Nestled against a backdrop of Mother Nature’s marvel, is the historic town of Sintra, one of Portugal’s most unique and beautiful gems, filled with history and culture, holding UNESCO World Heritage status. Located just 40 minutes West of Lisbon by driving, Sintra is a great day trip destination, though there’s so much to see that you could easily spend several days! Sintra is a great place to feel like royalty, with its historical castles, ornate palaces and grandiose estates. In this blog post I’ll detail how to spend a day trip in Sintra!
HOW TO GET TO SINTRA FROM LISBON
First things first – how do you get to Sintra from Lisbon? You can either take an Uber (approximately €28 ($34 USD) each way), or the more environmentally friendly route of going by train (from Rossio, it goes directly to Sintra, about 30 minutes). I don’t recommend hiring a car and driving there, because parking is very challenging. Once you’re within Sintra, it’s easy to get around by TukTuk or walking.
HOW TO GET AROUND SINTRA
Once you’re in Sintra, you can get around by foot (most of the castles are relatively close to each other), taxi, TukTuk (€10 to go from Pena Palace to Palace of Monserrate), or these fun vehicles, which you’ll find at the entrance of the downtown area:
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN SINTRA
Sintra’s geology is quite special, nestled in a stretch of hills, shadowed by granite mountains, with the Atlantic Ocean on the opposite side. Because of being in a microclimate, Sintra’s verdant landscape is perfect for a truly fairytale-like setting that almost makes you feel as if you’re in Disneyland, only instead of cheesy replicas, real castles stand before you in all their grandeur, leaving you in awe at every turn.
With so many beautiful sights to see and delicious regional pastries to sample, where do you even start? Below I will outline how to spend a full day in Sintra.
VISIT PENA PALACE (National Palace of Pena)
I recommend to visit Pena Palace first, because it gets very crowded. Even though it can change on a dime and without warning, you should check the weather to attempt to go on a sunny day, though don’t be surprised if as you’re driving it’s sunny, but as you reach the top, you find yourself in the clouds, completely surrounded by fog and mist. We lucked out and had a bluebird sunny, clear day!
Pena Palace is a national monument, and one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world. The Palace is still used today by the President and other government officials.
QUINTA DA REGALEIRA
This massive estate consists of a palace and chapel, along with a luxurious park that has water features, grottoes, wells, fountains, and exquisite architectural designs, particularly in mosaic style. The palace was designed by Italian architect, Luigi Manini and has had many owners over the years. The palace is characterized by its octagonal tower, gothic pinnacles, gargoyles, and the famed Initiation Well – a pair of mysterious mossy-covered DNA spiral staircase wells leading down to the abyss. These wells were never actually intended to store water; instead, they were used as secretive initiation rites, carrying symbolic meaning of death and rebirth. As you walk down the spiral staircase, feeling the damp, cool air envelop your skin, you can’t help but feel as though you’re being sucked through a mysterious time capsule, a dark tunnel awaiting you down below.
PARK & PALACE OF MONSERRATE
Built in Moorish influence, the Palace of Monserrate is a masterpiece of Romanticism, and is used as the summer resort of the Portuguese court. The terrace leads to an idyllic park; a wide open green space surrounded by lush vegetation, perfect for contemplation, soaking in the sun, or enjoying a picnic with a loved one.
The inside is just as stunning, with the quintessential arches architecture in intricate Moorish design.
During the Moorish era (8th – 12th century), this mighty castle defended the entire region. The high vantage point perched on the mountainside, provided an advantageous view out to the coastline and surrounding lands. In the 1100’s, Christian crusaders invaded the castle, and under their rule, it became merely a ruin, blending in with the overtaking verdant landscape which surrounds it.
As soon as you enter Sintra, it feels as though you’ve shrunken yourself down to a mini scale and stepped into a Medieval town with immaculately clean streets and imposing palatial buildings. What makes the mood even more mysterious, is when it’s cloudy with a light mist, the views of the faraway castles disappearing and reappearing through swiftly moving clouds, as if they were merely a figment of your imagination.
PASTRIES IN SINTRA
Once you’re castled and palaced out, you’re going to be hungry. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll want sweets. Well, I’ve got great news for you; Sintra is known for their delicious hand-made pastries, regional to this area! One of the most famous cafes to try these local sweets is called Casa de Piriquita. Be sure to try their famous Travesseiro de Sintra, rectangular pastries of flaky crust filled with almond cream.
So, can you fit everything in, in only one day? The answer is, yes, but you’ll need to start very early (leaving Lisbon by 6AM), preferably in the Spring or Summer so that you have more daylight hours. We went back to Sintra two days in a row because we loved it so much, and each day was so different; the first day was sunny, clear and warm, and the second was overcast, grey and cool. Microclimates are such a trip! Another popular sightseeing location in this area, is Cabo da Roca, a beautiful coastline on the sea, but we didn’t have time for it, and because we were headed down South to the Algarve next, we knew we would be seeing plenty of stunning coastlines soon enough!
Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon, and for good reason! You’ll leave Sintra with a mind filled with history, a belly full of queijadas, and a camera / phone / SD card filled with stunning photos, cementing Sintra as a wonderful memory in your book of life travels.
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Susan DuvalJune 17, 2021 at 5:21 am
Hi Lisa, this is great! Really enjoyed reading about Sintra and seeing your gorgeous photos!! By the way, my group of 10 just returned from the Azores (after 2 years of planning!) and had a fabulous time. I am happy to have found you. You’re a great blogger!! Blessings, Susan Duval
culturalfoodiesJune 17, 2021 at 11:36 am
Hi Susan! I’m so happy to hear that your group had a great time in the Azores! It truly is a magical place. 🙂