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This review will aim to give an in depth look at how to plan a day, how to travel to Sintra and also what to see in the picture postcard town. In my opinion Sintra is the perfect destination for many different types of tourist, this includes those looking to spend a holiday in a relaxing and generally quiet town to those keen cruisers who arrive regularly in the port of Lisbon but perhaps who have been to the city before. For the purpose of this review I will be describing it as though I just have one day in the town although it is very easy to spend much longer.
The hills top location of Sintra has meant that the development of large scale tourist resorts nearby to the quaint town have not been possible. On the one hand this has kept the town unspoiled but on the other hand it has meant that many people who come to the town have to use the difficult and over-used narrow road system that goes through the heart of the town. Parking is very difficult even during the quiet periods of the year and during my last visit during the month of July I can honestly say that the situation is not looking as though it is going to change in the not too distant future. There are multiple car parks but they fill up early in the day and are at least a quarter of hour walk up fairly steep narrow paths to reach the main central tourist attraction, the Sintra National Palace.
The best option for those based in the city of Lisbon or the surrounding areas such as the coastal resort of Cascais is the train. Commuter services are frequent even at the weekend and take approximately 40 minutes from several stations around Lisbon. I mentioned that I felt that a trip to Sintra was possible for cruise ship passengers who have not booked an escorted tour, a shuttle bus operates from the cruise terminal to the area around the Santa Justa Lift although sometimes it can be as far down as the Praca do Comercio, but is generally in one of the side streets around the area. The nearest railway station to this area is Rossio Station which is about 850m or half a mile along the Rua Aurea in a northwards direction, the station has regular services along the Sintra line as often as every 15 minutes at peak times during the working week. Weekend services are also in operation and tend to be approximately every 30 minutes. Trains operate at most hours in the day from about 06:00 in the morning through to just past midnight which is ideal for those with flights to catch at odd hours in the day, it also allows you to make the most of the final day in Sintra. The railway station is Sintra is only a short walk from the town centre but it is worth baring in mind that at times it is up hill and can be a bit of an annoyance for those with luggage.
Buses are a popular way of getting around Sintra and can be accessed at the railway station which is ideal for those who prefer not walk. The route 433 bus is the most common of the tourist buses and most of the drivers will speak some English, enough to tell you how much it costs at least! Other routes include the 434 which is very frequent during the summer period with services at least every 15 minutes. Services are also fairly frequent during the off-peak season. The 434 visits most of the key tourist areas including the Pena Palace, Toy Museum and the castle. It is worth mentioning also the 435 service which operates more frequently than any of the other services but only for limited hours, usually 10 o'clock in the morning to about 6 o'clock at night. Day passes can be bought on all of the buses and it may also be worth checking out if family day passes are available, all tickets are bought from the driver.
My Top 3 Attractions In Sintra:
1. The Pena Palace - This is arguably the most popular of all the attractions in Sintra and it is also unlikely to break the bank. The palace was created in 1847 after only a few years of construction on the ground of a former monastery that had been devastated by the earthquake in Lisbon back in 1755. The palace is certainly noticeable with the bright color scheme that has been employed in order to restore the appearance to how it would have looked all those years ago, this has had a mixed reception with the local population, many of whom believe it has given an unnatural appearance to the site. The whole tour of the palace covers not only its interior but also the exterior park and the Chalet of the Countess of Elda. Adults can gain admission for the whole visit for 13 Euros 50 cents, under 18's can go in for 11 Euros and under 5 gain admission at no cost. It is also worth noting that the Lisboa card can be used to gain cheaper admission to the palace and discounts for seniors can often be obtained. A family ticket can also be bought and this consists of 2 adults and 2 children and costs 46 Euros, be careful though as it may actually be cheaper to buy the tickets separately especially for families with at least on under 5. Tickets that exclude the interior of the palace can also be bought and in some cases this can reduce the cost of admission greatly for those who would simply like to appreciate the beauty of the stunning views that can be seen from the gardens and the terrace. Adult prices for these tickets start from as little as 7 Euros per person and they are ideal for those who may wish to take a picnic.
2. The Sintra National Palace - Palaces are undoubtedly the reason why the small town of Sintra has gained so much UNESCO attention through the years and this site has World Heritage status. Many tourists seem to make the mistake of underestimating the Palace due to the fact that it seems somewhat unloved from the outside, with bits of paint flaking off I agree it could do with some attention. However a visit to the Palace with engulf you in a world of fascinating history and enlighten you to the Arabic origins of palace. I must confess that the title of this review is a little deceptive as the palace does not in fact have any spires, what they are in reality are chimneys that rise far above the building and dominate the nearby skyline, but I am sure you can see why I chose to call them spires when I came up with the title! (alliteration for anyone only half awake). Admission is relatively cheap at only 7 Euros and all young people under the age of 14 can gain free entry, a visit to the palace is fantastic for any budding historians out there. The Sintra National Palace is open from 9:30 in the morning through to the last admission at 5:00, but it is not open on Wednesdays and during all of the Portuguese public holidays.
