One amazing day trip from the Portuguese capital of Lisbon has to be Sintra which is a place made up of three separate villages spread out over hills full of trees and valleys. I heard that this place was worth a visit and without any research I was surprised to find what I found and for me this is a hidden gem which is definitely worth a visit. Sintra was the summer residence of the kings of Portugal and of the Moors people before them but is now a UNESCO World Heritage site with outstanding museums, palaces and gardens.
When planning a trip to Sintra, I would advise everyone to plan the day correctly and everything can be done in one day. Get there early and try and avoid the crowds. The following is how I would plan a day to Sintra. Deal with the centre of Sintra town until last and make the way to the Pena Palace as most visitors will come here. Getting there early will mean the crowds
Palácio Nacional de Pena
There has always been a building here since the 14th century, high above the main village in Sintra known as Sintra-Vila. Starting off as a chapel, the Palácio Nacional de Pena is now a Neo-Gothic building with a hint of Manueline decoration with a mixture of Germanic embellishments and well as some Moorish features. One wonders how all three different types of styles combined can go well for the palace, but it does. It blends in very well in fact. The domed turrets on the red and yellow towers add to the Moorish feel. The colourful building is a fantastic background for great photos as the palace is perched on top of a hill with lots of trees surrounding it down below. Below the palace there is also a wooded garden which is a calm peaceful place to take a walk out of the summer sun where there is an oasis of shades.
Castelo Dos Mouros
Even though the other places in the area are outstanding, this castle however had to be my favourite place whilst checking out Sintra. The ruins of the Moorish castle lies high up on top of a hill between the two palaces. The views from here made me understand why the Moorish people built a castle here for defensive purposes and on a clear day, views of Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean can be seen. However it was a bit cloudy when we (Olga and I) checked out the place but that didn’t stop the fun for us. The walk from the nearby bus stop to the entrance of the castle was a great one (with plenty of trees to walk under) and my highlight has to be walking on top of the in-tact castle walls.
The castle has stood here since the ninth century and built by the Moorish people however it wasn’t too long before they had to flee as the Christians came into town and had a battle or two. The castle then fell into ruins but was restored a little in the nineteenth century before becoming a visitors attraction.
Then what I did was catch the bus back down to the centre of Sintra to check out the actual town itself. We grabbed some lunch here and checked out what the town had to offer, walking down hidden alleyways, looking at beautiful flowery designs and doing a light bit of shopping before heading to the….
Palácio Nacional de Sintra
In the heart of Sintra-Vila there is a palace with a pair of extraordinary conical chimneys surrounded by lots of decorative architecture. I didn’t have much time to check out all of the palace inside as there is a set route taking visitors through all the main rooms with some glimpses of hidden courtyards and the Hall of the Swans where there is a tiled hall where the ceiling is decorated with painted swans adorned with golden necklaces (yeah, they are some bad ass swans from the ghettos of Lisbon who live in Sintra…joke).
I found the palace to be a bit more of a low-key affair compared to the Pena Palace but it is one worth exploring. The palace was used by the Portugese royal family from the 15th to the 19th centuries but then a huge earthquake damaged the palace (the same one which damaged the Moorish Castle, a few other places in Sintra and the Lisbon area). However the palace was restored to as much of its former glory as possible. Inside the palace, I found the ceilings to be worth noting. The beautiful design of the artwork is truly amazing, especially in the Swam Room.
How to get there
There are direct trains from Lisbon’s Rosso station to Sintra and run quite regularly. Visitors with the Lisbon Card (see my Lisbon Post), the travel is included on this line which is a cost saving measure.
How to get around
The train station in Sinta is about 1.5km away from the historic centre whilst the Pena Palace and Moorish castle is further away. For those who don’t like walking, there is the bus 434 which runs from the train station and connects Sintra, Pena Palace and Moorish Castle on a tourist route. There are single tickets which can be brought but ask for the day rover and covers all the routes which are used by the company provider Scotturb (tickets can also be used to visit Monserrate – a huge garden outside Sintra). In the summer the bus 434 runs from 09.15 to 19.50 but in the winter finishes around 18.20, and they run four buses an hour. The other bus route which also helps is 435, which connects Sintra to Palácio de Monserrate, via the Quinta de Regaleira. If taking this option, as soon as you arrive at Sintra train station, go straight to the bus stop. Don’t stop for the waiting taxi drivers or tuk tuk riders, they are going to rip you off!
Another bit of advice I can give is that visitors could walk between each attraction but if doing this, there will be at least an hours walk from the train station to Palácio da Pena and it is very steep. I highly recommend getting the bus. HOWEVER, if buying the all day ticket, visitors can only ride the circuit ONCE (the bus goes round in one direction). If visitors miss a stop, they can’t stay on the bus and ride the circuit again. And again…however this shouldn’t happen with the information given on the bus and announcements being made.
I absolutely love Sintra. A hidden gem of Portugal with so much history. Whilst there are castles and palaces to explore I also loved the views of the area, the greenery and the peaceful/calmness of the place. OK, I did visit when there weren’t many tourists but I hear the summer months can be a bit crazy with the crowds. We also missed out on the Quinta de Regaleira and the Palácio de Monserrate, but hopefully we are making another trip to Lisbon (with our children in tow) and check out Sintra again (hopefully on a nice sunny day). If anyone is visiting Lisbon, then allow a day to check out Sintra. It’s totally awesome!
Accommodation: the top place I usually go to and book a stay is via Booking.com (link on the right hand side of the page). For this trip I stayed in nearby Lisbon and there is a lot of accommodation options for this city.
Travel Insurance: The best travel insurance I recommend is World Nomads and I have been with them for some time. Travel Insurance is recommended as this will protect you from theft, illness, injury. If something goes wrong during a trip, then you will be glad to have travel insurance.