“You have to visit Sintra”
were the words of an American friend who had just returned from a trip to Portugal. It’s the stuff that fairy tales are made of. And it’s not far from Lisbon and easy to get to by train, car, or bus. My friend doesn’t work in sales, but she definitely sold me on Sintra.
Many of the attractions are not located in the town itself but are on the outskirts of town. You can walk to several of them but given the hills, the distances, and the summer heat my sister and I opted to take the hop-on hop-off public bus. You can also take a horse carriage, car, bicycle, or any other road worthy vehicle if you fancy it.
From Lisbon, you can get a train to Sintra from Station Cais do Sodre. From Cascais, there is a direct bus to Sintra that runs from the bus terminal. In either case, you can purchase an all-day tourist ticket that covers your return trip as well as unlimited hop-on hop-off public bus service in Sintra.
Regarding the hop-on hop-off bus, there are essentially two different options: public transport (Scotturb) and the private buses. The private red buses are the same ones that you see all over the world. They come with audio guides in different languages and take you to all the same places as the public bus does. The only real difference in this case is that the private bus is more expensive but less crowded. That being said, tourists completely overrun this small town in the high season such that the queues for the buses and some attractions are insanely long. And with that comes some very rude people, including one older couple who jumped the bus queue ahead of me and pretended not to notice the one hundred plus people they had now skipped not to mention the litany of profanities I was saying to them in multiple languages. Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now.
If you want to see all the highlights in Sintra, you would need at least 2 full-on days. And you’d probably need a motorbike too to bypass the traffic buildup caused by all the cars and tour buses. That being said, you can still visit many of the sites in a day trip from Lisbon using the train and hop-on hop-off bus. Here are the sites that my sister and I chose to visit:
Most of the interior structures are long gone but the ramparts have been restored and make for a really pleasant walk. And given the fact that it’s built on a hill overlooking Sintra, this castle has got some of the best views in town. In my opinion, the best site to visit if you’re pressed for time.
National Palace of Pena
Grand, bright, and striking from all angles the Palace of Pena is the crown jewel of Sintra. Part of the palace is now preserved as a museum and call me jaded, but I was far more impressed with the exterior architecture than the interior. But that also can be chalked up to feeling like I was riding the NYC subway at rush hour once we got inside.
The palace is made up of several different architectural styles which somehow work together to create a unique structure that is as unique as it is royal.
National Palace of Sintra
The palace is located right in the middle of town and is easily recognizable by its twin conical smokestacks. The queue to enter the museum was so long around midday that we decided to try again later. Without a doubt, the building is very impressive and I’m sure the inside looks gorgeous, but we had already been inside the overcrowded Pena Palace earlier and felt that 1 palace was enough for the day.
Quinta da Regaliera
OK so there’s no zoo but this mighty estate is home to tunnels, towers, a palace, gardens, fountains, wells, and all the other trappings that you would expect from an absurdly rich person’s property. Well worth having a stroll through the gardens and finding a nice place to rest after a long day of sightseeing.