Where can you find a town full of Royal Palaces, romantic walking trails and an enchanted forest? I didn’t think that this existed, but I was proven wrong when my friend suggested that I visit the UNESCO listed World Heritage town of Sintra. Throughout all my European travel adventures, this by far has been my favourite place for Palaces and even triumphs over Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle (aka Disney’s inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle).
Let me tell you why, how to get there and how to make the most of your time there!
Palácio da Pena
Palácio da Pena is my all time favourite Palace for a number of reasons. This colourful Palace has been described as a great example of 19th century romanticism as it is perched up on a hill and surrounded by forest, gardens and lakes.
As we walked through the Palace gates, we were in awe of the greenery that surrounded the Palace. Rather than taking the short tram ride up, we walked along the path admiring the lush greenery until, just around the corner, we saw patches of colour peaking behind the flora. Then we walked further down the path until we could see the Palácio da Pena in all it’s glory.
The Palace was magical, with it’s carving of a newt which was placed outside the main window as if to protect those inside, individually painted tiling depicting warriors, look-out points once used by guards to protect the Palace walls, a beautiful Chapel, and a court-yard that boasts the best view of the Sintra region.
That is just the outside of the Palace! The rooms are lavish as expected, but what I loved were the depictions of fictional characters such as mermaids and hybrid man-fawns. These characters were either painted on the walls or represented in bronze form.
After enjoying the views from the Palace, we decided to walk up to the cross at the highest point of the park. You will see it on your map so just follow the trail. The walk was enjoyable and we often stopped to look at a bed of flowers or an interesting plant. It took us 15 minutes and after puffing and panting our way to the top, we realised that it was well worth the effort.
From the cross, we had a 360 view of Palácio da Pena and it’s park (I think of it as an enchanted forest!). The views were priceless and we stood there for a good 15 minutes soaking in the sunshine and admiring the colourful Palace from afar.
Other Palaces: The National Palace and the Moorish Castle
The National Palace and the Moorish Castle do get honourable mentions on this trip.
We reached the Moorish Palace (below) via a back exit from the Palácio da Pena Park within 15 minutes. You can actually see the Moorish Palace from the Palácio da Pena! Doesn’t it look amazing?
Most people will take a bus, but the bus arrives every 40 minutes and we did not want to waste any time. The Moorish Castle is a great example of Moorish architecture. I could imagine the armed soldiers positioning their rifles out into the forest as they kept an eye out for invaders.
The National Palace (below) is located in the heart of the Sintra township. It’s built like a glamorous villa that has views of the Sintra hillside dotted with beautiful buildings. The National Palace is also home to the Royal family’s private collection of antique furniture, porcelain and art.
When we entered the National Palace, we were the only visitors. The majority of tourists visit the National Palace first as it is closer to the station. However, we visited this Palace last. This allowed us time and space to enjoy the architecture and interiors.
Do you have a favourite place to see Palaces? Comment below and let us all know! Happy travels!
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon?
From central Lisbon, go to Rossio Station and board the train that will take you to Sintra. It will take you 45 minutes. Sintra is the final destination on the route. Just as you exit Sintra train station, there will be a circular 434 bus route (train station – Sintra town – Castelo dos Mouros (The Moorish Castle) – Palácio da Pena – train station). The bus will be waiting right outside of the station.
- Regardless of whether it is summer or winter, always bring either a cardigan or jacket. It can get windy at the top
- Bring good walking shoes as the walking trails are not always smooth
- Purchase tickets for all the Palaces at once to get a discount, but only if you know you will have a chance to visit them all within a 30 day time period
- If you only have 1 day to sight see, I suggest visiting the Palácio da Pena first as you may be there for hours (we were there for 4 hours) and you just don’t want to miss this Palace! If it was the only Palace I saw that day, then I wouldn’t have been disappointed. Then you should see the Moorish Palace and National Palace, in that order, as the National Palace is closer to the Sintra village and train station. The other villas look amazing too so if you have another day to visit Sintra, then I would go for it.
Check out these links to see what others think about Sintra:
- Pena Palace and Park
- Why visit Sintra, by Go Lisbon
- Day Trip to Sintra, by Pommie Travels
- Ultimate Day Trip to Sintra, by Ross Roams