Sintra is often touted as the best day trip from Lisbon, and I must agree! In this fairy tale day trip to Sintra, I relished everything Sintra had to offer: the amazingly colourful & intricate architecture, lush green forests, gentle rolling hills, and sweeping panoramas.
Sintra: fairy tale feast for the eyes
As if from a fairy tale scene, Sintra’s romantic landscape is simply breathtaking. You are surrounded by eye-catching encounters at each corner when you walk down Sintra’s roads. In this trip, I decided to walk & hike everywhere, rather than taking cabs & buses. For my guide to this Sintra day trip, check out my previous blog post!
I left arrived in Sintra at around 9:00am, and immediately walked towards Quinta da Regaleira from the station. The town was still quiet at the time, and hardly any tourists yet (yay)!
Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira is a most beautiful palace and estate, filled with hidden gems and beautiful gardens. Pictures on Instagram and online made this one of my most anticipated attractions today!
While the grounds had many owners throughout its history, it’s best known as “The Palace of Monteiro“, named after its owner António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. He designed the estate with architect Luigi Manini, and you can see the mysterious influences from his Freemason background in & around the estate.
My first stop was the infamous Initiation Well! Unlike other wells, the Initiation Well was never used for water. Instead, it was used for Tarot mysticism and rituals by its owner, who was a known Freemason.
For those versed in Italian literature, the well is also a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy. The nine landings going down signify the 9 Circles of Hell, and from the bottom, it could signify the 9 Circles of Paradise.
The well is so intricately designed; the arches cascading down the stairs and the moss growing on the stones adds a mysterious flair to the well. Walking down the stairs, it progressively gets darker, quieter and colder, as if descending to Niflhel.
I waited for THE perfect shot, and I got it! I just wish I had wider lens so I could’ve captured the whole well, since it was soooo beautiful!
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When you reach the bottom, looking up the well is as impressive as looking down. Being surrounded in darkness is a thrill of its own! From the bottom, you can explore the odd complex of tunnels and subterranean catacombs.
The tunnels were quite dark, and I had to use my phone flashlight to shine my path. Some tunnels were super creepy, especially when you walk through them alone. 😯 If I was a more daring man, I would’ve spent more time down here…but I am not that brave! Haha!
Leaving the catacombs, you arrive at the beautiful gardens of the palace, teeming with colourful flowers and dense greenery. Quite a departure from the dingy underground tunnels! You get lost walking the entire garden, because there is so many things to see (most of the land is garden land)!
Towers, fountains, grottoes and even a chapel dot the garden landscape of Quinta da Regaleira. These small hideaways are all vastly different and interesting when you look at them close-up, like how the Fountain of Abundance are made of small pebbles!
From the gardens, you will find yourself at the very alluring Regaleira Palace (if you’re not distracted haha). The facade evokes Gothic influences with its sharp pinnacles, ornate adornments and monotone colours. All this clearly exhibits the affluent taste of Monteiro. 😉
Inside the palace, there is an exhibition about the palace’s history, as well as explanations of the different rooms and its uses in the past. The pinnacle of the exhibit for me is the Octagonal Room—inspired by the Templar Convent of Christ in Tomar—with a beautiful view of the gardens facing it!
Quinta da Regaleira is a masterclass in designing opulent estates, and a must when visiting Sintra! One can easily get lost in the beauty of this palace.
After Quinta da Regaleira, I started the journey up the Sintra hills towards the colourful Pena Palace. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, I’ve decided to hike up the hills rather than take a bus or taxi. It’s just a hobby of mine, especially when I travel!
The hike took me less than one hour (pro coming through), and I arrived at the Pena Palace Park entrance first. Because I bought my ticket online, I was able to bypass the long lines! 🙂
Pena Palace is THE iconic landmark of Sintra’s landscape, that even Hans Christian Andersen called it the “Holy Grail” of Sintra. The colourful walls and eccentric design of the palace often associate it with a fairy tale castle, one in the likes of Disney’s (and it’s not that far-fetched)!
Maybe it was because the palace was so crowded at the time (it is July after all), but the palace did not impress me as much as I thought it would. Yes, the palace was colourful, but the massive crowds severely lessened its magical effect. 😕
Or maybe, it’s because I didn’t see how it looked inside? Either way, the crowds were too overwhelming in a relatively small palace.
Pena Palace Park
Rather than the palace, I was more impressed with the palace grounds and gardens. The whole park is expansive, and encompasses an area of more than 200 hectares! It can take you the whole day if you want to see everything in the Pena Palace Park, but I didn’t have that much time today.
