So many people recommended we visit the town of Sintra while we were in Lisbon, and I wish we’d spent more time there! It truly is a beautiful, charming town full of old palaces and Moorish castles perched high atop leafy green mountains. People will tell you it’s a 40-minute trip from Lisbon… IT’S NOT! It’s about 45m on the train (or via car) just from Lisbon city center to Sintra town center! Give yourself at least 1.5 hours to get to any of the sites… Getting there for us was an epic fail involving a very unintentional Lord of the Rings/climbing up Mount Doom type reenactment, but at least we have a crazy story to share with friends now! 🙂 My advice? Neither walk nor run up to the castles from Sintra center. Take a bus. Or taxi. Or anything on wheels 🙂 Links to the best Sintra itineraries below, along with one hilarious story of how we got there – so read on if you want a good laugh!
Palacio Nacional da Pena: A UNESCO World Heritage site!
Only halfway to Pena Palace, viewed from the bottom of the valley!
But totally worth the trek once we got to the top!
The details and color at this palace were just unbelievable!
And if you’re patient and go early in the morning or late afternoon, you can get a clear shot 😉
Give yourself enough time to just sit back and take it all in!
The influence of the Moors is evident throughout, with beautiful arched doorways everywhere!
Inspiring colors and architectural details abound!
Final shot from Pena… jawdropping panoramic views from the turret of the palace, with the Moorish castle in the distance, and the palaces in the mountains and valleys below!
The Moorish Castle: I have no words to describe how awestruck we were by the views at Castelo dos Mouros – can’t believe we almost skipped this site because it was getting dark and we didn’t think it’d stack up to the colorful Pena Palace…
But boy were we wrong! Can you believe how amazing this view is walking to the top of the castle walls?!
If you want the castle all to yourself, go at sunset. There were only 3 other people there besides us 🙂
SHOP THE POST
My husband and I spent the first few days of our Portugal trip in Lisbon, walking up and down the centuries’ old cobblestoned hills of this unbelievably magical city for miles and miles each day… Walking up and down steep, narrow streets in nearly 100deg heat every day. I think we had to shower 3x a day because we weren’t used to that extreme heat after living in San Francisco for 2 years (some might call us acclimated, others would call us wusses – both equally fair :D)… so we thought we’d spend the hottest day of the trip going east to Sintra where it was 10deg cooler in the mountains! The night before we left, we realized it was about a 1h trip, and that could take longer depending on your mode of transportation once you arrived to Sintra (not 15m from Lisbon like those clever ads at the airport had me believe!)! The palaces and castles are not an easy walk from the train station, and most people take a taxi, tuktuk or bus from there up the mountain… After sweating into puddles for so many days, I said “let’s splurge on an air conditioned Uber straight to the drawbridge gates of Pena Palace!” thinking I was so brilliant! I told the hubs, this means we’ll get there looking nice and fresh, we can wear our nice outfits for once and avoid the crowds waiting for a taxi or bus from the train station up to the palaces!
So… three hours later, we made it to the bottom of Pena Palace covered in sweat and parched with thirst! We got there and realized it was another 500+ meters to walk to the palace entrance at the top of the mountain… so we stood in line for 20 minutes in the scorching sun waiting for a bus. My pretty dress non plus 🙁 Our Uber driver was an adorable Portuguese man who didn’t speak a lick of English, and my husband and I only spoke three words of Portuguese. Not a good scene when he dropped us off on the OTHER. SIDE. OF. THE. MOUNTAIN. which was a 2 hour walk back down the mountain, and then straight back up to get to Pena! He dropped us off at what we think was the service entrance on the back side (which was a long dirt rode closed off by a gate that said authorized personnel only)… with no cell service, not a soul in sight, half a bottle of water and no shade, we began to walk back in the direction he drove us in. After about 1 hour we finally saw someone who told us they’d just come from Pena – it took them about 1 hour to get down to where we were… meaning it would take us about twice as long to get up.
The silver lining was we got to take a “shortcut” through the Valley of the Lakes, which was really beautiful and peaceful. We also got to see Pena Palace from the valley looking like a tiny but pretty little pinhead on top of the mountain – so so far away 😀 It felt very Lord of the Rings for awhile there… I was feeling a bit like Frodo, weak and losing my resolve to make it out of the forest and valley of the lakes… thank God my husband is like a rock. He was the Samwise to my Frodo and got us through. What a trek, but it was all worth it in the end when we entered this gorgeous palace and were stunned by the meticulously detailed tilework and carved archways. It truly felt like we’d entered a fairytale world. And we even made it to Castelo dos Mouros (the Moorish castle) for sunset views that left us speechless.
We hitched a ride back to the Sintra train station (link to transportation guide here) with another Bay Area couple we met at the Moorish castle – the only other souls there for sunset besides us. And from there, it was a short but sweet air-conditioned 45 minute ride back to Lisbon where we went to sleep with tired soles and dreamy memories of a magical land…
Sooo… I think there are tons of amazing guides that savvier travelers have put together which give you really great tips on how to plan your trip, so I’ll spare you a repeat of our 3-hour sweaty disaster of a journey and instead share my favorite itineraries to suit anyone’s taste from more seasoned travelers below 😉
SHOP MY OUTFITS
BEST SINTRA ITINERARIES
- Hand Luggage Only: Start here for beautiful images of what you can expect to see at the most popular sites as well as a few hidden gems! Not as much detail on how to get around, so depending on what piques your interest here visually, you can check out the second site for more details (she writes it’s just 30m from Lisbon by train, but it’s not… read my post above ;))
- Full Suitcase: Very helpful, comprehensive guide on where to go and how best to get there – includes all the main sites and highlights for 1, 2 or 3 day trips here!
- Venture and Eat: Perfect day trip description! I love this post because Anna not only keeps it real and tells you what she wishes she had done differently, but she gives you REALLY practical and useful tips on how to get places and when the best time to visit is (including which bus to take and how much it costs!)! Wish I’d read her blog post before we went 🙂
Do. Not. Walk. To. The. Castles.
Honestly, it’s ridiculous if you think you can walk up the Sintra Mountains in a decent amount of time. Even on the bus it took a good 10 minutes to get to the main palaces, and that’s on super windy roads. You will waste a lot of your valuable time if you try to walk up.
- Salt in Our Hair: Includes tips on where to stay and how much things will cost ya!
For more outfits and tips on where to go, check out my Instagram or ask me a question in the comments section below!