Sintra isn’t just a beautiful Portuguese destination, it’s one of the most alluring cities in the world. Enchanting palaces, historical fortifications and enigmatic pathways occupy each hilltop and slope. In Sintra, moonlight walks are organised each month and beach-lovers find waves and sun at the nearby coast. There’s something for everyone and the city is close to the capital – a train ride from Rossio station lasts 45 minutes and costs a mere €2.20.
One of the most popular photos regularly taken in Sintra is from the bottom of the Initiation Well looking up towards the trees. The 20th century Quinta da Regaleira is a Gothic architectural masterpiece that served as the private residence to many owners, including the Viscountess of Regaleira (a merchant family from northern Portugal). Another owner of the estate was responsible for adding the mysterious symbolism that can be seen throughout the grounds, pertaining to masonry, The Knights Templar and alchemy. A tour takes approximately two hours and takes in the main building, a chapel, the park, tunnels and more – all for just €6 per adult or €3 per child.
The Pena Palace could be straight out of a children’s fairy tale book, with its setting atop a mountain peak and multicoloured towers. It is the most iconic landmark in Sintra and one of the first places many tourists make a beeline for. It was designed by Portugal’s King Fernando II and reflects 19th-century Romanesque Revival architecture. It’s easy to plan a visit since the doors are open from 9:30am to 8:00pm and tickets cost €14 for adults (€12 for children), which includes a walk through the elaborate interiors. The Palace was categorized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1990s.
Part of exploring the Pena Palace includes walking around the grounds, and make sure you bring your camera for this unique experience. The forested walkways cover 200 hectares and showcase thousands of floral species in addition to the beautifully manicured hedges and spooky paths.
Like the other major attractions, the Castle of the Moors (or Castelo dos Mouros) is located high up on the Sintra Mountains and can be reached easily on the local bus. Anyone feeling like some exercise can also hike up, but be aware it’s no leisurely stroll! Constructed in the 9th century, the stone castle was a fortification that was built and used by the Moors who once occupied much of Portugal. Afterwards, the castle was ruined due to natural disasters but restoration projects have sought to maintain the main structure since the 1800s. A hike down the mountain from the castle is much easier than heading up, providing many opportunities for capturing breathtaking photos of the pine forests and city.
Enjoy ornate architecture at the Monserrate Palace
Once a summer home for Portuguese royalty, the Monserrate Palace is a 19th-century mansion with Anglo-Saxon, Indian and Arab architectural influences. The delightful hallways inside are elaborately decorated and highlight gothic arches in unusual light colours and – like the Quinta da Regaleira and Pena Palace – the Monserrate Palace was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1990s. The estate contains a botanical garden, which is a perfect location to sit and rest after a day of walking from palace to palace.
Just as you cannot visit Belém without stopping at the Pasteis de Belém, you shouldn’t leave Sintra without trying a few sweets at the Casa Piriquita pastry shop. Look out for the travesseiro – a sticky, flaky and sweet rectangular cake filled with egg cream and flavored with almonds. This 155-year-old shop is also known for its queijadas. Stemming from the word queijo, which means cheese, queijadas are round cakes filled with cheese, sugar, eggs and cinnamon, surrounded by a delicious flour crust. Try to grab a seat inside to enjoy these Sintra-favorites with a coffee, or take your cakes to go.
Sintra is the perfect place to pretend to be royalty amid the many palaces and castles, so a night at the Seteias Palace may allow you to briefly live the dream! This five-star luxury hotel was built in the 18th century and oozes elegance in every room and corner. From the fine dining restaurant to the elaborately decorated suites, a night at the Setaias Palace would be hard to forget.
They’re smaller than many other beaches near Lisbon, but Sintra’s coast is beautiful and a popular spot for locals. Also popular for water sports, a couple activities enjoyed there include surfing and paragliding. The Praias da Adraga and Ursa are a little more remote and only reachable by car, the latter involveing a slow trek down to the beach from the parking lot.
Stop at Cabo da Roca – mainland Europe’s westernmost point
Hop on a bus or taxi and soon you can be at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in mainland Europe. Nearly always windy, the cape terrain with cliffs and a charming 18th-century lighthouse are oftentimes described as a little wild and raw. This is a beautiful spot to take photos with nearly 360-degree views along the coast.
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, Estrada do Cabo da Roca s/n, 2705-001 Colares +351 21 928 0081