Travel, Weekend Unexplored
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Weekend Unexplored: Sintra, Portugal

During our stay in Lisbon, locals insisted that we must visit Sintra before we left Portugal. Since we were staying in Cascai, we added Sintra to our itinerary. Both locations are within one hour drive from Lisbon and have a completely different taste of Portugal from what we’ve experienced in Lisbon. In this post, we will recount our experience  and the recommendations that we received from the locals.

Sintra is a small town on the Estoril Coast of Portugal and located only 28km away from Lisbon. Sintra is a 25 minute drive from the airport and 45 minutes train ride from Lisbon. This small town could easily fit into a fantasy land with its palaces dotting along the hills and peeping out under the thick forest. There are many fantastic castles and estates located within this small town that are listed below:

Pena Palace – This palace is a cross between Gaudi’s creation in Barcelona and Disneyland. It was built in the mid-19th century on the site of the former monastery by the king consort, Dom Fernando II, as the summer palace for the royal family.

Moorish Castle – This castle was built in the 10th century by the Moors to defend Sintra. This castle is situated high above the town so it is easy to spot at many vantage points throughout the town.

Regaleria Palace – This palace originated in 1697. In 1982 Carvalho Moneiro purchased the palace and grounds and hired Luigi Manini to design the current layout. This palace is a combination of renaissance and gothic architecture. There are numerous paths and a grotto in the gardens for guests to explore.  It was our favorite site in Sintra!

National Palace and Gardens – This is the former royal palace of Sintra that became the summer residence of the royal family in the 16th century. There are two conical chimneys at the palace that one can see from other parts of the city.

Monserrate Palace and Park – This is a 19th century estate with Portuguese, Arabian and Indian architecture styles. The estate also has a large garden with plant species from around the world.

We only had a few hours to visit Sintra due to the inclement weather. Sintra is a destination where most of the attractions are outdoors, and the weather plays a large part in the itinerary. We took a cab from Cascai to Sintra, a distance of 20km and 25 minute car ride. (Taxi contact info at the bottom of the page) Due to the short window of decent weather, our cab driver insisted that we only visit the Pena Palace, the Regaleria Palace, the National Palace and the town center. These three palaces will take at least 4 hours to visit. The Moorish Castle was on our list to see but our cab driver noted that the only thing worth doing there is to walk along the walls of the castle. We decided to skip the Moorish Castle as we just did that at Castello St. Jorge in Lisbon. We kept seeing the Moorish Castle high above Sintra and it was especially medieval toward nightfall as the fog rolled in.

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the Moorish Castle at the top of the hill

We started our day at the colorful Pena Palace. The tickets can be purchased at the entrance but the tickets do not include tram ride to the top of a hill where the castle is located. The full access ticket (Castle and Park) is 14 euros for an adult. You will need to pay a few more euros to take the tram to the top. We elected to walk up the hill which took approximately 30 minutes and through the park. Once we reached the entrance, we were in awe of the colorful castle with its many towers. It looked like we just stepped into the Magic Kingdom. The fun part of this castle is being able to walk around the various towers and ramparts and to see the sweeping view of the Sintra and the surrounding forest. The palace also has furnished interiors with a full kitchen that have been mostly untouched since 1910. Overall, we spent two hours exploring this castle on the hill and could have stayed longer if we had time.

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We hopped into a tut tut and raced our way to the Regaleria Palace for approximately 20 euros. You can also wait for a taxi or bus if you have time to spare. Upon arriving at this palace, we were struck by the elegant architecture and the surrounding gardens. There were numerous grottos and walkways in the “maze like” garden that took you from a beautiful romantic chapel to a Gothic watch tower into a clandestine cave. This was our favorite palace and we spent the majority of our time here.

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We then headed back to Sintra town center and walked around the small side streets.

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We did not have time to explore the interiors of the National Palace, but we did get to see the exteriors of the modern palace. After visiting Lisbon historical sites, the Pena Palace and the Regaleria Palaces, the National Palace did not stand out for us. If we had time, we would have visited the simpler National Palace first before making our way to the Pena Palace.

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outside of the National Palace


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National Palace from the hills

Our cab driver told us to visit the Café Pastelaria Piriquita for the famous pastries as it is the best bakery and café in town. This particular café is famous for selling Sintra’s specialties, travesseiro and queijada (cheese tart). The place was bustling and we welcomed the much needed café, sweets, and rest for our weary feet.

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Once we rested enough, we made our way on foot back to the Sintra train station to get a taxi. It was a nice way to explore the rest of the town as the walk took approximately 20 minutes. We headed back to Cascai for a seafood dinner at the delicious Restaurante O Pescador that was recommended to us by a Cascai resident.

Despite the weather, we had a memorable time visiting Sintra. It gave us the provincial old town feel which is the opposite of the modern city vibe of Lisbon. We highly recommend planning one day of your visit to Portugal to explore this magical town.

*We used the taxi service from Luis Costa Pereira twice and they are fantastic. The price is fair and the service is great. You can also use them to pick up from the airport as well. Email: costinha.on.the.fun@gmail.com / +351 96 153 03 76

Author: Chau Hoang

For related articles, visit the TRAVEL page.

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