station and could already feel the 'under the sea' vibe in the station artwork. It was blustery, cold, and rainy that day. We could see the Oceanário in the distance and walked very briskly to get there and take refuge from the elements. A giant whale skeleton constructed entirely of crushed soda cans was an impressive display near the ticket office. We paid our admission and went inside. We were excited to see puffins for the first time. We saw a cool looking bird chilling out near the penguin tank. We saw Mama and Papa penguins watching over their brood from among the rocks. We saw the penguins swimming frantically around the tank during feeding time -- so cool! My favorite specimen was a giant octopus. It was amazing to see the soft head, tentacles, and his/her (I'm not sure how to tell the sex of an octopus...) graceful fluid movements from such a close vantage point. We finished our tour of the Oceanário and made our way back to the train station. We were tempted to hop on the local skytram but decided against it given the bad weather. We were amused and slightly appalled that Vasco da Gama, one of the most revered figures in Portuguese history, had been reduced to the name of a shopping center in Lisbon.

Lisbon for Christmas: giant whale made from crushed soda cans at Oceanário de Lisboa

Lisbon’s Elevadors

On our last day in Lisbon, we realized that we hadn't taken some of the modes of transportation for which the city is famous. We set out to correct that by taking Elevador da Glória from Rossio to Bairro Alto. The funicular covers a pretty steep track. It's a rather expensive ride (€2.90) for about a 2 minute trip up the hill. We walked around the park at the top of the hill.

We reflected on our trip while enjoying sweeping views. We walked back down the hill following the same track at the elevador. Displays of street art line the path. Even the local stray kitties seemed to be appraising the art.

Our next stop was Elevador Santa Justa. Tourists apparently come out of the woodwork after Christmas in Lisbon. The queue was simply too long to justify the ride. I took a picture but we decided to forgo the trip up in the interest of time.
Things to do in Lisbon for Christmas: Ride an elevadorThings to do in Lisbon for Christmas: Ride an elevador
We wound our way through the streets of the Baixa to the waterfront past buildings still decked out in Christmas decorations. We also passed some cool modern art sculptures along the way. Our next stop was Ascensor da Bica. We rode up the hill again to Bairro Alto. Why? Because it's fun. We walked through Bairro Alto toward Jardim da Estrela. We passed a beautiful sky blue building along the way. We also passed the Portuguese Parliament Building which features a gorgeous (and inaccessible) garden in the back. We stopped to admire Basilica da Estrela and then walked across the street into the park. There was a lovely duck pond so we sat for a while watching the birds and reflecting on our Portugal trip.

Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport. We hopped on the infamous Tram 28E one last time and returned to our apartment to pick up our luggage and say goodbye to Portugal. We had a fantastic time and hope we'll be able to visit again soon!

Day Trips from Lisbon at Christmas

When we travel at Christmas, we like to spend at least a week (if not two!) pretending that we live in a new place. That typically leaves plenty of time for day trips. If you are planning to get outside of the city, I can personally recommend these Lisbon day trips to add on to your Portugal itinerary. I especially appreciated the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites within striking distance of Lisbon.

Day Trip from Lisbon to Belém

Another quintessential experience in Lisbon is taking a day trip to Belém. The sun was shining so we hopped on Tram 15 at Praça do Comércio. We arrived in Belém and took a stroll around since the sun was shining. We passed Praça Afonso de Albuquerque. We walked along the Tagus River and caught a glimpse of the beautiful 25 de Abril bridge. We soon spotted the Monument to the Discoveries with Prince Henry the Navigator at the helm. The monument commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. We paid a small entrance fee and climbed up the inside of the monument to enjoy panoramic views of Belém and the surrounding area.

We could see the Torre de Belém in the distance. Did you know that Belem Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? I liked the view of Prince Henry from above looking out over the water. The plaza in front of the Monument to the Discoveries is also impressive when viewed from above. We continued along the river to the Torre de Belém which was built in the 16th century for both defense and as a symbolic gateway to Lisbon. We walked into town and detoured into the grounds of the Centro Cultural de Belém. We found a 'house' sculpted entirely from cork as a concept piece. Of course, we had to walk inside. Again, good things come in threes. This time, we saw three golden retrievers lounging on the grounds of the Cultural Center.
Lisbon in winter: Torre de Belém

Our next stop was the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a fine example of Manueline architecture. On Sunday mornings, entrance to the cloister is free. We took a walk around the ground level gardens and 2nd story. Sunday services were being held so entrance into the church itself was limited. We waited our turn and went in to see the final resting place of Vasco da Gama.

Our next stop was of the tastier variety. We stopped at Pasteis de Belém to try the famous egg custard tarts. We enjoyed our treat while steeping in the neighborhood views. To be honest, I liked the pasteis de nata from Quinta do Caracol in the Algarve (served with breakfast) and Casa Brasileira better but it was fun to try the famous pastry warm out of the oven.

