Located west of Lisbon, the Portuguese Riviera includes the famous cities of Cascais, Estoril, and Sintra and it is the most luxurious destination of Portugal for many centuries.
Since the early 19th century that is a preferred destination for summer vacations of the Portuguese Royal Family. The Portuguese Riviera also became very famous because it served as a refuge for many European Royalty and Politicians during the second world war.
These days, it is still a favorite summer destination for the rich, the famous, and again, the European Royalty.
So, read this guide and go explore the ancient and modern wonders of the Portuguese Riviera, accompanied by a magnificent sun.
How to do the Portuguese Riviera tour
The easiest way to get to do the Portuguese Riviera is by car. Renting a car for a day is an excellent option because it will give you the freedom to explore the mountains, the cities, the beaches and visit the several monuments in the Portuguese Riviera, all at your own pace.
By Bus Tour
If you want to visit the Portuguese Riviera, but in a guided tour, there are several tour companies in Lisbon that make daily day tours. Just be aware that most of these companies offer half-day tours in Sintra. We do not recommend this, because they are done in a rush and only a few sights are seen.
By Private Tour
If you want to go to the Portuguese Riviera on a guided tour, but prefer not to share the guide with the rest of the group, consider taking a Private Tour. Although this is the most expensive option and it does not include the tickets for the monuments, still, this is the best and most comfortable way to get to visit the Portuguese Riviera in a full day, as you will be accompanied by your driver-guide, and at your pace.
How long does the Portuguese Riviera tour take
This tour will make you busy for an entire day. If you arrive in Sintra at 09:00, you will end roughly at 18:00. Although the drive itself is done in about 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Portugal Riviera Tour Map
Portugal Riviera Self Guided Tour
Your first destination on the Portuguese Riviera in the beautiful town of Sintra. It is within a short distance of Lisbon, about 30 minutes by car.
Although Sintra is a mandatory stop, it can be very difficult to drive in it, because of the narrow streets filled with traffic, and it is even more difficult to park. So the best way, on a busy day to visit Sintra, is to park your car in the parking lot near the center of the old town and take the bus 434 up to the Pena Palace, from the town center. Click here to open on Google maps, the location of the parking lot: https://goo.gl/maps/QZV58yH8vsSWVhN16
If you want to take a chance, it is possible to drive up to the Pena Palace. There are three parking lots next to it, but they are very small and they get easily full. And if you can’t find a parking space, you need to do the full round trip around the mountain, back to the starting point of the hill.
After leaving your car in the parking lot, head to the bus stop to take the 434 bus up to Pena Palace. Click here to open the bus stop location on Google Maps.
Or if you prefer not to take the bus, then head up to the tuk-tuk spot in front of the train station, and agree to a price with a driver to take you to the Pena Palace. Normally it is around 5 euros per person.
The Pena Palace is a magical place and it is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Built-in the 19th century to be the summer residence for the Portuguese royal family, it was the first building in Europe to be designed with an architectural romanticism style.
The first time you see this palace it will make you feel that you are looking at an enchanted castle, coming straight from a fantasy movie.
The Pena Palace is divided into four sections: the outside walls with two main gates and one are accessible only by a drawbridge; the old convent with its clock tower; the arch patio, with its Moorish inspired design; and the main palace itself.
If you left your car in the city center, take the bus 434 back down to the city center and walk to your next destination, the Quinta da Regaleira. Or again, take a tuk-tuk straight to the Quinta da Regaleira.
If you want to continue exploring Sintra and don’t want to do the Portuguese Riviera. read our Full guide on Sintra instead.
Parking tip: The closest parking lot of the Pena Palace is located right of one of the entrances, but be aware that it is very small. Click here to open on Google Maps.
Close to the historical town center of Sintra is the Quinta da Regaleira, an estate where the main palace is the least favorite attraction.
The original owner wanted a grand and luxurious estate, in which he lived surrounded by all the symbols that mirrored his interests and ideologies. A conservative, monarchist, and Gnostic Christian, Carvalho Monteiro wanted to bring back Portugal’s most glorious past, and that is why the user of the Neomanueline style with its connection to discoveries, but also with Gothic art and some classical elements. The diversity of Quinta da Regaleira is enriched with the symbolism of esoteric themes related to alchemy, Freemasonry, Templars, and Rose-cross.
A good example is the main well, where the architecture took the inspiration from Dante’s Divine Comedy, to create a well that represents the nine circles from purgatory to hell.
