In many ways Sintra reminded me of Brugge, Belgium. Both places are small in size but during the day and especially on weekends, are completely overrun with day trippers. Brugge is close to Paris, Amsterdam, and Brussels; Sintra is extremely near to Lisbon. While I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to mess up a visit to Sintra, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to plan your visit from a strategic standpoint, so hopefully the following three tips will help since there is so much to see and do.
1.) If you only have a day at your disposal to visit the Sintra region, plan wisely. There are many more sites to tour than you probably have time for, not to mention many are extremely spread out factoring in the need for traveling times. Prior to visiting, I had read the most about the Pena Palace, the National Palace, and the Moorish Castle. Once we arrived, our bed and breakfast hosts as well as other guests there praised other sites in the area including Montserrat Palace, Queluz Palace (dubbed the Versailles of Portugal), and the Convent of the Capuchos. I stuck to my original plans by visiting the three attractions I had always wanted to see and yet on our drive from the bed and breakfast into Lisbon, we passed by an area that offered incredible views of Montserrat Palace; I can’t say that I didn’t look longingly at it and wish I had had more time to visit.
|A beautiful interior at the National Palace|
2.) Hiking is a lot of fun but so is touring historical attractions. But with time constraints, it can be difficult to do both. Although it is possible to hike to the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace from “downtown Sintra,” it is an incredibly steep hike and a lot further than it looks while at ground level. Moreover, the getting there and returning trips will eat into a large portion of your day, thus limiting the amount of time you get to spend at the actual attractions. For this reason I would strongly recommend taking the 434 bus which does a wide loop of the area and includes stops at the Sintra train station, the city center, and right outside the entrances to both Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. On board you also have the option of purchasing a 24 hour ticket for unlimited ride use for five Euros. I would however, recommend against spending the two Euros for the trolley ride between the Pena Palace entrance and the actual palace unless you have small children and strollers or someone in your party is physically unwell. While it’s a steep hike to the top of the palace, it will take you no more than 10 minutes, plus it’s all in the shade with dense forest around.
|Looking down on the National Palace from atop the Moorish Castle|
3.) While I was apprehensive about visiting Sintra on a Sunday, as I read that the mobs of people could be overwhelming, surprisingly enough if was not that bad. In comparison, two European attractions that I have less than favorable memories of due to the droves of people were Versailles and St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, especially the cupola. A major plus for visiting the National Palace on Sunday is that admission is free until 2 PM, which is wonderful seeing as how the admission for Pena Palace alone is 13.50 Euros, so it’s definitely nice being able to save 9 Euros a person. I will note that if you do have a rental car, perhaps think twice about visiting some of the area attractions on the weekend as parking can be a nightmare due to locals visiting the popular sites as well. The British family who was staying at our bed and breakfast aborted plans to visit attractions on both Saturday and Sunday due to not being able to find a place to park their rental car. So unless you can arrive at an attraction first thing, perhaps save Sintra for the work week.
|Pena Palace is expensive so try to save some Euros where you can.|