We ate lunch at Queijadas de Belém, a local cafe. We enjoyed the dish of the day (turkey with rice and salad) and a glass of wine on the cheap. It's a nice economical option for lunch and the service was very good.

We passed the Palácio Nacional de Belém, the official residence of the president of Portugal. We even witnessed the changing of the guard. We decided to check out the National Coach Museum. We got there at 2:02 pm so we just missed out on the free Sunday morning museum entrance policy (runs from 10 am - 2 pm). It was worth the entrance fee though. We were transported in time to the days when royalty and other dignitaries bounced down the road on ornate horse-drawn coaches. The museum itself also had an impressive interior. As we were walking along the second story, I noticed that there were faces in the wallpaper on the ceiling. I'm not sure who they were, but I found it to be a little creepy. The museum also had the coach on display in which the king and his eldest heir were shot and assassinated in Lisbon on 1908. You can see the bullet holes in the carriage door.
Lisbon for Christmas: National Coach Museum at Palácio Nacional de Belém
Our final stop in Belém was the Maritime Museum (Museu da Marinha). We especially enjoyed the maps and artifacts from the Age of Discovery. There was a section of the museum dedicated to royal barges and other seafaring transportation. I liked the colorful boat on display.

We took the tram back to Lisbon and decided to head to Parque Eduardo VII. After a steep uphill climb from Praça do Marquês de Pombal, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the park and bay. We had walked a long way exploring Belém and beyond (more than 5 miles), so we decided to head back to our apartment to eat the last of the pasteis de Belém that we bought. This time, we made sure to try them the proper way -- drenched in cinnamon and sugar.

A Bus Trip to Évora

Évora is another popular destination near Lisbon with UNESCO World Heritage status and it's just a couple hours away by bus.  We found our way to the Terminal Rotovario (bus station) near the Sete Rios Metro station. We debarked in Évora and explored the town on foot.  We entered through the town wall. Yellow trim was thought to ward off evil spirits and we saw this motif everywhere in Évora. We soon spied the entrance the main square, Praça do Giraldo. Our first item of business was to try queijada at Cafe Arcada.  These sweet cheese tarts are a specialty in Évora.
Lisbon day trip to Evora: queijadas at Cafe Arcada
Walking around the square, we noticed that Évora had a lovely old-fashioned feel. Elderly gentleman in stylish wool hats carrying canes greeted each other on the street and stopped to chat.  Praça do Giraldo seemed to be a sort of social nexus.
Lisbon day trip to Evora: church and town squareLisbon day trip to Evora: Fountain
We left the square and walked to the town hall.  It's free to enter during business hours and you can catch a glimpse of excavated Roman baths. The Roman aqueduct is one of the key attractions in Évora.  We passed a Roman arch which was once a main gate into the town wall.

We chanced upon an exhibit created by school children at the Ponto Jovem em Évora - Espaço Municipal.  They had created Christmas trees out of recycled materials.  Some of them were pretty imaginative. We walked beneath a section of the old aqueduct. Stepping outside the town wall, we saw old contrasting new.  The Roman aqueduct makes a striking backdrop to a modern parking lot. We hustled back inside the town wall and traced the route of the aqueduct. Some houses were actually nestled into the arches.
Lisbon day trip: Roman aqueduct in EvoraLisbon day trip: Roman aqueduct in Evora
The aqueduct got lower and lower until it finally disappeared underground.  Amazing! From here, we walked up to Évora's Roman Temple.  There is a park nearby which offers amazing views of town and the distant countryside.
Lisbon day trips: Roman Temple in Evora
We walked down Rua 4 de Outubro for a little window shopping. We were quite hungry and decided to dine at Adega do Alentejano (Note: according to Google Maps, Adega do Alentejano is now permanently closed, but I'm leaving this section in the post to give you a feel for a what a meal in Evora can be like).  
Lisbon Day Trip to Evora: Adega do AlentejanoLisbon Day Trip to Evora: Tapping some wine at Adega do Alentejano
The restaurant is known for wines from the Alentejo region of Portugal.  The waiter pulled our pitcher of red wine directly from the barrel. The meal was excellent and featured bread, meat, cheese, and an egg and mushroom dish as couvert. The menu is printed on wooden planks on the wall. We tried a sort of asparagus polenta dish with pork which was quite tasty.
Lisbon Day Trip: asparagus polenta with pork in Evora Portugal
Sufficiently refreshed, we continued on our tour of Evora.  We stopped at Évora's own Chapel of the Bones.  We liked the one in Faro better since we could get much closer to the walls.  Everything was roped off and it cost extra for a 'photo licence' in Évora.  Still, it's amazing to think that skeletons are actually bearing the load of the structure.
Lisbon Day Trip: Evora Bone Chapel
We passed Igreja da Graça, a church with impressive embellishments on the facade and then strolled through the public gardens before making our way back up the hill to the Templo do Diana (Roman Temple). Jews were killed in this square during the Inquisition and this sculpture of a skeleton in a coffin in the lower right of the picture is a memorial to the victims and reminder of the atrocities that happened here.
Lisbon Day Trip: Igreja da Graça in EvoraLisbon Day Trips: Skeleton sculpture in Evora
Our final stop of the day was the M.C. Escher exhibit at the Fundação Eugenio de Almeida.  For 1 euro each, we were able to see some of the finest (not to mention trippy) masterpieces from M.C. Escher. Overall, our Lisbon day trip to Évora was an excellent outing and worth the effort invested.  We covered a lot of ground -- about 5 miles in total.

