Sintra is a town located in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, in the middle of Parque Nacional da Serra de Sintra, easily accessed by bus and train (forget the car, parking is a nightmare).
What that standard description does not say, is that nothing will prepare you for the wow at every step you take, at every corner.
The sense of being transported to a parallel world of a fairytale is unique. And I have been to unique places, and I have visited ancient locations, but every single time I visit Sintra I feel as a character of a fairytale.
It starts right at the train station, with the beautiful typical Portuguese “Azulejos” – tiles. And it continues as I stroll down the roads, and visit the Castles and historical buildings that pop up everywhere.
Tourists usually visit Sintra in a day, but I can tell you that you will enjoy it much more staying there overnight. Why? Because it offers so many attractions, each one of them with so much to see.
How to move in Sintra: walk and bus.
There are several bus options.
The 434 bus connects Sintra train station to the historical centre, and also to the Pena Palace and the Moorish castle.
The walk from the historic centre to Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) is quite hard, up a very steep hill. The 434 bus helps with that.
The 435 tourist bus connects the train station to Palácio de Monserrate, historic centre, Quinta da Regaleira and Seteais Palace. It is an Thop-on-hop-off bust and tickets cost €5.00.
In this post I will focus on two main places: Quinta da Regaleira and Palácio de Monserrate. Why? Because we are in a fairytale, and nothing better than these two places to show it and make my case.
And because many people miss these two, being so focused on Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena.
But before that, let us stop for a while for a nice meal in the town center. A nice meal has, of course, a collection of Portuguese cheese, cold cuts, a glass of wine and a coffee.
Quinta da Regaleira – Sintra
This beautiful place is close to Sintra’s center and is classified as a Unesco Heritage Site. It has a palace, as well as a beautiful chapel.
Quinta da Regaleira is a mansion of extravagant Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance features/ architecture dating back from the 19th century.
It is surrounded by beautiful and beautifully landscaped gardens, with a very elaborated tunnel system. The gardens are amazing and so pleasurable to explore, with time, looking at all details, decorative fortifications and mystical and religious symbols.
It also has various secret passages and caves, where even children can have a great time exploring and feeling like they are, again, part of a fairytale.
The most famous feature is the Poço Iniciático, – ‘initiation’ well, that was used for secretive initiation rites. It contains nine platforms, which are said to be “reminiscent of the Divine Comedy.
Another well, much smaller is called the unfinished well – Poço Inacabado
They say it takes 2 hours to see Quinta da Regaleira but for me less than 3 hours is not enough. The ticket can be bought online, avoiding long lines, especially during peak season.
The Palácio de Monserrate is a totally different vibe from Quinta da Regaleira, although both are located in Sintra – it clearly show the amazing cultural and architectural diversity the town offers.
Here you will feel like you are a character of the 1001 nights, in a distant and beautiful Arabian setting.
The mansion dates back from the 19th century and contains the finest example of Islamic inspired architecture you can find in Sintra.
The beautiful architecture, with intricate details, geometrical patterns on the ceilings, the towers, and all little details will certainly make you want to stay there forever.
It is surrounded by a luxurious vegetation, and peaceful and relaxing gardens with exotic plants from Francis Cook’s personal collection.
As an image says more than a 1000 words, I will leave you with the magnificence of Monserrate Palace:
And now, after visiting this beautiful palace, take a walk along its stunning gardens, sit admiring the views, return to the city center, and sit on one of the many restaurants, watching a beautiful sunset, with a glass of wine, and promise yourself that you will return.
Because Sintra deserves multiple visits, because Portugal is stunning, and because we Portuguese are a warm and welcoming people.
Note: Sintra is close to my beloved Cascais, of which I wrote about here https://heelsandspices.com/2017/03/cascais-when-to-go-and-walking-around/. And if you are left with no ideas on what to see in Lisbon, check this one https://heelsandspices.com/2018/07/lisbonwhattosee/.