Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of Portugal’s finest qualities: magnificent architecture, rolling hills, and colorful historical monuments. Graced with a perfect blend of untouched terrain and tourist attractions, it’s quickly become one of the country’s most desirable destinations. And situated less than an hour’s train ride from Lisbon — the country’s largest hub — it makes for the perfect day trip. If you’re planning to escape the capital’s bustle for a day, here’s everything you’ll need to know!
- Incorporated: 1154 AD
- Population: 377,835 in 2011
- Architectural style: Romanesque, Gothic, Neoclassical, Renaissance, and Manueline
- Climate: Mediterranean
A BIT OF HISTORY
Like much of Portugal, Sintra’s history is long and battle-ridden, dating back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The area was under Roman control for a time, followed by periods of Moorish and Christian rule, the effects of which can still be seen in the region’s architecture. Though the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 took its toll on the municipality’s infrastructure, resulting in a period of rebuilding and restoration, Sintra is still known for its architectural wonders.
With the dawn of the 20th century came the creation of the Republic of Portugal, and Sintra continued to rise. During this time, the municipality saw a drastic spike in population and economic development, cementing itself as one of Portugal’s greatest destinations.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
Sintra is not only a popular day trip from Lisbon for travelers and tourists, but also for locals. This means you can expect larger crowds in the summer, when many Lisboans take holidays and leave the city. If crowds aren’t your thing, the mild weather continues through much of the year, making visits enjoyable during every season.
Because it’s a well-loved day trip destination, transportation is made easiest to and from Lisbon by train. But with so much to do in Sintra, getting on the earliest train possible will surely alleviate some pressure. It’s also good to bring cash with you when visiting, as most of the town’s historical monuments require an entrance fee.
Undoubtedly the smoothest and most popular form of transportation for travelers moving between Lisbon and Sintra is the train. The 15.5 mile ride (25 kilometers) can be completed by hopping on the Comboios de Portugal (CP), which you can do at either the Rossio station (near the historic center of Lisbon) or the Oriente station (near the airport). Either way, you can expect a comfortable, westward ride for just over two euro each way (there’s no discounted price for return tickets).
Though the train presents the easiest route to and from Sintra, there’s nothing like hopping in a car and hitting the open road, while taking as much time as you please to travel to your destination of choice. Portugal’s winding coastal roads present plenty of staggering views that are sure to make you pull over at least once or twice along the way. There are plenty of options for car rentals in Lisbon and, as long as you stay on the A37, you won’t have trouble finding your way to Sintra.
WHAT TO DO
Sintra has no shortage of sites to see and things to do. The city center is quaint and colorful, with trees and gardens tastefully intertwining with the city’s old buildings and terraces. There are also plenty of historic sites to enjoy and natural space to relax in, too. But here are some of the city’s top highlights.
NATIONAL PALACE of SINTRA
Though the palace’s history dates back to the eighth century, the structure you see today was actually completed during the 15th and 16th centuries. The National Palace is a minimalistic collection of architecture, featuring everything from Gothic to Moorish, making for a strikingly beautiful site to visit. The National Palace costs just ten euro to visit, and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Pena Palace is one of Portugal’s most eye-catching spectacles, and can be reached by foot from the city center, though the hour-long, uphill walk is known to be strenuous. But for those looking to reach the palace quickly, there’s also a tour bus to help. The colorful castle sits high on the hills above Sintra — a location of such height that, on clear days, it’s possible to see all the way to Lisbon. For 14 euro, a visit to the tall towers and grand hallways offer an adventure into Portugal’s past, and one you won’t want to miss! But note that the hours of operation change depending on the season.
CASTLE OF THE MOORS
Located just a short walk from Pena Palace, the Castle of the Moors is a majestic granite and limestone fixture that overlooks Sintra in stunning fashion. The view from the castle is incredible, but strolling through its winding stone infrastructure is an experience in itself. The medieval setting seems to transport visitors to another time, creating a unique experience in this historically rich region, and only charges eight euro a person.
MONSERRATE PALACE AND PARK
A visit to Monserrate Palace and Park is sure to be a romantic one, as the palace sits surrounded by quiet forests and a carefully manicured garden. The palace’s exterior and interior are equally mesmerizing, with incredible detail embedded in every square-inch. And, because the grounds are a little further from central Sintra, you’re most likely to experience smaller crowds than other sites in the area, which makes relaxing in the garden even better! Open between 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., the grounds can be reached with the city’s public transportation, and cost only eight euro to visit.
Header image by Bruno Nabica