If you’re planning a trip and trying to figure out what to do in Sintra Portugal, read on to find out more about this small fairytale town on the outskirts of Lisbon. One of the most memorable trips I can think of was when my parents decided to take my brother and I with them to Portugal to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. I had been to Spain a few years prior visiting family, and for some reason I thought Portugal would be similar to Spain–of course I knew there was a huge difference with the language, with one country speaking portuguese and the other speaking castillian, but as far as the country-side was concerned, how could it be any different? Boy was I off!!
After about 12 hours of traveling from Texas, we drove about 20 kilometers from the Lisbon airport to the beautiful and picturesque town of Sintra, once the stomping ground of Portuguese nobility. I believe we barely made it into our bed and breakfast before crashing out for the night, the long journey and the time difference wiping us all out. The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn, eager to see what the day had in store for us.
The first view I saw when I looked out of the bedroom window was the silhouette of a palace that hugged the top of one of the rolling hills in the distance, the first castle we were to visit for the day. We got dressed, ate breakfast, and set out to go explore Pena Palace. Built in the 1840’s, the palace sits upon the second highest peak in the Sintra Hills. Pena Palace was once King Ferdinand II’s home and was designed and decorated in the Manueline and Moorish styles of architecture. The Palace includes lush gardens and a park, and is visible from any point within the grounds.
As you first walk in, you pass the water gardens, dotted with over five hundred different species of trees that were brought in from all over the world. The grounds contain a drawbridge and an entrance tunnel that add to the dramatic experience. Once you pass the entrance tunnel, the view opens up and you’re immediately able to see the grandeur and beauty of this stunning palace.
Beautiful pastel colors adorn the exterior of the palace, and once inside you’re invited to witness the opulence and extravagance that the royal family enjoyed, complete with Victorian and Edwardian furnishings, rich ornaments, paintings, and priceless porcelain preserved just as the royal family left them. A tour through the palace shows off the lavish “Arab Room”, an enormous ballroom, and an impressive 16th-century chapel altarpiece, which is said to have been founded to celebrate the first sight of Vasco da Gama’s returning fleet from the new world.
The views of the Portuguese country side are almost as impressive as all of the riches that can be seen in the palace, including the Battlements of the Moorish castle from one of the many lookout points of the palace’s many balconies.
After we got our fill of Pena Palace–a huge understatement–we made our way to Seteais Palace, a neoclassical palace that has now been converted into a hotel. The palace was built in the late 1700’s at the edge of a hill to take advantage of the elevation and the beautiful view of the lower countryside.
To take advantage of the lush vegetation and temperate climate, beautiful gardens were built on the estate, designed to follow the romantic trends of the time. We found it to be a great place to go visit and enjoy an afternoon oporto, we walked along the gardens and enjoyed the view of the atlantic ocean a few kilometers away.
From Seteais Palace, as well as from Pena Palace, you can see the 8th century Moorish Castle. It is easily accessible by bus, it snakes along the mountain ridge, and it offers breathtaking views of the countryside. The castle was established by North African Moors to guard the Sintra countryside, but fell to disrepair after the conquest of Portugal by the Christians. King Ferdinand II restored it in the 1800’s and included it as part of the gardens of the Pena Palace.
Last but not least you have Monserrate Palace, a more exotic yet still romantic palace very close to Seteais Palace. It’s currently under renovation to be turned into a museum, with gardens containing waterfalls, with a vast array of roses, conifers, tropical ferns, and even a variety of palms. The palace itself blends Gothic and Moorish styles of architecture, and the palace’s dome is modeled after the duomo in Florence.
Even though Sintra was the first stop in a series of cities, from Sintra to Cascais, Lisbon to Oporto, even to Santiago de Compostela to Fatima to A Coruña, it set the tone to prove to me that Portugal was nothing like Spain. It doesn’t surprise me that the famous British poet Lord Byron said Sintra was “perhaps in every respect the most delightful [town] in Europe,” and called it a “glorious Eden” in his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Have you been to this incredible place? If so, what else would you recommend to someone in terms of what to do in Sintra Portugal? Leave your comments to share with everyone below.
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