Where Lisbon is gritty, lively, and and a little rough around the edges, Sintra is magical and picturesque, both being different versions of the same Portuguese culture.
You must plan a day trip to Sintra if you are ever planning a trip to Lisbon anyways. You can take a commuter train to Sintra from just about any train station in Lisbon, and depending from which one you leave from, you can get a return ticket for rather cheap, being under 5€. The commuter train does stop at every station, making it about a 50 minute train ride, however, you get to see the different parts of Lisbon along the way.
We arrived in Sintra between 10am and 11am. We accidentally got off one stop too early and ended up being in the outskirts of this small city. Not having a very detailed map on hand, we just starting walking, in hopes of finding a map on the street or signs that point towards the monuments that we were looking to see, winding along roads in the Sintra Hills not being completely sure of the direction we were heading. It took us about an hour to an hour and a half to finally get to the top, following the views of the most beautiful palace along the way, the Pena Palace.
Being a World Heritage UNESCO site, the Pena Palace first started off as a chapel in Medieval times. Then, it was converted into a convent and then later a monastery, where it suffered some damage during the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. Then, lastly, it was bought by Don Fernando II in the 19th century, when it was converted into the beautifully colored palace that it is today. The palace was converted into a museum in the early 1900s, with UNESCO listing it as a World Heritage site in 1995.
Though the Pena Palace is the gem of the Sintra Hills, it’s not the only historic building that one could come across. There isn’t just one more beautiful place to see, nor just two more. No, there are 7 different historical buildings that you can wander through in these beautiful hills! 7! Isn’t that absolutely amazing?!
So, if you are really looking for an adventure I’d advise to hit up all 7.
- The Pena Palace, of course
- The Moorish Castle
- National Palace of Sintra
- National Palace of Queluz
- Capuchos Convent
- Monserrate Park and Palace
- Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla
Now, unfortunately, our day trip to Sintra was kind of last minute and our wallets were running a little low, as it was nearing the end of our trip. So, we didn’t actually go into any of these historical buildings. However, I did do some research, and if you are feeling really determined, you can buy a combined ticket with as many of the historic sites as you’d like. You can use this online price simulator to see how much it would cost to go see all of the sites of interest to you: http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/plan-your-visit-en/price-simulator/
For just one adult, it would cost around 60€ to see all 7. That seems like quite a bit of change! However, for 7 historical sites where you can learn about the rich history of Portugal, I would consider it worth it. Plus, I’m pretty sure that getting a combined ticket ends up being cheaper. Another great thing about getting a combined ticket is that you don’t have to see all the sites in one day. You can use it two or even three days in a row. That way you don’t have to feel rushed to see each place.
However, if your personal wallet is running quite a bit low as well, there is a respectable, much much cheaper alternative option: visiting the Pena Palace Park. The park itself is only 7.50€ for an adult entrance. Though you can’t go into any of the palaces with just a park entrance ticket, you do get the glorious opportunity of at least seeing the outside of a handful of them as well as enjoying one of the biggest and most beautiful parks that you’ve probably ever seen.
You get a free map of the park with your ticket purchase. The main entrance is near the Pena Palace. So, you can walk up and at least admire its beauty from the outside. Just staring at it made my soul happy because how well built and colorful it is.
After you’ve gawked at that for a few minutes, I advise continuing climbing the path up towards the left. You’ll come across the Temple of the Columns, which is gives you a fantastic viewpoint of the Pena Palace.
As you continue, you’ll come across the Statue of the Warrior. Now, this statue is atop a massive mound of giant rocks. I don’t think you’re technically suppose to climb them, however, we did anyways. I advise you to do the same. Not only is it a fantastic workout, especially if you really enjoy hiking, but this is where you can get an even more amazing view of the Pena Palace. Plus, I felt like a cool kid for having conquered my fear of heights and gotten all on up in those giants things.
After you’ve had your fun there, feeling like a kid again, keep going up and up and up and up to the highest point in all of the Sintra Hills. Now, as gorgeous as that Palace is, and as much as I would’ve liked to explore it, hands down the highest point in these beautiful hills was my absolute favorite part of my entire trip in Portugal.
I’ve seen many beautiful places in all of my travels, but never have I ever felt so at peace, so in love with the world, than when I was sitting there, overlooking the Atlantic ocean, Sintra, Lisbon even, and the cross right in front of me. It also really helped that the sun was shining brightly with no shame and with no cloud in sight. This is where I found magic in Sintra.
Though the Cruz Alta was my favorite part in the park, there are still many other beautiful points. It is a massive park after all.
There are trails upon trails that lead to places such as greenhouses, gardens, fantastic outlook points, and where we ended our hike, the Valley of the Lakes, a small valley with about 5 small ponds, where you can sit and watch the ducks as they flap about from the duck house in the middle of the largest one.
So, really if you think about it, just one day won’t properly suffice for exploring all that Sintra has to offer, especially if you continue down out of the hills to explore the beautiful town below, where I had the best coffee of my life, a Portuguese café au lait (who knew a café au lait could be so delicious), while waiting for the train back to Lisbon, at the most adorable café right next to the train station (the correct one that you should get off on, the one at the very end of the train line).
Sidenote: Don’t forget to pack your lunch to save yourself from having to spend ridiculous prices at the cafés inside the park and allowing yourself the opportunity to enjoy the beauty while enjoying a meal.
For me, I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the roughness of Lisbon with the picturesque beauty of Sintra. I felt I saw different sides of Portugal, reminding me that all countries and all cultures have many sides to them. They are just one specific thing. They don’t just claim their respective stereotypes. There is a lot more than what is just in front of you or what you find on the internet (My blog included). Do your research. Use those blogs as guidelines, but don’t always go in with expectations. Open yourself up to being surprised by what you might discover. You will always leave those places feeling more knowledgeable and more accomplished if you just allow the places to show you what they have to offer rather than you choosing to see what they have to offer.
This is part of what traveling is all about.