You can’t plan for the weather. It doesn’t matter how long you spend planning for a trip, the weather can come along and quite literally sweep you off your feet. It’s for this reason that I found myself windswept, wet and quite frankly pretty annoyed in Pena Park, one of the highest points in Sintra, a small Portuguese town 40 minutes away from Lisbon.
In fact, we hadn’t planned much at all, and Sintra wasn’t on the agenda when we booked and planned our trip to Lisbon earlier this year. We were there for just shy of four days, and with so much to see in Lisbon itself, I’d dismissed out of hand the chance to visit Sintra this time. But the more we explored Lisbon and spoke to local walking tour guides about our trip, the more we realised that we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit this mysterious and magical place.
So we did.
But the world was indeed conspiring against us. We arrived to find that the buses were on delay due to a local marathon taking place – this is important because most of the places of interest are set high upon the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. So we walked a little, and then waited. Once we got back on our way, the clouds descended and the rain came pouring down, the higher we went the less visability we had.
At the point that we were stood inside the grounds of the beautiful Pena Palace and I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face due to the fog, we realised it was time to leave.
So, my time exploring Sintra was short lived, and I didn’t get to experience it all, but in-spite of the fog and the disappointment I still believe it is the prettiest place in Portugal. Here’s some of the places you should visit on your trip.
Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Once you’ve started your ascent in Sintra, you’ll first come to a blindingly white and beautifully gothic building – the National Palace of Sintra. This is at the heart of the main town of Sintra, and was host to Portuguese nobility in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The most striking aspect of the palace is the two unusually shaped chimneys which loom large over the whole building. You can also visit inside the palace, where its impressive staterooms await you. You can get an incredible view (as above) of the National Palace from the top of the Moorish Castle!Sintra is a picture perfect day trip from Lisbon - here's what to see when you get there!Click To Tweet
Castelo dos Mouros
Every building of interest is completely different, and the Castle of the Moors gives a different feel to the impressive palaces it is sandwiched in-between. It sits high above Sintra, built as a fortress in the 8th-11th centuries by the Moors. As you approach the castle, you get to walk through an overgrown, ancient forest which has wound its way through the ruined walls of the castle.
It’s wonderful to explore in and of itself but its selling point are the incredible views not only over Sintra, but the Atlantic Ocean and Lisbon Estuary. We had a snapshot of this before the fog descended, but as the heavy weather rolled in the castle and the view became enchantingly atmospheric.
Palácio da Pena
Pena Palace is the centrepoint of exploration in Sintra. The iconic, multi-coloured palace is an example of wonderful romantic-period architecture. The yellows, reds and purples stand proud against many tiled walled and features, and throughout the exterior of the building you can find many statues of the mythological creatures.
There were so many hideaways, and paths and arches to explore (and often shelter under on our visit), and whilst it was amazing to get up close to the beautiful colours, it was a shame we couldn’t get the full impact of this building – on a clear day there is a perfect view from the Moors Castle. When we visited, the trees surrounding it were shrouded in fog.
The things we missed
A typical day trip to Sintra includes these three palaces, and often a trip around Pena Park, the extensive, forested grounds of the palace. This alone has many hidden walkways, lakes and wonderful viewpoints to explore, and you could spend at least a couple of hours wandering in the grounds.
If you have longer to spend in Sintra (and yes, I’m already planning my trip back), you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Quinta da Regaleira an unusual stately home with equally impressive grounds. In fact the grounds are the standout here, with secret tunnels and gothic towers which gives the whole thing a fairytale feel. I’m desperate to go back and see it!
How to get there
From Lisbon, Sintra is easy to reach by regional train for a little over 4 EUR return and it takes around 40 minutes. Upon arrival, the easiest way to visit these three landmarks is by using the 434 tourist bus which stops at each location and saves your legs for the steep walk. Whilst most people start at the National Palace and work their way up, I’d advise taking the bus all the way to the top and working your way back down.
In fact, that was our original plan if the tourist bus had not been cancelled for a couple of hours whilst the marathon got started and instead we walked the first part of the walk to the National Palace, explored and took the bus up from there. As well as avoiding the crowds, it’s also a good idea to visit Pena Palace first because it is so high up that if the weather does change your view won’t be as impacted. You live and learn!
Sintra enthralled me, and despite the weather it was still such a stunning, interesting place to visit. Sure I might have had a slight tantrum at Pena Palace as the rain pelted my skin and my ability to see anything diminished, and yes we ended up moving our visit to Belem to the Monday to accommodate (and everything shuts in Belem on a Monday!) but exploring Sintra taught me one thing.
You can’t control the weather, but you can leave with a good story!