During the first half of our trip in Lisbon, we decided to venture to Sintra – a picturesque Portuguese town located in the foothills of the Sintra mountains. Moving away from the busy yet charming city of Lisbon, Sintra was like a fairytale town perched high in what felt like a completely different part of Portugal and do you know what? It was rather magical.
How we got there
As we were staying in Alfama, we walked from our AirBnB to the Apolonia train station. Trains were fairly frequent (every 45 minutes or so) from this point – but we needed to change at Oriente station. From there our train journey was about 90 minutes in total and we passed by various other Portuguese towns – some were quite urban, others more local.
From Sintra’s train station, we decided to hop on the 434 bus. The journey is pretty hair-raising as it winds up and down tiny roads close to some very steep edges! It was only once we got stuck on the curb of a cliff that I began to think “maybe we should have walked!”. There are however alternatives to the bus as we saw lots of people hiking or even taking a tuk-tuk which I felt immensely jealous about!
What to see
With so much to see in Sintra, I’d recommend not only planning your day but perhaps think about staying for one night. Or if you fancy getting back to the cool city of Lisbon, wake up early and make the most of your day. As we arrived at lunchtime, we were quite limited for time and we ended up rushing on sites and missed out a couple of things which we wanted to see. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to keep pressing ‘snooze’ at 9:45am!
Palácio da Pena – Pena Palace
If you’ve heard about or seen photos of Sintra, I guarantee you would recognise the Palácio da Pena. Described as a ‘romanticist’ castle, this fairytale-like palace is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Painted in yellow and red with a sprinkling of blue tiles, it oozes a very different vibe as it’s influenced by a mixture of architecture over generations.
Walking up the hill towards the palace (without any water and hungry bellies), was a challenge. It was only once we reached the top that we thought it was really worth it. If we had a little more time, we would have explored the park and possibly the palace’s interior – but we did what we could. And by that, I mean we were like kids exploring the tunnels and chilling in the alcoves – as you can see from the photos!
It was a really magical place and the view was incredible. We didn’t feel the need to go into the palace as we preferred to move onto the next stop. I think the sheer height of the palace only really dawns on you once you look out across the region – some say on a clear day you can even spot Lisbon!
Related: Living like locals in Portugal
Castelo dos Mouros – The Moorish Castle
Our next stop was Castelo dos Mouros – a short walk from Pena Palace. Originally, we wanted to visit The Quinta da Regaleira, but it was far away from our first stop and meant we would have to skip the Moorish Castle.
From the out-set, the Moorish Castle isn’t one of the most ‘must-see’ attractions in Sintra. But, we were glad we stopped by. The whole setting was rather different to the Palace, purely because there was a lot more ruins. It had a real mythical feel and the views from the highest point were incredible. As you enter, it doesn’t look that big – but only once you start to explore and walk around the walls does the length and height really dawn on you! At one point it almost felt like we were climbing the Great Wall of China – but on a miniature, more Portuguese scale!
The views really took our breath away (in more ways than one) and from one point, you could see Pena Palace in all its glory from afar. As you actually walk into the Moorish Castle, you pass a dense forest which does feel like it’s from another world. The cold, clean air is so refreshing and for that alone, it feels like a great trip.
Sintra offered a different pace of life compared to Lisbon. While we enjoyed visiting this special town, I do wish we had planned our day in greater detail as we could have maximised the time we had. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to visit the Quinta da Regaleira – but I guess it’s all the more reason to visit next time.
Things worth keeping in mind
- It can be pricey so bring snacks with you and remember a bottle or two of water!
- There’s more to Sintra than the famous sites. It’s home to a lovely town with lots of restaurants, souvenir shops and street sellers. Trust me when I say this, after reading blogs and watching vlogs – few failed to mention the sheer size and amount of things to do in Sintra.
- Plan your day accordingly and try to make the most out of it.
- Think about the best ways to get around or opt for the hop-on-hop-off bus for ease of transport and access.
- But if you want to avoid the terrifying bus journey – opt for a tuk-tuk ride but do book through a reputable company.
- Shop around for your souvenirs – prices can vary quite a bit between shops which are right next door to each other.
- Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk and climb a lot!