Sintra – Palaces and Secret Passages Await You

Moorsish Castle in Sintra Portugal (Last Updated On: May 2, 2018)

Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, filled with amazing architecture from the 12th to the 19th Century, and is only about 40 minutes away by train. Going there as a day trip was the first recommendation we received when asking locals what we should do during our stay. Needless to say, we took the trip. Twice. And it was definitely worth it.

Pena National Palace

On the top of the hill overlooking the town, the Pena National Palace seems like a real-world Disney Castle, complete with crazy colors, towers and a drawbridge. Walking through the palace, you get a sense of the history from period furniture from the time various Portuguese royalty resided here. The brightly colored architecture outside is really the star of the show. The extensive gardens were fun to walk through (and get lost in), and have an amazing variety of plants, including giant sequoia.

Pena National Palace

Pena National Palace

Entry to the Pena Palace

Entry to the Pena Palace

Giant Sequoia in Sintra

Giant Sequoia in Sintra

Castle of the Moors

The Castle of the Moors, a fortification dating back to the 8th century.  It is now mostly ruins but is striking in its position on the cliffs over the town of Sintra. Viewing it from in town below, I couldn’t help but think of how rough it must have been for invaders attempting to capture the castle with its high stone walls after a near vertical climb up the hill.

Castle of the Moors

Castle of the Moors

Quinta da Regaleira

Our favorite of all the palaces, the Quinta da Regaleira estate, can be reached on foot from the center of downtown in less than ten minutes. The mansion is an architectural wonder designed by Luigi Manini, and is worth exploring, but the real gem is the surrounding grounds. Towers with narrow spiral staircases are dotted around the grounds, challenging some of our less height-friendly team members (Jen). Hidden grottos and underground caverns built into the limestone, some behind waterfalls, made exploring the grounds a real adventure. The chapel is decorated with crosses of the Knight’s Templar, and there are other symbols of Masonry in various architectural elements around the grounds. We spent hours discovering little hidden passages, only giving up when our legs gave out from climbing up and down the steep hills.

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira

Wandering through the grounds we saw beautiful small structures with towers to climb for stunning views.

One of the many towers to climb

One of the many towers to climb

Beautiful, ornate fountains often hid entryways to hidden passageways. What is that behind the fountain?

Quinta De Regeleria Fountain

Quinta De Regeleria Fountain

Don't forget to bring a light

Don’t forget to bring a light

One way out of this cave was via stepping stones

One way out of this cave was via stepping stones

Inside one of the caverns

Inside one of the caverns

There are a couple of wells on the property, called Initiation Wells, that are more like underground towers. They’re one of the favorite landmarks of the Quinta, and were supposed to be used in mystic ceremonial rituals. Climbing the spiral staircase inside the main Initiation Well was a great workout and an unexpected adventure we won’t forget.

The same Initial well from the top

The same Initial well from the top

Palace of Sintra

In the center of downtown, the Palace of Sintra is immediately noticeable from its two unique cone-shaped towers. Dating back to the Muslim occupation of Sintra, this palace was occupied by Portuguese royalty as far back as the 13th century.

Village of Sintra

Village of Sintra

Palace of SIntra's Towers

Palace of SIntra’s Towers

Village of Sintra

After climbing up and down hilly gardens, steep paths, and lots of stairs of the various gardens and mansions, it’s worth taking on a few more stairs to explore the downtown center of Sintra. In additional to the usual kitschy souvenir shops, there are plenty of little restaurants and Port wine shops in the narrow, hilly streets. We grabbed a quick lunch on an outside patio with a nice view of the town. Afterward, we couldn’t resist trying a sample of Ginja, a famous Portuguese liqueur made from sour cherries, served in shot form, often in a little edible cup made of dark chocolate. Delicious.

Exploring the Back Streets of Sintra

Exploring the Back Streets of Sintra

It's not really served like this, but I like the sense of humor.

It’s not really served like this, but I like the sense of humor.

Getting To Sintra

Trains leave the Rossio Station in downtown Lisbon every 15 minutes during the week, and every half hour on weekends. It was a good thing they depart so often, since a huge backup at ticket booths resulted in us missing our planned train. The trip itself was quick and comfortable, if not particularly scenic, at least until we got close to town and seeing some glimpses of the fort on the mountain.

Getting Around Sintra

As we exited the station, numerous tour operators were standing, offering various tours of every sort of the estates. Other options for exploring included the typical open-air Hop On Hop Off Bus, Tuk Tuks (when did these all start getting exported from Asian cities?), the public bus, and walking. We had already decided on the bus to the mountain top estates – there are two options #434 takes you up the mountain, and #435 to the lower areas. With the exception of the Mansion do Pena and the old Moorish Fort at the top of the hill, though, most of Sintra can be easily explored on foot.

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4 thoughts on “Sintra – Palaces and Secret Passages Await You

  1. Wow! Love the architecture! I am definitely adding this to my bucket list! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I’m heading to Lisbon this spring and was wondering if Sinatra was going to be possible or too much hassle. Glad to have found this and add Sintea to my plans!

  3. Great post! I’m planning a trip to Europe next year and thought about skipping Portugal exact for Lisboa, but this post might have made me rethink that. How much did the daytrip cost you guys?

    • You will have a great time in Sintra! The train from Lisbon cost about $10, and then there is a tourist bus 434 that costs about $5 – $15 that you buy from the driver. The roads are steep and narrow, taking the bus rather than walking is a good idea. Have fun and I’d love to how it goes. Jen

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