Sintra, a half an hour’s drive away from Lisbon is quite simply one of the most beautiful – if not the most – towns I have ever been to.
Not surprising, really, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Full of 19th-century Romantic architecture and surrounded by breathtaking countryside, a day in Sintra was really high up on my list for this trip, and was definitely a highlight. I would even go as far as to say that if you’ve got a weekend in Lisbon to make the trip out – it’s seriously worth it.
Where I went
We had an early start to make as much of the day as possible – but were perhaps a little too keen as not much was open yet. Luckily, we had enough time to have a great cup of coffee at Cafe Saudade, on Avenida Doutor Miguel Bombarda. It’s a really sweet tea room too, with a wide selection of pastries like pasteis de nata.
Sintra National Palace
Our first stop was the Sintra National Palace, or Palacio Nacional de Sintra, a medieval palace with Manueline features.
The palace has some incredibly detailed accents – the ceilings and tiling in particular are beautiful. One of my favourite things about the palace were the rooms named after birds – the swan and the magpie room.
Our next stop, and perhaps the one I was most excited about, was the Quinta de Regaleira. Completed in 1910, the property is stunning – almost eerie and otherworldly, complete with lakes, grottoes, secret tunnels and initiatic wells in the lush grounds.
The well was my favourite – it looks like something that’s come straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth. The whole estate of Quinta de Regaleira is one of the most interesting and awe-inspiring places I’ve ever been to, and I could have happily spent several more hours there than I did (wanting to fit in as much as possible, we only spent two hours there in total).
Castelo dos Mouros
The Castelo dos Mouros, or the Moorish Castle, was our next and most brief stop in Sintra. A medieval hilltop castle overlooking Sintra, it’s the place to go if you are wanting a stunning view.
However – as someone terrified of heights, clambering around a hilltop ruin is definitely not my thing. I definitely disappointed myself as I only managed to walk up halfway and get a couple of snaps before having to make my way back down hugging the wall. Needless to say, for me personally I could’ve happily done without that part of the afternoon (however, if you aren’t a total wimp then I’m sure you’d disagree).
Our final stop was the Monserrate Palace and Gardens – a palatial villa formerly owned and restored by Sir Francis Cook.
The grounds are definitely worth a visit – it would be a perfect place to picnic (although I’m not 100% sure you can outside of the set picnic tours). The interior of the palace isn’t quite as impressive as the other sites in Sintra, but are also lovely.
With the exception of the Quinta de Regaleira, we managed to save a bit of cash by buying a combined ticket for all the other locations, which came to around 23 Euros. For such incredible sights, it really is a bargain and is definitely one of the best day trips you’ll ever do.
Where I Ate
Besides our morning coffee at Saudade, we didn’t really sample much of the food in Sintra as we were pretty busy rushing around! However, on a local tip we went to A Tasca do Manel on Largo Doutor Virgilio Horta. It’s one of those simple, no-frills establishments that only seem to offer two options (meat or fish) – and they do it well, and it’s amazingly cheap too. We went for one of each – and the meal which was delicious (grilled fish with olive oil and veal) came to 14 Euros for the two of us at lunchtime. It’s slightly away from the touristy areas, and was full of locals which is always a good sign – definitely recommended!