Portugal

Finding Magic in Sintra, Portugal

On an autumn trip to Lisbon, I was determined to visit Sintra, Portugal.

We loved Lisbon and were worried about having enough time to fully explore the city, but were also infatuated with photos we saw of Sintra.

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Never heard of Sintra?

It’s a cute village surrounded by rolling hills and craggy mountainside near the coast. It’s one of Portugal’s most visited spots, for good reason. Some of the area’s history can be traced back to early civilisation- think: the Romans.

Located about 45 minutes from Lisbon via train, if you have the flexibility in travel, I’d recommend spending two days there to really see the best of the region.

On the day we visited, we got a later start than planned because it was raining and we just wanted to relax. Even though we only had about 4 hours in Sintra when all was said/done, it still felt like plenty of time to see two castles and enjoy the town.

From the Rossio Train Station, we paid €4.50 for a return train ticket and went to wait for our train. Check the train schedules before you head to the station so you’re not waiting 30 minutes for a train like we were 😉 

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If you’re short on time like we were, I’d recommend prioritising a visit to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. Both are within walking distance of each other- ~10-15 minutes apart.

From town, we took an Uber (€5) to the gates of Pena Palace and decided to start there. There are also tuk tuks, taxis and buses, or you could hike to the top.

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Pena Palace is an eccentric castle, designated a UNESCO World heritage site. A colourful castle situated on top of a hill, I was transfixed by the vibrant exterior and intricate tiles.

The castle was built by Ferdinand II after he acquired the land in the 19th Century with the intent to build a summer palace for the royal family.

Visiting Pena Palace on a foggy day was incredible- it would have been great to see the views of the surrounding mountains, but there was also something so magical about the low visibility- it felt like we were floating in a cloud forest.

Pena is pretty big- it’d be easy to spend a half day at the castle and exploring the gardens/forest alone.

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Next up, we walked to the Moorish castle. I believe there’s also a bus you could take, but short on time, we decided to walk since it wasn’t far.

Castle of the Moors dates back to the North African Moors, perched high above the city to overlook and safeguard the town of Sintra. In the 16th Century, the castle started to decay from neglect. Today, it offers one of the region’s best views.

Walking along the medieval ruins of the Moorish castle felt like we were high above the clouds in a completely different world. We couldn’t see much of the surrounding hillside or town below, sans breaks in the cloud cover, but that almost made the experience better- more ethereal. 

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On our way back to town, we decided to Uber again – although the downhill walk would likely have been 20 minutes and totally doable. We wanted to see a bit of the town before hopping on a train back to the city.

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If I’m ever back in Sintra, I’d love to see Quinta da Regaleira, a castle famed for its stunning gardens.

Have you ever been to Sintra? Would you take a day trip there from Lisbon?

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