As you might have noticed, we are recently writing about places worth visiting in Portugal. We are living here and working for an initiative called Go Beyond Lisbon. I guess that the name explains our main goal. We explore and map places beyond the capital, it became our everyday duty and a great pleasure at the same time.
Today I would like to invite you for a trip to Sintra. Even though the town is very touristic, many people coming to Lisbon still have no idea about it, and it would be a real pity to skip it! Why to visit Sintra? How to get there? You can find the answers bellow.
Why to go to Sintra
Sintra is a cozy town surrounded by hills and green nature which is an already refreshing change from the urban environment of the Portuguese capital. The centre is quite small, but you can find there many narrow streets filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. The main attraction, though, is something else. The place is famous especially for its palaces, residences and gardens which you can find everywhere around.
We decided to go to Sintra (as most of the visitors) just for one day as a few hours there are enough to see the “most important things”: the historic centre of the town, Palácio Nacional, ruins of Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena.
How to get to Sintra
For us, the travel started with a morning ride from the centre of Lisbon – the Rossio train station. What I really liked is that we didn´t have to rush in order to catch the train at a specific time. The connections are good and trains go quite often, about three times every hour. We paid for the return ticket 4,30 euro per person. Approximately 40 minutes later we arrived to Sintra. There, the favorite activity of my beloved boyfriend – walking – started.
The centre of Sintra lies 1,5 km from the train station and it took us 15 minutes to reach it on foot with occasional stops for taking pictures. In the town you can enjoy the historic part, explore shops and restaurants in its narrow streets but most importantly, you can find there the Palácio Nacional. When I saw it for the first time, I thought that it is actually a church. It has two “towers” which actually are, as we got to know later, very specific chimneys.
How to reach the Pena Palace
Our main goal was to reach the most famous of the palaces – the Pena. It lies, as well as the other favorite attraction, Castelo dos Mouros, on the hills above the town. It is just 2 kms away from the centre. If you want to walk, you need to go with a very steep path. For those who like hiking and nature it is a perfect choice. The way up leads through gardens full of trees and very picturesque viewpoints.
I am not a big fan of hiking, but we decided to make it to the palace on foot. The process wasn´t so pleasant for me as it was a very hot October day with temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius (and I am also totally out of condition).
For those with less time
Guys, here I would like to mention that you don’t have to do the above. There is a bus which goes very often, with the magical number 434 on the display, with it you can go easily (almost) everywhere. It costs 5 euro and it makes a loop directly from the railway station to the centre, to Castelo dos Mouros, to Palácio da Pena and back. You can buy a ticket directly from the driver.
Pena Palace and its park
Getting back to our little climbing adventure. Finally, sweaty but happy, we reached the entrance to the Pena park and the Palace. You have to pay for entrance even when you don’t want to see the castle from inside. It is not that cheap – a single ticket for the park and terraces is 7,50 euro. If you want to see also the rooms inside the palace, be prepared to pay an additional 6,50 euro. Just a small advice – if you want a discount consider buying the tickets online in advance.
To be honest, the paying part annoyed me a bit. A Czech person is not used to paying for seeing “stuff” from the outside: most of the beautiful palaces of my country are accessible for free (you pay only if you want to get inside). In Pena it was worth it, though.
The park itself is pretty but not extraordinary. You can find shadow under its trees and relax near one of the lakes. On the other hand, the Pena Palace itself is really “something”. In my life, I haven’t seen any castle like this (and I have seen many of them). Till now my feelings are mixed and I still don’t know exactly what to think about it. To describe the place I would use the following adjectives: colourful, interesting, specific, strange, kitschy. The architecture didn’t manage to convince me but I was amazed. As we got to know from the prospects, people behind the construction were the king Don Fernando II and his two wives. Maybe that is the explanation for the schizophrenic way in which it was created. Imagine that one of the wives loved something totally else than the second one... there comes the mix of colours, styles and details.
In the end, I would like to give you some advice. The Pena Palace is in the season packed with tourists. If you plan to visit the castle in the summer, make sure you start your adventure by exploring it in the morning. Most of the people start in the town and just after that they go to the castle. What is more, avoid eating in the only restaurant in the colourful Palace, it is expensive, packed and according to reviews not that good. Have lunch in the town instead, I can highly recommend a place called Saudade which offers pleasant interior and reasonable prices for a good quality.
There is much more
During our one-day trip we didn’t manage to see everything that Sintra has to offer. I am not sad that we didn´t reach Castelo dos Mouros. It was ok for me to see its walls only from the distance. If you plan to stay at least for two days, you can check other places which are still waiting for us: Seteais Palace, Monserrate Palace or Quinta da Regaleira. They are not so packed with tourists and might bring an extra flavour to your experience.
If you are in Lisbon be sure to give Sintra at least one day of your programme.