3. The Castle Of The Moors - The Moorish castle is located at the very top of the hill that towers above the town and in my opinion it gives the best views over the surrounding areas on a clear day. The walk up to the castle is very steep and should be attempted only by those comfortable with difficult and hot walking conditions, lots of water is certainly recommended. The tour bus that leaves from the station calls at the castle and this is the best alternative for the vast majority of people. The opening hours for the castle are generous with the first admission at 9:30 during the summer season and it does not close until 20:00 in the evening, the castle closes at 17:00 during the winter season. Tickets cost 7 Euros and as with all of the attractions in Sintra family tickets can be bought. Unfortunately for those on a tight budget it is not possible to get the panoramic views without entry into the castle itself but the walk up to the castle is free and does give some photo opportunities.
I believe Sintra is well worth a visit and the attractions that I have detailed will leave you spellbound just as they have left me, the appeal of Portugal must now be greater than ever as people become more aware of the environmental effects of long hall travel and also the cost of many places once your get there. Public transport in Sintra is cheap and most people in the town also how a strong knowledge of English, so welcome to my paradise!
This review has also been published on Ciao under the username chrisbriers567
Sintra - what a magical place this town is. The fiirst time I visited Sintra was twenty one years ago when my son was 9 months old. We were staying in Lisbon at the time and decided to take a day trip to Sintra. I was so enchanted with the town; it's lush scenery and quirky castles. It's natural beauty captivates you immediately. I went back to visit a year ago with my parents and this time stayed for two days. The whole area hadn't changed too much over the years. I was still captivated with the fairy tale castles and I remember looking over the town from the highest point and wishing I had been born in the romantic times of the great poets if only to live in this wonderful place. Even if you aren't a romantic I bet you will still fall in love with this mystical town.
Why is Sintra so magical?. Apart from the wonderful palaces and mansions it has its own microclimate and when the sun is shining all over Portugal, a bank of cloud will probably shroud this small mountain region by the coast transforming it into a ghostly but charming land. In high summer the Serra da Sintra is considerably cooler than Lisbon and over the centuries it has become popular with wealthy city dwellers. Two royal palaces and countless country mansions built by the nobility bear witness to that. The moist microclimate creates the ideal soil conditions for an abundance of vegetation, and English poets such as Lord Byron have expressed their love of the countryside around Sintra. For him it was a 'glorious Eden' and if you ever visit you will know exactly what he meant. When in the 19th century, landscape gardening became a fashionable pursuit for the wealthy middle classes, a number of amateur botanists sought fame by designing exotic parks and gardens. The landscape is green and dense and gives the area an air of great majesty. Sir Francis Cook, an English textile tycoon, was responsible for the gardens at Monserrate which is situated about 3km outside Sintra. The German Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg laid out the Parque da Pena and also transformed large areas of the stony Serra by planting trees.
The moorish town of Sintra was conquered in 1147 by Alfonso Henriques, but it was some years later before Portuguese kings and noblemen discovered the benefits of the cool hillsides in summer. Apart from the palaces, which are obviously the highlights of the town from the coach tour operators point of view, it is also pleasant to take a stroll along the lanes and winding paths of Sintra. Delightful quintas overgrown with camellias and pale roses lie in the quiet shade of palms and cedars.
From the 14th century to the beginning of the 20th century the Palacio Nacional was the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family. The building, a mixture of various styles is crowned by two huge conical towers of the palace kitchens which have now become a distinctive symbol for the town of Sintra. The palace dominates the town with its imposing stature.
Moorish traditions are still in evidence with rooms arranged in a haphazard way around small shaded courtyards. Walls in many of the rooms are covered with fine Portuguese azulejos (hand painted styles). Those in the Hall of Arabs were manufactured in Seville in the 15th and 16th centuries and they are said to be the finest collection on the Iberian peninsula.
Moorish traditions can also be seen in the wooden ceilings that cover the rooms like the lid of a chest. The Mudejar ceiling in the chapel is particularly striking. Note also the beautifully tiled floor here, said to date from the 15th century. Most of the rooms were built during the reign of Manuel 1 who much preferred to spend his time in Sintra as Lisbon was badly affected by plagues. Apart from the azulejo frescoes and the painted timber ceilings, many of the furnishings are simple. Lavishly decorated wall hangings, carpets and cushions give the room colour and warmth. As late as the 18th century, the royal family and courtiers still preferred floor cushions in Arab style to chairs. The turretted wall of the old Moorish castle, the Castelo dos Mouros, can be seen from the entrance to the palace. It winds across the hill like a miniature Great Wall of China.
Opening Times:- Thursday - Tuesday - 10am- 1pm, 2 - 5.30pm
Ask at the tourist office in Sintra for information.
The Castelo dos Mouros
A visit to the Castle is a must see so I hope you will be feeling energetic when you visit, as it is a steep climb but once there you are able to see the views over the town and from the top you can see the Atlantic Ocean to the west and Lisbon in the south east. The frst time I visited the Castelo I walked up the road with a pushchair and I don't recommend following the immediate route from the town. It can be very windy, busy and extremely narrow in places. Take the short cut from the town through Rua Marachal Saldanha. It is much quicker. Once you arrive at the castelo you will be able to walk along the battlements at a couple of the points to view the forest which is so verdant and deep. The 360 degree panoramic views are worth the trek even in the heat of the summer.
