If you have been on a western European cruise, chances are you have already visited Lisbon and you are now looking for tours outside of the city. This posting is to introduce you to nearby Sintra as a possible destination.
Sintra is located about 18miles/29km outside Lisbon city center, on the Portuguese Riviera and is a beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage site. You can get there by train, bus or car. The trains depart every 15 minutes or so from Estação do Rossio and takes you to the Sintra Railway Station. A bus service also runs between Lisbon and Sintra but this is slower and if you are only in Lisbon for a day trip, the bus will eat up a lot of your available touring time. I usually recommend the bus as an option if you are doing a pre or post cruise stay in Lisbon and time is not an issue. The third option is by car which means you either rent a vehicle or do a tour by taxi or a touring service.
On our recent stop in Lisbon, we disembarked and negotiated a private tour with a professional guide who we found at the cruise ship terminal. There were a number to choose from and we negotiated with a few guides before making our decision on who to hire. We were able to secure a price 50 euros less than the going rate and soon found ourselves in a roomy Mercedes van equipped with wi-fi and offering chilled water. We had exceptional service. It took us about 40 minutes to negotiate traffic and drive to Sintra. Once off the main highway, the winding, twisting road offered up beautiful views and picturesque villas. Have your camera at the ready as I missed a number of photo opportunities because I was slow to snap a shot.
Lord Byron called Sintra a “glorious Eden” and it is indeed a fine-looking city. We had read that Sintra is described as one of Portugal’s most beautiful destinations and although we would not go that far, we can say that it is lovely, historic and interesting.
My main reason for going to Sintra was to see the Pena National Palace and the Castle of the Moors. My husband wanted to focus on the Monserrate Palace (Palacio de Monserrate), with its blended Indian, Arabic and Gothic architectural styles. He also wanted to engage in a little shopping and if time permitted, we were going to examine the Gothic architecture of the Quinta da Regaleira.
There was a lot to see and do so upon our arrival we prioritized our “must see” list and had our driver take us to the “Pena Palace”. The driver dropped us at the main gate and ticket kiosk. We purchased our tickets at a cost of 17 euros each which included the right to take the shuttle bus up the hill from the perimeter gate to the palace entrance portal. There is a senior rate available for those aged 65 and over but since we did not qualify for the discount, I neglected to make note of the reduced price.
You can pay less and walk up the hill to the palace if you like but for us, the bus was a great option as we were pressed for time and we knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking at the palace and other locations.
If you are there for a longer period of time, you can follow the walking trails which based on the map we were given when we purchased our entrance tickets, have a lot to offer. With trails winding through the roughly 200 hectares, you can spend a lot of time in the park. We did spend a short period in the beautiful gardens but clearly a lot more time was needed to see it all.
Once the shuttle bus dropped us off near the entrance to the palace, we had to walk up a U shaped roadway to the arched entrance. The uphill walk is not too onerous, but the cobbled road is slippery when wet and it was raining off and on the day we visited. We saw two people slip and fall on the roadway. We suggest you wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking on uneven surfaces.
The palace itself is an attractive and historic, tour stop. Building began in 1836 and the palace embraces Romanesque Revival architecture. The colourful style, towers with fascinating figures and attention-grabbing arches, make this a photographer’s dream. We were fortunate that the rain stopped when we were walking through the main gate and so we were able to comfortably spend time walking the walls and enjoying the views.
The castle is situated on a hill overlooking stunning scenery. Even with the low, rain clouds, the view was excellent. Once we had satisfied ourselves with the outside, we headed inside the palace and started our tour of the interior. Captivated by the inside, we ended up spending considerable time at this stop which meant we were out of time for a lot of our planned activities for the rest of Sintra. There is a little gift shop on site, but it is small and did not have a lot on offer so we were in and out quickly.
By the time we left the palace we were on the run and made itinerary changes on the fly. We had to content ourselves with taking photos of the Castle of the Moors from a distance and restrict our Sintra shopping to 45 mintues. Our buying experience, although limited, was highly successful and we found some great prices on certain goods. We even managed to snag some antiques at excellent prices. However speed shopping limits the ability to really speak in depth about where to go and what to look for when it comes to deals so I will have to revisit this topic when I accumulate more knowledge and have made a return visit that includes both market and stores.
If you're looking for something a little different in Sintra, try a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Park of Pena or just wander the streets and check out the architecture. Be warned, there are steep walking areas and uneven pavement.
Sintra is definitely on our “must return to” list of places we want to visit again.