While spending my week in my hostel in Lisbon, I crossed path with many travelers who went to visit Sintra and recommended it to me as a day trip outside of Lisbon. This Unesco World heritage-listed centre has become a major tourist destination, and you can understand why from the moment you arrive there. From the unique colorful palace, to the fairy tale gardens, ancient ruins and other national monuments, Sintra has a lot to offer to visitors.
How to get there?
I took the train from Lisbon that leaves from Rossio train station. The return ticket to Sintra was very cheap, 4,50eur only. It took about 45 minutes from Lisbon to get to Sintra. Once at the train station, you will be called by private tour operators who will want to sell you their offers. It's up to you to accept it.
Otherwise, you can find at the train station a tourist office that can provide you with a free map of the site. I asked them what's the best way to get around and they recommended me to take the bus #434 right outside the train station.
The first bus of the day runs at 9:15 until the last one at 19:50. It leaves every 15 minutes and stops by the historic centre, followed by the Moors Castle and finally Pena Palace before getting back to the train station. You can, of course, hop off at every stop and take the next bus to get to the next one. The ticket will cost you 5 euros.
If you have a car, you will enjoy more freedom and stop wherever you want which can be an advantage, especially while the busy season with lots of tourists. However, be aware that you would be driving up the mountain and the roads are very steep and narrow (I am still impressed by how the bus driver managed to take some turns), and also there might not be enough car parking spaces.
I would personally recommend taking the tourist bus, less hassle.
What to see?
I stopped by these four attractions but Sintra has more to offer. It is up to you to plan your visit:
The historic centre - with its cobblestone streets and traditional painted buildings, is very picturesque. You will find many restaurants, cafes and shops. Perfect to grab a bite and get some souvenirs.
Quinta da Regaleira - a 20th century residence split over 5 floors located in Sintra. I did not take much time to explore the inside as I was mostly interested by its gardens designed with hidden tunnels. It is open between 10 am and 8pm in Summer and will cost you 6euros/adult. The main attraction is the initiation well, an impressive 27 meters deep winding staircase used for ceremonial purposes, that connects to a series of tunnels leading to different parts of the gardens.
Palacio nacional da Pena - this is the most original castle I have ever seen with its vivid color painted, the palace is located at the highest point of Sintra and surrounded by pine forests. Some parts were designed by the King Ferdinand who was passionate about arts. The exterior has decorative towers and statues of mythological creatures on the walls. While the interior of the palace will allow you to get down memory lane as everything has been kept as in 1910 when the Portuguese nobility fled Portugal due to the revolution. It is for sure the best attraction of Sintra.
The Pena Park - 200 hectares of forested walkways that surround the palace. This forest will make you feel like in a fairy tale. If you like hiking, you will definitely enjoy walking around. And if you are into photography, you will love it!
Sintra is definitely a must do if you are in Lisbon. It is very quick to get there by train and worth a visit. However, as it is located in mountains and close by the sea, receiving winds that blow from the Atlantic Ocean, be aware that the weather may change pretty quickly and the temperature may drop. Therefore it might be cooler there than in Lisbon, so don't forget to bring some warm clothes with you. I got lucky on that day I visited as it was warm and sunny but the rest of the week was pretty bad from what I heard.