Ask anyone for a day trip suggestion from Lisbon and one town will undoubtedly come up, every time. Sintra. What's there you wonder? To sum it up, castles. More castles than you can even see in one day.
From Lisbon, it's easy to get to Sintra on a direct train from the Rossio Station. Trains leave every 20 minutes or so, making it easy to show up and catch the next train. The thing to know (that we didn't realize) is when you go up to the self-service machine, you can only buy one set of round-trip tickets at a time because the machine puts them on a "Viva Viagem" card that can't be shared among travelers. (In other words, don't buy 4 single trips at once because you won't be able to use it between two people - buy 2 rides, pay, and buy 2 more.) Or you can always go to the ticket window alternatively.
When arriving in Sintra, there are a few options of how to get to the different attractions. A few companies offer hop-on hop-off tourist buses that are overpriced. What you want is to look for public bus 434, which you can take for €5 to do the Pena circuit, and hop-on hop-off at all the big tourist sites. From the train station, exit and make a right to find the pick-up point. The walk to downtown Sintra where the Sintra National Palace and all the shops/restaurants is a short and relatively flat one, but the other castles are not close and involve lots of hill climbing (and sans sidewalks on a road full of big tour buses). The €5 was worth it for me! (Take a look at the sintra-portugal.com site for more on the bus.)
If you take the bus, the first stop brings you to the National Palace of Sintra and the second drops you off near the Quinta da Regaleira gardens and estate. We saved those for the end of the day and continued on to our first castle of the day: the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros).
The morning was ominous so we chose this as our first stop since it was the only castle we planned to see that involved being outdoors most of the visit. The fog did create a mysterious ambiance.
Unfortunately the limited visibility also meant we couldn't see the supposed beautiful view of the Pena Palace, or the ocean off in the distance. But we enjoyed walking through an over-a-thousand-year old castle even without the views.
Castle #2 on our list was the most famous one, the Pena Palace (Palácio Nacional da Pena). A relatively new palace (and an absolute baby compared to the Moorish Castle), this palace was built by King Ferdinand in the mid-1800's. The king hired a German architect to build the castle on the grounds of a former monastery that was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1755, leaving it in ruins.
King Ferdinand was known as the "Artist-King," whose creativity immediately showed as we started to walk around the fanciful castle. Check out the above picture on the left - this depicts the allegorical creation of the world, perched over a gateway.
The last palace of the day was the National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra).
This palace is older than the Pena Palace. What you can see today comes from the 15th century during the reign of King João I. It is the oldest surviving palace in Portugal.
By the time we arrived around 4pm, the palace had emptied out. We walked through much of it completely alone, enjoying the palace to ourselves.
Thankfully by the end of our visit in the last palace, the weather seemed to be holding up enough to make one more outdoor site. I'm so glad we were able to go, because this last stop turned out to be our favorite of the day. It was the Quinta da Regaleira.
The estate is nicknamed the "Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire" after its wealthy owner Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. The estate was built in the early 20th century, and was worth a quick peek. But the real part of the visit that intrigued us the most were the fantastical gardens.
Take this grotto for instance. We walked through the Grotto of the East (see below) to get to the next place of interest...
...where we found ourselves standing at the bottom of the Initiatic Well.
Exploring these gardens was such an adventure. I would rate these imaginative gardens and the theatrical Pena Palace as must-sees in Sintra!
And besides the must-sees, of course I have a must-eat suggestion. The pastry specialty of Sintra are its Travesseiros de Sintra. Travesseiro means "pillow," and these delicious dough pillows are filled with an almond and egg cream. Thankfully I read about this food tip thanks to the Salt of Portugal, and didn't miss this wonderful pastry. Plus our break at Piriquita-Antiga Fábrica de Queijadas for sweets and espresso gave us the energy boast we needed to power through the rest of the afternoon in Sintra, and hold us over until the return to Lisbon.
After our day trip here, I can now see why Sintra always comes up as the day trip to do from Lisbon. Don't miss this magical, royal town!
PLAN YOUR TRIP:
STOP: and eat here -
Rua Padarias 1/7, 2710-603 Sintra, Portugal
Open daily, 9:00am-9:00pm
See more on this shop's famous pastries at the Salt of Portugal's blog post, which inspired me.
2710 Sintra, Portugal
Open daily from 9:30am-8:00pm, last ticket sold at 7:00pm
Admission: Adults (18- 64 yrs) €7.50 / Youth (6 – 17 yrs) €6 / Seniors (over 65 yrs) €6.50 (prices as of June 2014)
Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal
Open daily from 9:45am-7:00pm, last ticket sold at 6:15pm (parkis open 9:30am-8:00pm)
Admission (Prices shown for Park/Palace option): Adults (18- 64 yrs) €14 / Youth (6 – 17 yrs) €11 / Seniors (over 65 yrs) €12.50 (prices as of June 2014)
Largo Rainha Dona Amélia, 2710-616 Sintra, Portugal
Open daily from 9:30am-7:00pm, last ticket sold at 6:30pm
Admission: Adults (18- 64 yrs) €9.50 / Youth (6 – 17 yrs) €7.50 / Seniors (over 65 yrs) €8.50 (prices as of June 2014)
***Note that if you plan to see all three of the above sites, there is a combo ticket - Admission for all three is as follows: Adults (18- 64 yrs) €26.50 / Youth (6 – 17 yrs) €20.50 / Seniors (over 65 yrs) €23 / Family (2 adults, 2 youths) €86
2710-567 Sintra, Portugal
Open daily from 10:00am, see website for closing times depending upon the season (High season April-Sept it closes at 8:00pm)
Admission for an unguided visit: Adults €6 / Students (15 yrs+) €4 / Children (9-14 yrs) €3 / Seniors (over 65 yrs) €4 / Family rate €18 (prices as of June 2014)