Classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Sintra is a must-see tourist site, and quite unusual, when you come to visit Lisbon. A round trip for the day allows you to tour the city and the main surrounding palaces. For my part, I was able to make three out of the multiples retros, luxury properties, and more quintas, vacation homes of the local aristocracy.
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon?
Sintra is located about 25km west of Lisbon. As often, there are several ways to get around, renting a car, by coach with guided tour… but the most practical is toto get to Sintra by train (departure every 20-30 min, 45 min journey, € 4.50 round trip + € 0.5 support card). Two stations serve the city, that of Rossio (in the city center) and Oriente station. It was from Rossio Station that I took the train because it is better located compared to my accommodation. I hallucinated when I saw the queue, and again, it was October, I don’t even imagine in summer! Fortunately, I had the Lisboa Card which includes transportation and I didn’t have to queue to buy the ticket.
Sintra, ultra-mega-hyper-tourist site!
Getting off the train, the galley. The whole crowd has to go through only the two gantry cranes and it is very busy. Then, leaving the station … absolutely unbearable! The sidewalks are saturated with tourists trampling, guides soliciting, honking tuk-tuks, parked cars… Oppressing, suffocating! Quick, go from there, run away from the crowd, breathe! A few hundred meters further, towards the Town Hall, it’s already almost a little bit better … And again, it was October, during the All Saints holidays. I can’t even imagine the horror in the middle of summer!
Then, to reach the historic center of Sintra, just follow the flow on the sidewalk of an S-road leading to Praça da República, where the National Palace is located. From there, the crowd becomes more dense. Besides, my friend, if you come to visit Sintra in summer or spring, I strongly recommend that you arrive early andbuy your tickets in advance to avoid long queues. Especially since each palace is independent and you have to wait in line at each ticket office. As for visiting Sintra as such, there is not much to see apart from a few shopping streets.
Where to eat in Sintra?
Mass tourism obliges, it is not the restaurants which will fail to try to entice you. Signs installed in busy streets helping. It was by deviating in a small passage that we found our happiness at the bottom of the dead end of a charming alley relieved of the crowd. The restaurant and grocery store Raiz Grab & Go (to locate it, zoom in on the map at the bottom of the article) has a very nifty address with its refreshing shaded terrace. Very friendly welcome (the guy even showed me the best point of view – at the window – to photograph when he saw me do it). The dishes are varied with fish, organic vegetarians, and truly cooked with talent (between 6 and 10 €). It was just delicious!
The first of the Sintra palaces we visited, because it is right in the heart of the city. You can see from the road its unique architecture with its two huge white cones. Built in the XIIe century on the foundations of a alcáçova (Moorish fortress), it served as a residence for the Kings of Portugal. The palace was enlarged in the XIV and XVe centuries to become a complex mixing Manueline architecture and Arabic aesthetics.
The visit to the Sintra National Palace gradually sets the mood with the Archers Hall and then the Swans room, the largest state hall of the palace. Formerly known as the “Great Hall”, it was intended for receptions and banquets. Its current name is due to the 27 swans painted in the ceiling boxes. The route then goes through several rooms, decorated with azulejos of different patterns, like the Magpie room (in response to a story of adultery apparently …) with its official office, King Sebastião’s room, the Hall of galleys and its vaulted ceiling in the shape of a boat hull … until you get some fresh air in the Princes’ Gardens outside and the patio of the small pools.
In all honesty, so far, the discovery is pleasant without being very fun either. But the highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the Coat of arms room ! A huge room where the gaze is immediately, irretrievably, vertiginously, drawn vertically to the Arabian ceiling. The whole is decorated with the coat of arms of 72 noble Portuguese families of the XVIe century. On the aisles, the walls are covered with figurative azulejos of plants, furniture but above all frames representing scenes of life, in particular hunting parties.
Further, the Palatine Chapel worth a look with its dove patterns holding olive branches in their beaks. The kaleidoscopic coffered ceiling of Mudejar style is also remarkable, reminding me of those in the palaces of Marrakech. Then, the Arab Room with an Indian fountain on the ground and the famous kitchens with two huge fireplaces 33 meters high, which we discover inside. Small personal pleasure to discover a Savoy Cross with a wall (the cozinha chief was he a grandfather of Marc Veyrat?).
Finally, we cross the Manueline room with its chandelier and period furniture. Then, a terrace makes it possible to make a contemplative stop on the esplanade of Praça da República (rather calm at the end of October at meal time …) and the hill of the Castle of the Moors. We finally end the course by going back into the central patio with the ” Cave of the Baths “, kind of nymphaeum decorated with stuccos with aquatic motifs. Without hurrying, we will have taken a big hour to visit the National Palace of Sintra.
Dating from the Xe century during the Iberian occupation, the Castle of the Moors is a fortification built by the Muslims on the hills of Sintra, already invested in the Neolithic and then Roman times. Placed at an altitude of 412 meters, it served as an outpost to monitor the Atlantic Ocean and control overland routes to Lisbon. It was during the reconquest in the XIIe century that it became Portuguese. It benefited from restorations during the XIXe and XXe centuries.
For access to the castle, a hiking itinerary from the heights of the center of Sintra (in green on the map below). It follows the mountain on the northwest side for 2 km to the ticket office, passing in front of the Vila Sassetti and a climbing site. The route begins with a paved path in a botanical garden and then turns into an earthy path. There is nothing complicated but if you are absolutely not used to walking in the mountains, you may find it tiring (allow 1 / 2h to 1h walk depending on your ease).
