Sintra, Portugal – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Whenever I was a kid I remember dreaming of going to Disney World. We all saw the commercials on TV and I couldn’t wait to finally step foot in this magical place. I begged my parents for months and months and when I was seven my parents FINALLY (funny how long time feels when you’re young) took me to Disney World. Once there I remember standing in line after line after line and while I am super thankful I was able to go my perception of this magical land quickly changed.
Sadly, Sintra was the same for me. We stood in queues for much of the day and the areas that I really wanted to see we didn’t even touch due to exhaustion from queuing all day. On the plus side, I think a lot of my frustration in Sintra was caused by poor planning. With the tips and tricks provided in this blog hopefully your trip to Sintra will be free of irritation and replaced with joy and perfect Instagrammable photos.
How to get here
What you shouldn’t do
Drive. Don’t drive here. See that queue above. Imagine driving in this. And then imagine driving down tiny roads made for literally two people and you are supposed to fit your car down. I was in panic tears driving through this town.. From experience – just don’t drive.
What you should do
Take the train from Lisbon for ONLY €2 and plan to stay the night in Sintra. There are so many sites in Sintra worth seeing that if we ever go back we will be staying for at least one night. Here are two great Air BnB options.
Click here for $35 off your first Air BnB booking.
If you can’t stay in Sintra for a night take the first train to Sintra. Trust me, you’ll want to beat the queues. We arrived in Sintra around 11:30 and stood in lines for more time than we did actually seeing the sites.
Sites to see
There are so many sites to see here! We only saw the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace. If (better yet when) we go back we will be sure to also visit the Quinta da Regaleira (famous for the Initiation Well) and the Park and Palace of Moserrate (we heard great things from locals). I don’t think it would be possible to see all four in one day so I would suggest the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace the first day and the Quinta da Regaleira and Moserrate the second day.
Castle of the Moors
After waiting in line for about an hour combined with finding parking + taking a bus that nearly killed a biker (not kidding, the bus nearly slammed a motorcycle into a wall) we had FINALLY made it….to the ticket line. Le sigh. We waited another 30 minutes in a line for the automated machine and of course it wouldn’t accept our American credit card. Fortunately, we had British friends with us who were able to pay. We went ahead and bought a dual ticket for both the castle and the palace which was cheaper than buying them separately (I think around €20/person).
Now for the fun part! The Castle of the Moors was established in the 9th century by the North African Moors to guard the town of Sintra. After the Christian conquest of Portugal it fell to ruins, but was restored in the 19th century. It is an absolutely gorgeous castle with PHENOMENAL views of Sintra and the surrounding areas. If you had to choose between the Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace, I would opt for the Castle. It was so fun to run around the walls and look over the sides at the amazing view.
After exploring the Castle of the Moors for about an hour and a half we headed over to Pena Palace. You can walk over to it from the Castle of the Moors, but it’s quite a trek up hill. You can pay a small fee to ride a bus up to the top. This had a queue too and at this point I wasn’t having it so we trekked up. 20 minutes later and we were there! Despite all of my complaints about the queues, this palace was phenomenal. Right when you get up the hill this is what you are greeted with. Talk about jaw-dropping beauty.
You can buy tickets to just explore the gardens and if you do so you won’t get to see much of the actual palace. If you made it all the way to Sintra I would suggest buying the whole package to truly enjoy all of the sights.
I had a blast exploring all of the various sections of this castle. We’ve been to quite a few castles over the past year and I have yet to see one so intricately designed. I could have spent days as a budding (very amateur) photographer running around here.
My very favorite part of this palace though was the views of the green forests below contrasting with the bright colors of this palace. I’m a sucker for nature I guess.
You can tell I was on cloud 9 at this point despite all of the queues we had stood in line for at this point.
By the time we were done exploring the palace we were exhausted so we didn’t even go to the gardens. Again, proper planning would have done us well! We went down to the front gates and queued in another line for about 30 minutes to get down to the bottom of the hill to make the trek back to our car and then to our Air BnB on the coast.
Despite my hatred for queues and crowds, I would have visited Sintra all over again if given the choice. However, I would have stayed in Sintra for a night and really spent some time getting to know the town after the crowds of tourists depart. If you do get to stay the night I would highly suggest dining at Romaria de Baco. The hubs had his favorite steak during our time in Portugal and the wine here is to die for (and affordable!). I would literally go back to Portugal just for the wine though, so if you’re not a wino I might be a biased opinion.