If I had just one word to sum up Sintra, Portugal, it would be “fairy-tale-like” in all ways, shapes and forms. It’s a mystical and magical landscape tucked away just outside of Lisbon, making this place incredibly intriguing and easy to get to – a must stop destination for many reasons. It’s filled with castles in the clouds (no joke), lush worldly vegetation and immaculate gardens, and rumour has it that it was once a centre for cult worship, but, it can also provide some needed R&R from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon’s city-centre.
Through all my pre-travel research before heading to Portugal, I was adamant about not missing out on this amazing hidden gem. Sintra was the next stop after Porto on our 9-day Portuguese adventure and it did not disappoint. My only regret was not staying longer (keep reading about our highlights and you’ll see why)!
My husband and I found that transportation throughout Portugal was really accommodating for locals and travellers. From Porto, we took a train to Lisbon (trains leave from Campanha station and travel to Oriente Station in Lisbon). The total trip from Porto to Lisbon is about 3 hours. From Lisbon’s Oriente Station, we then travelled to Sintra via train (just a short 45 minutes away inland).
Here is a snap of Lisbon’s train lines to help you plan your trip to Sintra:
And, our map of Sintra that we kept on hand while we stayed there (ask your accommodations for a map or you can purchase one just outside of the train station as they have a few souvenir shops nearby):
Getting Around in Sintra
Sintra, like Porto and Lisbon, is a very hilly city, so my advice is be prepared to walk (a lot). I swear, the walking alone on this trip, was the best work out of life! Many of the main sites are located within the hilltops and away from the city centre. If you are strapped for time or would like to save some of your energy, you can taxi or tuk-tuk for about 10 euros (for 2 people, one way) to the attractions.
If you want to save some money or have more time and you are okay being active (or are an avid hiker), you can walk to everything and take your time exploring many of the lush grounds and forest interiors that Sintra has to offer. In my opinion, this is the best way to gain a real understanding and appreciation for a place as it allows you to take your time soaking in your surroundings.
Having just 2 days in Sintra, Marc and I did a combination of both so we could fit in all the things we wanted to do and see during our stay. We found the taxi drivers really fun and helpful and were proud to share their knowledge of their country with anyone willing to ask about it. The Portuguese are lovely people!
Where We Stayed
There are numerous places you can stay in Sintra, anywhere from hostels, to bed and breakfasts, to Air BnB’s and historical buildings. Most accommodations are either located close to the main Sintra train terminal or within walking distance of the main city centre (this is easily identifiable by the Palacio Nacional de Sintra that dominates the main square with a lovely white and yellow exterior).
There were a few places I considered booking us in at in Sintra and it was hard to narrow down one spot – many looked incredibly beautiful and peaceful.
We ended up booking in at a bed and breakfast called Casa do Valle owned by a Finnish family and can I just take a minute to say – what a PLACE! Just a short 8 minute walk to the city centre, Casa do Valle was an unforgettable spot with simply incredible views overlooking the Sintra hillside (including views of the Pena Palace and Castelo do Mouros which I’ll be talking about soon). We were welcomed to the property by the family’s two great Danes (which made us miss our own puppy, Jada) and had wonderful interactions with their staff intern, Laura, who went out of her way to make sure our experience was an amazing one.
Our open-plan room was a cozy spot for two with a clean, simple and inviting cottage aesthetic to it. It featured a large window dressed in fluttering Portuguese lace and linen drapes that looked out to the properties garden and pool area – not sure how we got so lucky to stay in this room but it was amazing. We had a little rattan table and chair set inside of our room for eating, reading or enjoying a glass of port wine at (all of which we did during our stay). We simply felt world’s away staying in this serene location and the views were a serious attraction all in themselves.
The Casa also currently offers yoga and Finnish massages on site – hell-to-the-yasss! Although we didn’t end up taking advantage of these additional perks, it was so nice to have the option and when we come back one day, I would likely book a longer stay and come back to this incredible spot.
Clearly, I can’t say enough about this property and I could go on about their cute family story. To learn more about Casa do Valle and their gorgeous property, take a moment to visit their website to see all it has to offer: CASA DO VALLE
How Long Should You Stay?
From researching this amazing city and now being able to speak from experience, I would recommend giving yourself at least 2 days in Sintra to take it in and see the majority of the historical sights. Because there is a lot of walking involved, one day would simply not be enough. Of course, if you have the time and can dedicate more than 2 days here, I highly encourage you to consider doing so. You can do as much walking as you want, but if you stay at a place like Casa do Valle, you’ll also want to fully enjoy your time just relaxing on the lush property as well. Your tired feet will thank you!
