Just thirty minutes away from Lisbon, Sintra needs to be in your trip itinerary!
I arrived in Sintra by train, but if I can give you a piece of advice: don't go during rush hour, you won't be able to move, other than that, easy ride. It will be clear to you that you have arrived in the bucolic village of Sintra. The train station itself already attracts tourists to admire its beautiful ornamented tiles. I admired them so much, that I forgot to photograph! Can you imagine? Only mental pictures...
We, my husband and I, stayed with Airbnb hosts in an apartment around 10 minutes away from the historical village in a very residential area. We only had a day to get to know the city, so our host gave us great tips on what to do first. I always do my research on where to go, what to do and to eat, but when a local tells you what is amazing in their city and what is a big tourist trap, you should be all ears.
Here it is our itinerary for 1 day:
1. Pena's Palace: we went to Palácio da Pena (in Portuguese) right after it opened at 10 o´clock. Bear in mind that the Palace is on top of a mountain, so if you decide to go walking I strongly recommend you do some lunges first. You'll see many people taking tuk-tuk rides, going by excursion buses or vans, but also many red-cheecked walkers.
There is a hefty entrance fee, 14 euros. If you're planning on spending the day there, which is totally possible, money well spent, because the property of the Palace is enchanting. Anyway, I spent only my morning there and I don't regret going out of budget to visit Sintra's biggest icon.
2. Moorish Castle: what's interesting about seeing a castle is seeing a castle and its big stoned walls blocking the villagers. So, while people were standing in line to enter the castle, we went through a passage where you go down contouring Castelo dos Mouros (in Portuguese) until you reach the historical village, for free.
Again, prepare your breath and legs if you decide to go down walking. There is paid transportation for you to go down, but since the Palace and the Castle's entrance are almost next to each other, people usually decide to do everything walking. I'm just trying to warn you about going to the gym before you travel...
The path is absolutely breathtaking! On one side, a lushy area with plants and trees from all over the world, on the other side, the tall dark gothic wall of the Castle, under your feet cobblestones that are thousands of years and behind you... ok, tourists.
It's a long way down until you reach the historical village of Sintra, but it's worth it. Stop, take pictures, drink some water, realize that you are in a place full of history with an amazing scenery. Even when you have left the Castle's area, the narrowed streets are still part of the fun of being in Sintra. I guarantee that there will be something at around almost every corner that will call your attention.
3. Historical village: maybe you didn't realize that you've just visited a Palace and a Castle on the same day, so I'm here to remind you that you visited a Palace and a Castle on the same day! Of course, a fairy-tale town needs a historical village. From all the hustle and bustle of the tourists some details of the village might go unnoticed. I say this because I was so excited with everything that I was just "brownsing" the city. Do you know what I did ten minutes after I realized this? I started my stroll again feeling all that town could offer me.
The handicrafted Portuguese tiles, the bags, purses, hats and shoes made out of cork, the many stores offering a sweet cherry liquor called, ginjinha, the huge line - in front of a famous restaurant - of people who wanted to eat the city's pastry, travesseiro, the street singers, the thousands of postcards waiting to be sent, the narrowed entrance doors to local stores, and the many people in awe to be in that quaint town.
4. Quinta da Regaleira: here's the last part of our one day trip to Sintra. Just like Pena's Palace, you can spend a whole day visiting the Quinta. In English, quinta means farm, but if I say farm you'll have another idea of what this unforgettable place is, so let's keep its original name, besides it's fun saying quinta.
Easy to get there on foot from the historical village of Sintra, the Palace of the quinta is opened for visitation and it will be the first thing you see. However, I recommed you to leave it to the end, because there are many places for you to visit, walk, photograph, meditate, have fun in the quinta, so before you leave the property make sure you stop by to take a look at the story of the people who lived there. Everything is included in the 6 euro entrance fee. There are oh so many paths for you to take at the quinta, so make sure you explore them, not necessarily in order, but as you go. I say explore because there are some "hidden" places, like the Iniciatic Well, a place you understand what's the Earth and what's the sky. Philosophical, right? But you'll get it once you're there.
A place where I would definitely go back! The quinta seems to be envolved in mystery, maybe because of its paths, green areas, "princesses" towers, wells, devotion towards religion, or maybe just because of the palace colors, its thick doors and mosaic floors.
If you only have one day in Sintra those are the places you should definetely pay a visit. They are not only tourist sites, or the town's main icons; Pena's Palace, for example, is considered a World Heritage Site, one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. After being in such a fairy-tale place, Sintra will be forever in your heart!