What to do and where to go when visiting Sintra.
Facing the dilemma of having too many options when having only one day to visit Sintra? Let me give you a hand.
Sintra is internationally known for its deeply romantic environment by its palaces that seem to have come out from a Walt Disney fairy tale. Actually, they tell very real stories and they are also carriers of our past until present days.
Please check: Romanticism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism
Every time I go to Sintra I have the fantasy of imagining elegant 19th-century gentlemen strolling along the streets of Sintra with their mistresses (yes, mistresses) carrying small umbrellas that one can never know if they were meant to protect their holders from the sun or from some indiscreet looks. At the evening, for tea or for dinner, the secret couple receives at their chalet the gentleman’s best friend and his adorable lover.
I believe that this lover’s net is part of the Portuguese who soon learned to enjoy the works of Eça de Queirós, a Portuguese writer of the 19th century that wrote a famous novel called “Os Maias”, among many others, and we had to learn about it during high school. Also, Sintra’s warm summer together with the haze that often hangs on these surroundings, are elements that help to create this mystical and romantic environment.
Walking in Sintra is effectively immersing yourself into the romantic atmosphere of the 19th century. This century was so important to Sintra that I cannot imagine how this place would be like without the events that happened during the 19thcentury, to better explain myself I list some important events occurred during that period of time:
– 1808: the signing of the Convention of Sintra which put terms to the first French invasion
– 1808: Lord Byron stayed in Sintra
– 1838: Ferdinand II acquired the convent of Nossa Senhora da Pena (actual Pena Palace) and the Moorish Castle
– 1858: Major rebuilding works on Monserrate
– 1887: Lisbon-Sintra train line was inaugurated
– 1892: barons of Regaleira sold Quinta (farm) to António Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro.
In this very synthetic list we can see important references to buildings/monuments considered today as great monuments of Sintra and events that are closely linked with the romantic image we have today of this village, as an example please notice the time spent in Sintra by Lord Byron the author of a famous version of Don Juan and many other works that promoted Sintra as a romantic village.
In 1992 the cultural landscape of Sintra was classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO and this was also another crucial step to Sintra’s promotion. Nowadays Sintra is a “must see” place when considering a travel to Portugal.
Sintra is not far from Lisbon. Is less than one hour by train from Lisbon, taking the train at Rossio train station, right in the Centre of the city. The train is a very simple, fast and economical way to reach this village as opposed to driving that can turn to be annoying because sometimes is difficult to park or even to arrive at the historical center of Sintra.
When in Sintra, please go to the Tourist Office, the employees are incredibly friendly and very professional. They will show you many options for your day.
The great difficulty will be: what to select considering to have an only half day or one day?
Well, being this a blog of walking is also a blog of cultural options as well. Anyway, is probably expected to find here some information’s about walks in Sintra. I am sorry, but the walks in Sintra hills and woods do not fascinate me as much as the monuments that are a must see of beauty and diversity as also I love the walks in Sintra village as well.
I know that most of the Portuguese people you will talk they will refer the walks in Serra de Sintra (Sintra’s hills) but, believe me, Sintra’s monuments or village you won’t find them anywhere else.
There are so many to see and not having all the time in the world, what to select?
I do not know what to answer because it depends on what each one loves to see but I will try to summarize the most important things of each place for those who have between half a day to one day to spend here.
The focus will be on the following monuments/places: Pena National Palace, Sintra National Palace, Moorish Castle, Quinta da Regaleira and the village Sintra itself.
Please forgive me for leaving out other spectacular monuments but a selection had to be done.
The time it takes to visit a monument will depend on the interest for detail, the background history, and many other elements. One photographer can take easily half an hour in a place where a relaxed walker will stay only for a few seconds.
However, there is a general idea of the time it can take visiting each site and is what I will refer to during this post.
I am not going to detail what we can see in the monuments because you can find plenty of good information on the internet. I will give you a general idea of you can expect to visit each place and the time it will take to visit so you can better organize your time.
Pena National Palace
We can divide the space in two: the Palace and the Park.
The Palace takes between an hour and a half to two hours to visit and another hour to the Park.
