Sintra is W H I M S I C A L ! ! !
I am always wary about going to the most popular tourist attractions in a city or country. Discovering backstreets and local hangouts are always a goal of mine when traveling to try to understand the culture and place better instead of heading to areas catered and shaped for tourists. YET, every rule has its exceptions. I mean, how could you not go to Paris and visit the marvelous and breathtaking masterpiece that is the Eiffel Tower or go to India and not see the Taj Mahal?!
And Sintra is just one of those marvels that must be seen to believe…
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
Hop on a train from Rossio station in Lisbon and 40 minutes later you have arrived to a fairytale land. Full of palaces, castles, and estates and a cute historic center, Sintra is marvelous and the perfect day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of Lisbon.
Tip: Leave as early as possible, so around 8:30/9 a.m. to get the most out of your day in Sintra!
Really one day is not enough…. BUT if it is all you had like me, the highlights, and what really makes Sintra special can be accomplished.
When you get to Sintra and hop off the train (it’s the last stop on the line), buy a buss pass because walking is really not the best option and will waste your precious time. Buy the pass in the station for the loop that takes you to Pena Palace, Castle of the Moors, National Palace of Sintra + the town center, and of course the train station. You can buy this for €5.50 and you can hop on and off the bus as many times as you would like.
Like many people who visit Sintra, we only visited the Castle of the Moors, Pena Palace and took a nice stroll and got dinner in the old town due to our lack of time.
Probably the cutest and most eclectic palace you have ever laid your eyes on! Pena Palace was originally a monastery that held no more than 18 monks at a time and was a simple place on top of Sintra hill (a very very big hill). But in the 1800s, lightning damaged the monastery and the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755 almost fully destroyed it, leaving only the chapel and a few other parts in tact.
Bring in Ferdinand II who saw a great deal of potential and decided to rebuild and add to the monastery to covert it into the summer residence of the Portuguese crown. He also acquired the surrounding lands of Pena, the nearby Castle of the Moors and many other estates in Sintra.
Pena Palace is unworldly. Unlike most palaces, there is a charm and unique character that you can easily see from the colorful and whimsical Romanesque architectural design:
And let’s not forget about the colors now, shall we:
Buy the tickets for the grounds AND palace when you get there which I believe was around €13 and walk around the expansive and beautiful grounds (take a map so you do not get lost) and then explore the palace in and outside and get ready to fall in love!
Castle of the Moors
The Moors have a long and ravenous history in not just Spain, but also Portugal. In the early 1000’s the Moors conquered Portugal and today, the Castle of the Moors (Castelo Mouros) is a reminder of the deep history they played in the country.
Castle of the Moors, located just a short walk down the hill from Pena (don’t bother taking the bus because it drives the other way and you will have to make a huge loop first) was covered in a blanket of fog went we went, making it unbelievably eerie but extraordinary!
You can walk along the old fortress walls and climb the towers and on a clear day you can even see Pena Palace from one point which was a favorite of King Carlos I. The construction of the castle offered protection to the people who lived on the hill besides the fort. To protect these people as well as the land, animals and crops, a second set of walls near the bottom of the hill were built.
King Ferdinand II loved the castle and had it restored in part, including surrounding areas and making the area part of the grounds of Pena.
The entry costs vary by age but adults are €8.00
We spent about an hour and a half at the castle
The historic center of Sintra:
After the Castle of the Moors, take the bus back down to the center, or Sintra national palace stop. Visit the palace if you are interested, but our hunger took the best of us, so we went where the food was.
The old town of Sintra, oh my, is very cute like many small towns in Europe that many of us know, radiate charm. Walk around, get a souvenir or two if you’d like, and grab some food. We asked a local for a recommendation for a place to eat because we wanted to avoid, at all costs, the tourist traps with pictures of food on the menu.
Lessons learned: ALWAYS ASK A LOCAL!!!
We got a recommendation for a cute little place hidden up a few flights of stairs called Bacalhau na Villa, that specializes in its namesake, Bacalhau, or salted cod which is a traditional Portuguese delicacy. Confession: I’m not a big fish person so I opted for the steak with the house sauce which omg was so good, I can taste it still. Ana though, got one of the many salted cod dishes and raved about it, so long story short, if you want traditional Portuguese food in a city catered to tourist, climb a few stairs and head to Bacalhau na Villa.
If you have more time:
I’ve heard from other blogs that Quinta da Regaleira is a must visit as well, as it carries a layer of secrecy and mysticalness (see picture below). I wish we could have gone and maybe so if we had left a little earlier from Lisbon, we could have but the day was still magical and exceeded all my expectations. So moral of the story, spend more than a day in Sintra to get the most out of all it offers or at least leave as early as possible to get there for a full day trip!
So that’s it folks, a day in Sintra with a few nomadic dreamers. We hope this helps you before you take the journey to fairytale land aka Sintra! Make sure to tag us in your photos on Instagram so we can see your magical day at Sintra too!
Keep on dreaming
A nomadic dreamer