I hadn’t even heard of Sintra before I planned our brief trip to Portugal but it turned out to be one of my favourite little towns in Europe. Why is that, I hear you asking? Well, it has an eccentric palace/garden complex, the ridiculously colourful Pena Palace and the great wall of Portugal, AKA the Castle of the Moors. The best part though? It’s an easy day trip from Lisbon (as if that city didn’t have enough going for it). Here are some highlights from our day trip to Sintra and a few tips on how to get from site to site.
Further reading: The Hills in Lisbon Have Eyes! (a post I wrote about Lisbon, one of my favourite cities in Europe).
Quinta Da Regaleira
This might just be the most fun historical palace/garden thing I’ve ever been to. It was built in the early 1900s and was the home of a wealthy businessman — he must have been pretty eccentric to have something like this built. The grounds are full of grottos, small towers which are straight out of a fairytale, ponds, an underground walkway and a huge, underground spiral staircase. There is so much to explore here and you’ll feel like a rich royal frolicking around your opulent and completely over the top palace.
Pena National Palace
This castle/palace looks like it was designed by a child. It has a unique mix of colours and styles and would fit in nicely at a theme park or an animated movie about a princess. It’s definitely the most colourful historical building I’ve seen, and the Islamic influence (mixed in with a lot of other styles) makes it incredibly interesting to explore. Apparently it’s one of the world’s best examples of 19th century Romanticism architecture — I still don’t know exactly what that is but I think I like it. The surrounding gardens are also worth a look — you’ll find lots of little tracks to explore (or get lost on).
Castle of the Moors
Sitting peacefully on a hill above Pena Palace is this relic from Portugal’s Islamic past. It’s an imposing structure and would be an awesome place to set a medieval film battle – hopefully it’ll appear on Game of Thrones in the future. It also looks a bit like the Great Wall of China, although it obviously isn’t as long. It’s a lot of fun walking along the castle walls and you get some great views as well. We went to the Castle of the Moors late in the day and it was really quiet, although the cool winter weather probably played a part in that.
A Day Trip to Sintra: The details
You can catch a train from Lisbon to Sintra – it’ll only set you back a few euros and takes about 45 minutes. Once in Sintra you can either walk from place to place or take the hop on/hop off tourist bus. This was early on in our trip and I was still in budget mode (I still am, but I’ve relented a little) so we decided to save the €5 each and walk. It was fine but I think Gia would have preferred to take the bus. It was a long uphill walk from Quinta Da Regaleira to Pena Palace and it was a bit frustrating to see the bus roll past us. If you’re on a romantic day trip to Sintra I’d say just take the bus, but the walk is nice. Entry to Sintra’s historical attractions isn’t too expensive – we bought a combo pass for Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors for around €20 and the entrance to Quinta Da Regaleira was only €6. We opted to skip Sintra National Palace as it would have meant too much rushing around (if you’ve been, leave me a comment and tell me what it’s like). Sintra (the town itself) is quite a nice place to wander around and grab lunch or breakfast – most of the sights are a little way from town though so bring water if you’re walking.
Further reading: Visiting Portugal? Check out visitportugal.com
Sintra in winter
We did our day trip to Sintra in January and the weather was quite pleasant. I would have hated to do all that walking in the middle of summer! Another good thing about visiting Sintra in winter is that the attractions are quiet – I’m sure they get busy in summer. If you’re travelling to Lisbon I highly recommend doing a day trip to Sintra – the historical attractions are really unique and will be of interest to even the most castle weary traveller.
Do you like the sound of the unique castles and palaces in Sintra? What is the most colourful castle you’ve seen? Let me know!
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