Sintra, Portugal is packed with interesting sights and is only about 45 minutes by commuter train from Lisbon. I took a day trip to this enchanting town over a weekend. I wish I had had another day at least. There are at least six primary sights to visit in this town, and in my available 2/3 of a day, I chose to visit two of them, the Moorish Castle ruins and the Palácio da Pena (Palácio Nacional de la Pena), since it’s a postcard landmark of Portugal. (For a map of Lisbon and surrounding area, click here.)
Other options to visit are discussed below.
Sintra has been the playground of royalty and the rich and famous for centuries, hence the collection of very interesting and unique sights here.
Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) Ruins
The ruins (9th century) have a commanding view of Sintra and out to the Atlantic Ocean. I recommend visiting here if for no other reason than for the views. There is not much left of an actual castle, but the defensive walls and towers have been restored and make for a great walk, with LOTS of stairways up and down the hilly terrain. Wear comfortable shoes and bring water.
Palácio da Pena
This structure looks like something out of Disneyland. It sits on the site of an old monastery built in 1503, which was later largely destroyed by earthquakes and lightning.
Parts of the old monastery have been incorporated into the current structure which was built in 1844, as a romantic ideal of royal palaces—it’s a blend of Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque influences, not unlike the fanciful Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria. The reason to visit is mainly the interesting blend of architecture and less for the historical value.
Be forewarned, pictures are NOT allowed inside and cameras are everywhere. I didn’t notice the cameras and took a couple pictures, and then two seconds later a security guard was after me and made me delete the pictures off my camera. First time that’s ever happened to me. The extensive trails and grounds of the Palace are worth exploring, there are some good views of the Palace available from the wooded trails on the grounds.
In addition to these two sights, here are other major highlights in Sintra:
Palácio Nacional de Sintra: Home to the Portuguese monarchy for eight centuries. A lot of the visible artwork today was completed between 1505 and 1520.
Palácio de Monserrate: Built on the ruins of a 16th century chapel and a neo-gothic palace and transformed in 1856 by a Brit, Francis Cook, this palace is heavily influenced by Moorish and Gothic architecture. There is an extensive botanical collection and beautiful gardens here.
Quinta da Regaleira: A very weird palace, built in 1904, with lots of tunnels on the grounds and full of symbolism in the elaborate decorations.
Convent of the Capuchos: A 16th century (dates to 1560) Franciscan hermitage, showing life as a friar with chapels, living areas, dormitories, and a library built into a hillside.
The train to Sintra leaves from the Rossio Station in downtown Lisbon, right next to the Rossio plaza. The train makes a number of stops, but the journey still only takes about 45 minutes, and trains leave every 30 minutes. The historical center of Sintra is just a 5 minute walk from the train station.
The sights are relatively close to one another; however Sintra is hilly and even after you arrive at a site by bus or taxi, there are some steep walks in front of you, at least up to and through the Castle ruins and around Pena Palace. Bus 434 will take you from the train station to Pena Palace. If you enjoy walking, take the bus up to Pena and walk back down to the town. You can get individual or combination tickets for the various sights. It cost €16 per person for the Moorish Castle and Palácio da Pena. For more information on this area check out: http://www.parquesdesintra.pt.