If you are traveling to Lisbon, you’ve probably been told you have to visit Sintra. And if you haven’t been told that yet, then I am going to tell you, you have to visit Sintra. Of the days we spent in Lisbon, it was definitely my favorite. Maybe one of my favorite days in Portugal overall. I honestly feel like Emily and I just crushed Sintra. We had the perfect day there, couldn’t have asked for a better day. Here are some thoughts on how to make the most of the visit!
Start Early – We started by getting a relatively early start at 10am (that’s early for vacation!). The trains run every 20 minutes. By the time we got on the train it was a little after that and we arrive in Sintra a little after 11am, since the train ride is about 45 minutes long. Looking back, I’m glad we got an early start because it unexpectedly took a pretty long time to get from the train to the first palace, and getting in between each castle. Don’t underestimate that piece of Sintra. It can be packed and things get backed up. Also some of these palaces are so intricate and vast – you will need a lot of time to explore. This is really a full day excursion from Lisbon.
Take Uber – I have never taken an Uber in a foreign country, but this was an unexpected brilliant loophole we found that not many tourists were exploiting. While we waited in the extremely long line for the bus that takes you from the train station to the famous Pena Palace, I took a peak at Uber on a whim to see if there was anything (central Sintra has free wifi, so anyone can get on and do this). Lo and behold, there was only an 8-minute wait for an Uber. We did a quick fare estimate check and it was only 5 – 8 euros! Meanwhile the bus we were waiting for was 5 Euros per person, so it was an obvious choice to take Uber from the train station right up to Pena Palace. Faster, and it ended up being cheaper than the bus. I don’t know why more people are not trying this. Later on, however, when traveling between Monserrate and Regaleria, we found taking the local bus (I think it was number 435) was easier and faster than waiting for an Uber.
We visited Pena Palace, Monserrate Palace, and Quinta de Regaleria. The combination of all three was so perfect, because each one was so different from the others.
Pena Palace – Iconic and Quirky
Walking up to Pena Palace is unforgettable… mostly because you’re just like, what the heck is this place. It feels like you are in Disneyland. It looks like this weird, big, fake, toy castle. But that is why Pena is great, because it looks like a joke, but it’s for real. Pena Palace was formerly a Monastery, but was bought in 1838 by the King and renovated into the royal family’s summer palace. It was the place that the last queen of Portugal spent her last day in Portugal before being exiled. She was lucky as her husband and son were killed. Pena Palace is a must visit because of just how fun the castle’s exterior is, the historic relevance and because it is the most famous castle in Sintra.
Monserrate Palace – Exotic and Beautiful
Monserrate palace was restored in 1858 by Sir Francis Cook, who brought in an English architect to turn it in to what it is today. You can tell the mansion was lived in more recently than some of the other palaces, given the old radiators in the upstairs bedrooms. I’m not an expert on architecture, but to me this looked like a masterpiece. Apparently it was influenced by “romanticism” and “Moorish revival architecture.” Emily and I were dying and wanting to move in immediately. Modern day princesses would wear rompers and live in this palace over Pena Palace. Monserrate Palace is a must visit simply because it is so beautiful, I’ve never seen a palace like this.
Quinta de Regaleria – Mysterious and Labyrinthine
If I had to choose only one place to visit in Sintra, it would be Quinta da Regaleria. This place was unreal! It was like a playground, you could spend hours here exploring every nook and cranny. It feels like you are in the middle of some semi-fantasy, gothic movie. A lot of pieces of the property were very Pan’s Labyrinth-esque. The mansion itself was pretty cool, but the real gem of visiting Quinta da Regaleria is wandering the vast grounds. There are multiple underground tunnels all over the place it is so cool. Like does anyone not want to explore underground tunnels? Maybe claustrophobic people, idk. Emily and I went this random underground tunnel for maybe a minute until we literally lost all light, couldn’t see the entrance, couldn’t see the end, and the air started to feel damp, and we freaked out and ran back out to the exit. There is a long tunnel that passes underneath a waterfall, and leads to the bottom opening of the Initiation Well, which is the very famous underground spiral staircase. It’s hard to explain how many different corners there were of these gardens, but it reminded me of the gardens of Versailles, how there was something new around every corner.