7 best things to do in Sintra
Set in the hills of a pine forest bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Sintra is located just 45 minutes from Lisbon, but it’s a whole other world. Known as the Portuguese Riviera, Sintra is one of Portugal’s wealthiest enclaves, dotted with mansions and summer palaces, and also has a large expat community.
It became popular in the 19th century when royalty, aristocracy and the powerful elite fled the intense summer heat of Lisbon to cool off, thus building their mansions and palaces in Sintra due to the cooler temperatures and proximity to The Atlantic Ocean.
A great day or night out from Lisbon, there is a lot to see and do in Sintra.
1. Pena Palace
The main attraction in Sintra is Pena Palace, the former summer palace of Prince Ferdinand and the royal family in the mid-1800s, which was previously a medieval monastery. The eclectic architecture includes Gothic Revival, Manueline Revival, Islamic Revival, and Renaissance Revival styles, with whimsical architectural details and a color palette of marigold and tomato red. Inside is a superb collection of period furniture, tapestries and mosaic tiles. The 500-acre Pena Park, next to the palace, is a forest filled with winding paths and mazes and has a collection of imported exotic trees, including cypress, redwood and ginkgo, as well as New Zealand ferns. . In 1995, Pena Palace was designated a UNESCO Heritage Site.
2. Palace of the Regaleira
Also known as the Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire, the Regaleira Palace was the home of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, heir to a wealthy Portuguese Brazilian family, businessman, bibliophile and collector. Monteiro commissioned Italian designer and architect Luigi Manini to design the stone mansion and gardens. The massive house is five stories high, which you can visit, and there is a separate Roman Catholic chapel, decorated with ornate stained glass, frescoes, and elaborate stucco work.
Lush, green gardens cover over 4 acres, and the multi-level park with narrow paths has lots of twists and turns leading to caves, wells, waterfalls, fountains, and secret tunnels. Initiation wells, which are inverted towers, have spiral staircases and were originally used for Tarot initiation rites.
The palace has a gift shop, restaurant / cafeteria and guided tours. In the summer, they sponsor dance, theater and music events.
The charming seaside town of Cascais is a must-see. At one time, a fishing village and an agricultural center for wine, olive oil, grains and fruits, Cascais was discovered by the Portuguese and European royals in the 1870s with King Luis of Portugal , King Edward VIII of England, King Juan Carlos of Spain and King Umberto II of Italy, establishing residences. The town of Estoril, which is part of Cascais, hosts major international events with Cascais, such as the America’s Cup, Horasis Global Meeting, the Millennium Estoril Open tennis tournament, Ocean Race Europe and Estoril Classics, a car race and old motorcycles.
Stroll through the old town center and finish at the marina, lined with hundreds of impressive yachts and sailboats.
The beaches of Cascais are sandy and the azure blue water is calm. Praia da Duquesa is located between two palaces; Praia do Guincho is ideal for water sports; Praia is a surf beach; and Praia da Conceição, a popular beach with restaurants, a promenade, and pedal boat rentals, is within walking distance of the station.
4. Cabo Da Roca
Europe’s westernmost point, Cabo Da Roca, sits atop a 460-foot granite cliff with huge boulders and swirling waters, dramatically crashing into them hypnotically as you watch them. . There is also a 541-foot-high lighthouse, dating from 1772, and a historic stone monolith from Roman times.
5. Castelo Dos Mouros
A departure from the decadent 19th century Sintra palaces, Castelo dos Mouros is a former 8th century Moorish castle, which was once an important military stronghold. The path to the castle is hilly and wooded but well worth the climb when you take a close look at the spectacular structures. You’ll see Moorish-style grain silos, the remains of a medieval Christian church, and a cemetery. Climb into one of the three towers and admire the breathtaking views of the Atlantic.
6. Air museum
The Air Museum displays over 100 airplanes and 9,500 aircraft artifacts in a gargantuan 30,000 square foot hangar at Air Base No.1. There is a side building that tells the story of TAP Airlines, Portugal’s national carrier, since its inception in 1945 and displays its first flight recorder. Other exhibits at the museum include the original model of Lisbon Airport from 1942, rooms that include the history of the training of civil aviation and air force pilots, and the hall of pioneers, with maps, navigation instruments and personal artefacts of the first Portuguese pilots and flyers.
7. Monserrate Palace
In 1789, British businessman Gérard de Visme built a neo-Gothic Monserrate palace on the ruins of an 11th-century chapel. The result is an eclectic architectural conception of the Moorish Mudejar revival influenced by Romanticism. There isn’t a lot of furniture in the house, but the surrounding park and gardens are the real draw here. Monserrate Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape and winner of the European Garden Award in 2013. The fantastic English-style garden features a lake, springs, caves and fountains. There are species of plants, flowers and trees from all over the world, including yuccas and agaves from Mexico; bamboo, azalea, camellia and rhododendron from Japan; and from Australia and New Zealand, holly and strawberry trees, as well as palms and ferns.
There is a self-contained farm with cattle and donkeys, horses, sheep, a picnic area and an amphitheater.
Another highlight is a 25-foot totem pole, carved from a 50-year-old eucalyptus tree. Created by Welsh artist Nansi Hemming, the sculptures depict various animals.
Where to eat
Teahouse during the day and restaurant at night, A Raposa doesn’t look much like the outside, but once inside it has a beautifully decorated contemporary dining area. The creative chef prepares dishes such as cod in black olive paste, slices of sweet onion and potatoes, roast Iberian pork with risotto and sweet mustard, and coffee caramel cream.
Azenhas Do Mar
Overlooking the beach with floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor terrace, Azenhas do Mar serves seafood specialties including clams, squid, lobster, stuffed crab, and tiger prawns. They have a beach bar with a lively sunset cocktail on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Where to stay
Sintra offers a diverse selection of accommodation at all prices, from luxury palaces and hotels to old house guesthouses and beachfront properties.
Casa A Miradouro
Painted in pretty pink and yellow stripes on the facade, Casa A Miradouro is an eight-room B&B in a converted 19th-century house with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. The rooms are individually designed suites, and there is a lovely garden and garden terrace for relaxing.
Tivoli Palacio De Seteais
Indulge in luxury in an 18th-century neoclassical palace at the Tivoli Palacio De Seteais hotel. The rooms and suites are lavishly decorated with antiques, and the ancient ballrooms feature lavish tapestries and frescoes. Relax in their Anantara Spa with a Healing Crystal Massage, Organic Green Coffee Body Scrub or Organic Wine Body Wrap, then take a dip in the outdoor pool. The Seteais restaurant is located in one of the old ballrooms overlooking the hotel gardens and offers a menu of Portuguese specialties and international dishes.
Fortaleza Do Guincho Relais And Chateaux Hotel
Part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux network, the Fortaleza do Guincho hotel is perched above the Atlantic Ocean with a sandy beach below. The 16 upper-class rooms have sea views with private balconies fitted with lounge chairs, and there are three junior suites. There are two restaurants, the Michelin star Fortaleza do Guincho, with award-winning French chef Antoine Westermann at the helm, specializing in local seafood. The more casual The Spot serves more casual fare of sandwiches, salads, and snacks.
We recommend taking a small organized tour by car or van from Lisbon, as Sintra is quite extensive and the attractions are not within walking distance of each other. Lisbon Native Tours runs excellent Sintra tours from Lisbon, and a full day tour costs a very reasonable 60 euros per person. Alternatively, you can stay in Sintra and use their local tourism services.
Sintra is very hilly and rocky, so wear sneakers or chunky rubber-bottomed shoes with good support.