The Fantastical World of Sintra
Sintra is a resort town in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains, near the capital, Lisbon. A longtime royal sanctuary, its forested terrain is dotted with pastel-colored villas and palaces. As one of our favourite spots in Portugal (we've visited twice), we would recommend a few days to stay and explore this area. However, given most of us are on tight travel deadlines and can only spare one day, here are our top three must sees, in order they should be visited.
We are going to resist sharing hundreds of photos in this post (and there are hundreds) so if you do get the chance to visit Sintra you can be as surprised and awed as we were. We'll just include a taster and a map.
Morning: Pena Palace
Start your morning with a trip to the top of the hill, to visit "The Red Keep" from Game of Thrones. This palace is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and we can see why! King Ferdinand II designed his 19th-century romanticist castle to stand at the top of a hill in the Sintra mountains.
This fella had a flair for colour to say the least. It's as spectacular inside as it is out and filled with the bold patterned tiles that the Portuguese are so well known for. Once you've had your fill of the palace, walk through the ground's forest paths down to the Castle of the Moors. If you start your day trip here you'll only need to hike downhill. Check out all ticket, tour and timing information here.
Midday: Castle of the Moors
What is a classic European city without its quintessential Medieval Castle? Only a short wander from Pena Palace, and also featured in Game of Thrones, is the Castle of the Moors. It's ancient rock walls protrude out its leafy forest providing breath taking panoramic views of Sintra, and the entire surrounding region.
This fortress was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. In 1840 Ferdinand II of Portugal took up the task of conserving and improving the condition of the castle that had gone into disrepair. It's a great spot to have a picnic too, and given the time of day you should end up here, make sure to bring some snacks and drinks with you, as they will be much cheaper than at the one small shop available. Check out all ticket, tour and timing information here.
Afternoon: Quinta da Regaleira
Once down the hill, you are only a short walk to what is our favourite place in Sintra - Quinta da Regaleira - a private estate and like the previous two, one of the principal attractions in the area. It almost feels like you've walked into the original Disneyland, with its haunted house, Peter Pan-esk grotto's and Repunzel towers.
Don't expect to follow a prescribed route through the gardens as there are many tunnels, caves, hidden stairwells, fountains, grotto's, lakes and towers to divert you from your path. We have Carvalho Monteiro to thank for this dreamy landscape, which was designed in the early 1900's. The original estate was built in the 1800's and belonged to the Viscountess of Regaleira, a family of wealthy merchants from Porto. Check out all ticket, tour and timing information here.
TIP: If your based in Lisbon, don't fret as travel to Sintra is reasonably easy. There are trains available (though this will only take you to the base of Sintra and does require quite a walk or bus up to each Palace). Parking can be tough and as we found out the hard way if one takes a wrong turn you can end up on a one way road which makes you head the scenic, windy and much longer road back around (+12km of narrow roads). The first time we visited, we caught an Uber from Lisbon to Pena Palace (as described earlier, it's geographically the highest Palace, so you can work your way down the hill passed the Moors and Quinta into Sintra town). This Uber ride took approx an hour and cost us 30€. Yes, Uber is remarkably cheap in Portugal!!
If you have more time in Sintra don't worry there are plenty more palaces to explore such as the Palace of Sintra, the Palace of Queluz , and the Monserrate Palace. All of which should be able to be explored throughout another full day. Also, if you have kids, then you should definitely try and do as much of this area as possible, it's simply magical.
Bidi & Dan