Day Trip to Sintra

While it's true that you can visit Sintra from Lisbon on a day trip, there are so many things to do, you'll either need to prioritize the things to do on your wishlist or visit Sintra more than once. I've given you three options below for how to spend a day in Sintra. 
Lisbon in winter: day trip to Sintra and Castelo dos Mouros

Option 1: Sintra Day Trip to Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena

Lisbon Day Trip to Sintra: tiles in the Sintra Train Station

Sintra is a 30 minute ride on the commuter rail outside of Lisbon. We hopped on the train and were whisked away to another time. The train station features some fantastic tile work. We walked past Câmara Municipal de Sintra (Sintra Town Hall). We could see Palácio Nacional de Sintra in the distance. Volta do Duche between Sintra Town Hall and the National Palace is an open air art gallery and also affords really spectacular views. We were impressed by the provocative sculptures. We passed Parque da Liberdade and were surprised and delighted by the colorful animals. We saw the Moorish influenced architecture first hand. We took the public bus up a steep incline to Pena Palace, a whimsical castle on the hillside. Pena National Palace is definitely one of the top highlights of a Lisbon day trip to Sintra. We walked downhill to Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). The wind whistled in our ears as we walked along the ruined walls of the fortress. We were feeling ambitious so we decided to walk down the hill back to town on the forested trail that began at Castelo dos Mouros. We saw people fetching water at a shabby blue well along the way. The trail was well marked with red and yellow paint. Before we knew it, darkness had fallen on Sintra. We passed the same buildings again on our way back to the train station and they were outlined in Christmas lights to dramatic effect. We arrived back at Lisbon's Rossio station hungry from our day of exploration. Time to find some dinner.
Lisbon for Christmas: Palácio da Pena in Sintra
Rossio Station in Lisbon is at the base of Bairro Alto so that's where we decided to find dinner upon our return from Sintra. We took a quick wander around after a steep climb up several flights of stairs. We indulged in Moroccan tagines accompanied by warm bread at Ali-A-Papa. We walked back to our apartment via the tony Baixa-Chiado neighborhood which was also bathed in holiday lights.

Option 2: A Quiet Photowalk on Christmas Eve

We visited Sintra twice on different trips to Portugal. You could easily do the Lisbon to Sintra day trip more than once and it would be entirely new each time. The second time we visited, we drove into Sintra. Beware: driving and parking in Sintra can be harrowing. I got over the trauma of extremely narrow roads seemingly hewn from the rocks with a slice of Christmas cake and a glass of wine.

When you are in Lisbon for Christmas, the timing of your day trips is super important. Some shops are open until mid afternoon on Christmas Eve. However, all of the the tourist attractions in Sintra are closed. We made the most of it anyway and admired sights like Sintra National Palace from outside. We took an atmospheric walk up the hill to Quinta da Regaleira. The place is just dripping in gothic detail. Apparently Madonna owns the place next door. If you want, you can hire a tuk-tuk to take you around Sintra on a guided tour. We chose to proceed on foot. A lunch of traditional cheese and honey, bacalhao, and mushrooms at Villa 6 washed down with a glass of white wine was a perfect winter warmer.

Lisbon Day Trips: Sintra National Palace

Pick up a couple Queijadas de Sintra and other local treats at Queijadas da Sapa. Queijadas de Sintra are sweet cheese and egg tarts with a paper thin pastry crust.

Even though tourist attractions are closed on Christmas Eve, I recommend taking a quiet photo walk. I was personally loving the dramatic doors all around Sintra. Many of the beautiful doors of Sintra are accented by colorful tiles on the wall.

Lisbon Day Trip: Sintra doorLisbon Day Trip: Sintra door

Option 3: Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace

Lisbon day trip to Sintra: Quinta da Regaleira

A third option for a Lisbon to Sintra day trip involves taking the bus to two of Sintra's storied palaces. All aboard Scotturb 435 which stops at 4 different palaces in Sintra! We paid 5 EUR per person to ride this single route all day. Pay 11 EUR for all routes if you want to combine the attractions in Option 1 and this one into a single mega-day trip. It was raining pretty hard when we visited, so just went for one route. Note: Scotturb 435 only runs once an hour.

Lisbon day trip to Sintra: Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira

We had a grand time exploring Quinta da Regaleira. We started with a climb to the top of the hill and the Initiation Well. Climb down the nine ceremonial landings separated by 15 steps each which are believed to have ties to Masonic rituals. The original owner of the property was a known freemason. 

Lisbon day trip to Sintra: Tiled fountain at Quinta da Regaleira

Get lost exploring all the winding paths, gardens, fountains, caves, and grottoes at Quinta da Regaleira. The grounds of Quinta da Regaleira were beautiful despite the rain that plagued our visit. Bring a flashlight if you wander into the labrynthine grotto at Quinta da Regaleira, a very cool, albeit dark, place to wander around. Finish with a self-guided tour of the palace at Quinta da Regaleira. Keep an eye open for some amazing architectural details. It costs 10 EUR per person to visit Quinta da Regaleira. You could easily spend at least half a day at Quinta da Regaleira exploring the gardens at a leisurely pace, so it's not a bad value in my opinion.

Lisbon Day Trips: labrynthine grotto at Quinta da RegaleiraLisbon Day Trip: Ornate red door at Quinta da Regaleira

Onward to the Park and Palace of Monserrate which costs 8 EUR per person to enter. We found lots of cool flowers in the gardens at Monserrate even in December. We appreciated the chance to walk around and explore the late 19th century Monserrate Palace which featured Moorish motifs throughout.

Lisbon Day Trips: Monserrate Palace

The tree growing out of the chapel at Monserrate Palace and Gardens reminded me of the temples at Angkor in Cambodia.

Lisbon Day Trip to Sintra: Ruins in Monserrate GardensLisbon Day Trip to Sintra: Overgrown trees and ruins in Monserrate Gardens

Take the bus back to Sintra train station and pop into Alba for some gelato. White coffee and guanduja scoops hit the spot.

Cascais for a Day

Cascais is another excellent Lisbon day trip, or you can visit directly from Sintra. It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Sintra to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Continental Europe en route from Sintra to Cascais. Getting out of Sintra on narrow one way roads with sharp switchbacks is the hardest part. We discovered great road quality through Sintra Natural Park approaching Cabo da Roca. It was very foggy on the drive in, but clear seaside. We took a brief walk from the lighthouse along the cliffs looking out into the Atlantic.

Lisbon Day Trips: Lighthouse at Cabo da Roca

Continuing on from Cabo da Roca to Cascais, we made a quick stop near Fortaleza do Guincho to admire the fortress turned 5-star hotel and watch the crashing ocean waves. There are bike and walking path runs alongside the road and sand dunes if you want to turn this into a longer stop.

Lisbon day trips: Fortaleza do Guincho

Upon arrival in Cascais, we parked in a metered spot (4 hours max) near Boca do Inferno (cost about 3 EUR for 4 hours) and walked from there along the coast into Cascais. Before heading into town, take a moment to find out how Boca do Inferno got its name by watching the waves crash in through a small opening in the rocks. 

Lisbon day trip to Cascais: Boca do Inferno

We spotted Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães in the distance and walked over for a closer look. The palace appeared to have a moat. It turns out that there is a staircase down to a small beach which is mostly sand with some water trickling under the bridge with the tides. Of course, Cascais is known for beautiful beaches. I learned after our visit that this beach is super popular with locals in the summer.

Lisbon day trip to Cascais: Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães

We took a lovely photo walk around Cascais. The town was still decked out for Christmas when we visited in late December. Keep an eye out for fabulous doors, of course!

Lisbon day trip to Cascais: Blue door on a tiled facade

It was neat to see the old fortress in Cascais had been turned into an artists' complex. There was also lots of cool street art to be found around Cascais. You'll find a bunch of cute restaurants along a pedestrianized section of Cascais where each street is marked with art on the ground. We ate lunch at Moules and Gin where we ordered two batches of mussels: champagne and Thai. Sadly, there would be no gin for me since I was doing the driving. Moules and Gin was delicious with a super friendly staff.

Lisbon day trips: street art in CascaisLisbon Day Trips: Fortress turned artist colony in Cascais

Summing up our Trips to Lisbon for Christmas

As you can see, Lisbon is an amazing destination for Christmas. You'll find excellent holiday spirit as well as plenty of things to do (and eat!) both in Lisbon and on a variety of day trips further afield.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Lisbon for Christmas: Why You Should Gift Yourself a Trip to Portugal
Lisbon for Christmas: Why You Should Gift Yourself a Trip to Portugal
Discover Lisbon for Christmas. Visit Lisbon in December on a Christmas trip to Europe. Explore things to do in Lisbon in December. Experience Portugal in winter by spending Christmas in Lisbon.
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