Portugal: Sintra

Lisbon was a great travel hub, but the real reason I came to Portugal was to visit the famous sites in Sintra and the famous coastal city of Porto. And these two destinations did not disappoint! They are beautiful picturesque towns that made my travels here completely worth the effort. Portugal is considered as the poor man’s Spain – but in reality Portugal is such a cool place; it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. After my time here in Portugal i’ll be traveling to Spain. So far I have nothing but good things to say about this place. I doubt I will compare it to Spain, but we’ll see.

Castelo dos Mouros

First up was my trip to Sintra and its two famous sites: Castelo dos Mouros and the Palacio Nacional da Pena. The Castelo dos Mouros is a military watchtower purposed to overlook the town of Sintra and beyond. The walls are beautifully built but the view from here is the real prize. Most travelers first visit the Pena Palace then make their way down here, but I opted to see this tower first to beat the crowds. It was quite empty throughout my entire visit. You can even buy discount tickets for both sites at the front entrance counter – after purchasing tickets just follow the path towards the left of the ticket office – there weren’t many signs to direct you so just follow the stone walking path – the views are spectacular. I had a great time taking snapshots and strolling about at my own pace. The panoramic views of Sintra and Pena Palace are worth the visit – don’t miss this site if you visit Sintra. You’ll need about 2 hours to fully view all the Moorish Castle has to offer and it cost about 20€ per person to do both sites. Just do it!

Palacio Nacional da Pena

After feeling content with my stroll here I made my way up the hill to the Palacio Nacional da Pena. This is the highlight of Sintra – there was a really long line waiting to buy entrance tickets and an even longer line to enter the palace. It seriously took about 1.5 hours just to get in the palace. The line wraps all the way up to the front door and small groups of about 10 people are allowed in, but before joining the queue you will have to buy a pass to take the shuttle bus to the top or take a short hike up a really steep hill.

The most frustrating thing was dealing with people cutting in line – out of nowhere other family members just showed up and acted as if they were part of the line. It was really frustrating – once you are closer to the front door you’ll see even more of this behavior – it mostly comes from Spanish travelers, they seem to not understand or respect the concept of curtesy and waiting, it was simply annoying.

Once you finally make your way into the interior of the palace you’ll get a sense of what it was like to live here in the early 1900’s. The Palacio da Pena’s interior and exterior design is inspired by the ideals of romanticism – the surrounding forrest, stunning vistas and unique ornaments help make this place feel like something out of a fairytale. It is one of the world’s most magnificent palaces and that is fairly obvious by the large amount of tourist and spectators found year round. It’s one of the top tourist attractions of Portugal – the peak season is April through September, it’s best to come really early to beat the crowds or come closer to closing time. It’s worth the effort if you are in Portugal.

To get here from Lisbon is pretty easy, it will take about 50 minutes via train and cost about 5€. The train station to look for is Lisbon’s city centre Rossio Station, be sure to buy a round trip ticket and show up early at the train station. Trains seem to depart towards Sintra every hour but it’s best to arrive early to beat the crowds. Once you arrive in Sintra exit the station and walk towards the end of the street to the busses, there will likely be people there waiting in line for a bus, take the 434-tourist bus to arrive at one of these sites. Don’t try to walk it – the sites are on a steep uphill and you’ll hate yourself for it. There is not much more to say about these sites other than they are totally worth checking out for a one-day trip and sure help round-out a visit to Portugal. The next destination for me and one that I have been looking forward to is the coastal town of Porto. Happy Travels!