Just an hour outside Lisbon lies Sintra, a quaint little town with everything going for it, beauty, history and palaces galore! No wonder it’s a UNESCO world heritage site! We spent one day here and easily could have spent many more…
Sintra is where the Portuguese royals and nobility spent their summers and because of this just about every structure is a castle, palace or grand home. If staying in one appeals to you, you’re in luck because many of them have been converted into luxurious hotels.
When We Accidentally Hired A Fabulous Guide
As per our usual style we decided to get to Sintra and tour around on our own. I had read up on it and I knew if we did it right we could manage to see at least three of the main sights in one day.
Getting there was no trouble. The Rossio Rail Station was within walking distance of our hotel and with trains leaving for Sintra every 20 minutes until 11 pm we were in no rush. A roundtrip ticket is €5 and you can purchase your fare from the kiosks just before you board the train. Upon arrival at the Sintra station we followed the signs towards town.
Like Lisbon, Sinatra’s terrain is very steep and many of the main points of interest are located at the top of the hills. While walking from sight to sight is an option, this is not only time consuming but Simon had recently broken his ankle and walking long distances wasn’t going to work for us. We had heard about a bus that does a loop between three of the main palaces, but that meant we were on someone else’s schedule and that didn’t seem like a fit for us.
There is a large tourist center in town and there we were again advised to take the bus up the hill, the stop was just right outside… We purchased tickets to both the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle ruins and decided, sigh, to check out the bus.
That’s when we saw him! The friendly looking fellow in the miniature bright orange plastic car! Should we ask him for a ride? We wondered what he would charge. The boys had been asking for a ride in one of “those” tiny cars. Okay, we’ll tell him we just want a ride, no tour…
We ended up having the best day and it was in large part to the driver of that charming little plastic car, Carlos Evora! He offered us the ride up the hill to Pena National Palace for €5 each, but “could he show us just one place on the way?” We quickly discovered that we had hit the tour guide jackpot! There was just something about him, not only did he take us to many lovely places we would have missed on our own, but he was incredibly friendly, kind to the children and a wealth of knowledge! He even surprised us midway through the day with tiny cakes from Queijadas da Sapa Cintra!
Tivoli Palácio de Seteais
We started our “we aren’t on a tour” with a quick stop at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais at one time a palace it’s now a 5 star hotel with amazing views of Pena National Palace and the surrounding valleys.
The 9th Gate Movie House
We’re big Johnny Depp fans in our house, so imagine our surprise and delight when we stopped for a look at one of the film locations from the 1999 Move The 9th Gate which I’m sure Tim has watched 50 times!
Pena National Palace
The main reason for our visit to Sintra was Pena Palace. In fact the moment I saw photos of this Palace which looks like something out of a fairytale I decided we were going! The palace is visible from many places within the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais and Carlos was kind enough to drive by many different view points so I could take photos! Once we arrived we spent about 90 minutes exploring.
Castelo dos Mouros
Carlos advised us not to use our tickets to the Moorish Castle. He suggested that because we had already visited the ruins of the Castelo de St. Jorge in Lisbon it might be redundant and maybe a bit boring for the kids. However, we were able to capture some great photos of it from the Pena Palace and along the road.
Cork products are everywhere in Portugal and with good reason! Have you ever wondered where cork comes from? Did you know that close to 50% of the worlds cork comes from Portugal?! You’ll find everything from shoes to candy wrappers made from what is actually the bark of the Cork Oak Tree.
Quinta da Regaleira
If beautiful architecture, gardens, secret tunnels and hidden passageways appeal to you then don’t miss Quinta da Regaleira! All four of us really enjoyed our visit here! It was our last stop and we all wished we had discovered it earlier in the day. It was truly magical!
We Ran Out of Time…
We didn’t have time to visit Monserrat or the National Palace of Sintra, but they’re both on my list for next time.
We had an amazing time with our new friend Carlos! Beyond what I mentioned above, we stopped at a number of other points of interest, saw eagles and parrots, and in general just throughly enjoyed driving up and down the hills of Sintra with such a lovely person who clearly loves what he does! Before we parted ways for the day he was kind enough to go over my itinerary for our final day in Lisbon and after such a successful day in Sintra we were only happy to take his advice!
Sounds like you got incredibly lucky! Things like that make all the difference when traveling some where new and you’re experience has that much more of an impact on your life. You’ll cherish these memories forever! #FarawayFiles
Yes! And as a bonus we are still in touch with our wonderful guide so not only did we have an amazing experience we gained a new friend!
Those are the best!
That palace looks enchanting! Reason why I want to go 🙂 #farawayfiles
Beautiful pictures! Sounds like you had such a lovely experience 🙂 #FarawayFiles
Your guide took you to a lot of cool places! I have read about Sintra and only knew about three of the places you presented in here. So nice the entire family enjoyed the day! #FarawayFiles
It was the highlight of our time in Portugal! I definitely wouldn’t have known about many of these places if I hadn’t met Carlos! Lucky us!
Courtney @ Adelante
Sintra is such a dream! Pena Palace was by far my favorite place there. Looks like you had an incredible time!
A truly magical place!
Perfection! How lucky to have found Carlos – truly love serendipitous connections like that! Thank you for showing me all that Sintra has to offer – i only think of that Lego looking castle on the hill, but there is so much more. I wanna go!! Cheers from Copenhagen and thanks for linking up with Faraway Files! Erin
We went to Sintra earlier this year and fell in love – we took the bus and it turned out to be really convenient. They run really regularly and you just hop on and off when you like. Our favourites were obviously Pena Palace but the Quinta da Regaleira was a real highlight too so delighted you discovered it! Thanks for sharing it with us on #FarawayFiles
Great photos as always Hilary and I love the serendipity of meeting Carlos. He sounds like he made your visit to Sintra very special. I loved visiting there several years ago but wish I had known about that little orange car.. I was a bit under the weather that day (self inflicted so dont feel too sorry for me). Thanks for sharing your story with us on #FarawayFiles
Thank you! I can’t imagine navigating those hills while “under the weather!”
We are planning a break in Lisbon next year and Sintra will definitely be on the itinerary so very useful to read this. I’ll keep an eye out for Carlos 🙂 #Farawayfiles
You’re going to love it!! I wrote all about Lisbon as well if you’re interested… I am still in touch with Carlos if you’re interested in his contact information! Just let me know!
That’s lovely that you happened upon a great guide. Beautiful photos of Sintra!