15 things to do in Agualva-Cacém (Portugal)

West of the capital, Agualva-Cacém is a municipality in the Lisbon metropolitan area. In this residential area, you are about half an hour from the center of Lisbon and close to Sintra. This town in the shadow of the mountains was a favorite summer retreat for the Portuguese court.

If you’re a fan of palaces, you’re in luck, as the western hills of Sintra and Lisbon are full of historic estates of kings and nobles. You’ll need three days to visit the palaces around Sintra, but you can reach the superb Carcavelos Beach and the UNESCO Tower of Belém and Jeronimos Monastery in just 15 minutes.

Let’s explore the best activities in Agualva-Cacém:

1. Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regalera

One of the things that leaves Sintra is this amazing estate.

Carvalho Monteiro, a wealthy turn-of-the-century businessman, used his imagination (and his interest in Freemasonry) here to create a wonderland of cryptic symbols, tunnels and caves.

With so much, you could waste a day studying every nook, grotto, pavilion and whimsical decoration.

The park has an “Enlightenment Well”, an eerie stone cave with a promenade spiral staircase and a site for mysterious ceremonies.

The palace combines Gothic, Renaissance and Manuel Revival architecture in the most ostentatious way.

2. Castelo dos Mouros

Muros Castle

The name of this command fort will tell you that it was built by the Moors in the 700s and 800s.

It came under Christian control in 1147 and was an important stronghold for the rest of the Reconquista.

The castle is mostly in ruins, save for a long jagged wall that balances along the top of the cliff, linking four towers.

But it’s all about location, on this rocky spur on the northern edge of the Sintra Mountains.

The panoramic views from the Royal Tower are mesmerizing, and there are many archaeological remains to explore, such as the remains of Romanesque churches and cisterns.

3. Palais de Cluz

Clouz Palace

Less than a 10-minute drive from Agualva-Cacém is this vibrant Rococo palace, ordered by Dom Pedro of Bragança in the 1740s.

He later married his niece, Queen Maria I, as a princess.

The palace has been the residence of the royal family since then, until the royal family fled to Brazil after the French invaded Portugal in 1807. Queluz now doubles as a museum of decorative arts, and room after room testifies to the opulence Portugal enjoyed during this era.

The Sala de Mangas showcases the richness of the Portuguese colony, while the Ambassadors and Ballrooms have extensive gilded stucco.

The garden is beautiful, with a 100-meter canal lined with beautiful glaze flowers.

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4. Sintra Palace

Sintra Palace

Like the castle in Sintra, the story of this palace begins during the Moorish occupation.

After regaining lost territory, it became the property of the Portuguese royal family, which lived here from the 12th to the 19th centuries.

None of the earlier buildings have survived due to extensive reconstruction in the 15th and 16th centuries, when the palace was a mix of Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance styles.

The two conical white chimneys on the roof are a symbol of Sintra, while the inner courtyards and geometric tiles (made in Seville) of this wonderful palace have a distinct Mudejar style.

5. Old Sintra

old sintra

Beneath the National Palace, sheltered by tall wooded hills, is the historic core of Sintra.

Since Sintra is a tourist hotspot, you’d better drive early and leave before the coach unloads.

There is a mini labyrinth of winding streets and stairs to investigate, and due to the incline you need to stop and admire the view.

Also, as Sintra welcomes the Portuguese court in the summer, there is no shortage of palatial architecture in the town where the English poet Lord Byron was inspired to write “The Giaour” during his grand tour shoot.

6. Tower of Belém

belem tower

Agualva-Cacém is just 15 minutes from the Portuguese icon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Tower of Belém was built in the early 16th century on an island in the Tagus River.

It played a key defensive role in the city, securing access to Lisbon’s harbour.

But its architecture is also luxurious, and the tower embodies the Manueline style that was popular in the early 1500s.

The style was borrowed from the Moorish period, as can be seen from the domes of the fort’s turrets.

There is also an ornate Venetian loggia overlooking the river with beautifully carved tracery.

The tower soon became a fabled seamark for sailors to set off and return on their long adventures.

7. Jeronimos Monastery

Jeronimos Monastery

This stunning monastery is within walking distance from the Tower of Belém and is part of the same World Heritage Site, which is also listed as one of the “Seven Wonders” of Portugal. Like its neighbors, this monument reflects the richness and confidence of a period when Vasco da Gama had just returned from India with immeasurable wealth.

This is reflected in the southern and western portals, which are filled with Manuel and Renaissance decorations and sculptures.

