The cultural landscape of Sintra is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site and for good reason. Sintra is the Portugal I imagined and came to see. The beauty, the charm, the history, nature – the list goes on. Sintra is magical. My biggest regret we should have visited earlier and stayed longer. Plan to spend days in Sintra. In the very very least, at least, two full days, but I would go as far to recommend five days.
Sintra is easy to get to via train from Lisbon. It is about a 45-minute ride. It is cheaper but not required to purchase round trip vs. one-way tickets. Bus stops are located right out front of the train depot, or you can walk about 10 minutes into town. Bus tickets can be purchased from the driver and cost about $7 (depending on the current exchange rate). Grab a map located inside the train station or review the map next to the bus stop. Walking trails are located between some of the properties. Make sure to give yourself ample time for walking and pack water. A few of the trails are long and steep.
There are so many things to see. Discounted entrance fees to the municipal properties are available if you purchase 2 or more at once. The entrance fees for each place range from about $4-$15, so it quickly adds up. We were there for one day and chose to see Castelo dos Mouros, a 9th-century castle with climbable towers and Castelo dos Pena, formerly a chapel turned into a monastery and eventually a palace.
The Castelo dos Mouros is cool, and on a good day, you can see all the way to Lisbon. The short hike to the castle is paved and moderately steep in a couple of spots. There are plenty of places to rest along the way. Once you enter the castle walls, the steps are many and steep. Take your time and stop to admire the view as you climb around. If you choose to forgo the mountain of steps, the views are still incredible and well worth the visit. With plenty of areas to sit, relax and enjoy the view. You will also find a little coffee shop to purchase drinks and small snacks. There are restrooms at the path entrance and the castle entrance.
There is a walking trail between Mouros and Pena (see above photo), but it is steep. If you are an avid hiker and like a challenge by all means, do the hike. If you would rather save your strength, the bus will take you from one entrance to the next. Once inside there is a tram that will get you to the top of Castelo dos Pena. This castle is grand, colorful and covered with intricate Portuguese tiles. Take the time to notice all the stone carvings and tiles covering the walls and doorways. Look for the huge newt statue. It is a bit creepy and wonderful at the same time. Walk through the living quarters. The furnishings and decor are exquisite. My favorite pieces were the beautiful square cigar holder in one of the bathrooms and the dark wood animal carved furnishings in the exotic room.
[Matt suggests – Instead of taking the tram back down the hill, take the time to meander down through the grounds. Keep your eye out for the water wheel, duck houses, Grotto of the Monk and a myriad of other hidden gems. Use the free map you are given at the entrance to navigate the grounds or just wander and enjoy. If you are interested in a hike head up to Cruz Alta to catch a view from the highest point around.]
LANGUAGE – Portuguese
- Hello – Ola (oh-la)
- Good morning – Bom dia (bohm dee-ah)
- Good afternoon – Boa tarde (boh-ah tar-de)
- Good evening – Boa noite (boh-ah no-ee-te)
- Goodbye – Adeus (ah-deuzh)
- Thank you – Obrigado/a (oh-bee-gah-doh – male, oh-bree-gah-dah – female)
- Where is the bathroom? – Onde é o banheiro
- Portugal uses the Euro. I visited several different national banks while in Portugal, and none of them would let me withdraw more than €200.00 at a time; keep this in mind if you need large sums of cash. Also, note if the ATM offers to convert your withdrawal, decline as your bank back home will give you a better exchange rate.
- Tipping – Be aware that most restaurants include service in the bill, that being the case if you enjoyed your service it is customary to give about 5%; in cash if possible. If you happen to find one of the restaurants that doesn’t include service, 10% is the usual. Also, there is no need to tip if you are getting food for takeaway.
- Train and Metro Kiosks – Take cash, but if you would like to pay with a card, you are out of luck if it doesn’t have a chip and pin. Chip and signature cards are not a substitute; I have tried them many times to no avail. If you would like to get a chip and pin card before your trip, I highly recommend opening an “Investor Checking Account” with Schwab. The account has no foreign conversion/transaction fees, refunds all ATM charges and has a Visa debit card with chip and pin.
- The Castle and Palace are both on the top of hills, which means when you are taking landscape shots there will be a lot of bright skies. Consider a Graduated Neutral Density filter for your lens, this will bring beautiful blues back to your photos and help avoid washed out colors.
- If you have the option, a nice wide angle lens will help you capture Pena Palace, especially on the exteriors. There is a lot to see, but you don’t have the ability to put too much distance between you and the palace.
Recommendable: Yes! Go to Sintra, but don’t make the mistake we did. Plan to stay more than one day. Apparently, Sintra has some lovely beaches just west of the city, so keep that in mind too.