I've been desperate to check out Sintra after seeing some incredible pictures online and we finally managed to go earlier this month. It's such a colourful, beautiful place and there's so much to see! You can visit for the day with a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon, but we wanted the whole Sintra experience so booked a 3 night stay. We managed to squeeze a lot into our few days: obviously we didn't see everything, but here are a few of my favourites.
1. Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira is probably the most magical place I've ever been and only about 15 minutes walk from the historic centre of Sintra so it's very easy to get to (although up a big hill!). The huge gothic mansion covered in little gargoyles, spikes, and intricate detailing is incredible, but the real fun is in exploring the gardens.
The whole area is classified as a World Heritage Site and the grounds are full of charming and bizarre features: some are huge like this algae covered pool with stepping stones and bridges, and some are tiny, such as pretty little ceramic discs pressed into the stonework.
I took this photo standing at the bottom of the Initiation Well, which is like an inverted tower surrounded by a spiral staircase. The well is 27 metres deep and apparently associated with the Masons and/or Knights Templar, although it all seems a bit unclear what it was actually used for. Secrets!
There are SECRET PASSAGES - if you're an eccentric millionaire, then why not? A tunnel connects the base of this well to another "Unfinished Well" and the outside.
This area seems to be called "Terrace of the Celestial Worlds" which is kind of incredible. The statue in the middle of the structure which depicts what looks like two lizards fighting over a shell, is called "Portal of the Two Guards" (or Guardians?) and all of this seems like next level gothic millionaire behaviour.
The whole place is full of weird and wonderful sculptures, ornate structures and organic looking spaces involving strange symbolism and mysterious secret orders.
There's a lot of dramatic architecture, some of it beautiful, some of it a bit spooky. I would recommend bringing a torch (or using your phone) if you venture into some of the underground tunnels as they can be uneven and wet. Some tunnels and in an underground lake!
We had planned to spend a couple of hours here, but ended up staying for FOUR HOURS because there was so much to see. There's a little cafe next to the mansion selling drinks and snacks if you need to refuel.
You can see this building across the road and I was wondering what it was; after some googling I discovered it's the Quinta do Relogio, which was apparently bought by Madonna in 2017. Wikipedia suggests she actually lives there now! HI MADONNA.
2. Pena Palace
Pena Palace is iconic of Sintra and it's brightly coloured walls are commonly associated with this part of Portugal. I was worried that Instagram and Pinterest had over-exaggerated the colours, but I was not disappointed - it really is this vibrant.
As one of Sintra's top tourist attractions, the ticket prices are a bit more expensive than other places and it can get very busy. If you can manage to go early in the morning before all the tourist busses arrive it's a bit less crowded. We got a tourist bus there, but you could get an Uber at a reasonable price.
The best bit of the palace is the exterior, but if you like history, fancy furniture and ornately decorated rooms you can pay a bit more for a ticket to see the inside.
There are steep hills from the road entrance to the palace, but if you can't manage the climb there is a shuttle bus which costs a few euros. However, the hills mean that the view from the palace is incredible.
After wandering around the palace and taking about 5,000 photos, we went for a wander around the HUGE gardens. We climbed a big hill by accident, because we have a terrible sense of direction (there are plenty of maps dotted about the paths) and discovered an spectacular view of Pena Palace and Sintra at the Cruz Alta.
The gardens have multiple tiny winding paths between the main circuit and there's a lot of lovely things and some strange looking structures to see, including this cute tiled greenhouse.
There's an area called "Valley of the Lakes" full of pools of stones, unusual buildings and fish, ducks and swans. There are little caves, tiny doors and drawbridges, waterfalls and strolling round in the sunshine made it a bit dream-like.
3. Monserrate Palace
Palacio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace) is one of the lesser visited palaces, which made for a peaceful, quiet, wander around the beautiful building and grounds. Its around 3.5km from Sintra's historic centre so we got an Uber there, which seemed to be cheaper than taking a tour bus.
The palace was designed as a summer house, in 19th century Romanticism architectural style, if architecture is your thing. The intricate patterned stonework is incredible and continues inside.
There's not much in the way of exhibits or furniture inside the palace, but the gardens are huge and feature a Mexican garden, a rose garden, fern valley, a waterfall and a ruined chapel. It's quite a long walk round, so bring some water with you if it's hot.
4. Sintra Historic Centre
Sintra's train station is in the historic centre, which is super handy if you're making a day trip. Taking a walk around the shops and restaurants is a must, there are so many pretty buildings and sights to see.
You can stop for some food while exploring (I would recommend Villa 6 for a bit of tasty lunch or a quick burger at Hamburguer Real no Paco) or try Ginja, a Portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries, from one of the many shops and stands.
If you just fancy a snack, Piriquita is the place to go to try Sintra’s wide selection of pastries. We got ours to take away and sat outside in sunshine next to the National Palace of Sintra to give them a try.
Important Pastry Information incoming. Travesseiros (on the left) are made of puff pastry and traditionally almond cream, but you can get them in various flavours - this one is apple! The middle one is a Pastel de Nata, or custard tart which is a Portuguese classic and the far right is Queijadas de Sintra, a small cheesecake-like pastry usually with a dusting of cinnamon. They are all delicious!
One of my favourite buildings was this cute blue guest house which had a TINY blue model house in the front garden. So cute!
The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is right in the centre of town and if you pick up a ticket you can wander round the palace which has some extraordinary tiles and painted ceilings. Or you can just eat your custard tarts in the sunshine on the steps outside.
5. Liberdade Park
Parque da Liberdade (or Freedom Park) is next to Sintra's historic centre and is relatively easy to walk to but full of hills and winding steps. It was commissioned in 1936 and looks like it was previously used to host sports and tourist attractions, however now some of the buildings and structures look a bit run down. The greenery has taken over though and there's a huge range of beautiful plant species.
The best thing about it was that is was almost totally deserted when we went to explore it, which makes a lovely change from the bustle of Sintra itself. Certainly one to check out if you're feeling overwhelmed by tourists!
You could bring a picnic and hang out in the greenery with the bumble bees. I think we only saw two other people the whole time we were there.
Thanks for reading my Sintra Top Five! If you're planning a trip to Sintra, have a great time, and if you have any questions about our trip, let me know in the comments and I'll answer them if I can.