The Church of Santa Maria is also stunning, offering ethereal vaults and tombs for Vasco da Gama and the great poet Luís de Camões, who chronicled the Age of Navigation.

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8. Marinha Museum

Marinha Museum

In the north and west wings of the monastery is a naval museum that tells the extensive and fascinating maritime history of Portugal.

The origins of this attraction date back to the reign of Louis I in the 19th century, who was interested in sailing and Portugal’s seafaring heritage.

So in this nostalgic setting, you can peruse some 6,000 artifacts, with a special focus on the Age of Navigation.

There are uniforms, charts from various eras, navigational instruments and countless models of ships dating back to the 1400s.

In the Galeotas Pavilion, you can see royal ships such as the brig built in 1780, last sailed with Queen Elizabeth on a visit to Lisbon in 1957.

9. Playa de Cabelos

playa de carcavelos

With traffic permitting, you shouldn’t need more than 15 minutes to reach this stunning beach on the Lisbon-Cascais coast.

Praia de Carcavelos is open to the Atlantic Ocean, so the surf is very stable (if you go for a walk in winter, you might catch an event). Let’s just say that even in midsummer, ocean temperatures can be heartening! But what makes it the beach of choice in the Lisbon area is its size. You have 1.5 kilometers of golden sand, and even in July and August, you should find space on this wide stretch of beach.

10. Pena Palace

Pena Palace

Another of Portugal’s most treasured landmarks is about 20 minutes west by car.

You could call Pena Palace the Portuguese version of Neuschwanstein, even though it was built 30 years ago.

Located on one of the highest peaks of the Sintra Mountains, this palace is designed to stand out, and on a clear day you can even see it from Lisbon.

In the “eclectic” fashion of the mid-19th century, many historical styles were mixed, including Moorish, Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance.

The result is a fairy-tale dome, turret and mellon.

Its interior is equally vibrant, especially the Salão Nobre with its stuccoes, chandeliers and stained glass dating from the 1300s to the 1800s.

11. Montserrat

monserrat

If your thirst for theatrical architecture is still strong, there is also a mid-19th-century palace to marvel at not far west of Sintra’s main landmark.

Built for the Englishman Sir Thomas Cook, it features Sintra’s signature mix of Moorish and Gothic Revival designs.

Inside there is a wonderful staircase with intricate stucco work, and a sensational circular music room connected by a corridor that could possibly escape Lord of the Rings.

The site is in a typical romantic style with imported bamboo, ferns and cedar.

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12. Lisbon

Lisbon

You have to spend as long as possible in this unparalleled city.

Transportation can be tricky, and instead of trying to drive or take a commuter train, one option might be to take a taxi to Reboleira station.

This is the western terminus of the Metro Blue Line, giving you immediate access to the city center.

It’s up to you to start from there; you can head straight to big sights like St. George’s Castle and the huge Commerce Square.

Or let your curiosity guide you through the gorgeous old Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods.

13. Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum

The last three entries on the list are on the Lisbon Metro’s Blue Line or the Sintra Commuter Train line and can be reached within minutes.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum was founded on the wishes of the merchant of the same name.

He made a fortune drilling oil in the Middle East and invested in an amazing art collection.

There is ancient art from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome and Armenia, as well as an almost incredible variety of European paintings and sculptures.

Some of the artists here are Rodin, Rembrandt, Rubens, Monet, Turner, Degas and Camille Corot.

14. Lisbon Zoo

Lisbon Zoo

On the western outskirts of the city, Lisbon’s zoo was inaugurated in 1882, with many animals from the royal family’s private zoo.

Today, it is the newest attraction with an emphasis on conservation.

There are 332 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, including favorites like African elephants, zebras, giraffes and tigers.

The reptile enclosure was recently updated with a bridge a few meters above the pool where the crocodiles were located.

The zoo is equipped with a cable car for a 20-minute panoramic tour above the park, and a free-flying aviary that allows birds from all seven continents to fly in semi-freedom.

15. SL Benfica

SL Benfica

The new Estádio da Luz was completed before Euro 2004 with a capacity of 65,000 people. This is the home of SL Benfica, and the name alone brings to mind Eusébio and Béla Guttmann’s dominant team in the 1960s.

Benfica remains the most successful team in Portuguese domestic football, but haven’t won a European Championship since Gutman left in 1962 and was considered a curse to the club! You can learn about history on a stadium tour or get tickets for games between August and May.

In a quirky ceremony before each game, Águia Vitória the condor hovers on the ground and lands on the club crest.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Agualva-Cacem, Portugal
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