Sintra: A day trip from Lisbon

First of all, let me say that one day in Sintra was not enough for me. Ideally I would have stayed the night so that I could have seen more, or at least not felt rushed.

Regardless, this is how I did it as a day trip. It was pretty easy and a lot of fun, so if you don’t have much time in Portugal I highly recommend it!

Sintra is a quirky fairytale-inspired UNESCO world heritage town, where Portuguese monarchs used to retreat for some R&R. The winding roads, leafy green forests, elegant palaces and tranquil gardens are a world away from busy Lisbon.

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Peaceful gardens of Pena Palace

Getting to Sintra from Lisbon

The train departs from Rossio, which is the most central station and very easy to get to. You can’t book your ticket in advance, but they go about every 20 minutes so you can pretty much just show up, scan your Via Viagem card (or buy a ticket) and hop on board. I went on a weekday at about 9am and it was very busy – although this could be attributed to it being just before the Easter long weekend? Regardless, I was glad I got on the train about 15 minutes before it was due to depart as the seats filled up quickly. The journey is about 40 minutes, so that’s a long time to stand. I’m not sure exactly how much the ticket cost (as I just scanned my Via Viagem) but a return ticket in 2016 cost €4.30 which is super cheap and amazing. (I explain about the Via Viagem in my post on Lisbon)

You can also get to Sintra from Lisbon Oriente (via Roma-Areeiro), Entrecampos and Sete Rios if you happen to be staying closer to those stations.

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A hidden waterfall

When you arrive in Sintra

There will probably be a bit of a crush getting out of the station, and then as soon as you’re out you will see a line at the bus stop. I bought a ticket on bus 434 for the Circuito da Pena. The buses came pretty regularly which was lucky because I watched two of them fill up and depart before I got to the front of the line. You buy your ticket in the line just before you get on the bus and it is €5 for the whole loop, hop-on hop-off.

The bus will take you through the centre of the town of Sintra. A lot of people get on and off there, but I chose to stay on all the way to the top of the mountain at Palacio de la Pena, which I think was a good choice. As the 434 bus does a one directional loop it tends to focus tourists in the town in the morning and moves them to the hills of the Pena Palace in the afternoon.

You could drive up there, but honestly it didn’t look fun. Parking was limited and the roads are quite narrow and have a lot of steep switchbacks. For the same reason, I wouldn’t want to walk up either. The bus is the way to go IMHO.

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Pena Palace

Pena Palace

When you arrive you will have to queue (again) for a ticket. I bought a combined ticket to both the Pena Palace and the Castel de las Mouros for about €20. Once you have that you can walk right in then up through the gardens (there is also a shuttle bus for €3 – but it’s actually not a long walk, and it’s shady, albeit uphill).

Then you will see quite possibly the most colourful palace on earth! Not only is the palace itself lovely and photogenic; due to its location it offers amazing views of the surrounds including the Castelo de las Mouros.

Castelo de las Mouros

When you’re done with the Pena Palace, walk back down to the main gate and turn left. Just a few minutes’ walk down the road you will come to the Moorish castle. You can’t avoid a bit of an uphill hike here – but after the crowds of Pena, it’s a lovely and peaceful wander along a densely forested path.

There are lots of ruins and artefacts to check out along the way. From the top you will – unbelievably – get even better views back to Pena and down on to the town of Sintra. It’s well worth the climb and really very beautiful.

The castle was established during the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra, but it fell into disrepair after the Christian conquest of Portugal. It was restored in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II.

There is a stop for the 434 bus right out front of the castle. If you get on there, it will take you back up to Pena and then on down to Sintra town centre. Most people I think do the castle before Pena, which means you are more likely to get a seat on the bus doing it my way (clever me!) plus you avoid one uphill walk.

Sintra

There is a lot to see in Sintra – pretty cobbled streets lined with traditional shops and cafes, all centred around the Gothic styled National Palace.

Because I had only one day I made a beeline for Quinta da Regaleira.

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Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira

From the main town centre it’s about a 10 minute walk and entrance is €8 from memory. You will have to queue again!

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Beautiful nooks and crannies to explore

In 1892, Quinta da Regaleira was purchased by an eccentric millionaire who  curated a collection of symbols to reflect his array of interests and ideologies. The result is elaborate gardens, creepy grottoes and dazzling fountains as well as the over the top interior of the fairytale palace. You can find references to the Knights Templar, the Masons and dark alchemy, all hidden within the grounds (apparently. I didn’t really know what to look for).

The initiation well is the strangest feature, and apparently symbolises the initiation ceremony for the Knights Templar. If you descend the 27 metres to the bottom of the well you will find a hidden passage which connects to a series of tunnels that run the length of the gardens. It’s truly wonderful to explore – and a bit creepy! The dank, cool tunnels are a welcome respite from the hot sun and no matter which way you turn you will stumble across something amazing.

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Part of the tunnels

The Sintra local government reclaimed the palace in 1997 and opened it to the public.

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One of many towers you will stumble across in the gardens

 

At the end of the day you can wander back through the town and out the other side to the train station, and from there back to Lisbon.

I loved my day trip and I’m happy that I saw the main things I wanted to see, however I missed seeing a lot of things in Sintra, which is why I said at the top that you could easily spend more time than I did. If I’d had more time I would have had a look around the National Palace, Montserrat, Seteais and the town of Sintra. I guess I’ll have to go back for another visit …

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The view of Pena Palace from the moorish castle

Complete your experience

Read

I don’t know of any books set in Sintra, but here’s another about Lisbon:

A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson

This thriller centres on the unfolding of two stories – the investigation into the murder of a young girl in Lisbon and the tale of Klaus Felsen, a Nazi officer sent to Lisbon to gain supplies to support the war effort. The two stories seem separate but over time weave together in a fascinating, brutal unrelenting plot that earned it the prestigious Gold Dagger Award for the best mystery written in 1999.

Watch

It’s not very related but you might be interested to know that the Swedish movie version of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire features Portuguese scenery.

Eat

There is a bewildering array of names and styles of coffee available in Portugal, and it can be kind of fun to figure it out. If you just ask for um café (or uma bica), you will get a shot of espresso. If you want something more like a latte, ask for ‘um galão’.

For a full explanation of all the different ways you can try your coffee, visit Algarve blog.

And of course, it’s natural to pair your coffee with one of the delicious pastries that can be found in abundance in Portugal 🙂

Listen

Dia de Folga by Ana Moura, a young fado singer—or fadista—from Portugal who helped bring traditional fado music into the modern era.

Fado originated in Portugal in the 1800s, defined by its ballad style with jaunty classical guitar sounds, and continues to be a source of cultural pride. It’s meant to capture the Portuguese notion of saudade—a feeling of nostalgia or yearning.

Fado is growing on me the more of it I hear … this song is my favourite so far.

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Posing in the courtyard of arches, Pena Palace

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