Embrace your inner queen and discover the fairytale town of Sintra in Portugal. It's only 30 minutes from Lisbon but feels like a world away. Set high in the Sintra's mountains are many glittering palaces and m castles that stand proudly amidst enchanting forested hilltops and exotic parks.
Do yourself a favor and explore everything from the must-see, Disney-looking, Pena Palace to the medieval Moorish Castle, the exotic Monserrate Palace, the mysterious Quinta da Regaleira and the easily spotted National Palace of Sintra.
Once upon a time the Celts and Romans worshipped the moon gods here, the Moors built a strategic castle in the mountains and, for five centuries, Sintra attracted Portuguese royalty to live happily ever after (or, at least, sit out the summer in a fabulous palace).
Nowadays, this extraordinary Cultural Landscape of Sintra is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Sintra is like a page torn from a fairytale and mesmerizes people from every corner of the world.
I took a day trip to Sintra from Cascais with my fabulous guide Paula from TugaTrips. Probably needless to say, I was absolutely blown away. Sintra is MAGIC! It's such a surreal, fun and very romantic escape.
A day is way too little to explore this magical world. But it is a start, leaving you craving for more. Whether you are going there on a day tour, celebrating your honeymoon or staying for several days: Find out what to see, where to go and lots of general tips in this post.
ADARAS Guide to Sintra, Portugal: A Fairytale Town of Palaces & Castles
Apart from Cappadocia in Turkey, Sintra is one of the most unreal places I've visited in Europe. The only place that reminds me of this unique treasure is the fantasy village Portmeirion in Wales. But while you can easily discover Portmeirion in a day or afternoon, Sintra is a magical world of its own. A day is not nearly enough to explore all of what Sintra has to offer.
But a day trip is better than nothing. It will leave you craving more. In any case, for whatever reason you are visiting Sintra, I hope my travel guide will provide you with inspiration and tips for what to do, what to see and how to get the best experience possible.
Enjoy my queens and kings! ♥
Visit the Magical Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)
One of the Seven Wonders in Portugal
First of all, just WOW! Doesn't this palace look like a Disney movie come to life? Perched on top of a rocky peak in Sintra's Mountains is the striking Pena Palace. It's a masterpiece of romantic architecture and so divine that it's listed as one of the Seven Wonders in Portugal.
Pena Palace was built 1854 by the creative genius King Ferdinand II as a romantic getaway on the ruins of an old monastery. With its yellow and pink towers, small turrets, terraces, golden domes, and an exciting architecture mix which combines Gothic, Moorish, Manueline and Renaissance elements it is a truly dramatic sight.
Second, if Pena Palace is not on your bucket list, it totally should be. Pena Palace is so wonderfully extravagant, fun, quirky and gorgeous. It can make anyone happy with just a look at it. It's a fairytale come true.
Third, don't mind my outfit changes in this post. I took all photos the same day, but I had a yellow jacket with me, a red kimono and a cute sweater (all bought in Cascais), to be able to quickly change my look and step up my Instagram game.
Discover the Majestic Pena Park
Surrounding Pena Palace is the majestic Pena Park, filled with trees and exotic plants from all around the world. There's palm trees, eucalyptus trees, tall Redwood trees and probably all the different kinds of trees you can name (unless you can name over 500 different species of trees).
Furthermore, the gorgeous park with more than 200 hectares has ponds, fountains, giant statues, waterfalls, and many other surprises. You might even spot the swans circling their castle in the lake.
Pena Palace's Interior is Just as Lavish as the Exterior
Hello, gorgeousness! Oh, how boring “normal” rooms feel like in comparison to Pena Palace's interior. The details inside the palace are breathtaking. I tried to be quite quick inside as I wanted to explore as much as possible in a day. But really, you could spend hours just admiring all this extravaganza.
The Victorian and Edwardian-style rooms are decorated with precious ornaments, lavish furnishing, and priceless porcelain, preserved just as the royal family left them.
MORE CASTLES & PALACES in SINTRA
Behold, Quinta da Regaleira
We only drove past Quinta da Regaleira, but even seeing it through the car window took my breath away. This 20th-century estate with gothic turrets, towers, and carved gargoyles is stunning. It was constructed in 1904 by Carvalho Monteiro, a wealthy Portuguese businessman who gave the residence the local name of “Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire.”
Surrounding the gothic palace is enchanting luxuriant gardens, tunnels, lakes, hidden caves, fountains and mythological creatures.
Trust me, this will be the first place I visit whenever I get the opportunity to explore Sintra again.
Explore the Exotic Monserrate Palace & Park
Not very far from Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, is another gorgeous, and entirely different castle. The exotic Monserrate Palace and its rich subtropical gardens.
Once a summer home for Portuguese royalty, the Monserrate Palace now stands as a museum and one of the most beautiful creations of Romantic architecture and landscaping in Portugal. Not only is the gorgeous palace itself worth seeing, but the trail down to the Indian-Moorish-Gothic palácio is stunning. Even in November (when my guide pointed out that it is way more gorgeous in the summer), I found the park and botanical garden absolutely lovely. All the smells, the romantic ruin, waterfalls, and colorful flowers made the afternoon walk incredibly romantic – Even though I was missing my fiance.
