Fantasy palaces covered in bright colours of art and artistic artworks, flowering nature with romantic paths, cute small streets and good food to end the day with, Sintra can offer it all. This is what makes it a perfect daytrip from Lisbon. There are many different trips offered, so you can choose whatever fits you the most. If possible, I would strongly advise to rent a car, so you have the option to combine the trip with and extra stop to the most western point of Europe
Sintra itself is a small old city, surrounded by a very green area filled with royal palaces. Some of them almost completely ruined, others completely intact and maintained with care. Ben and I spend most of our time in the centre of Sintra and the Park and Palace of Penna, so that’s why these will be highlighted in this blog.
We travelled to Sintra by car, but once we arrived in the city we came to know that we didn’t prepare our trip as good as we should have. So once we found a parking place, we didn’t really know what to do next. We found the place where you can buy bus tickets that tour you around the area of Sintra, and decided to go for this option. Not sure if I could park my car close to the castles and how much time it would take to walk everything.
Firs stop: Park and Palace of Pena,
If you have googled or pinterested Lisbon, I am sure you have seen pictures of this castle. For me it looked so ‘princessish’, I could already see myself walking around there in a fancy dress. However, it didn’t take long to find out that this place is very crowded with tourist. As I prefer the more less touristic places, I had to take a few breaths before I could actually enjoy this visit. But I did, I loved it, the place is absolutely amazing.
The palace of Pena as well as its park that surrounds the palace are the real life dreams of King Ferdinand II. He completely transformed the area into what it is today and thanks to this made it a classified World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995.
The park of Pena is one of these places where you can get lost forever and still get surprised by its beauty every day by its exotic botanical collections. Classified as a romantic park, there is no room for symmetry, order or straight lines The idea was to let nature do its work, so nature could flourish in and grow. With its pats leading everywhere, the palace of Pena is eventually the most obvious destination. Because many parks took inspiration from the Pena park, Kind Ferdinand began purchasing the areas around and expended its ground to a total area of about 200 hectares.
King Ferdinand II died in 1885, but his work was perfectly taken care of afterwards. As growing and flowering takes time, more than a lifetime, he never saw his beloved Pena and its plant life as we are privileged to experience it today.
After walking around the park admiring the beauty of it, we finally could start our waiting in line for the Palace of Pena. A good lesson for waiting lines is to just accept the situation and make the best out of it. The last part is very easy when you are surrounded by a beautiful palace and impressive nature and view. The palace can be separated in two parts, which can be easily spot by the differences in colour.
The Royal Monastery of Our Lady Pena, which is the oldest part of the palace, was built by King Manuel I. As King Manuel had a great devotion to St Jerome, he donated this new monastery to the Hieronymite Order, although much smaller than the Monastery of Our lady in Belem, it rise sharply above the surrounding hills. Some spaces and paintings are still intact, huge parts of the monastery are ruined, first by the 1755 earthquake and later during the civil war of 1832-1834.
It was King Ferdinand II who bought what was left of our Lady of Pena in 1838, rebuilding and extending it with the construction of the New Palace. The surroundings, including the weather conditions as the dense fog that until today often swallows the area, were prefect for King Ferdinand II’s Germanic Romanticism that shines through in each part of the Pena Palace and its surroundings.
After entering the Iron Gate, also known as the Moorish arch, you get to enter he Alambra gate, that offers you a view on the high Cross that stands at the highest point of the Sintra Hills and on the west the Atlantic Ocean. After passing the Monumental Gate, there is the tunnel giving acces to the palace terraces. The Fortress walls topped by battlements, towers and sentry walks with an Iron gate are obvious revival of mediaeval castle architecture. Beside that King Ferdinand II experimented with architecture and applied arts in an attempt to remould Portuguese tradition in a powerfully German-influenced spirit. He also didn’t forget to implement some Moorish heritage in the palace, and other exotic aspect of the Portuguese Culture.
In 1840 the king decided to expand the place, so the New Palace was added. Until today it is easy to separate both parts, as the New palace is coloured in a Ochre and the Old Palace a dusky pink.
All together the Palace of Pena is a unique combination of royal and cultural arts, which makes it so spectacular to visit this Historical Palace.
The place is exactly how I would have designed my own palace when I was a little kid dreaming to become a princes one day. It is suprising and fascinating for all who will visit it, for everyone from their own point of view. Architecture for art lovers, flowering parks for nature lovers, fantasy palace for little princesses or knights and culture and history for those who admire this.
After our visit to the Palace of Sintra Ben and I walked down, back to Sintra. A lovely walk with amazing views on the various castles and its surrounding nature.
Second stop: The Palácio Nacional de Sintra and its city
Located in the centre of the city of Sintra, Palacio Nacional cannot be missed. Not only because its location is in the easy to access, close to the parking spots and bus stops for the other palaces and parks in this area, the two eccentric chimneys and its wide white surface make it impossible to miss this extra ordinary palace.
Because Ben and I already spend much of our time that day in the Palace of Penna, there was not much time left for the Palácio Nacional. But its interior is surely worth paying a visit. Decorated with valuable and various pieces of art, each piece representing the king who brought it into the palace.
After our visit to the palace, Ben and I spent most part of the day strolling through the city of Sintra. An old city with small squares and lovely tourist shops on each corner of the city. We both tried several port, which were served in a small chocolate cup. There where souvenirs shops that sold real pieces of art mostly handmade where I could completely fall in love with. There where shops with handmade bowl, painted with all kinds of decorations Portugal made its own. Towels, which where presenting the textile industry of the country, decorated mostly with blue colours and of course the Azulejus tiles which are iconic for Portuguese buildings.
Eventually we ended up having with a lovely view in the Palacio Nacional, something you definitely pay for. However, the area has an amazing vibe, amazing view an amazing food, so definitely all worth it.
Because of limited time, Ben and I were not able to visit all palaces and castles around the area, but they must surely been as beautiful. Other places in this area worthy to mention are:
Parque da Penna
Convento dos Capuchos
Cabo da Roca
If you are planning to tour the whole area, the total length of this route is 36 km. Excluding the about 30 kilometres you have to drive from Lisbon. I would honestly not suggest this, because I prefer not to rush my visits, and because of the many tourist, rushing it is mostly not even an option.
Besides that, it is not possible to walk from Sintra to the palace of Penna, and driving is either not a good option, regarding to the limited parking spots and exceptionally small roads, busses go on and off to this place.
It is possible to go from Lisbon with a hop-on hop of tour, but if you arrive by car or train, bus 434 is the way to go. Just follow the many tourists once you arrive in Sintra or ask for the bus station. It is easy to find. Bus 434 stops at the following places:
Sintra train station
The historic centre of Sintra (and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
Castelo dos Mouros
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Sintra train station
Ben and I only used the to visit the Palace of Pena, we walked most of our way back to Sintra, and passed by the Castelo dos Mouros. We did our trip to Cabo da Roca by car.
More useful information can be found on these websites: