Although Lisbon itself has a lot to offer and see, going on a day trip to the closeby town of Sintra is an absolute must. This magical place lies only a 30-minute train ride away from the Portuguese capital and won’t disappoint anyone with even just a mildly romantic soul.
As said the magnificent castles and palaces of Sintra can be reached in half an hour from the beautiful Rossio railway station in the centre of Lisbon. The trains leave from there approximately after every 20 minutes, so not much planning ahead is needed. The return ticket is not a significant investment as it can be purchased for less than 5 euros. Although two last stops have the name Sintra in them, it is important to stay on the train till the very last one if you want to skip some unnecessary metres of walking. Usually following the crowds of other tourists helps as well.
To get around Sintra is relatively easy as several companies offer transport to the top of the hill where the main attractions are situated. For those adventurers who also want to explore the slightly wilder surroundings and do not refuse a short hike, the best way is just to walk up following the signs pointing to the castles all around the town. On your way up the hill, you might encounter several friendly local dogs or a hipster flute player who makes the scenery seem even more magical. The walk takes around 30 minutes and the trail has several benches along the way.
Castelo dos Mouros
The ancient Castle of the Moors is probably your first stop after reaching the hilltop overlooking Sintra. It is a remarkable sight even from outside the gates as the powerful walls make you feel weak compared to their durability of more than a millennium. However, it is still worth buying the combined ticket to Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena (around 20 euros) as then you won’t miss the breathtaking views to the sea from the multiple towers bearing different historical flags of Portugal.
Though the architecture of the castle is quite modest and minimalistic (because it is ancienct!), it still carries the vibe of a fairy tale that makes you expect a rendez-vous with an armoured knight or Rapunzel herself. The jagged edges of the walls and towers definitely resemble our childhood drawing to most of us. The visit to the Moorish Castle takes around 30-60 minutes and after that you can continue your way to the Pena Palace.
Palácio da Pena
Once a monastery and later used by the kings and queens of Portugal, the Pena Palace looks like it has just been dragged out of a animated princess movie. The bright colours and surrounding plants and trees make even the most unenthusiastic photographer take out their camera and capture the beautiful scenery. On a sunny day this palace really makes you forget about the rest of the world as it proves that fairy tales have really got their inspiration from some place real. With the combined entrance ticket, it is also possible to go inside the palace and see the interior which is definitely not less remarkable than the exterior.
One negative thing about the visit could be the amount of people trying to get the most of the palace at the same time. Luckily, the Pena Palace has a lot of secret hiding places where you can easily escape the crowds and take a (snack) break. Although the palace surely makes you want to stay there forever, a full (but quick) experience takes around 60-90 minutes.
Quinta da Regaleira
The next stop takes you back down the hill to the town of Sintra. On the contrary to the Castle of the Moors and the Pena Palace that took you to another magical world, the Quinta da Regaleira offers a more real life fairy tale scenery. The summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family has been created by the most talented Portuguese artists and they have really done a great job. The romantic architecture of Quinta da Regaleira is more than elegant and attracts everyone who has an eye for details. Finely carved sculptures and other pieces of art around residence carry the feeling of grandeur.
The garden around the main house hides several wells without water which makes it possible to walk down the spiral staircase and explore the secret cave system. The underground paths are equipped with mild lightning and lead to the most picturesque ponds and other hidden entrances. This hillside well-groomed jungle is a perfect place to get lost in for hours but of course can be walked through in only one. The 6-euro ticket is definitely worth its price.
Ending the day
Visiting these three magnificent sights is a good plan for one full day as you are not on a very tight schedule. Occasional breaks to just enjoy the magical vibe and views are almost obligatory, so you shouldn’t “overpack” your day. But for those who think that less is not more, Sintra has some other things to offer, such as the Palace of Sintra, Monserrate Palace and the brand new NewsMuseum.
The best way to end the day is to have a hearty dinner in the historical centre of the town. The narrow streets of Sintra have several small restaurants, so finding a suitable one shouldn’t be a problem. Be aware that most of the restaurants open for dinner around 19.30 o’clock in the evening. In case you arrive there too early, nice little souvenir shops will help you to spend some time. The trains back to Lisbon run till midnight what leaves plenty of time to enjoy your meal (and maybe a few glasses of amazing Portuguese wine).
The quaint town of Sintra should definitely be among the top ones on everyone’s places-to-visit list. Memories of the spectacular views from the Castle of the Moors, contrasting colours of the Palace Pena and the mysticism of Quinta da Regaleira gardens will brighten up those gray and gloomy autumn and winter days for several years.