On a time-tight holiday, we took two days to explore the historic hub of Sintra where there’s lots to see and do. We managed to get the main sights ticked off but it’s a dreamlike town you could spend weeks exploring. It’s easy to reach from Lisbon or from Paco d’Arcos where we were staying (you can read more about Lisbon here).
Sintra was the first ‘Cultural Landscape’ in Europe as defined by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). There’s no shortage of incredible palaces, castles and estates to visit, all with their own charisma and hidden wonders.
Here are our top three must-sees for a flying stopover.
1. Castelo dos Mouros (Moors Castle) Sintra
Climbing up to the castle offered some amazing views through winding paths and woodland. You can cheat and take a tuk-tuk but the climb is definitely worth it. It takes about an hour by foot from the town at the bottom.
The castle dates back to the 8th century, it was built during the early days of Moorish occupation. It stands guard at an impressive 1378 ft and has an interesting history of invasion and conquest. The views are incredible and you can also see Pena Palace (see more below) from its tower walls.
Make sure you’ve worn study footwear for the day, it’s lots of walking and you need to be able to climb up and down a lot of steps!
2. Pena Palace, Palacio da Pena
The palace is one of the most incredible buildings we’ve ever visited. The colours are instantly breathtaking and the surrounding grounds are just as impressive. While the castle is the main attraction, there are also picturesque valleys and well kept gardens to stroll through if the queues get too long.
The tour of the palace itself can be a little slow as it’s a one-way system but the inside is just as grand as the outside and worth the wait. There’s also a wall walk around the outside of the palace, giving more widespread views of Sintra. As one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, Pena Palace is a beautiful expression of 19th Century Romanticism.
3. Quinta da Regalia
Saving the best ’til last, this was the highlight of our trips to Sintra. It’s a wonderland and a place you want to tell everyone about. It’s a mixture of forest, amazing architecture and caves. The grounds hold a gothic-esque palace and chapel, as well as two initiation wells. These ‘inverted towers’ wind down to underground tunnels which lead you to a waterfall and stepping stones over a miniature lake. Enough of us trying to explain…
So there you have it, our top three of Sintra. If you have more time to explore, keep a look out for Palácio de Seteais, Palácio de Monserrate, Palácio Nacional de Sintra and Vila Sassetti for some more incredible architecture.
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