To get the most iconic photo of Pena Palace, I made my way towards Cruz Alta, or “High Cross”, which offers a quintessential view of the Pena Palace. It is a bit of a walk away from the palace (1km away), but all for the ‘gram eh? 😆
The gardens of the palace has many small other attractions like the Queen’s Fern Garden, Valley of the Lakes, and even a stable! Greenery is thick, and if you LOVE nature, you will absolutely love the park! Strolling around the gardens is also very romantic since there are less people here than the palace.
It is a bit of a maze though walking around the park, but that’s the most interesting part! You never know where the path will lead you.
I took many detours, and that brought me to the Valley of the Lakes! Here is a sequence of lakes, and each is dotted with elaborate duck houses! You know you’re rich when you build small palaces for your ducks.
That’s two of three in my itinerary down, and the last one is coming up!
Castle of the Moors
Of the three places I visited today, I was most impressed by the simplicity & history of the Castle of the Moors. I am a sucker for antiquity, and the castle lured me in.
From Pena Palace, I walked down towards the Castle of the Moors which took about 15 minutes downhill. The route towards the castle takes you down the footpath in the hills, and brings you to the outer wall of the castle. When approaching the castle, you are met with an exhibit about the history of its inhabitants and its walls, which provides some context before you enter the castle.
The Castle of the Moors was a stronghold built in the 9th century by the Moors to protect its people from danger. The castle now is only but a remainder of its glory days, but it is still as impressive as ever. From below, the castle is easily visible (even from Quinta da Regaleira)!
The landscape surrounding it is very rocky, so it must’ve been a challenge to build in the past. With any structures of antiquity, I am mind-boggled by how it has stood the test of time and nature! It just goes to show how innovative humans are in the face of challenge.
View from the top
Besides history, I am a sucker for wide panoramic views of places. I think this is particularly why I love to hike—to see the view from the top! Speaking of views, the view from here is far-reaching; gorgeous views of Sintra and the surrounding countryside are a feast to the eyes.
It is very windy up here, so bring a coat because it’ll get chilly!
From here, you can see the historical centre of Sintra, including the National Palace of Sintra! And from one of the towers, you can also see the Pena Palace from afar!
The Castle of the Moors is my choice for the most unexpected surprise of Sintra! Besides being an old historical castle, it also gives you a very beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding countryside!
Ending the fairy tale
And thus concludes the fairy tale day trip to Sintra. It was a busy day of amazingly colourful & intricate architecture, lush green forests, gentle rolling hills, and sweeping panoramas. Even thinking about it now, it seems like a surreal dream. I would’ve loved it even more if there were less people, but you give and take I suppose.
BUT, I cannot leave Sintra without having coffee, and I visited a cafe in town called Pastelaria Vila Velha. Here, I had an espresso and a pastel de coco, or Portuguese coconut tart. An very treat to end this (seemingly long) day trip.
Dinner at The Food Temple
Once I got back to the hostel in Lisbon, I met another vegan traveller and we decided to try a vegan restaurant called The Food Temple. I’ve heard good things about this restaurant so I was very excited to eat!
The restaurant was small inside, but had a cozy & hipster atmosphere—my kinda place! They had small tables laid out along the stairs in front of the restaurant.
The meal started with a cold basil & zucchini soup, similar to gazpacho, which was refreshing but lacked flavour. For our entrée, we ordered three small tapas: a Caesar salad with mushrooms, roasted cauliflower with yogurt sauce, and a pasta with a nutty sauce.
My favourite was the Caesar salad! The shiitake mushrooms added so much umami to the dish!
Main course was a mushroom and lentil ragu on a bed of rice, and OMG it was so good! The flavours were very bold and sooo umami, which was a nice juxtaposition to the light soup served in the beginning of the meal!
The meal ended with a couple of desserts! They ran out of the chocolate cake (unfortunately), so instead I ordered the orange polenta cake and my friend ordered the raw fig cake.
My cake was unfortunately very dry, but the orange flavour did permeate throughout the cake. The cream served on the side also helped to moisten the cake, although it was definitely not enough. The fig cake, however, was very tasty and had a similar flavour profile to a raw cashew cheesecake!
For the whole meal, we each paid about €20, not too shabby. Overall, the meal was delicious, and a nice end to a tiring day. Highly recommended!
Check out the tips I gave in my previous guide to a Sintra day trip.