Palacio dd Pena
The pseudo-medieval Palacio da Pena looks down from Sintra at the highest peak. It is often called the 'Portuguese Neuschwanstein' after the fairy tale castle in southern Germany. The steep hill, castle and garden which cover an area of 270 hectares provide an early example of the way 19th century designers sought to combine architecture and landscape in order to create a harmonious and romantic setting.
Work on the the royal summer residence started in 1840 on the site of an abandoned Manueline monastery. The original building was once occupied by the Jeronimos monks dating back from 1503. The work was commissioned by a German prince, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg, who invested huge sums of money in the project right up to his death in 1885. The Portuguese Royal Family fled the castle to England in 1910 when Portugal became a republic.
The castle lies on huge rocks and dominates the skyline. The building is a mixture of styles (Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo - Islamic, Neo-Renaissance) and although, quite bizarre in lots of ways this display of styles was intentional as the romantic mentality of the 19th century was unsually fond of the exotic. It is crowned by pink coloured towers which have now become a distinctive symbol for the town of Sintra, As you approach the palace you will be welcomed by King Neptune looking down on you from above his arched doorway which is decorated in the finest coral and shells.
Inside the rooms, the wallls are adorned with excellent plaster works, mural paintings and several coatings in glazed tiles of the 19th century. The rooms are furnished with pieces of the time and you can see that King Ferdinand II (known as the Artist King) was partial to an art collection or two from the collections of Portuguese art and bric a brac on display. The Pena Palace to him was his dream come true - the architectural expression of Romantic ideals.
A restoration programme has been in action over the years and by the end of the 20th century the programme had improved the structural construction of the building and also transformed the colours of the ensemble from faded grey to its original colours of pink, yellow and purple. The palace is one of the most popular attractions in Portugal and it is was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1995.
The monastery cloisters and chapel with a splendid marble altar by Nicolas de Chanterene were preserved from the remains of the old monastery and incorporated in a new section that features a wide terrace and a clock tower. This terrace is the best spot for capturing an overall picture of the architecture of the palace.
Opening Times - Tuesday to Sunday 10am - 1pm , 2-5pm
Information regarding this castle can be obtained from the tourist office in Sintra.
Parque de Pena
The huge English looking park which stretches over the hills also required the expenditure of considerable energy and resources. The park has been planted with the most varied exotic and rich arboreal species. Features include a rose garden, tropical ferns and lakes, exotic summer houses and a wood with Japanese fir trees and Chinese yews. There are running steams, tall redwoods with massive trunks, and beautiful camellias. I have to say I was fascinated with this park and did actually get lost amongst the pathways. We seemed to be in the park most of the day because every time we thought we had found an opening on to the road we had just taken a path deeper into the park. At one stage we found ourselves amongst some ruined stone cells which were left over from the oiginal monastery. The cells were so tiny. I tried to lie in one of the stone beds which were built into the wall but I was far too tall. I was intrigued by the cells but they must have been very damp and claustrophobic inside and I am sure the poor monks must have suffered terribly from rheumatism becuase although Sintra is wonderful in the summer it is very damp in the winter. If you didn't wish to visit the castle you could spend at least half a day in this park as it is truly amazing.
Thus the park and the Pena Palacio make up a remarkable ensemble and I thoroughly recommend a visit. Guided tours are available but you will have to join a group.
Museu do Brinquendo
This is a fascinating museum and children and adults of all ages will fall in love with the amazing collection of old toys. The collection consists of over 20,000 toys from around the world and ranges from clockwork trains, teddy bears, Barbies, Meccanno sets and toy soldiers. The museum owner is very passionate about his collection and can tell you a short or long story depending on how much time you have on any one of the toys on display.
You can find the museum on Largo Latino Coelho
Closed on Mondays but open from Tuesday until Sunday. Times 10 -12.30, 2-6pm
Prices - Adults 3 euros/ Concessions - 1.50 euros
On my second visit we stayed in the Hotel Tivoli for two nights. This is situated in the Praca de Republica. It is a modern hotel in the historic centre next to the palace. The stay was very enjoyable although I thought the hotel had seen better days. A liittle on the expensive side but the food and service was very good. There are villas in the hills that you can stay in but I suggest it is probably cheaper to stay in Lisbon.
There are good restaurants in Sintra but the restaurants in the district of Sao Pedro de Sintra are better and not as tourist orientated as those in the centre. Again it is possibly cheaper to eat out in Lisbon which is only an hour away by train and they depart every 15 minutes.
I think my review says it all. I have travelled far and wide but never come across such a magical and romantic place as this. Whenever you visit Lisbon take time out to go to Sintra - you will not regret it. I cannot find enough words to express its beauty.
Sintra is the second most populated municipality of Portugal.