Sintra, a town in the foothill of the mountains, was my big pull to Portugal, after seeing a school friend post pictures of the infamous Pena Palace on Facebook. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to the picture perfect shots but actually, it far surpassed them. Sintra was certainly my favourite stop on our Portugal stop and I’m so glad we decided to turn it into an overnight stay, we couldn’t have seen everything if we hadn’t!
We got a 10am train from the central Rossio station in Lisbon and was pulling up at Sintra station 40 minutes later. The journey cost just 2.20 euros, making it excellent value.
Our first stop of our trip was our Hostel, the Nice Way Sintra Hostel. We had a private bedroom with en suite with windows that allowed us views to the rolling hills of Sintra, which cost us £50 for the night, which we found great value. There was a large communal garden and sitting room too, which although we didn’t get time to enjoy, looked really funky.
We decided to make our first stop of the day Quinta De Regaleira, a UNESCO site, which has one of the most fascinating gardens I’ve ever seen. The current palace was completed by 1910, with an architecture that reflected the owners interest in entomology, alchemy and masonry. The entry was 6 euros which is so worth it.
It’s important to give yourself the time to explore the gardens properly as there are all kinds of little bridges, turrets, fountains and staircases to explore. It totally regresses you back to childhood!
One of the most famous features of the garden is the initiation well, used for ceremonial purposes, that contains an amazing spiral staircase. The bottom of the well can be reached by an interesting system of underground tunnels which makes it all the more exciting. I would recommend starting at the bottom and heading upwards rather than the other way around.
We did also take time to look around the actual palace which had lots of very intricate features to enjoy, it certainly had some impressive doorways! We ended up leaving after about 2 hours exploring, although to be honest a whole day could easily be spent here!
We did walk to the Seteais Palace, a neoclassical palace that now serves as a hotel. There was a lovely arch but we didn’t venture any further than that as there appeared to be some kind of event going on.
A morning of palaces had left us hungry so we headed to Tascantiga, where we had a reservation. They had some really interesting tapas choices and it was all absolutely wonderful. The meal came to 36 euros, with 6 tapas to share, wine and beer. I’d absolutely recommend booking yourself in, I loved it.
We decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and go over to Monserrate Palace, using bus 435 which runs from the centre to the Palace. It was pretty late in the day by this point, about 4.30pm, but the Palace was open until 7pm. Monserrate is a bit out of the way compared to the other Palaces and this, combined with our late visit, meant we had the whole place practically to ourselves.
Monserrate turned out to be my favourite Palace of Sintra. The gardens were luscious and green, with amazing views, serene waterfalls and cute stepping-stones. The 8 euro entry fee is worth it for what you’ll encounter in the garden alone.
The actual palace blew my mind though, the Islamic architecture is not something I’ve come across before so it set it apart from everything I’ve seen. In 1809 Lord Byron visited the ruins of Monserrate and fell so in love with it that he wrote about its beauty, catching the eye of a wealthy English merchant who turned the ruins into the stunning palace standing today.
That night we headed out for a burger at Caldo Entornado, which was really yummy and good value. We got 2 big burgers, sangria, milkshakes, lemonades and it still came to less than 25 euros. We then collapsed into bed absolutely exhausted!
The next day we got up early, walked into the centre and then caught the 434 bus to Pena Palace, where we were at the doors ready for when it opened at 9.30am. We’d prebought our tickets online beforehand and this whole process really helped us beat the crowds.
Pena Palace is a national monument and sits atop a hill, in all its yellow glory. Completed in 1854 it was used as a royal summer residence and is even now used by the President for state occasions.
As well as take in the bright colours from outside you can head inside the palace where you can wander from room to room where you can see some amazing stuccos, beautiful chandeliers and general finery.
We pretty much whizzed through Pena and ended up being there for just over an hour. As we left the main house the area outside was considerably busier and there was now a big queue to enter the house. As we left the grounds we were shocked at the huge queues that had formed outside and pleased we’d managed to beat them!
From Pena we walked to the Moorish Castle, which was an easy 20 minute stroll downhill. These castle ruins offer amazing views and is a bit different to the other palaces that Sintra offer. It is also an 8 euro entry.
It certainly takes an able body to be able to climb around the ruins and we found it was blowing quite a breeze which made it even more difficult to get around but we enjoyed walking around, especially as the place was empty due to everyone making their way to Pena instead!
We jumped on the 434 bus stop, outside the castle entrance, and that was absolutely packed due to everyone heading uphill to Pena. 10 minutes later the bus stopped back at Pena, everyone got off and we were left the only ones on the bus for the drive back to town.
We finished our Sintra trip off with a beautiful meal at Taberna Criativa. We had a set lunch menu, which was 12 euros for 3 courses, a drink and coffee. Such exceptional value for such high quality food. The setting was wonderful and it was a perfect end to our perfect trip.
We’d so enjoyed Sintra but I think a large part of that was structuring our itinerary in a way that beat the crowds. I don’t think these palaces would have been half as enjoyable if we’d had to tussle with other tourists the whole time so that’s something to bear in mind when planning your trip to Sintra. We averaged 20,000 steps a day whilst in Sintra and it’s certainly a tiring place to get around, with a lot of hills and it’s attractions widely spaced apart so whilst planning make sure you know how you’re getting around.