Less than an hour from Portugal’s capitol city of Lisbon lays Sintra, perhaps one of Europe’s loveliest destinations. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its 19th century Romantic architecture, the small town is one of Portugal’s major attractions. Tucked neatly into the foothills of the Sintra mountain range, the town nestles within thick forest, massive boulders and rugged coastline, offering some of Mother Nature’s finest work.
The proximity to both mountains and sea produces a cooler, breezier climate than found in Lisbon and the surrounding area, making it the destination of choice for Portugal’s royal families for hundreds of years.
Some of man’s finest work can be found in the old town of Sintra. With its winding, narrow medieval streets, the town is best explored on foot or by horse drawn carriage, although all of the major attractions are also serviced by local bus.
One of the first sights you will notice upon arrival in Sintra are the two white conical chimneys of the National Palace, which served as the summer home of the royal family beginning in the 15th century. For a small fee, you can view the beautiful interiors with or without a guide.
If you are feeling energetic, take a hike up the mountain through the forest to the 8th century Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros). Surrounded by ancient stone walls, this castle, along with its surrounding views, is considered by many to be the highlight of their trip to Sintra.
The Pena Palace, which sits on top of a mountain surrounded by forest and the Queen’s fern garden, hails as one of the seven wonders of Portugal. The architecture is an eclectic mixture of several styles including Gothic, Islamic, Renaissance and Baroque. On a clear day, the palace can be seen from Lisbon.
If you make the short drive (or tram or taxi ride) to one of the several beaches dotting the coast, make sure to visit Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point in mainland Europe. Here, the tourist shop and purchase a certificate to prove your visit to ‘where the land ends and the sea begins’.
Accommodations in Sintra range from budget hotels to B&B’s, apartments, private villas and luxury hotels. Restaurants are plentiful and varied, but try some of Portugal’s seafood specialties for a treat to your taste buds.
A visit to Portugal wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Sintra. Just go. You won’t regret it.