Parking tip: Right in front of the Quinta da Regaleira is a very small parking lot. If you don’t see any parking spot available, try to wait a few minutes. If not head to the parking lot, suggested at the beginning of this guide. Click here to open on Google Maps.
After leaving Quinta da Regaleira, head to the old town center and take a moment to explore the streets and enjoy a nice stroll in this charming place.
The Old Town center is both simple and exquisite with its fascinating National Palace that dominates the whole area. The whitewashed building dating back to the Moorish era underwent many alterations during the past centuries when it was considered the summer residence of the Portuguese royal families. The Islamic-Manueline architecture hosts a Historic House Museum today. The old town is also going to gratify your needs with multiple boutique shops and cafes scattered over there.
Filled with small and narrow streets and Romantic architecture, it provides a beautiful but wonderful stroll, and in the meantime, you will discover a lot of small shops and pastries. While you are there, you need to try the famous local pastry, called Travesseiro de Sintra.
This is the perfect place to have lunch at one of the several restaurants or if you packed your lunch, head to your next stop, as it is a perfect place to have a picnic facing the ocean.
When you finish visiting Sintra, head back to your car and drive to your next destination.
Cabo da Roca is located in the westernmost tip of the European continent and was once considered the end of the entire world. The views that Cabo da Roca offers are amazing. You will feel that you truly are at the end of the world, surrounded by a relatively unpopulated area surrounded by the Atlantic ocean. Here you can witness various low-lying plant species accustomed to the local windy climate, migratory birds, and the famous lighthouse standing 150m high above the waterside. It is a perfect place for the mandatory Instagram picture; “I’m at the end of Europe…”
And as a famous and very important Portuguese Poet said about Cabo da Roca:
“Onde a terra se acaba e o mar começa”
Luís Vaz de Camões
It’s the place where the land ends and the sea begins.
When you are done admiring the cliffs and the surrounding nature, head to your next destination, which is also a perfect place for lunch.
Parking tip: There is no shortage of parking places in the Cabo da Roca. You can almost park on the end of the cliff.
Your next stop is the Praia do Guincho, a beach recognized by the Portuguese as one of the best beaches in Portugal. It is a very windy beach, making it perfect for windsurfing and surfing. Until today, this beach hosts the National Championship of Surf and Bodyboard.
But the greatest thing about this beach is its perfect scenery, with its beautiful sand and dark blue water.
This beach became very famous because it served as the background of a scene of the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. If you liked this curiosity about Portugal and James Bond, continue reading this guide, as you will not believe what’s coming next.
Your next stop is the beautiful historical center of Cascais.
This small municipality stretching along the Atlantic waters boasts the same historical past of Sintra, but richer.
Once a center of farming, fishing, and an important military location, Cascais changed its pace and became the most luxurious place in Portugal.
Filled with numerous royal palaces, luxury hotels, and appealing beaches Cascais has long been a preferred place for world-renowned personalities since the 19th century.
Cascais became a sophisticated destination in the 19th century, when the King of Portugal, Luis I, and its Royal Family chose Cascais as his summer residence. And of course, the whole of the important members of Portugal’s aristocracy followed.
During World War II, because of Portugal’s neutrality, Cascais was a favorite refugee of many European royal houses and dethroned monarchs, including King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and King Umberto II of Italy made their home in Cascais and Estoril.
Because of the huge presence of high-profile personalities, the Portuguese Riviera became a center of espionage during WWII. These many stories ended up inspiring the author Ian Fleming in his creation of the James Bond character.
You read it correctly, the Portuguese Riviera and its background inspired the creation of James Bond.
Enjoy a beautiful walk in the town center and especially alongside the beach, and if you still have time, visit the Fort as this was an important strategic place for the protection of Lisbon, as it guarded the entrance of ships.
And, while you’re in Cascais, try not to picture yourself as a secret agent, looking for national secrets. The locals don’t think it is funny anymore.
Parking tip: right next to the fort, there is a medium size parking lot that is very close to the old town center.
To end a beautiful but tiring day, enjoy a ride back to Lisbon, but from the road alongside the ocean. And if you are lucky on the timing, you will be driving on this road during the sunset. It will create amazing memories and you will understand perfectly why the Portuguese Riviera is the most luxurious destination in Portugal.
If it’s getting late and close to dinner time, consider having dinner in the Estoril Casino, as it is on your way back. Like everywhere in Portugal, the food is great and normally there are live shows.
And it was the casino that inspired the first James Bond movie, the original “Casino Royale”. So even if you couldn’t help yourself until now, in pretending to be a secret agent, this is a mandatory place to stop and continue your fantasy.