Europe Portugal

Through the magical gardens and castles of Sintra, Portugal

By on December 9, 2015

Sintra is a magical fairytale town, just 45 minutes by train from Lisbon, making it the perfect day trip. It was a holiday destination for Portuguese royalty back in the day due to its cooler climate and proximity to the mountains and water – kings over the years built colorful castles and beautiful gardens here, giving Sintra a dreamlike Disney atmosphere.

Some people stay in Sintra for more than a day, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that. Unless you want to visit each castle, historical building and garden (which all look the same after a certain point), you can hit the main spots in a day and get back to Lisbon by dinner time. Even if you prefer spending your time in a more relaxed town, there isn’t much to do here beyond seeing the castles, so it could get boring.

Here’s a quick snapshot of my day in Sintra and tips to help you plan your trip! Expect to see colorful doors and walls like this:

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Getting to Sintra:

Lisbon has daily trains to Sintra that operate every 30-60 minutes. Just check the schedule beforehand so you can plan your day, but you can buy tickets at the Lisbon Rossio station itself – no need to book in advance! Tickets are €4.30 round trip so there’s really no reason not to take advantage of this day trip 🙂

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What to eat:

Once you get off at the Sintra train station, walk to the main town square – this is the only spot that has shops, restaurants and cafés so pick up everything you need for the day before getting onto the buses! It’s hard to find good vegetarian food (or any veggie food at all, for that matter) – we managed to find a small café that served ham sandwiches; the hostess graciously agreed to create a veggie version for us that we packed in our bags for lunch.

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How to get around:

Sintra is a very hilly town, and everything is quite spread out, so it’s almost impossible to get everywhere by foot. The best (and cheapest) way to get around is to use the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing bus. You’ve got loads of options, and bus operators will throw pamphlets at you as soon as you get off the train – honestly, all of them are equally good so you can’t go wrong. Make sure you plan out your route at the start of the day, because the buses return to each spot only after 45 minutes-1 hour, so if you miss it, you’ll have to wait another hour for the next bus – this can really throw your schedule out the window.

I got to Sintra at 10am, and because buses were operating on a winter schedule (it was November when I visited), the last Hop On Hop Off bus was at 5pm – you would think 10am to 5pm is enough time to cover everything, but with travel times between sights, waiting for the next bus, figuring out lunch, and spending at least an hour at every spot, I just about finished by 5pm. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get between sights – my travel buddy and I were literally running at 4pm to try and squeeze in our last spot 🙁 That’s not the most fun way to travel, especially if you want to see everything and still take it easy!

What to see:

The map you get from your sightseeing bus will mark out all the spots that Sintra offers. You certainly can’t cover everything in a day, and it’s probably not the best use of your time. I would recommend checking out:

  • Pena Palace: a bright red and yellow colored castle, that looks like it’s right out of a Disney movie. This is probably the palace on all the photos you’ve seen of Sintra. There’s a small café here serving some drinks and a quick snack (not vegetarian, and certainly not enough for lunch).

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  • Quinta de Regaleira: an absolutely magical garden with a gothic castle, large, lush fields, and quiet ponds. This is the best of all the gardens in Sintra! It’s blissfully peaceful here, so you might want to spend a little more time enjoying the silence 🙂

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  • Cabo da Roca: the westernmost point of continental Europe!! How cool is that? I agree, this will be one of those bucket list items that’s really just a photo op more than anything else. But I think it’s still pretty cool to post that picture and say “Hey! I’m at the westernmost point of continental Europe!” In all honesty, it’s a beautiful cliffside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, so bucket list aside, you should check it out anyway! This is a 30-minute bus ride from the Sintra town center, so just traveling to and from here takes about an hour – plan ahead!

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I think these 3 spots will give you a good mix of sights – there are other things to see in Sintra like the national museum, the museum of modern art, the national palace, and a few other gardens. But none of them compare to the Pena Palace, Quinta de Regaleira, and Cabo da Roca!

Sintra is a great escape from the city, a quick and easy day trip, and a beautiful photo op (let’s be real – isn’t that why we all travel 😉 ) It’s definitely attracting a lot of tourists as a result of that, but it’s spread out enough that you won’t feel like you’re at the real Disneyworld 😉

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0 Comments
  1. Reply

    taphian

    December 9, 2015

    I love these wonderful southern colors and you can still feel the warm sun in it

    • Reply

      Mehek

      December 9, 2015

      Thank you! It was a beautiful sunny day, and that just made all the colors stand out even more!

  2. Reply

    Kaya

    December 12, 2015

    A post about Places to go in NYC this holiday season?
    Just stumbled upon this website. Great job!

    • Reply

      Mehek

      December 12, 2015

      Thanks so much Kaya! Sure, check out my other blogposts about NYC (one post on cafes, one on bars, and one on restaurants) – they should give you a good mix of food and drink options, along with the crazy eclectic culture New York has to offer 🙂 Here’s the link: https://mapsandmagnets.wordpress.com/category/americas/usa/

      I can definitely make lots more suggestions – what else are you looking for (sightseeing, quirky local spots, shops/boutiques etc)? Is it your first time visiting and how long are you going for? Let me know and I’d be happy to post about that 🙂

      • Reply

        Kaya

        December 13, 2015

        Well, I have been to New York before and have been to some of the spots on your lists; I’d like to know what’s different about New York during Christmas. What places, shows, shopping places, would you recommend? I am there for 4 days but probably will only be able to step out for a day or 2.

        • Reply

          Mehek

          December 13, 2015

          Okay got it! New York is absolutely stunning during the holiday season! You couldn’t be going at a better time!
          For walking and taking in the holiday aura – I would recommend just walking along 5th Avenue (from 45th street to 55th street) and checking out the amazing Christmas window displays – MINDBLOWING! Make sure to stop by Rockefeller Center (50th and 6th) – their famous Christmas tree will be all lit up, and the skating rink will be packed with skaters – its the quintessential Christmas postcard!
          For shopping – I would recommend checking out the holiday markets around the city – the best one is in Bryant Park – it’s got food stalls, hot chocolate vendors, and amazing Christmas gifts. Bryant Park is lit up like winter wonderland, and honestly one of my favorite places to be during Christmas! It’s also a great place to ice skate if you want because it’s a little less crowded than the other spots (Rockefeller and Central Park). Another great holiday market is Union Square.
          For shows – even if you’re not a ballet fan, I would really encourage you to go watch the Nutcracker! I’m not into ballet at all, but it was just a visual treat. The costumes, the sets, the aesthetic of the whole thing – it brings Christmas alive!
          Hope this helps! Let me know if you’re looking for more suggestions 🙂 Have a lovely vacation!
          PS: I’m just curious to know how you found this blog? Just started it recently so learning more about how people get to it! Thanks!

  3. Reply

    Kaya

    December 13, 2015

    Thank you! That helps a lot! It actually showed up on my facebook newsfeed cause 2 of my friends had liked the page. So I randomly started reading it and it turned out interesting. Again, thank you for the suggestions and good luck! 🙂

    • Reply

      Mehek

      December 13, 2015

      That’s so helpful for me to know, thank you!! I’m glad you found the content and NYC recommendations useful 🙂 feel free to message if you ever need any other travel recommendations! Have a wonderful trip!

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