There is no shortage of things to do while visiting Sintra but here we our favorites. We recommend you trying to squeeze some or all of these places in while you visit Sintra:
I fell in love with this eclectic, Moorish-Manueline palace and left a part of me there. I have never seen such a beautiful place that sits so high above the treetops, glowing with colour, a busting imaginative interior and has such spectacular views of the ocean coastline off in the vast distance. It’s no wonder Pena Palace is considered to be the greatest expression of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal (and quite possible in the world).
This is one palace of epic proportions and I feel so incredible blessed to have experienced this magical palace in the clouds. Clear your schedule and make sure you get your butt out to this place if you are travelling to Sintra. Then come back and tell me you loved it as much as I did.
Castelo dos Mouros
If you want to know what it feels like to be a king in the clouds looking out over your land to prepare plans against invaders, just climb this 10th century, mist-enshrouded castle ruins soaring 412m above sea level – it’s a totally surreal and breath-taking experience.
At times the clouds roll in and you can’t see anything beyond the castles walls. Then the next minute turns, the sky clears and the view over all of Sintra and the Atlantic are simply spectacular!
Palacio e Quinta de Regaleira
Classified as a UNSECO World Heritage Site, leave your worries and cares at the door, because one step into these enchanted gardens and mansion and you feel like you’ve walked into a dream-land where anything is possible. It is incredible to think that the romantic neo-Manueline design of the palace, gardens and chapel was first thought up and created by an Italian opera-set designer, Luigi Manini, for a Brazilian coffee tycoon, “Moneybags Monteiro”, back in 1892 to collect symbols reflecting his interests and ideologies. The phrase “the design is in the details” has never been more true walking through these grounds.
There’s about 4-hectares of park to explore featuring lakes, grottos, wells, benches, fountains, underground caverns and other fascinating constructions – the most visited spot being the Initiation Well, Poco Iniciatico. The wells were not actually used for collection of water, but rather for ceremonial purposes that included Tarot initiation rites – how’s that for a little eerie magic? It’s all a bit mysterious walking through the numerous footpaths that wriggle through the gardens but extremely fun to explore to discover what lies behind each corner!
Palacio Nacional de Sintra
This “Town Palace” marks the city centre of Sintra-Vila and is best known for it’s twin conical chimneys and exquisite interior. It’s also the best-preserved medieval royal King’s residence in Portugal which has been inhabited since the early 15th century to the late 19th century. Though it’s silhouette remains unchanged, it has been adapted and expanded over the years and is a wonderful example of Moorish, Manueline and Gothic styles intertwined. It now acts as a historical house museum for visitors to tour.
Our favourite meal was at a restaurant called Incomum close to the Sintra train station (recommended by our friend Laura at Casa do Valle). The chef, Luis Santos, creates some wonderful modern Portuguese food with a unique flair. Although we went for dinner when the prices are a bit higher (approx. 15-18 euros per meal), they offer a 3-course lunch menu for about 9 euros – unbeatable! Their modern, upscale atmosphere, mixed with knowledgeable staff and extensive wine list made it a winner in our books.
What we ate…
Marc and I both ordered risotto – Marc had a seafood risotto and I enjoyed the carrot and celery risotto with truffles and Ilha cheese (both were gluten free). This meal was deadly! I paired my dish with a glass of Mateus rose port wine (from the Douro region) for one incredible meal making me want to lick the bowl clean.
Another notable spot close to the city centre is Tulhas. Head to this converted grain warehouse for a quintessential traditional Portuguese meal filled with quaint typical Portuguese decor.
If you want a break from Portuguese food, try Bengal Tandoori for some Indian. The food here was also incredible!
If You Have More Time, Visit:
- Parque de Pena (many opportunities to view and photograph Pena Palace from the best viewpoints and away from the crowds)
- Chalet da Condessa D’Edla (also located in Pena Park)
- Palacio e Jardins de Monserrate
- Conventos dos Capuchos
- Fonte Mourisca
- Palacio se Seteais
- Western coastline and it’s beaches
- Try to get out from the main city centre to try some local food spots. The prices can also be a bit easier on the wallet.
- Sintra is famous for it’s sweets. For those who can eat gluten, indulge in the local pastry: the travesseiro (light puff pastry turned, rolled and folded seven times, then filled with chocolate almond-and-egg-yolk cream and lightly dusted with sugar).
- Stop into a local wine shop to try a taste of Ginja – a special cherry liquor which can be found served in a tiny chocolate cup!
- With the higher elevated landscape, it can cool down quite a bit in Sintra. We travelled there in early/mid September when it was warm during the day and very cool in the evenings. Bring a sweater with you if you plan to do early evening activities and will be staying out after dark.
Whatever you do in Sintra, it’s bound to be magical! Enjoy and hope our tips help you on your own travels!
In case you missed it, check out:
TBOH’s Guide to Portugal: 4 Days in Lisbon (coming soon!)