Spectacular Sintra

If Portugal hadn’t already stolen my heart, day two of our stay in Lisbon would have sealed the deal. Leslie was in charge of planning our adventures in and around Lisbon, and I’m 100% convinced that she found one of the coolest places on the planet: Sintra, playground of Portugal’s royals and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sintra is a colorful, quirky town in the Serra de Sintra mountains west of Lisbon. The narrow, windy streets are crowded with cars, tuktuks, and buses that move way too fast. Little shops sell souvenirs and the delicious pastry known as pastéis, which fueled our adventures. (It’s a good thing we did so much walking, or I would have gained 100 pounds from these things alone. Seriously. They are so good.) And everywhere you look, there is something fun to see. I didn’t realize until I got home and started sorting through all my photos that I didn’t take very many of the town, and that makes me so sad. I guess it’s just a testament to how utterly entertaining it was—I was too busy gawking to take any photos.

Leslie: I know we visited some fantastic places, and it’s a tough decision, but this is probably in my top 3 places. It’s the perfect fairy tale setting of forests, mountains, views of the ocean, 6 castles and palaces, history and beauty galore. What more could you ask for?

From the train station, we stuffed ourselves like sardines into a bus that carried us up to the top of a hill, where we found the most colorful building I’ve ever seen. It’s called Pena Palace, and it is IN. CRED. I. BLE. Leslie and I were like giddy little kids as we explored every little nook and cranny. Every section of the palace is a different color, and there were tunnels and turrets and clock towers and views that went on for miles.

Leslie: I am in love with the eclectic, colorful palace. The 360 degree views of ocean, mountains, farmland, other little villages, etc. from all the balconies and walkways and terraces cannot be beat. I loved that you could even see Lisbon, the Ponte 25 de Abril, and the Cristo Rei statue.

The details in this place were unbelievable. There were tiles everywhere, a bagillion seashells carved out of rock, and crenelated walls and towers. It was such a treat to be able to spend a few hours exploring its many wonders.

Leslie: The inside was as fun to walk around in as the outside, honestly. I was glad this was one of the places we paid to enter that actually had furniture, decorations, etc. from the time period. I want to live there, no joke!

It was a little dark inside, so none of my pictures turned out. But you can see a bunch of fun photos here.

  • Pena Palace
  • Official Site
  • Price: €13.50 just for Pena, but they do offer combination tickets that are very cost effective
  • 5 Stars (5 / 5)
    Our Rating

After Pena, we rode the bus back down to town, where we enjoyed a quick lunch (and pastéis) by the National Palace. We didn’t go inside this one, but it was fun to watch the crowds coming and going. The National Palace is a very interesting structure, and it was continuously occupied for at least four centuries.

Next, we made a super quick trip to Quinta da Regaleira. We were in a bit of a rush because we had another stop planned for our return trip back to Lisbon, but in hindsight, we wish we had spent more time here. We barely scratched the surface (as you can see by the fact that I hardly got any pictures) and missed the suuuuuuper cool Initiation Well. To me, the coolest thing we saw was the secret tunnel that runs between the chapel and the main house. Cool!

Leslie: This castle was fun, though I was disappointed that only some of the rooms on certain floors were furnished and staged for the time period. For some reason walking through these structures when they are staged so beautifully gives another dimension to what I learn and how I feel about them. The narrow stairway to the rooftop terrace was fun, and I enjoyed the contrast in the view from this one compared to Pena; being on a smaller hill, the view was of surround palaces rather than a sweeping view of the ocean,etc. so it gave the palace kind of a surreal feeling of being somewhat isolated and quiet. What we saw of the gardens were beautiful, and I’m glad we saw the little chapel and that funny underground tunnel, but I sure wish we had spent more time here to walk around the extensive gardens to see the Initiation Well. That looks so cool in photos! I guess that’s a visit to make next time…

  • Quinta da Regaleira
  • Official Site
    Turn your speakers down…
  • Price: €6
  • 3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)
    Our Rating

Leslie had heard good things about Queluz, so we were pretty excited to visit. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to its hype for us. Not only was it a loooooong way from the train station through a rather sketchy area (it was one of only two times on our trip that I genuinely feared for our safety), but it was also a bit spooky. We were literally the only people there except for the staff, who followed us from room to room and shut the doors behind us despite the fact that the palace didn’t close for another two hours…

Leslie: Being the only people there seemed weird to me when everywhere else we had visited—and would yet visit—were just teeming with people, even as late in the season as we went.

The whole place also seemed a bit run down. Ironically, I’m rather pleased with how my photos turned out. It doesn’t look half bad in the photos, so maybe we were just sensitive to it because we had just come from the splendor of Pena and Quinta da Regaleira.

Leslie: It is such a large scale palace, with each room staged, lots of information given about the royal families who lived there, beautiful gardens and fountains and such, and yet it just seemed a little sad to me overall that it isn’t kept up that well, or as popular with visitors.

The gardens were nice, though, if a bit plain. They consisted mostly of a hedge labyrinth and a lot of trees, with interesting statues scattered throughout. It was nice to take a leisurely stroll, and as Leslie puts it:

I do think Queluz is worth the visit, but maybe not at the expense of spending more time at Quinta da Regelaira or perhaps seeing other palaces in Sintra that we chose not to see due to time constraints.

  • Queluz
  • Official Site
  • Price: €10, but available with a combo ticket from the other Sintra Palaces
  • 2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)
    Our Rating

Still, as we took the train back to Lisbon and then walked down mosaic-tiled streets to our hostel, we had a spring in our step that only comes from having just completed a grand adventure. Sintra was incredible, and Portugal was—once again—full of surprises.

See more of my adventure with Leslie here.

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