Trail running in Lisbon

Trail running in Lisbon

I recently moved to Lisbon, Portugal, with my girlfriend since she's doing her masters here. I like to explore places by running and since I prefer trails over roads I try to find good trails wherever I'm at. I thought I'd do a series of posts with my best tips on trail running in the Lisbon area.

Monsanto Forest Park

How to get there?

You can just walk or run there and if you’re lazy take the bus to somewhere close by. The only thing to watch out for is to not get stuck behind the freeway or train tracks. I’ve circled the places where I’ve found it the easiest to enter/exit the park.

map of lisbon

running in the sunset

What is the trail like?

In the Monsanto Forest Park you can find the most accessible trails in the Lisbon area. A 2500 acre forest park right next to Lisbon city center, it’s not all forest though. There are small communities inside of it and roads and traffic, but if you know your way around the park you can go for a rather long run without even noticing you’re still in the city. Mountain biking seems to be a huge sport in Portugal, that is apparent when you explore this place. There are MTB tracks all over the place which is great for trail runners as well. If you use the Movescount map to navigate you’ll even see all these tracks.

It’s a mix between dirt roads, asphalted roads (very little though) and single track trails and if you make an effort you could even get some decent vertical gain here.

view over lisbon from monsanto

Cabo da Roca - Azinhas do mar

How to get there?

We took the train from Lisbon out to Cascais which takes about 30 minutes and from there we jumped on bus 403 (Cascais Terminal - Sintra Station) to Cabo da Roca, it takes about 25 minutes. If you time it right you have about ten minutes between the train and the bus, so make sure you know the way to the bus terminal, otherwise you have to wait for 40 or so minutes for the next one. Or if you don’t mind a bit of road running you can always start in Cascais and go all the way along the coast to Cabo da Roca.

From Azenhas do Mar we took bus 440 (Azenhas do Mar - Portela de Sintra Station) all the way to Portela de Sintra Station and jumped on the train back to the city.

The buses are local and not very frequent so I would recommend checking the timetable at Scotturb before going. They will cost you about 3-4 euros each and the same goes for the train. Also make sure to have plenty of wiggle room if things doesn’t go according to plan.

beach near cabo da roca

What is the trail like?

It’s mostly single track in the beginning, technical at parts but mostly it’s well established. There are small secluded beaches everywhere but most of them involves deviating from the trail and a descent down to sea level. It’s not much of a detour though and can be well worth it if you have the time. There are no placees to buy food or drinks in the beginning except for in Cabo da Roca but after a while there will be more frequent places to get some energy for going on. When you arrive in Azenhas do Mar there are a few restaurants where you can eat, I recommend Restaurante Piscina Azenhas do Mar, great food and awesome ocean view albeit a little pricey.

In the beginning it can be a little difficult finding your way since there is no marked trail, you have to do some guessing but as long as you stick to the coast it shouldn’t be any problem. After a while you will connect to the GR11/E9 route which is marked with white and red stripes. You can follow it the rest of the way to Azenhas do Mar or even longer if you want (it continues all the way to Estonia).

me close to cabo da roca

girl looking at view


How to get there?

Take the train from Lisbon all the way to Sintra for about 3-4 euros. It only takes 40 minutes.

What is the trail like?

I will start with a disclaimer, we’ve only run the touristy parts of Sintra so I will do another post once I’ve had time to explore the rest of it.

My tip is, don’t run close to the castles unless you are there to see the attractions as well. You are very limited in where you can run without paying for it, there are a lot of tourists you have to bypass and it’s not the best place to run in general. There are a lot of “private hunting grounds” close to the castles. I don’t really know if you can enter these or not, and if you can I don’t know if there are any trails to run.

I believe there are some great trails around here but I haven’t tried them yet. An update will come later when I’ve had time to explore more of the Sintra area.

pena castle as seen from high cross

Arrábida National Park

How to get there?

We took the train from Lisbon down to Setúbal which takes about an hour and cost 4-5 euros. During the summer you can take a bus from Setúbal to Portinho da Arrábida, and probably other destinations too. We were there off season so we started our run directly from Setúbal.

What is the trail like?

The first part from Setúbal, the red circle close to Setúbal is where we started, was  a bit difficult since there are no marked tracks. I used someone else’s previously recorded run as a route on my Suunto ambit 3 watch. First of all we had trouble getting out of town since there was a large fenced area. Once we found the right road we followed that for a while before we finally found our way to more of a trail. From there it was good running for a while, wide dust roads and single track in some places.

map of arrabida with running route

It was hot the day we went there and unfortunately there aren’t many good places to find water. We definitely didn’t bring enough with us for the amount of time we were out there. There was one easy place to get water but it was rather early on, the red circle on the map in the middle where the route crosses over on itself. When the sun was at it’s highest and that refill was long gone we stopped at a house and asked for water. An older man from Germany was kind enough to give us a 1,5 litre bottle and wished us luck.

Now the really tough part started, it was around 33 degrees celcius and we discovered some unfriendly vegetation, the Portuguese oak. We tried to follow the route but the bushes were too thick and the leafs were like razor blades, cutting us all over. And as it turned out this would be a common theme, they were literarily everywhere. We tried to get through them, even used a towel around our legs for cover but ultimately we had to turn back and find another way. It was difficult finding it but once we did it was a lot better, meaning we could walk/run on it without getting cut to pieces.

Once we got through that rough patch there was a bit of road running and then we started the second ascent up to the highest peak of about 500 metres above sea level (you can see the profile on the map above). It was a steep climb on small rocks/gravel that had been coming down the mountain and once we cleared them we made a horrible discovery, the bushes were back and they would stay with us the rest of the way. Unfortunately I don’t have any pics of our legs, but trust me, they were destroyed. That became apparent to us when taking a long sought after dip in the ocean. It burned, oh so much.

portinho da arrabida

We finally arrived in Portinho da Arrábida after six hours or so out on the trail, about three more than I had anticipated. We stayed the night at a nice B&B with a lovely ocean view. The next day we headed back to Setúbal but this time we opted for road running. It was an easy 10k back there with some scenery along the first part of the way. The second half wasn’t that great but it was easy going and we finished off with a lunch by the bay.

You can find the route I used on Movescount.

birds on a powerline with ocean view

boats at the bay

That’s it for now. Once I’ve explored some more places I will do another post. If you’ve got any tips on other places to run in the Lisbon area (or wherever) I’d very much appreciate it!