Lured by Guincho (near the westernmost point in continental Europe), the Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), and Lord Byron's "glorious Eden" at Sintra, many travelers spend much of their time in the area around Lisbon. You could spend a day drinking in the wonders of the library at the monastery-palace of Mafra (Portugal's El Escorial), dining in the pretty pink rococo palace at Queluz, or enjoying seafood at the Atlantic beach resort of Ericeira.
However, the main draw in the area is the Costa do Sol. The string of beach resorts, including Estoril and Cascais, forms the Portuguese Riviera on the northern bank of the mouth of the Tagus. If you arrive in Lisbon when the sun is shining and the air is balmy, consider heading straight for the shore. Estoril is so near to Lisbon that darting in and out of the capital to see the sights or visit the fado clubs is easy. An inexpensive electric train leaves from the Cais do Sodré station in Lisbon frequently throughout the day and evening; its run ends in Cascais.
Although the beachfront strip of the Costa do Sol is justifiably famous, it's generally recommended that you swim in the pools (indoor or outdoor) at the resort hotels. For the most part, the waters along the coast are polluted and, therefore, not recommended for swimming. Despite this, the beaches are still great for getting a suntan.
The sun coast is sometimes known as A Costa dos Reis, the Coast of Kings, because it's a magnet for deposed royalty -- exiled kings, pretenders, marquesses from Italy, princesses from Russia, and baronesses from Germany. Some live simply, as did the late Princess Elena of Romania (Magda Lupescu), a virtual recluse in an unpretentious villa. Others insist on a rigid court atmosphere, as did Umberto, who was king of Italy for 1 month in 1946 and then was forced into exile. Other nobles who settled here include Don Juan, the count of Barcelona, who lost the Spanish throne in 1969 when his son, Don Juan Carlos, was named successor by Generalissimo Franco; Joanna, the former queen of Bulgaria; and the Infanta Dona Maria Adelaide de Bragança, sister of the pretender to the Portuguese throne.
Despite the heavy concentration of royals, the Riviera is a microcosm of Portugal. Take a ride out on the train, even if you don't plan to stay here. You'll pass pastel-washed houses with red-tile roofs and facades of antique blue-and-white tiles; miles of modern apartment dwellings; rows of canna, pine, mimosa, and eucalyptus; swimming pools; and, in the background, green hills studded with villas, chalets, and new homes.
Lisbon is the aerial gateway for the Costa do Sol and Sintra. Once there, you can drive or take public transportation.