The palace interior is equally impressive with all its details.
Discover Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)
With its high fortified stone walls, massive battlements and ramparts are the ruinous Castle of the Moors winding its way along with Sintra's lush mountain range. The Moorish Castle was built as a military fortification in the 8th-9th Century by the Moors, who once occupied much of Portugal. After natural disasters, the castle was destined to be forgotten and permanently ruined. Until 1840, when none other than King Ferdinand II, restored and transformed the Moorish Castle into a romantic ruin and a significant feature of the gardens of the Pena Palace.
I did, unfortunately, not have time to visit Castle of the Moors, but it too is on my bucket list.
Read also: In King Arthur's Footsteps: Discover 9 Legendary Places in Wales
Check Out The National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
With it's two enormous cone-shaped chimneys The National Palace of Sintra, is one of the town's most recognizable landmarks. It is the best-preserved medieval royal palace in Portugal and has been a favorite with the Portuguese nobility. For nearly eight centuries it was inhabited by the Portuguese monarchy and its court.
I didn't have time to visit this palace either, but I've learned that the minimalistic gothic exterior of the palace hides a wonder of exquisitely-decorated staterooms. Just google Sala dos Brasões (“Coat of Arms Room”), and you'll see what I mean. The National Palace of Sintra also houses the most extensive collection of Mudejar azulejos (colored glazed tiles) in the world.
EVEN MORE PALACES & ROYAL-LOOKING THINGS TO SEE IN SINTRA
- Tivoli Palácio de Seteais – a five-star hotel set inside an 18th-century palace
- National Palace of Queluz – an 18th-century mansion outside the city center
- Chalet Garden and the Countess D'Edla – 19th-century house & gardens, built by King Fernando II
- Bear Beach (Praia da Ursa) – This gorgeous wild beach would totally work as a location in Game of Thrones (just saying!)
MORE TIPS FOR A LOVELY TIME IN SINTRA
Stroll Through The Historic Center of Sintra
If you have some spare time, stroll through Sintra's historic center. With its many cobbled streets, outdoor cafes, restaurants, and cute shops the center itself is very charming. Especially as its surrounded by green hills and palaces.
The historic center is also where it's best to find a place to eat if you want a proper meal.
Enjoy Your Lunch Break
And Taste Travesseiros Pastry for Dessert
With so much exploring and walking on the schedule, you need a relaxing lunch break. Don't stress and just enjoy the weather and amazing Portuguese food. Also, to your coffee, you deserve to indulge in one of Sintra's traditional pastries for dessert. The most famous regional sweets are Travesseiros (puff pastry with an almond filling – sooooo yummy!), and Queijadas (cheese tart spiced with cinnamon).
We had lunch at Sintra Central Hotel, in the town center. Our three-course meal was incredible. Everything tasted so much and so fresh. My guide and I were the only ones sitting outside in November. But I thought the weather was really lovely and just had to grab a seat by the cute mosaic wall.
Watch the Sunset at Cape Roca (Cabo da Roca)
The Westernmost Point in Europe
Whether you are in Sintra or Cascais – I think it would be a pity to miss the beautiful Cabo da Roca. It's mainland Europe's westernmost point. It's also a gorgeous sunset spot located in Colares pares in Sintra. Admire the wild and raw coastline, and the charming lighthouse while watching the sun go down over the place “Where the land ends, and the sea begins.”
The Best Way to Get to & Around Sintra
Sintra is a very hilly place, and the castles are quite far from one another. Even though Sintra is only a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, driving is not recommended as parking lots are scarce.
I think the best way to get to and around Sintra is going on a guided tour. You can avoid the long lines at the palaces and, instead, get more time to see the attractions. I would especially recommend going on a tailormade tour so you can decide how much time to spend on each place and what you want to see.
As a solo traveler to Portugal, I went to Sintra on a tailormade tour with the passionate guide Paula from TugaTrips. She made my day the very best and also helped me to take all the photos I wanted, which for me, was invaluable (seriously, I can't thank you enough Paula!).
Other Ways to Get to Sintra
From Lisbon: Sintra is only a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon. The train departs around every 20 minutes from Lisbon's Rossio Station.
From Cascais: You can reach Sintra by bus from Cascais and Estoril with bus 417 or 403.
How to get around in Sintra: Catch the hop-on and hop-off bus in the city center. The hills are steep, but it is also possible to walk/hike between some palaces and castles (in that case I think you should spend more than a day in Sintra to be able to explore at your own pace).
More Than Just a Day Trip from Lisbon
Sintra is often said to be one of the best day trips from Lisbon (and Cascais). But it's so much more than that. There is too much to see and way too few hours in a day. Consider staying at least two nights to be able to explore more of this magical world of palaces and castles.
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I visited Sintra in collaboration with Visit Portugal and Visit Cascais. As always, all opinions are my own.