[SINTRA, PORTUGAL] — Sintra is not just a single town, but an entire wooded (unusually so in these arid parts) nature preserve about an hour and a half outside of Lisbon. It’s the perfect daytrip from Lisbon or the perfect day trip from Cascais. Definitely well worth the drive and easy to find — all the roads and signs in Portugal are outstanding. It’s a big riot of color and architecture, surrounded by hundreds of acres of gardens and forests.
Plan a half a day, at least, or preferably a whole day, to make the loop through the forest and the half dozen towns and castles and sites within the preserve.
It is very busy. Very touristy. But very cool to see. Think of it like visiting the Vatican. Just endure. It’s worth it.
I only had a half day here and got a late start. You can book tours from Lisbon or Cascais and they’ll take care of everything. Or bushwhack it yourself, as I did, but you’ll miss out on a lot of the stories and history. Since I was was there in 2013, tourism in Portugal has EXPLODED. Every Instagram post I see on Sintra complains about the crowds. So go early or go late to avoid the tour buses, the lighting is better, anyway. Or splurge for VIP tours and skip the lines and tangled parking.
The -lace was rebuilt after the great earthquake that leveled so much of Lisbon, then rebuilt by the king in a bunch of different architectural styles. From Moorish forts (damn Moors were everywhere!) to ornate castles to other follies in idyllic settings; the sites are mind-blowing. The must-see is the Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace) featured a lot in these pics. It became the summer palace of the royal family and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From up here, you can see for miles.
You can stop and have a nice tourist-clogged lunch in Sintra before heading out and a nice castle there, too. I only saw half the mix with the half day there, so if you have some time, explore more. It’s in all the guidebooks and well worth the trip, a definite must-see. You Should Go Here.
You can ramble amongst all the different tiled rooms of the palace, or look out at the views. Imagine how efficient those tiles are? Bulletproof. Easy to clean. Good looking. You don’t need to hang pictures…
Make sure you examine all the grounds besides the Pena Palace. Great follies and beautiful grounds. I barely got a chance to explore it all. Plan a whole day.
When King Ferdinand rebuilt the palace, he had the surrounding forest filled with trees from all over the world.
Don’t miss this, which I completely did. I didn’t even know it was there until I saw other posts about it. The Initiation Well. Dreamy.
Here’s a companion post I have for the nearby beach town of Cascais. Here’s a great article on Sintra from the website Culture Trip. And Lonely Planet’s view of visiting Sintra. And a post on 15 Things to do in Sintra from Hand Luggage Only. And TripAdvisor’s Guide to Sintra. And the official Visit Portugal website guide to Sintra. And Conde Nast Traveler’s article on The Perfect Daytrip in Sintra. And from The Telegraph, a guide to Sintra.
— Last Visited July 2013, Updated Post January 2020 —
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