The Palace, despite its existence, while chapel that contradictory sources point to the end of the 14TH century and others for the 16th century, is in the 19th century that begins the construction of the spectacular monument we see today. The interior is like a fairy tale, full of color, full of nooks and a fabulous example of a moment built in a certain time in History when wealthy families began to receive guests at their home and give more value to socialization. Also, major changes were happening in the intimate dynamics of the family life – the architecture of the palace was quite innovative at the time in what family dynamics were concerned.
D. Fernando II bought a former convent and built the Palace from the convents structure. He was the regent king, married with queen D. Maria II. We were born in Vienna, Austria.
The Palace is the vision of a foreigner perfectly fitted to this country with both modern and classic concepts brought from Northern Europe.
The Park is quite nice for a relaxed walk. You will see some lakes, high points that serve as a lookout and a collection of very interesting trees and plants.
Walking in the Park, there is a point not to be missed is the Giant, a statue from where you have a fabulous view of the Pena Palace and the surrounding area.
Sintra National Palace
Is one of the ex-libris of Sintra appearing in many photo brochures, is very easy to recognize by its two huge chimneys. It is located in the center of the most touristy part of the village and therefore, maybe because of that, is also known as “Palácio da Vila” (Village’s Palace).
In addition to being a spectacular place and all its merits, you may want to choose it for more practical reasons: it’s right in the Centre of the village, it is very accessible.
The visit takes about an hour and a half and what I find most amazing in this monument is that during the visit we feel we are in a space that brought to the present days bit of every moment of its existence and, considering that it exists since the 14TH century, with major renovations in the 15th century, we have the sensation of walking through history.
Also important is the fact that it was a Royal Palace, it has sumptuous spaces and full of meaning, as the room of the coat of arms.
Despite the immense beauty of many of its rooms, the kitchen is a fantastic place and maybe one of the funniest sites because we can see inside these chimneys that mark the landscape of the village. At the top of this post, you can see an outside photo of this palace.
As the name implies, is a castle built during the Moorish occupation period. However, although with not very strong evidence, some people believe that before the Moorish period this place would have initially been holding some Visigoth’s constructions.
With a military objective, is located in the highest area of the outskirts of the town and, as such, we can have a great view from the top of the Castle, providing excellent photos being the Pena Palace, perhaps, one of the most photographed spots from here.
Is a medieval castle and so a Spartan environment and their wall and towers are what is there to see. A visit to the Castle takes about one hour and a half.
Quinta da Regaleira
I must say that I love Quinta da Regaleira for a good number of reasons. In addition to being an extraordinary monument represents also a dream made reality, a dream of someone who was neither King nor Aristocrat, was a merchant, a living proof that personal fortune can be used to make long-lasting works.
With a ten-minute walk from the historic center of Sintra, you will arrive at this place and the visit takes between two to three hours.
At the end of the 19TH century Quinta da Regaleira was bought by Carvalho Monteiro from the barons of Regaleira and after that, he built this magnificent palace with the technical support of the Italian stage designer/architect Luigi Manini.
For the monuments visits, I strongly advise that the visitors are accompanied by a guide or some information that will guide them. This visit is undoubtedly one monument where guidance will make a huge difference, without it you will not enjoy the charm of a story that seems to have come out from a fairy tale.
Within the Quinta da Regaleira there are many points of interest such as the Regaleira Tower, the Palace, the chapel of the Holy Trinity, the Initiatic Well and the wood.
Is, without doubt, one of my favorite places.
This village presents itself as an exponent of romanticism while urban cluster and is, by itself, an excellent reason to visit. Reserve about two hours to walk in the village. For your guidance and better time management, at the tourist office, you can collect some urban walks leaflet.
Whatever the route you will take, there are some points you should not miss, they are:- Taste the traditional small cakes: “Queijadas de Sintra” (Sintra’s cheesecakes) and the “Travesseiros” (Pillows) – traditionally are sold at the Periquita coffee shop;- Other traditional cakes but less known: “Fofos de Belas”, “Agualvas” and ” Nozes Douradas”
If you are going to have lunch or dinner then look for some restaurant where you can ask the local dishes: “Leitão de Negrais”, Roasted Lamb, Southampton of pork “Mercês” style, Sintra’s Veal or one of the many grilled fish.
Please be aware that the purpose of this post is not to do an exhaustive description of the monuments or places but help you, giving information to help you decide about what to see/do during a visit to Sintra.
About every monument, you will find a lot of literature on the internet.
Enjoy your day.
Location: Sintra, Portugal