When Carol and I see a historical building, be it a castle, a palace, a town hall, a beautiful house, or a bridge, a monument, a statue, actually anything worthy of being photographed, we turn to each other and say “ooh look, there’s a ‘thing'” Sintra is so full of ‘things’ that in my opinion the entire town qualifies as a ‘thing’. We had a couple of recommendations to visit Sintra which is easily accessible from Lisbon for a little day trip so we thought why not!
Sintra is a UNESCO world heritage site and in the 19th Century became the first centre of European Romantic Architecture and has a mix of cultural and natural attractions. You can read more about here on the UNESCO site but we were quite excited to see the landscape as we were told it was spectacular. It was easy to navigate the train; from our accommodation near the Intendente metro station it was 2 stops to the Rossio train on the green line, or linha verde. A short walk across the rather badly signposted square and we found the train station; bought two tickets for €5 each and headed off on the 40 minute journey to Sintra station.
As soon as we got off the train we were faced with options; signs to different attractions, buses, tiny tourist road trains…lots of people basically trying to sell us stuff; a little overwhelmed we headed away from the station and decided to walk to the ‘historic centre’. It was a good decision, immediately we saw things, and knew this was going to be another good day. There were several different interesting looking buildings clearly from different eras.
We walked a short way, and saw many artworks and parklands. There were several stalls selling local goods from jewellery to paintings and we just took our time browsing, posing with the artwork, taking in the ambience and even doing a bit of shopping.
The castle was visible, but it was a very long way up, we had no intention of hiking up that mountain, especially in these high temperatures. After stopping for a drink and a snack we scanned a QR code for Scotturb and paid online for a discounted tourist bus ticket for €10 each. This allows for 3 different routes, including the Moorish Castle, the Peña Palace and Cabo da Roca. We hadn’t moved so quickly and it was gone lunchtime before we had arrived today so we only had limited time and decided we would head to the Moorish Castle. The 434 bus was pretty regular and we only had to wait about 10 minutes before it arrived. A short ride up the mountain and we were at the entrance; paid an €8 entrance fee and in we went.
The castle dates back to medieval times and was built by the Moors in the 8th & 9th Century. It was actually in pretty good nick and offered spectacular views across the whole of the valley below. It actually reminded us a little of the Great Wall of China; not as spectacular of course but was pretty impressive nonetheless. It does involve some climbing here just to warn people and a lot of steps which was a struggle especially in the heat but we spent quite some time just exploring different sections at our own pace and taking in the amazing views.
We could see the Peña Palace across from the top of the castle; this is said to be the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the Sintra Hills and certainly the top place for tourists visiting the area. We got the bus up but the crowds were pretty ridiculous and we were very hot and tired. It also looked like we wouldn’t be able to get in for a while because of the amount of visitors. We decided to head back into town as it was now late afternoon and we were aware the direct trains back to Lisbon stopped as early as 5.40pm.
So after a swift cocktail or two back in the main town our time was up it was time to get the train back to Lisbon. We didn’t know what to expect from Sintra but this is definitely worth a full day of anyone’s time not just an afternoon like we did. We only had time for the castle and missed out on the Palace, but in addition we heard after we returned that Cabo da Roca is an amazing viewpoint for watching the sun set. Tip, get up early, and spend a full day in Sintra, it is most definitely worth it.
Carol & Nigel xx