The short drive from Lisbon to Sintra takes you deep into the feeling of crossing into a different world: a dream-like, fairytale land full of colorful castles, medieval streets, and breathtaking landscapes. A real journey in time!
Sintra, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, is a small town of 375.000 inhabitants located 15 miles away from Lisbon. However, it offers many options to explore. Travelers visiting Sintra will see the largest number of palaces and castles in a single region, surrounded by bewitching views, and they will also enjoy its temperate microclimate.
Of Celtic origin, since the fifteenth century, Sintra became a holiday residence of Portuguese nobles and monarchs due in large part to its natural environment, which was quite suitable for hunting. Although its steep streets force you to exercise your legs (a little) to walk around it, Sintra has a unique charm that makes it one of the most beautiful places in Portugal. Its characteristic architecture, which integrates palaces and gardens, castles and forests perfectly; the natural park surrounding it; the nearby beaches; and the wine produced in the region make it an essential visit if you are in Portugal.
Here we offer you just a few must-sees in Sintra:
The most famous of Sintra castles, the Pena Palace stands out for its exotic colorful architecture, which seems to be out of a fairy tale. You may think you are in Disneyland the first time you lay eyes on it! The building was designed by King Fernando II in the 19th century as an example of Romantic architecture, but it also has clear Arab, Gothic, and Manueline influences.
In addition to the unique, colorful building, on its grounds, there are caves, lakes, and gardens, among others. Besides, the views from the highest hill in the town are dazzling.
Quinta Da Regaleira
The Quinta da Regaleira is the other most beautiful place to see in Sintra, together with the Pena Palace. In this magical and mysterious complex, you will discover secret passages, dark grottoes, hidden waterfalls, a palace and many references to the Templars and Freemasons. This place will certainly activate your adventurous side!
You can start the visit through the garden, full of incredible exotic species, and after discovering all its charming hidden corners, reach the famous Initiation well used by Knights Templar for initiation rituals. Visiting this well full of occult symbols and listening to its stories is like stepping into a mystery book.
The Palace of Monserrate was erected by an English aristocrat named Sir Francis Cook. The architects based the building on the existing ruins of a 16th-century chapel and Neogothic property which the 1755 earthquake had damaged.
The result is an impressive building in Romantic style with evident Arab influence, full of works of art, which was even visited in its time by Lord Byron himself.
Convento Dos Capuchos (Convent of the Capuchos)
In contrast with the luxury of palaces and castles around it, the remnants of this 16th-century monastery make us picture a life of austerity adopted by the Franciscan friars. Abstaining from all worldly pleasures, they lived in the monastery with the absolute minimum of material belongings. Since 1834, nobody has used the cells and chapel, but you can still tour them.
The Castelo dos Mouros or Moorish Castle, is another of the essential places to visit in Sintra. The Arabs built it in the ninth century, and it still retains well-preserved walls with battlements and towers. Among them, the Royal Tower stands out, which allows you to climb to its terrace and enjoy the views of the entire town and the ocean.
If you arrive in Sintra early in the morning, it’s a good idea to do a walking tour of the small, charming old center when it’s still empty of tourists. It has twisting cobblestone streets, narrow stairways, and beautiful churches and contributes to the unforgettable fairytale ambiance of Sintra.
Sintra National Palace
Also known as the Palace of the Village, the National Palace of Sintra was used by the Portuguese Royal family from the 12th century until 1910, when the monarchy ended. At that time, it became a national monument.
It has unique architecture that mixes several styles, such as Gothic, Manueline, Arab, Mudejar, and Renaissance. The result is a huge white palace with several wings connected by beautiful gardens and yards.
Praia Da Ursa Beach
This is certainly one of the most beautiful beaches you can visit, not only in Portugal but in Europe. It’s surrounded by tall cliffs and outcrops, which makes the surf calmer and more pleasant to take a swim. Arriving at the beach is not easy, however, because you have to go down a dirt trail next to the cliff, but it’s certainly worth the effort.
Natural Park of Sintra-Cascais
If you feel a little tired of visiting so many palaces and castles, one of the healthiest things to do in Sintra is to do some hiking route through the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
This natural park, which surrounds the town and extends to the beach of Guincho and Cabo da Roca, presents a great diversity of landscapes and several of the palaces mentioned in this list. These trails that run between impressive oaks, maples, and eucalyptus trees will take you to the Moorish Castle and the Pena Castle, for instance.
The Colares wine region located around Sintra is one of the world’s oldest producing areas, and it’s the second oldest certified wine region in Portugal after the Douro. The Romans introduced the art of making wine here, indicating their expertise in the field. You have to make your visit even better by tasting some wine of the region when you take a break from walking around Sintra.
Cabo Da Roca
If you are in Sintra, you will certainly visit beautiful Lisbon, as it is only 15 miles away. Apart from the amazing old town in the capital and all its gastronomic and cultural gems, you can’t miss a trip to Cabo da Roca. This beach is located at the westernmost point of continental Europe, and it impresses with its 140-meters high cliffs and the waves crashing against the rocks.