Sintra, Portugal: A Day Trip to See the Famous Castles & Palaces of Sintra

June 15, 2018
When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.


THE CASTLE CIRCUIT: THE PALACES OF SINTRA, PORTUGAL, YOU MUST VISIT AS A DAY TRIP FROM LISBON
🇵🇹🇵🇹🇵🇹

Castles rising from rippling mountains. Palaces peeking out from peaked pine hills. Mansions encircled by exotic gardens brimming with luscious flora. Ruins coated in lichen and moss. It’s no exaggeration to say that the picturesque town of Sintra, the Moon Hill, is like a jewel box, especially when you realise that this tiny town is full of gems: a glittering collection of national monuments ranging from colourful castles, gothic mansions, Moorish fortresses, and imposing palaces. 

Back in the day, Sintra was the playground of the nobility and elite for the fresher air, cooler climate (thanks to the town’s elevated position in the hills of Serra de Sintra) and evocative landscape. These enticed the 1% to build the exquisite homes and gardens which form the famous “palace circuit” that have established Sintra as the must-do side trip from Lisbon. You’ve seen my pictures from when I visited Pena Palace (left), here are the other palaces and mansions I saw, as well as how to make Sintra a day trip from Lisbon and how to get around this beautiful town.


VISIT PORTUGAL • PARQUES DE SINTRA 


When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

MONSERRATE PARK & PALACE

For whatever reason, the charms of the relatively-petite MONSERRATE PALACE are often overlooked for its more grandiose neighbours. And what a pity, for this is a destination that is more than the sum of its bijou building. 

The journey to MONSERRATE PALACE is just as rewarding as arriving at the destination: through a lush, 30-hectare park bristling with the wild and free-spirited gardens so favoured by the British (in fact, the gardens were created in the 18th century by an Englishman and enlarged with the help from London’s Kew Gardens). The park surrounding MONSERRATE PALACE is one of Portugal’s richest botanical gardens with species from all corners of the world grouped according to their geographical origin; including Mexican gardens dotted with yuccas and agaves, ferns from Australia and New Zealand, and Oriental gardens with Japanese bamboo and Chinese weeping cypress. This eclectic and expansive collection has earned the gardens a well-deserved spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage Cultural Landscape list.

In the middle of this vast, verdant vision is a manicured lawn (which looks almost unnaturally tidy compared to its wild surroundings) that draws the eye toward a palatial villa - the whimsical, Moorish-Gothic-Indian monument that is the small but sumptuous MONSERRATE PALACE.



When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.
The design of MONSERRATE PALACE is a gorgeous blend of Moorish Revival architecture, Neo-Gothic elements, and Islamic influence from when the region was a part of the wider Muslim Gharb Al-Andalus until the 13th century. This eclecticism is a fine example of Portuguese Romanticism, just like the nearby Pena Palace. 

While the small size of MONSERRATE PALACE makes it more of a grandiose villa than Buckingham Palace, MONSERRATE PALACE is brimming with all the intricate details and enjoys the sweeping views of Sintra’s hills that you’d expect from the largest of royal residences. The relatively small numbers of visitors it receives is also refreshing, especially after coming from the crush of crowds at Sintra’s other castles.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.


When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.
QUINTA DA REGALEIRA

Now, if you’re a size queen *tongue pop*, then QUINTA DA REGALEIRA is the place for you.  This estate, another World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the "Cultural Landscape of Sintra", contains the gothic pile also known as "The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire", after the nickname of its most famous former owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.


QUINTA DA REGALEIRA is the very definition of extra. Of course it would be: the villa and gardens are the brainchild of Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini and his client, the Brazilian coffee tycoon 'Moneybags Monteiro'. The villa and gardens are a neo-Manueline extravaganza, with exuberantly Gothic stylings (gargoyles, pinnacles, and sharp edges, oh my!), a dash of primitivism (seen in the wild and disorganised parts of the gardens), and a drop of “quite possibly a cult leader hosting weekly virgin sacrifices and Sunday brunch in his underground Man Cave”.

While the land surrounding QUINTA DA REGALEIRA is only 4 hectares, the walk in the woods feels that much longer thanks to the density of the park; footpaths that wind, twist, and dip through and across lakes and fountains; as well as the abundance of nooks and crannies to be explored. The Aquarium embedded in a boulder winks at you to come closer, a narrow watchtower just begs to be climbed, while the frankly creepy Initiation Well (below) beckons you to climb down the stairs and into the underground towers where initiation rites and ceremonies were held.

Inside the palace itself, the look and feel of QUINTA DA REGALEIRA is just like the gardens but on a smaller scale: frescos, Venetian mosaics, and carvings with mythological and Knights Templar symbols. The true “money shot”, however, is seeing the palace from outside - rising through the dense woods in all its dramatic, pointy, Gothic glory.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.

When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.


The sheer number of historic buildings in Sintra makes seeing all of them in a day...impossible. To best appreciate every monument, one can realistically visit just 2 or 3 castles and palaces in a single day. I only had time for Pena Palace, Monserrate Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira. The perfect trip would be a few days in Sintra to take in what this town’s many castles and palaces have to offer, as many are wildly different from each other in style.


When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.
THE MOORISH CASTLE
Other palaces and castles to visit when in Sintra...


MOORISH CASTLE
The ruins of the 10th century MOORISH CASTLE soars 412 metres above sea level, looming above the forests like Sintra’s answer to the Great Wall of China, to reveal a breathtaking vista of Sintra’s hills and across to the Atlantic sea.


NATIONAL PALACE OF SINTRA
The NATIONAL PALACE OF SINTRA is iconic for its twin conical chimneys. Inside, the lavish interiors are a mix of Moorish and Manueline styles with 15th-16th century azulejos (traditional Portuguese tiles) that are among the countries’ oldest.


NATIONAL GARDENS & PALACE OF QUELUZ
The NATIONAL GARDENS & PALACE OF QUELUZ is a bit out of the way (halfway between Sintra and Lisbon) but worth the visit as it illustrates the Court’s tastes in the 18th and 19th centuries as it shifted toward baroque, rococo and neoclassicism.

PENA PALACE
Arguably the most famous and most distinctive of Sintra’s palaces, as well as the greatest expression of 19th-century Romanticism in Portugal, PENA PALACE is a colourful exercise in excess. Read more in my previous travel storySINTRA, PORTUGAL: PENA PALACE


When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.
THE NATIONAL PALACE OF SINTRA
When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.
THE NATIONAL GARDENS & PALACE OF QUELUZ
When in Lisbon you must make a day trip to see the famous castles of Sintra. Here are the best palaces & castles to visit in Sintra, Portugal.
GETTING THERE FROM LISBON
You could join a group tour or hire a driver, which is what I like to do. But I found the thrill of navigating myself to, fro, and ‘round on public transport to be quite the novelty. A train on the Linha de Sintra line from Lisboa Rossio train station takes 40 minutes to reach Portela de Sintra station.


GETTING AROUND SINTRA 

The castles and palaces are located on the top of steep, high hills and mountains. But, reaching the castles and palaces were a piece of cake thanks to the public transit option created just for this purpose: the 434 and 435 buses. Collectively, both the 434 bus (Circuito da Pena -Pena Line) and 435 bus (4 Palaces Line) covers Sintra Train Station, the Historic City Centre (where the tourist office and Sintra National Palace is), Castle of the Moors, Monserrate Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and more. Timetables and route information, here.


Knowing now how easy it is to navigate my way around Sintra, I would definitely return to soak up the rest of what this historical town has to offer. Which of these palaces would you have made your top priorities?

No comments:

Post a Comment