Sintra is a longtime royal sanctuary in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains, about a 50 minute train ride from Lisbon.
Honestly a day trip is not enough to appreciate Sintra as it boasts some uniquely beautiful architecture, expansive sophisticated gardens and a lot of forest. We could easily have stayed there for a week or longer.
For our day trip, we decided to focus on the UNESCO listed romantic palace and garden complex Quinta da Regaleira followed by a hike up and down the hills to the magnificent Moorish Castle and the fairytale like Pena Palace.
The general advice for visitors was to catch the 434 circle route bus from the train station to get up the hill to the Moorish castle and Pena Palace then back down. There are a lot of questions and debates online about whether or not walking up or catching the bus is the best way to experience it all. In our opinion, hiking on the lush moss-covered trails was a very important and fun part of the entire experience. We absolutely loved the Villa Sassetti trail which was very beautiful, and relatively easy walk. As the whole region is a "natural park", it's very enjoyable to immerse oneself in nature on route to checking out those great man-made architecture.
Quinta da Regaleira was unique and unlike anything else we've been to. It's a perfect example of brilliant architecture and untamed imagination manifested in the best natural setting. We spent three hours wandering around in the whimsical magical garden with towers, caves, a dry well with mysterious spiral walkways, an exquisite chapel with intricate Manueline features and a stunning palace with high technology that provided extreme comfort for the former owners. The property is an absolute delight for both photographing and nature lovers.
From Quinta da Regaleira we headed back towards town then followed the well-paved and marked Villa Sassetti trail up to the Moorish Castle. We walked underneath the massive castle walls feeling dwarfed by their size, admiring the expansive defence, but decided against entering the castle itself due to time restraints. A short distance away further up the hill is the fairytale like Pena Palace. It would take another couple of hours to tour both the enormous palace garden and palace itself. So we decided to save this for another trip. We also thought after the amazing Quinta da Regaleira garden, any other garden tour on the same day would only cause beauty fatigue rather than appreciation.
We took the path pointing to the historic center down the hill. On the way down, we found a quiet spot to have our sandwich lunch while admiring the beautiful forest and the views of Sintra below.
Just before town we made it to the Parque da Liberdade and enjoyed a stroll through the lush gardens. The historic center of Sintra was very pretty, filled with museums, mansions, a grand national palace and some cool cafes, restaurants and gift shops.
After a stroll around the historic center, it was time to catch the train back to Lisbon. Along the footpath to the train station, which is about 15 minutes outside of the town, over a dozen public art items were on display as well as some some artworks by individual vendors. We took our time appreciating the art works and had a pleasant stroll back to the train station.
The day trip to Sintra was very enjoyable and we felt like we had the appetite to be entertained for another time. The bottom line is that it was so relaxing just to be there in the forests and parks among the trees and fresh earthy air.
We took the urban train from the beautiful Rossio train station in Lisbon and a return ticket costs €4.5 per person. A one way journey time takes 50 minutes. The trains were very comfortable and clean.