It’s no exaggeration to say that Sintra feels straight out of a fairy tale. The lush nature and whimsically-tinged historic structures dance together for a truly perfect experience. What’s more, located along the train-line between Lisbon and Sintra is the gorgeous Quelez Palace, an attraction that deserves two to three hours of your time.
While I only went to Sintra for a day-trip from Lisbon, I could see how there would be enough beauty and activities to justify an overnight excursion. If you receive no other takeaways from this blog post, remember this: Sintra is a must-see destination!
What is Sintra
A town celebrated for its beautiful 19th Century Romantic architectural stylings, Sintra partners castles with lush forestry. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is easy to reach from Lisbon via train, and shuttles spare visitors the exhaustion of climbing large hills to reach attractions such as the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. It also frees travelers from the stress of driving the windy, crowded streets. While tour groups can clog up the sidewalks, an early start to the day will make avoiding them much easier.
Things About Sintra To Do and Love
Quinta da Regaleira: Quinta da Regaleira is not as widely celebrated as other attractions in Sintra, but it deserves top praise. The small palace somehow appears to be both haunted yet elegant, and the interior is quite pleasant.
However, the real treasure is found outside the walls. Stone towers, tunnels, and walls nestle amongst the thick greenery and flowers to create a wonderland.
Make sure to check out highlights like the chapel, Leda’s Cave, and the WONDERFUL Initiation Well.
The Moorish Castle: For a spectacular panoramic view and agreeable, crowd-free jaunt, visit the Castle of the Moors. Originally built in the 8th and 9th Century (though it has received more recent makeovers), this attraction combines attractive aesthetics, history and verdant nature for a wonderful experience.
We went in the morning when there was a light fog; while it did obstruct our view of the surrounding region a bit, the lack of crowds and the magical effect of the mist was well worth it.
Exploring the Town: Exploring the town by foot should not be missed. You will pass craftsmen selling goods, upscale restaurants and shops, and beautiful greenery, including this charming waterfall that resides right alongside a sidewalk.
Yes, the vendors and eating establishments cater to tourists, but this does not detract from the fun you can have walking up and down the pedestrian-only paths.
Bonus – Palace of Queluz: The award for the most positive surprise of my trip to Portugal is, hands-down, the Palace of Queluz. This is technically not in Sintra; it’s located in the community of Queluz, but it’s easily accessible from the train line that runs between Lisbon and Sintra. I deeply implore all travelers to visit this attraction either to or from Sintra. Travelers should dedicate a minimum of two hours here in order to explore the expansive gardens and large palace. To learn more, check out my full review of the Palace of Queluz.
Things Slightly Less Exciting About Sintra
Pena Palace: This palace is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. However, the most beautiful views of its architecture are seen from the air. Up-close-and-personal, visitors really lose the ability to absorb the medley of colors of textures. What’s more, the interior is charming but underwhelming, especially when compared to the Palace of Queluz. I would still recommend visiting the Pena Palace if it wasn’t for the crowds.
As the most iconic structure in Sintra, Pena Palace is swarmed by wave after wave of tourist groups. If you go during warmer months, you WILL be herded and shoved, and it WILL be unpleasant. However, if you believe that no trip to Sintra would be complete without stepping foot in Pena Palace, still visit this attraction to draw your own conclusions.
Higher costs, especially for souviniers: The touristy part of Sintra will have higher prices compared to other destinations in Portugal. However, consider that the country’s cost-of-living is significantly reduced in comparison to major US cities and other parts Western Europe. A meal and snack in Sintra won’t bleed your wallet dry, but skip the temptation to buy trinckets or souviniers here, as other destinations will offer equal quality for less.
Sintra is a Portuguese treasure and, what’s more, it’s unique. During my travels both north and south, I encountered nowhere that so beautifully blended history with nature. The effect can be described ‘dreamy.’