Sintra, Portugal is a charming town not far from the coast. I went to Sintra via the train from Lisbon – an hour ride with rural scenery. Although not far from the coast you can’t really see the ocean from Sintra and the town is located in the mountains so even in the summer’s it is cooler then expected.
What is there to see in Sintra, Portugal:
1 – Pena National Palace – Perhaps the main attraction, this Palace is certainly not to be missed. The palace is a whimsical fairytale castle that looks like a mish-mash architectural styles.
— Brief history of the Pena National Palace
The complex started with a 15th century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena and a monastery was added later on. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the Earthquake of 1755 the monastery lay in ruins until 1838 when Ferdinand II decided to build a palace around the ruins and the chapel to be used as a summer residence for the royal family. Now the palace is owned by the Portuguese state and stands as a museum.
— Visiting the Pena National Palace
The Pena National Palace sits atop a mountain above the town of Sintra and I advise you take advantage of the bus that delivers you right to the Palace gates. You can walk but I think this would take a couple of hours. (The bus tickets can be purchased at the tourist information center and the bus stop is right across from it. And remember to bring a sweater, as it is quite chilly on top of the mountain and windy!).
You do not need to take part in a tour, you can simply roam through the palace and every room has information in English. It does take a whole day to see the palace, the monastery and the gardens, which are very extensive (you need to use the map provided at the ticket desk to navigate the garden paths).
2 – Castle of the Moors – A castle that dates back to the 9th and 10th centuries with a long squiggly wall that provides wonderful views of Sintra and the Pena National Palace. The castle suffered from neglect and little use after the 15th century until King Ferdinand II started to renovate it.
3 – Quinta da Regaleira – This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and this palace and gardens is yet another whimsical site in Sintra. The Quinta da Regaleira is an estate that was owned by three different families and constructed and reconstructed throughout the 1900s. The gardens ascend up a hill with several tiers, caves, tunnels, ponds, and fountains. The whimsicality of the gardens continues in the palace where elaborate carvings and colorful tiles decorate the rooms and twisted and playful chimneys are guarded by sweet gargoyles that are bunny rabbits and kangaroos. The Quinta da Regaleria is strangely fascinating and a must see!
4 – Sintra National Palace – The Sintra National Palace is in the center of town and appears rather subdued from the other sites as it is all while and features few adornments on the façade. However the interior has a few stately rooms with decorative tiles. I found the kitchen rooms particularly interested with the large smoke stacks for the fireplaces – these chimneys rise high above the palace and distinguish the palace from afar.
For a brief History of the Sintra National Palace (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) click on the link below at the end of this post.
A few practical tips: Make sure to wander around and see the local houses with the tiled details. There are many steep paths as the town is built on a mountain so I advise good walking shoes. As for food, the cuisine is good and fresh and there are of course many seafood options. The tourist information center is not only useful but in a very nice building with clean public restrooms (always good to know). And a final tip – try to see the Moorish fountain which can be reached by following the road leading to the train station for it is really a work of art.
Overall Sintra is lovely town perfect for romantics and those who want to live in a fairytale world even just for a day.
To read more about Sintra, Portugal click on the links below: