Sintra’s palaces and castles: a must-do daytrip from Lisbon. Visit this small village hidden in a cool majestic pine forest about 40 kilometers from Lisbon and step into a fairytale. Definitely worth a visit. Discover in this blog two palaces we visited and how we got there.
One of Portugal’s highlights and only about 40 kilometers from Lisbon: Sintra’s palaces and castles. Hidden in a cool majestic pine forest you find exotic gardens, glittering palaces, extravagant villa’s and colorful manors connected by narrow, winding roads. It’s like stepping in a fairytale. And once you visited one or more of Sintra’s palaces, head back along the coast for some mighty views on the Atlantic from Cabo de la Roca (see my next blog).
We just went for one day to Sintra, enough to enjoy two of the highlights: Peena Palace (or the Palacio Nacional da Pena) and Quinta da Regaleira and have a short stroll through the village. There is much more to see, such as the Palacio National da Sintra, the oldest palace in Portugal housing a collection that spans Portugal’s entire history, located in the heart of the village but if you only have one day, you have to make choices.
Palacio Nacional da Pena or Pena Palace
We started our morning in the Peena palace, considered as the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal, the jewel in the crown of the Sintra Hills. The palace has it all: rising majestically on a hilltop, towers in bright red and yellow, glittering mosaics, colorful tiles, arches and Moorish keyholes set in a romantic garden with tropical plants, redwoods and lakes. The inside of the castle reflects the royal living in 1910 and is pretty eclectic and extravagant too with colorful murals, Portugese-style furniture and a telephone room.
We spent about two hours wandering in and around the castle and then walked up High Cross, the highest point in the Sintra Hills standing 528 metres in altitude and correspondingly providing the most wonderful views out over Lisbon and Cascais, to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the rural hinterland to the north. And to see a glimpse of the yellow-red shining castle itself, at least when the weather is good.
We liked the castle but to be honest, didn’t think it was that special.
Quinta da Regaleira
The highlight of our Sintra day was rather the Quinta da Regaleira, a neo-Manueline neo-gothic extravaganza. We visited the surreal and mysterious mansion and gardens and it felt like stepping in another world.
The villa itself is not so big but beautiful, inside and outside. It’s neo-gothic style with elaborate stone carvings and gargoyles. Only the ground floor is open to the public, housing a.o. the King’s room and a hunting room. The real highlights are the magnificent gardens and the small buildings scattered throughout it, sometimes connected by hidden caves and underground tunnels. The whole places breathes mysticism and romanticism topped by mythological and Knights Templar symbols. There is an exquisite little chapel with symbols of the Nights Templar and the Knights of Christ, a God’s promenade with statutes depicting the classical gods and the magnificent Portal of the Guardians with its central structure flanked by two towers. The highlight is the Initiation well, the Poco Iniciatico plunging down about 27 meters. You walk down the nine-tiered spiral to mysterious hollowed-out underground galleries, lit by fairy lights topped by esoteric and alchemical symbols. There are footpaths wriggling through the dense foliage, grottoes, lakes, … set in beautiful surroundings and special trees such as the cork tree and sequoia’s. We spent a couple of hours exploring the park. At the time of our visit, there were not a lot of visitors, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the peacefulness and quietness and take pictures.
How did we get there?
We chose the ‘easy’ way. We went on a private tour with a driver. Not so obvious to find, since most of the tours offer group day trips. Also, we experienced that a lot of taxi drivers don’t speak English so even if they give you their card, it’s nearly impossible to explain over the phone in English what exactly you want.
We finally ended up with Specialimo Travel Group, a private taxi company which provided a very good service and an English speaking driver with excellent knowledge on the visited monuments. The driver drove us to Sintra, dropped us off at the various places and then took us via Cabo da Roca and Cascais back to Lisbon. Why we didn’t go to Sintra with public transport? In short, too much hassle from Trafaria:
- Sintra’s official website recommends public transport. There are plenty of trains from Lisbon train station, but this meant for us an additional connection since we didn’t stay in Lisbon center. If you do, it’s probably the easiest way. In Sintra however, you have to take public transport. The buses drive in a loop on regular hours and although it seems to be organized very well, it would take us a lot of time to go from one to another place and fit everything in one day. On top, you cannot visit Cabo da Roca then, which we also wanted to do.
- Renting a car looked was more expensive and on top, it’s advised not to drive in Sintra itself. Private cars are not allowed in Sintra and even if you would do so, the roads are very narrow and winding and there is no parking space.This meant parking the car near Sintra’s station and from there, take public transport. The same would be the case if taking an Uber.
- The cost of booking a day trip was for the six of us higher then this package
- If you also want to visit Cabo de la Roca (see my next blog), the most western point of mainland Europe, you need to go by car or an organized tour.
You can find a lot of information on