Once more like for the past years three years on the row, we returned to the beautiful city of Lisbon to spend the weekend. This time with the intention of spending Saturday for touring the world famous palaces and castles of Sintra, listed by UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. And knowing us how special we are when talking about visiting UNESCO sites, this was a must we could not resist. After all, we’ve been to Lisbon before and visited everything so we need new places to go and still enjoy another time what is one of the most beautiful and historical capital cities in Europe.
The distance between Lisbon and Sintra is only 30 kilometres, making it extremely easy and convenient to reach by public transportation. Sintra is, anyway, one of the most visited attractions in the whole of Portugal, with hordes of tourists pretty much all year round, yet thankfully during the winter months you can save you from the rivers of people and enjoy the place more quietly than during high season months. Anyone visiting Portugal on a tour will surely come here as a day trip from Lisbon. But you do not need to be on a guided tour whatsoever, I strongly recommend you to come if you are visiting Lisbon for more than 3 days.
It takes a day to visit all the sites in Sintra, hence why it works great to include it whenever you plan to spend more than 3 days in Lisbon, or if you are a returning traveller to the capital as we are. You could, however, spend more time since the beautiful Atlantic beaches are only 12 kilometres from the centre of Sintra! And what is best, both the city and the beach are connected by a historical tram line that takes around 45 minutes to complete. While if during winter months you can easily take this in consideration, during summer months the vast number of people wanting to do this will turn in hours of queue for the rather infrequent trams. A bus instead, does the very same route, just in case.
On this occasion we did not go with the idea of reaching the beach and the westernmost point in Continental Europe, Cabo da Roca. After all, it was only February and the weather was not really with us this weekend, therefore not an option. Perhaps for another occasion during summer months and being able to, errr, enjoy? or not enjoy? the frigid waters of the Atlantic.
The day was great, even the weather was terribly bad. Raining most of the time, luckily not much yet still annoying enough to have an umbrella, but the worst was the very low clouds covering from the city of Sintra up in the hills. Not possible to see the castle from the city, nor any views from the top of the castle. In any case, it could have been much worst, and the fog itself added character and other point of view in beauty to the palaces and castles. Definitely not need to mention, another visit to Sintra will come soon when better weather.
For more information about Sintra check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency of Portugal is the Euro. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Sintra
In order as the tourist bus comes from the train station to Sintra’s loop are
- National Palace The former Royal Palace of Sintra, built in Gothic style on the site of the old Moorish castle in the 15th century, has been in constant use since then until 1910 with the fall of the monarchy, when Queen Amélia spent her last night in Portugal before fleeing to Brazil at the start of the revolution. The chimneys above the kitchens are an iconic sight on their own. 10 Euros to enter.
- Castelo dos Mouros The Moorish Castle dates from the 9th century, fallen into disrepair until the 19th century. The views form the top of the city below, valley and castles and palaces nearby are truly worth it. 8 Euros to enter.
- Palacio da Pena The landmark number one in Sintra, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1842 upon wishes of Portuguese King Ferdinand II who wanted to have an unique design, it fusions styles ranging from North African Islamic, Gothic medieval or eclectic. Don’t miss the beautiful garden from where you will get the best views of the entire Palace. 14 Euros to enter.
Other attractions in the area
- Monserrate Palace Is the smallest and least visited of the Sintra palaces. Built in the 19th century was the favourite summer retreat of the Royal Family. It is a superb example of Indian Moghul inspired style. The classical British gardens houses exotic plants from Francis Cook’s personal collection. It is accessible by bus number 435 from Sintra Train Station, from the same bus stop where the 434 tourist loop bus departs. 8 Euros to enter.
- Quinta da Regaleira A 19th century Gothic styled mansion built for one of the richest man of Portugal. The main attraction are the gardens with their elaborate tunnel system.
Farther away to the coast
- Praia das Maçãs It is Europe’s most westerly holiday resort. Accessible by the historic tram that runs Friday to Sunday during low season, daily during high season, at a frequency of around every 50 minutes. It takes 45 minutes for the 12 kilometres route with tickets costing 2 Euros per way. An alternative to the tram is bus 441 doing the very same route as the tram. Both tram and bus depart from outside the Museum of Modern Art
At only 30 kilometres from downtown Lisbon, it is one of the easiest cities to commute from by frequent trains or buses. We took the Linha de Sintra from Oriente Station. Please note that you can also get on a train from Rossio Station in the historic city centre of Lisbon. It takes 45 minutes to Sintra, the last stop along the line, with return tickets costing only 4.30 Euros. To reach Oriente Station take the nearest metro from wherever you are in Lisbon and will be a short ride, probably involving some change of lines in between. Nothing too complicated, there are only 4 metro lines in Lisbon.
Once you arrive in Sintra, you can either make your way up on foot from the train station towards the centre of the city and then the castles and palaces, or for a way better option (totally recommended), take the bus 434 from the train station. This is a one way circle bus heading, in order of direction to: town centre of Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio da Pena. It costs 5 Euros and you can hop-on hop-off whenever you want along the route for as many times you wish.
Should you wish to go the Monserrate Palace which is the farthest of the sites around, you will need to get bus number 435 from Sintra Train Station, from the same bus stop where the 434 tourist circle bus departs.
As for getting to Praia das Maçãs, then as mentioned above in the previous section, accessible by the historic tram that runs Friday to Sunday during low season, daily during high season, at a frequency of around every 50 minutes. It takes 45 minutes for the 12 kilometres route with tickets costing 2 Euros per way. An alternative to the tram is bus 441 doing the very same route as the tram. Both tram and bus depart from outside the Museum of Modern Art.
Since we came to Sintra as day trip from our base in Lisbon, I cannot say anything about accommodation in the area. This is in any case, a place for day-trippers, with almost any tourist having their base in Lisbon or along the tourist resorts in the coast. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
For accommodation in Lisbon, being this the 3rd time we come I can describe here and strongly recommend the following hotels we’ve been so far:
- DoubleTree by Hilton Fontana Park, Rua Engenheiro Vieira da Silva 2. The nearest metro station is Picoas, and yet again, as for the other previous hotels we’ve been in the city, matter of meters away from the central Avenida Liberdade and as such, walking distance to the entire new and old town. This was by all means the best hotels we’ve been so far in Lisbon, and will definitely not hesitate in trying to stay here the next time. Beautiful rooms, spotless in every sense, nice and caring stuff at all the times, and a very large breakfast, nothing to compare to the other hotels.
- 3K Madrid Hotel, in Rua Conde Redondo 24. It was much more simpler hotel than the one we were the year before, but still nice and centrally located, walking distance from the main streets (Avenida Liberdade 2 minutes away) and the historical old centre. While the room was basic, it was very comfortable bed and quiet room, the most important we are looking in any hotel. Also the breakfast was OK, nothing too special but good enough to start the day.
- Real Parque, in Av Luis Bivar. The nearest metro station is Sao Sebastiao (direct from Airport). From the hotel you are minutes away from the main park and avenue (Liberdade) therefore a good and easy way to start your touring around. It was a great decission, ncie hotel, very clean large room, comfortable with great staff and nice breakfast. Around the corner from many restaurants, shops and the central avenues.