Day Trips To Sintra

In the 18th century, British writer and poet Lord Byron described the town of Sintra as "perhaps in every respect the most delightful in Europe," calling it a "glorious Eden in his poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He couldn't have been more right. Nestled atop the Sintra Mountains, this quiet town is as enchanting as it is breathtaking, with its forests hiding a slew of royal estates and palaces. We had the opportunity to visit three of the five main castles: the Castle of the Moors, the National Palace of Pena, and Quinta da Regaleira.

On our first day trip up to Sintra, we followed many of the travel guides' suggestion to take a 30-minute train from downtown Lisbon's Rossio Train Station into the mountain town before hopping on the popular 434 bus. Its route includes stops at Sintra National Palace, the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace. Because the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace are an hour-long climb up the mountain on foot, the five euros we paid for the bus ride up to their entrances was completely worth it. The bus, however, only loops in one direction every 30 minutes. After spending five hours exploring the grounds of the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, we ended up hiking back down to the town-- about 40 minutes-- instead of waiting for the bus. The hike was beautiful-- lush, green forests dotted with lesser-known royal retreats-- but it is definitely not for the faint of heart. We saw multiple people trying to hike the entire mountain up to the palaces, and I don't know how they did it! Because the palaces close at 5:00 PM, we ended up running out of time before we could see Quinta da Regaleria. This was the palace I most wanted to see, so we agreed to head back to Sintra the next day.

The next morning on our way to the Metra station in Lisbon, we walked by Scooters Cool, a quaint little scooter rental shop in Alfama. The owner was incredibly kind, and he sold us on the bike after informing us about the coastal highway that ran from Lisbon to Sintra. We hopped on one of his Hondas and didn't look back! It was an incredible hour-long ride-- the highlight of our trip-- driving past miles of Portugal's sandy beaches. The drive takes you past Lisbon's seaside cliffs as well as the Cabo da Roca, or Cape Roca, the westernmost point of Europe. Just past that, the coast turns into forest and you pass through several small, rural towns just beneath the Sintra Mountains. In no time, you arrive in downtown Sintra!

Our first stop in Sintra was the Castelo dos Mouros, or the Castle of the Moors. Built in the 9th century to protect the populations of Muslim Iberia, the castle consists of two military stone walls, several lookout towers and a small chapel. You can hike the length of the walls and climb the towers to get incredible views of surrounding Lisbon. In our second selfie at the Moorish Castle, you can see the Palace of Pena!

From the Castle of the Moors, we made a short 15-minute hike up the rest of the mountain to Palácio Nacional da Pena, or Pena National Palace. It was by far one of the most jaw-dropping sites we've seen on our trip thus far. Originally a monastery, it was transformed into a palace by King Ferdinand II in the 1840s and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Romanticist architecture is jaw-dropping, and our tour through the inside of the palace was just as fascinating, as much of the original furniture and ornamentation is on display. 

Instead of heading for the bus stop at the entrance of the palace, Mike and I opted to traipse through King Ferdinand's gardens, acres of botanical beauty that took us 20 minutes down the mountain. Walking through the shaded forest-- particularly the Queen's Fern Garden-- was magical, with smaller monuments and ponds around every turn.

Our final stop was Quinta da Regaleira, the most romantic and Gothic of all the palaces. It's a five-minute walk from downtown and was built in 1892 by millionaire Antonio Augusto Carvalho Montalvo, the grounds a labyrinth of grottoes, gazebos and underground tunnels. It was by far our favorite of all the palaces we visited in Sintra, with secret passages hidden behind waterfalls and inside deep wells. For anyone heading to Sintra, we'd suggest scootering the coastline, walking to Regaleira first, then catching the 434 bus up to Pena. 

From one of the windows in Quinta da Regaleira, you can see the National Palace of Sintra, located right in the middle of downtown. Sintra is truly a magical place-- and we only saw half of the historical sites on the mountain! 

Looking back on our trip to Lisbon, I'm grateful we had the opportunity to experience Sintra, a hidden gem of the city. It's a place to get lost in, a fantasy where you forget all about the real world. Plus, who doesn't like a little exercise while exploring centuries-old palaces?!

Until next time, friends! Onto Madrid!