After much encouragement to visit the beautiful, mythical city of Sintra, my sister Jo and her boyfriend spent a day and night there and were not disappointed.
Here are Jo’s tips.
If you are spending a few days in Lisbon, you can’t miss out on at least a day trip to Sintra: a magical place high in the hills outside Lisbon and old home to fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Anderson.
How to get there: Short train ride (50 minutes) from Lisbon.
How to get around: Walk. Use a local map – you can get one for free at most hotels and restaurants. From the train station to the Moorish castle it is about 45 minutes walk, and from there to Pena Palace another 20 minutes. Mostly uphill, but the panaromic views definitely make it worth your while. Taking a taxi is another option of course.
What to see: Head straight to the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) or Pena Palace, and avoid the overly touristy city centre of Sintra.
The ruins of the Moorish Castle, built in the 8th and 9th century during the period of Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula, capture the imagination, and are any little boy’s dream. Climb up the stairs to the watch towers and look down at the historical town of Sintra. There are some great details such as a moorish cistern and the ‘traitors door’, a gate that was used as an escape route for the castle occupants in times of a siege.
Pena Palace, an eclectic fantasy palace in the clouds, which you can see from Lisbon on a clear day. Once the summer residence of the Portuguese Royal family, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the highlights of Portugal. An expression of 19th century Romanticism, you could say it is exotic, garish, odd and unique. Wonderful to walk through, around and see from a far. The park surrounding is equally impressive and as exotic as the palace itself, King Ferdinand II (late 19th century) ordered plant species from all over the world to plant in his ‘garden’ and the result is spectacular.
Entrance to the two sites cost 16 Euros per person.
From both the fortress and the Pena Palace you can admire the many old summer houses surrounding Sintra. The Portuguese aristocracy and affluent escaped the staggering heat of the city and came to Sintra in the summer months. Sintra’s micro-climate hits you as soon as you arrive, the temperature is noticeably lower and there are more clouds/fog than nearby Lisbon or Cascais. Keep this in mind and pack some good walking shoes and a jumper or two!
Where to stay: Hotel Sintra Jardim
Largo Sousa Brandão 1 2710-506 Sintra
This old summer residence of a Portuguese viscount was turned into a hotel with lush gardens and large swimming pool. Slightly run-down but full of charm with high ceilings and great views of the nearby fortress. We discovered two turtles in the courtyard fountain. Brilliant value for money: – 65 Euros for double room with good en suite bathroom with colourfully painted tiles.
Top tip: Instead of venturing back into Sintra for dinner discover the nearby village Sao Pedro. Cantinho de Sao Pedro is a cosy restaurant with simple Portuguese food.
Cantinho de Sao Pedro
Praca D. Fernando II
18, S. Pedro de Sintra