It’s almost a sin to come to Lisbon and not visit Sintra, at least once. Sintra’s a fairytale looking town about 45 minutes away from Lisbon by train (you can catch one at the Rossio train station) that carries a lot of Portuguese history – and beauty.
It’s easy to fall in love with it – lots of famous people did. Lord Byron wrote about it in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Hans Christian Andersen stayed there for a while when he came to Portugal and the portuguese author Eça de Queiroz dedicated entire chapters of some of his books just describing the town!
Sintra is small but it’s got plenty to see! If you take a day to visit it you can see pretty much everything and enjoy its beauty. It’s considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and also a great place for adventures!
Here are my suggestions for first timers in Sintra:
1. Palácio da Vila
If you go to Sintra by train, this is the first monument you’ll find. The palace is right in the heart of town and it’s famous for its big (big!) chimneys.
More info here.
Sintra is not only famous for its beautiful landscapes and palaces – it also has world famous pastries. The queijadas and travesseiros from Piriquita are the best – there are lots of other places that sell them but nothing compares to the real ones!
The café is right in the main square and if the queue’s too big (it usually is) there’s another one just up the street.
3. Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to. It has that enchanted atmosphere that you can find everywhere in Sintra, but in a unique way.
The property is huge and is full of lakes, grottoes, fountains, wells, streams and stone-built structures.
What I like the most there are the tunnels. There are several entry points, like the grottoes, the chapel, the Waterfall Lake and Leda’s Cave (the one that lies beneath the Regaleira Tower) and they go all the way to the Initiation Well, which was used for ceremonial purposes like initiation rites.
More info here.
4. Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros
I’m sure you’ve heard about these two before, as they are two of the best known monuments in Portugal. They are as beautiful as they are famous.
Both of them are right on top of the hill and if you walk all the way up there you’ll see some of the most beautiful landscapes and you will be able to explore every trail and every corner. I did it once and I’ve been nagging my friends to do it again ever since!
5. Hans Christian Andersen’s house
When the danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (known for his fairytale stories, like The Little Mermaid) came to Portugal in 1866, he stayed in Sintra for a while and we can still see his house there.
It’s at the bottom of the hill and near Santa Maria church. I found it by accident when I was coming down from Pena Palace one day and it was a lovely surprise!
These are my top 5 places to see in Sintra if you’ve never been there before, but there are plenty of other places worth visiting, like Convento dos Capuchos, Seteais Palace, Monserrate, among others. It’s also a great place for geocaching with friends!