Sintra

Sintra is a Portuguese town and municipality, known for its many historical monuments and character. It’s a whimsical place set among the gorgeous greenery of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. It’s the most popular day trip from Lisbon, and for good reason. The old town albeit rather crowded on a summer day feels like a place straight out of a children’s book, and the best part is Sintra doesn’t end there. From the steep hills that lay at the center of it all, to the villages along the 12km to the coast, one can dabble in attractions from rock climbing and surfing, to touring ancient ruins, regal mansions and whimsical palaces. Below is a recap of the two days we spent in Sintra.

Sintra Itinerary

  • Day 1: Quinta da Regaleira, Initiation Well, Castle of the Moors, City Center
  • Day 2: Praia das Azenhas Do Mar, Praia das Maçãs, Praia da Adraga, Convent of the Capuchos

Day One

In the early morning (8am) we left for Sintra from the Rossio Train station in Lisbon and arrived 40 minutes later. We accidentally got off at the Portela de Sintra stop, which takes you to the more residential area right outside of Sintra, where there’s a grocery store and other signs of life. (Get off at the stop simply called “Sintra”.)

We used Google Maps to walk to the old city center. It was still sleeping and we were excited to be some of the first people in town!

Will you be visiting Sintra? Here are 8 tips when visiting Sintra if you are!

We walked to our first site, Quinta da Regaleira, where a few people waited by the gate. The palace sits among gardens with fountains, benches (serious stone benches that you’d find in museums), Greek God statues and a chapel. Underground grottoes (tunnels) leading to wells and a waterfall.

As soon as the gates opened, we paid to enter and got lost among the cork oak trees, following dirt trails and stone steps leading to nowhere. Eventually, we found the entrance to the initiation well.

The well is a 27-meter spiral staircase, an inverted tower, that wasn’t used for water but more “ceremonial purposes.” From the top you can climb all the way down to the base where the dark grottoes lead you to other places on the property, including a small pond and waterfall.

After grabbing a bite to eat at the cafe there, we stood at the bus station just down the hill. Buses full of tourists passed us. We knew we wouldn’t get a spot on the city bus, so we called an Uber and sat in traffic on the way up the mountain to the Castle of the Moors. We hiked the rest of the way to the Castle of the Moors when someone had parked like a bozo, blocking traffic.

The views from the top of the Castle of the Moors, which dates back to the 9th century and was used as a strategic point during the Reconquista, made the city and it’s National Palace look so small. Mansions dotted the green mountain side.

We walked along the edge of the castle, back down through the forest and all the way down to the city center. The hike took about 30 minutes going down. It’s steep and bumpy at times, and would take at least an hour to hike from the bottom to the very top (spitting you out at the castle, and in walking distance to the Pena Palace).

We toured briefly around the small city center, stopping to buy some postcards and attempting to sample a pastry at the famous Piriquita; the travesseiro of Sintra (pillow pastry with almond cream) and the queijada (cupcake size pastry made of egg, cheese, milk, and sugar). We hear there are two locations, one off the main drag and another on the same street but higher up. Go early to get them warm! (Luckily for us, we got to try the treats later that night at a restaurant around the corner!)

Taxis seem plentiful during the daytime in the city center near the National Palace of Sintra. We took one to our Airbnb, a small cabin built for elves on the property of a hotel turned home, with views of the mountaintop castles. Taxis don’t seem to be patrolling the wooded roads of Sintra. We suggest making sure you have a Portuguese speaking friend (or travel book) and phone service if you’re staying away from the city center.

Once back in town, we sipped on manhattan’s and gin tonics at a rooftop garden (Museu Klaus Ohnsmann) and took a load off before dinner. We had plans to eat at a place recommended by our travel book (Nau Palatina) located in São Pedro de Penaferrim, just a mile east of the city center. We suggest calling and booking ahead for these types of places! (It was full that night). We walked back and ate dinner at Tasco do Xico, where Chris ordered green wine and we deliberately ate a plate of mushrooms for the first time in our life. So salty, so good.

After dinner, we couldn’t find a taxi (they don’t hover in the city center at night like they do in the daytime). We called an Uber driver, though he could not find our place. We ended up back in the city center 45 minutes later. If you’re staying in the area, we recommend asking your dining establishment to call a taxi for you if you’re unable to walk home!

Day Two

On our second morning, we woke up to fog rolling through the mountains and just above our little Airbnb.

We wanted to get away from it all, so we took the advice of our taxi driver from the previous day. We rented a small, electric car for the day from Go2Cintra, a place right across the street from the train station.

They worked with us to plan out a route we were happy with (to the coast with one or two potential stops along the way). They helped make sure we had enough energy to go the distance we wanted, gave us a portable phone charger and wifi device so we wouldn’t have any issues using Google Maps throughout the day, and showed us how the car worked. We were off in a hurry, past the congested city center and at the beach in 30 minutes.

Our first stop was Praia das Azenhas Do Mar. The village sits high on the cliff. The beach has a nature made kiddy pool. We enjoyed a coffee and sandwich at the beach cafe.

A path takes you up a cliff on the south side of the beach to look down on it all.

We then headed south 15 minutes, passing Praia das Maçãs (Apple Beach), and stopping at our main destination of the day, Praia da Adraga (Adraga Beach). Our host had suggested resting here and eating seafood at the one restaurant on the beach.

We followed the sand until we reached the rocks. We laid a sorang on the sand and rested, watching the waves crash in and the clouds fly by. Chris replenished our snacks at the snack bar near the restaurant, where there are also restrooms and a parking lot.

We enjoyed an early dinner at D’Adraga Restaurant right on the beach. We ate pork and blackfish from Madeira Island. This was the first time Chris tried fish and really liked it! Our server poured a HUGE glass of Jameson for Chris, and wine for Ali.

After filling up, we squeezed back into our tiny electric car and drove 20 minutes to Convent of the Capuchos. It was dead when we arrived (nearly 5:00pm).

Founded in 1560, this historical convent was once home to monks, who were deliberate about living simply and symbiotically with nature. We squeezed through their humble home, wondering how people could fit in such tiny spaces. The convent can be seen easily in an hour’s time.

We enjoyed the serenity of the convent. The absence of crowds allowed us to dwell and soak it all in. We even found our Airbnb host’s dog wandering around. Perhaps he had been a monk in a previous life.

The drive back to the city center took no time. We parked the car, gave back our supplies, and ran to catch the 7:10pm train back to Lisbon. Before we left, Go2Cintra graciously gave us free tuna pate in remembrance. Thanks guys!

Will you be visiting Sintra? Here are 8 tips when visiting Sintra if you are!

If you have any questions about our experience in Sintra, email us!

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