Another possible solution, the Scotturb bus n ° 434 commutes between the center of the city and the Palace of Pena via Castelo dos Mouros. The tourist office announced 4 € the ticket and 1 / 4h of climb but .. the girlfriend who took it, in the tourist rush, had to pay 7 € in the bus, without possible negotiation with an unlovable driver. She finally arrived 3/4 hours after we who had climbed on foot! Then, tickets in your pocket, we follow the paved path towards the South-East. Just before the entrance, an old church exhibits archaeological finds during excavations, including those of successive necropolises.
Inside, no imposed route, each visitor is free to go as they please, according to the relief of the hill. In the first place, we let ourselves go north and go up towards the citadel and its keep. The fortified place was the last bastion of resistance in the event of an enemy breakthrough. The view plunges over Sintra and the surrounding land, all the way to Lisbon. The covered way descends towards the Place d’Armes with a view of the Atlantic coast. From there, the ramparts look like the Wall of China with the prospect of their line winding up the hill. Several lookouts mark out the route, displaying the different flags of Portugal throughout history. Among them, a green flag where it is written “Sintra” in Arabic thus pays homage to the origin of the fortress.
Finally, after a short climb, we arrive at the Royal Tower, so called because it was said to be Ferdinand II’s favorite place (he painted there). Highest point of the castle, facing south, it exhibits a 360 ° panoramic view of the entire fortification of the Château des Maures, Sintra Park, the Palace of Pena, perched on its hill pointing above the forest, and the surroundings as far as the eye can see.
A path then descends into the castle courtyard, at the level of the old stables where the old cistern is located and, modernity requires, a cafeteria, a shop and toilets. In the end, nothing particularly astounding in the visit of the Château des Maures but a very pleasant one hour stroll taking your time …
You can reach the Palace of Pena in 10-15 minutes on foot from the Château de Maures by a forest path (it is also possible by following the road). The coaches waiting on the sides and the number of stakes in the queue at the checkouts do not lie, this is THE tourist place to visit in Sintra! The crowd in the park following the flag guides corroborates intuition which then becomes certainty.
Arriving around the palace, we are confused. It looks like a kind of Walt Disney castle, sounding false like a decor made in lego with these primary colors. After past an imposing eastern portal and then another more “fortress”, we go up the aisle and access the multiple terraces available on several levels. We almost got lost. They are lookouts on the surrounding landscape and, if not more, on the building itself. A passageway makes it possible to take a panoramic walk to the North, giving the converse of earlier on the Château des Maures.
The whole combines neo-Manueline architecture with neo-medieval (towers, aliasing …), neo-Gothic (windows, doors …), neo-Moorish (azulejo) and neo-romantic (plant motifs, twists …) ornaments. A newt (half-man, half-fish) appears on the main main door, holding the tree of life, in an allegory of the creation of the World. Behind, a medieval interior courtyard with, behind its parapets, views of the park and the coast. Above the stairs, a small pearl not to be missed, a magnificent decorated chapel whose origin dates back to the old hieronymite monastery with a sumptuous alabaster altarpiece from the XVIe century.
The entrance is not easy to find (in a corner of the central building and the one on the right) and we ended up wondering if the interior was accessible. The visit (1h-1h30) begins with the old cloister combining Manueline style and Hispano-Arab tiles, then we cross the numerous rooms of the Palace. For the rest, I am a little annoyed (although ….). I love to show in pictures what I’m telling you but, it really annoyed me, photographs are absolutely prohibited inside the Pena Palace! And when I say absolutely, I weigh my words! I tried to deviate from the rule, but in each room, the guards are on top of it and one or more cameras are watching. I resigned myself and abandoned the idea.
However, I can tell you that, while I was quite skeptical (I am not very trendy visiting dusty palaces), I was also seduced by the interior of the Palace of Pena. Each room exhibits royal furniture and objects. Many panels explain the life of the time. The decoration is sumptuous with walls painted in grisaille (false moldings) or really carved in fine reliefs like lace, geometry incorporating Arab motifs… To put it simply, it is the palace that I preferred in Sintra because the most remarkable and the most complete.
So as not to leave you hungry, I still found you a video to illustrate my remarks as well asa link to get pictures.
We then went back down to the center of Sintra by Pena Park. As it was getting dark, we didn’t linger too long, but it’s a nice place, especially in the heat of summer. We went through the Bassin des moines (a pool of frogs), the Manueline Chapel (completely obsolete), the Greenhouse of the Garden, the Fountain with small birds (an Islamic style pavilion with a spherical dome) then the Valley of the Lakes with its swans and ducks.
There are many palaces to visit in Sintra. There are a dozen tourist places throughout the site such as the Abegoaria and Quinta da Pena, the chalet and the Condessa Garden in Edla, the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, the Quintinha in Monserrate… But the most illustrious are the Palácio and the Quinta da Regaleira, built in the XXe century by a Portuguese millionaire in a romantic-Manueline-Renaissance style combining architectonic, Gothic, symbolic and esoteric (nothing but that !!). His visit can be added to the day program in Sintra. There is also the Palácio and the Parc de Monserrate, botanical garden where winding paths and lakes follow one another, nestled between ruins, corners and waterfalls, the Capuchin Convent (9 km from the center). But there, to do all that, you may need a second day there.
Another monument that would be worth a look, the Palácio Nacional de Queluz, former royal residence located halfway between Sintra and Lisbon. Splendid example of Portuguese architecture from the end of the 18th centurye century with rooms decorated in rockery, such as the superb Throne Room with walls covered with mirrors and a magnificent golden engraving. The surrounding gardens are adorned with ornamental fountains and basins where water gushes from sculpted mythological figures. ((video)
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