Sintra – the western pearl of Portugal

Last week I started telling you all about my time in Lisbon (find out more about Lisbon here) – but left out one very important destination! Sintra. I left it out on purpose however, as I wanted to tell you all about this beautiful little city in all detail. Sintra is a little town in the north west of Portugal. Situated right in a national parc, it is a little green paradise. Me and my best friend, who was my travel companion in Lisbon as well, went there by train, bought tickets for 5€ and then took a 50 minutes ride into the heart of Sintra.

From there, we started our adventure. I have to say, Sintra is a very touristic place – which I usually don’t like. I was – and still am – so in love with Lisbon because it was rather quiet, not too many people around. Sintra however, since it is such a small town, attracts a lot of visitors from all over the world. It also attracts people staying in Lisbon and its surroundings. At the train station it is indeed a bit crowded. Luckily, the natural parc is big enough for everybody to spread out later. You can sometimes even end up walking through the woods alone.

So, we started out at the train station where we already encountered a lot of people offering us tours and presumably “good deals” for a guided bus tour. Tourist traps. As we were travelling with a tight budget anyways, we decided to save money and go discover Sintra by ourselves. We looked at all the sights offered on various boards – which gives you a good overview of what´s there to see. Then we asked a local guide how to go up the hill to discover the national park. He gave us the option to go up the hill by bus, by foot or tuk tuk. These tuk tuks you will see everywhere. They are quite expensive, but also an experience with a local guide who tells you more about the city. We declined politely as we already opted for the walking by foot option before. If you walk all the way up, you will rarely encounter people who do the same. But for me it is the best way to see your surroundings and fully absorb the beautiful nature. You can also stop any time to take a picture.

The first of the many times we stopped to take a picture – with the castle in the background

The first thing we got to see is a castle on top of a hill. Not the famous, colorful though. Well, this little village has many, many castles. We didn´t even find out which one was the first one that crossed our way.

We continued our way through the village, through all the small streets. Houses in typical southern Portuguese style crossed our way, some restaurants for hungry travelers. A very charming place.

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After an hour and a half we finally reached the entrance of the national park. From there we hiked up to our first castle – the Castelo dos Mouros. As we climbed up there we marched through the woods and jumped over rocks. A real adventure. That´s why I prefer going everywhere by foot. You cannot go through the woods with a tuk for sure. Seeing a few hidden caves we could explore on the way, this extra mile is definitely worth it. When we came near the old castle walls made out of grey rocks, I was fascinated and felt like set back in time. Green moss was climbing up the walls as a reminder that the glorious days of this castle have long been over. We could also see same ancient graves, medieval tools as well as ornaments.

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After wandering around the area of the castle for a while, we decided to proceed our way. If you are in Sintra, you have a lot to see and trust me – you won’t make it all in one day. So, we went on to the park around the Palacio da Pena – the famous colorful castle everybody comes here to see. We did as well. However, it was still early afternoon, 2 PM, the time most of the parc’s visitor were supposed to be at the castle now. The waiting time was listed as more than an hour. So, we decided to leave it for later and explore the surroundings first. There was certainly no shortage of places to see!

Palacio da Pena – the place we were heading to

The parc surrounding the Palacio da Pena is huge. We randomly opted for a direction as we wanted to explore everything. The way we choose led us to a pavilion – without any description so we couldn´t learn more about it. Still, it was a fascinating place we spent some time in.

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The knight on top of the hill

Then we proceeded our way to the Statue of knight on top of a hill. You could even climb up there, but we preferred to admire him from afar and went on to our next destination.

The viewpoint to see the Palacio da Pena. The highest point of the national parc. The Cruz alta. On top of this hill you have an amazing view over whole Sintra. With the Palacio da Pena right in front of you. I would definitely recommend going there before exploring the palace as it gives you the chance to admire its beauty from farther away first. Once you are closer to the palace you will not have a chance to see the whole building at once. I was fascinated by the many colors this palace was shining. Bright red and yellow, easily spotable even miles away.

Finally, after seeing the palace in distance, we walked towards it afterwards. It was already 5PM in the afternoon. A perfect time to visit, as a lot of people were already leaving. There wasn´t even a queue at the entrance anymore. The later you go, the less crowded it will be. At this time we still had a lot of daylight left. We explored the palace from outside and within. Fascinated by the many details you can stay there a long time. However, the palace itself is we not as big as it seems. Especially when we walked in the rooms of princes and princesses were quite small. If this was a luxurious life in the middle age I wonder how everyone else lived. There was certainly not much comfort, not even for a queen. Every room was different though. Like the walls outside were all painted in another color, so was the inside with the design changing from room to room as well. An inside reflection of the outside.

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We walked around the palace a long time. If you want, you can easily spend up to three hours there. The views from the castle are amazing as well. As it is situated on top of a hill, you get to see the whole city of Sintra laying to your feet. When we went up, it was a bit foggy in the distance, which made our view even more beautiful as the clouds covered the woods a little bit with the trees rising above them like in a fairytale. The whole palace is a magical experience. Make sure to walk around all sides of the castle to not miss any viewpoint there is – it all will be worth seeing.

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After we had fully taken in the beauty of this place we went on to the Valley of Lakes. This Valley is beautiful – another spot that felt like a fairytale once again. This valley was astonishingly beautiful during dawn. With the sun softly shining through the green leaves, the water sparkling and reflecting his magical surroundings. In the middle there was laying the lake, green and calm right in front of us. We walked alongside the lake for a bit. In the middle of the lake, there was a tower rising from the water. Some ducks and swans were staying around as well. Pine trees were lining up in between the green leaves that brought a darker, green color between the soft green of the leaves. A truly beautiful place to end our trip, calm and peacefully.

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We wished it wouldn´t have been the end as we still wanted to visit the famous Quinta da Regaleira. A green spiral going downwards – beautiful yet when we got there we found the place closed. We even thought about going back to Sintra the next day, but we still had a lot to see in Lisbon as well.

The Quinta da Regaleira we couldn’t enter anymore

So, if you really want to see all of Sintra, I would strongly recommend taking 2 full days to reserve them just for this village and the national park.

The village is a cute little town as well. Small streets, a lot of shops that will attract your attention. Especially in the evening when everybody is going home, this city has a very special vibe.

So, once you are in Lisbon, pay a visit to Sintra as well! Take your time and I promise you won´t regret it!



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