Sintra is a castle-studded town in western Portugal. The quaint city is a perfect side trip when visiting Lisbon and can be enjoyed in a single day. It is only 40 minutes by train from Lisbon, with a round trip ticket costing just over $5 (3,95 Euros). Each castle is completely different from the other and will leave you wondering how it isn’t one of the most famous places in Europe.
Pena Palace is probably the most recognizable castle in Sintra. Looking like something out of a Disney movie, the yellow, red, and pink castle sits high atop one of the peaks of the Serra de Sintra. It was built in the 19th century and is surrounded by Pena Park, with almost 450 acres of trees and plants from all over the world. The palace and its grounds were used as a home for Portuguese royalty until the early 20th century when it was bought and classified as a national monument.
The Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) also sits on the Serra de Sintra and yields breathtaking scenery of the town(s) below for a full 360 degrees. This ancient fortress dates back to the 8th century and sprawls across the winding hillside. There is also a great view of the Pena Palace, which sits just south of the Castelo dos Mouros. Its vast openness and the freedom to explore the grounds on your own make a visit to this castle well worth it.
Perhaps the highlight of Sintra is Quinta da Regaleira. The dreams of one man, Antonio Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro, come alive in this magical estate that portrays his interpretation of the universe. It is more than just a palace, with a chapel, grottoes, lakes, towers, and fountains spread out among 8 acres. The most interesting part is the underground tunnels that connect many of them. You never know if you’re being led to the bottom of a well, the beginning of a lake, or exiting the Cave of the Orient near the tennis court. It is truly a one of a kind experience that is fun for all ages.
There is much more to see and do in Sintra, including the Sintra National Palace, Seteais Palace, and sampling some of the famous Sintra cheesecakes. It is a must-do for anyone visiting Lisbon and will no doubt leave your jaw open and your camera exhausted.