Why you should visit Sintra in 2020
Colourful, whimsical and complete with fairytale castles; Sintra should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Portugal. Perched on the mountainside tumbling down to the Atlantic coast is this picturesque World Heritage town and its surrounding castles, palaces, parks, hillside villages, dramatic beaches and ancient woodland. Aside from its regal past, Sintra also has a buzzing old town with tasty restaurants and some great beaches for sunset drinks. Here’s why you should visit Portugal’s most enchanting town.
The whole of Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site with individual sites nestled within the town, so you will need plenty of time to explore each palace, gardens, castle and beyond. The environs of Sintra are also well worth exploring, with beautiful beaches pounded by the ocean and thick forests that are lush from the Atlantic rains. It’s a very atmospheric region where you can often see early morning mist hanging in the mountains that amplifies the fairytale feel of the town.
Believe the hype- the beauty and majesty of the region and palaces means that Sintra is very popular (and busy) in Summer, so visiting off peak is a much more rewarding experience for having space to explore by yourself. As with all of Portugal, you will also find sensational food and friendly people, so make sure you have enough time to explore it all!
Getting Around Sintra
This spectacular region boasts a lot of sights of interest, so you will need to start early to make the most of all the cultural and natural wonders here. From the train station it’s a 20 minute walk to the old town centre but there’s a handy tourist bus, the 434, that you can buy a hop-on-hop-off ticket for 6.90 euros and see most of Sintra’s sights along the route. This bus will take you up to the Castelo dos Mouros and the higher Pal·cio da Pena to save your thighs straining on the steep 45 minute uphill struggle! A visit to Sintra will involve some walking (in proper shoes), as although you can take buses to loop to each monument, you may want to walk some of the routes to save waiting around in high season. The gorgeous old town sights also require some steps up cobbled hills, but the views are worth it!
UNESCO Sites not to miss
The whole of Sintra is regarded as a monument, however it can be understood as the town and include the palaces and castles that surround it. The cobbled streets of the historic old town, such as the Rua das Padarias, the panoramic view from the Miradouro da Ferraria, and the church of Santa Maria are on the tourist trail but well worth exploring. With limited choices of restaurants outside the town centre, unless you head to the beach or village eateries at the Aldeia da Praia, it’s best to stock up on your lunch or petiscos before you head to the castles.
The vibrantly colourful Pal·cio Nacional da Pena is emblematic of Sintra (and a postcard favourite) standing out of the forest that surrounds it with bright yellows and reds. The interior has been restored to it’s prime of 1910, whereas the palace’s exterior is widely considered an architectural masterpiece. With terraces that provide verdant views of the countryside, this palace and park are the highest point in Sintra; unless you want to laboriously hike the Penedo da Amizade cliffs, it’s best to take the 434 tourist bus to reach these dizzying heights. From the park you can ascend to the Cruz Alta (the high cross) which is the highest pinnacle of Sintra or hike a little lower to the statue of King Fernando for panoramic vistas to the ocean.
As the name implies, the Castelo do Mouros is a castle built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries, abandoned as they were driven out of the country by the Christians in the conquest of Lisbon. With various stages or ruination and remodelling, including the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, it was in the 19th century that it took shape with restoration in Romantic style to become the vision you see today. This provides probably the best view in Sintra as you can see the palaces and parks without interruption as the long walls snake up the hillside and provide awesome views.
Palacio Nacional de Sintra, or the Pal·cio da Vila, is the simplest of Sintra’s palaces with white walls and tiles and a medley of medieval and gothic architecture. Originally two palaces joined, it became the preferred royal residence in Portugal with over 400 years of continual use. The interior boasts some exquisite azulejos tiles, and the famous two white cone towers from the palace’s kitchen make it visible from the surrounding hilltops.
Montserrat Palace is surrounded by woodland that’s perfect to get lost in. This smaller palace sees fewer visitors than the technicolour Insta favourites, but it’s totally worth a visit, especially when the other palaces are overrun. Fans of Arabesque architecture will be stunned by the perfect arches, domes and intricate carved detail on the palace porches and corridors.
The atmospheric Quinta da Regaleira is another UNESCO World Heritage site and recognisable by its turrets and romantic details. The enchanting gardens include a spiralled well where you can descend several dizzying floors with walls steeped in moss, and ponds to jump across stones. It has a labyrinth feel to it, and the look of a magical movie set. Don’t miss out on these landscaped gardens!
Sintra and the surrounding landscape seem lost in time, with misty palace turrets embedded in the natural beauty of the countryside, but it is only a short ride from buzzing Lisbon and has beautiful beaches lining the coast. Although many people head for cute Cascais as their next stop, Sintra has some excellent beaches of its own.
This coast is famous for surfing, and with the Atlantic sending big waves along these sandy beaches, hopping to the wide expanse of the surf beaches or the cute coves along the rockier parts of the coast is well worth it. Here you can find plenty of surfers, cafes and bars along with activities such as yoga, hiking, biking and water-sports. A hike north along the coastal paths here can lead you to the most western tip of Europe at Cabo da Roca.
Our favourites sandy strips are Praia das Maçãs (or apple beach) which has a smaller beach with bars and restaurants on the cliffside, or the long main beach that stretches wide and flat to the distant cliffs. This one has awesome surf waves roaring straight in from the ocean and is ideal for a sunset stroll. For activities and great places to eat here, try the Aldeia da Praia which offers accommodation, events and activities, along with a variety of restaurants, craft beers, a wine bar, and food vans in summer.
Getting to Sintra
Sintra is easily accessed only 40 minutes by train from Lisbon and only 2.25 euros, you can find the schedule here. There is limited parking in Sintra town centre, so visiting by train is the easiest way. From the town centre you can take the antique red tram (the elÈctrico) down the hills at Sintra to the Praia das Maçãs or Aldeia da Praia - the perfect place to stop for lunch or drinks.
Due to the number of sights in Sintra it’s also a good idea to get a guide, especially if you’re a history buff or short on time. For guided tours contact Oasis Backpackersí Hostel Sintra Surf at Aldeia da Praia.
Enjoy your visit to Sintra and check out our guide to activities here on our website.