Thursday, January 5, 2017

Magical Sintra, Portugal

We decided to stay in Sintra for two nights of our Portugal trip almost on a whim. We wanted to stay somewhere close to Lisbon, but not *in* Lisbon, which made Sintra and Cascais very appealing choices. After I researched the area a bit, we decided on Sintra, since there were a handful of things we wanted to see there: Pena Palace, the Castle of the Moors, the Quinta Da Regaleira, Sintra National Palace, Monserrate Palace and Park... there are some amazing things to check out in Sintra!

 Castle of the Moors, Sintra

I, of course, had way too many things I wanted to see in the one full day that we had in Sintra - especially considering we arrived later in the evening on our first night, and were driving RW to the Lisbon airport halfway through the day. It's ok, though, because we still got an amazing sampling of Sintra, and a return trip is definitely in our future.

There are two "sections" of the main town of Sintra - the area by the train station, and the area by the National Palace. A lot of the hotels are on the train station side, while a lot of restaurants and tourist shops are on the Palace side.

We got in late on our first night, so we settled into our hotel rooms, then walked from the train station area to the Palace area to find dinner. It's about a 10 minute walk along a flat, cobbled sidewalk by a the main road - very easy to do. We were hungry, so we stopped at the first restaurant we found - this was definitely the wrong move. It wasn't a bad restaurant, but it definitely wasn't the best meal we had... and when we walked around later we found tons of other places that were open! 

Riding the bus in Sintra

Though we had our rental car, we decided to take the bus up to the Castle Of The Moors, since all the reviews we read said there was limited parking, and that the streets up to the castle are narrow and winding. You can hike from town up to the castle and palace, but it's all uphill on the way there, and and we had limited time, so we went with the bus.

So, first thing on our second day, we walked to the bus stop and got on the 434 bus to the Castle of the Moors. The 434 route is great because it goes from the train station (drop off at the train station, pickup on the other side of the road), main town area, and then up to the castle and Pena Palace.  The bus only costs €5, and there are four buses per hour, which is awesome.

We left our car parked near our hotel, which we did have to pay a small amount for during certain hours. You pay at the machine and then leave the ticket on your dash to show how long you've paid through, and there are certain hours of the day where you don't need to pay for parking.

Next time, I will plan for a full day for the castle and Pena Palace, so that we can do the hike and enjoy more of the natural beauty of the Sintra forests! 

The Castle Of The Moors (Castelo dos Mouros) is one of those unforgettable places that you will think about long after you've visited. Built in the 8th century (8th century!!!) when most of Portugal and Spain were controlled by the Moors, the long history of the castle is incredible to think about.

You pay for your entrance at the street (€8 for just the Castle, or €25 for the Castle, Pena Palace, and the National Palace), then walk through what looks like a stone door to enter the grounds.  Be sure to get a map of the property! We didn't have one while we were wandering around, and not only did we not really know what we were looking at some of the time, but we also missed a few things - the secondary walls, archaeological sites, the Royal tower, and a canopy zip-line (!) - that we'll have to go back and explore someday!

A great map of the property, borrowed from a very helpful blog post about visiting the castle.

Entering the grounds to the castle.

It's almost entirely outdoors, with the exception of the chapel, now a small room that shares some of the history of the castle as you're walking to the entrance, a small gift shop, restrooms, and a water cistern that you can walk down into. We were there on a rainy, foggy morning in October, and it made the grounds even more magical. Just beware that there are not a ton of places to get out of the rain!

TRAVEL TIP: Bring an umbrella or poncho with you if you're exploring the Sintra area in off months! The area feels almost like a rainforest, and there's a lot of humidity and moisture, not to mention random downpours!

Castle walls and the circular tower.

Amazing views of the surrounding cities.

Be sure to read up on the history of the castle, and bring along a guidebook if you've got one, along with a map. There are very few markers or descriptions of what you're looking at!

From the circular tower in the castle keep, looking back at the walls.

More views when the clouds started to clear.

Once the rain stopped, it was foggy and muggy, but still amazing!

The castle is most definitely worth a visit, and I was really glad that we chose it as our morning activity on our day in Sintra.

After the castle, we drove RW to the airport in Lisbon - it's a pretty quick drive as you skirt around Lisbon rather than having to go through Lisbon!

Sintra is a fantastic place to explore.  We spent the rest of our visit wandering around town, climbing through the shops on the steep streets in the main town, checking out all of the vista and gardens and parks, and visiting the Quinta Da Regaleira! (More on that soon, because it's so magical!)

There are little fountains and artwork all over Sintra. Everywhere you look is something charming and beautiful!

I will definitely return to Sintra, and when I do, there are a few things we missed our first time around that I'm determined to do, primarily having a whole day dedicated to checking out Pena Palace and going back to the Castle of the Moors!

Have you been to Sintra? What was your favorite part?

Check out more Portugal posts HERE!  

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