What to see in Portugal
Tourist attractions Sintra
An enchanting destination, Sintra is a resort town on the Portuguese Riviera, sprawled across the verdant Sintra Mountains. Sintra is famous for one thing in particular: its otherworldly architecture, exhibited in a joyful array of villas, castles, palaces and mansions, nestled amongst the misty hilltops. A sparkling array of architectural styles and multi-coloured facades are on display here and arriving in Sintra is described as like stepping into the pages of a fairytale. Surprises are around every corner in this remarkably unique place, and a tour of Portugal is incomplete without taking a trip to Sintra.
A short distance from Lisbon, Sintra is a place of mystery, intrigue, romance and fantastical buildings. From the brightly painted Pena Palace to the medieval Castle of the Moors and the downright eccentric Quinta da Ragaleira, Sintra could easily be described as a ‘Disneyland for grownups’.
Sintra’s flamboyance can be explained by its roots. In the time of the Celts, it was a location of ritual moon worship and ever since it’s been believed that the hills of Sintra have a special energy. In the 18th-century, Sintra gained popularity with Portuguese royalty and aristocrats, who flocked to these hilltops to build their lavish playgrounds in every architectural style and colour imaginable. The result is one of the most impressive towns in the whole of Portugal, nowadays protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you travel to Sintra you’ll find that you can easily reach the main attractions on foot, although horse and carriage rides are available if you’d prefer. Although the town is popular as a day-trip destination, there are enough sights to discover that you could happily spend a long weekend exploring the glamorous mansions, mystical gardens and awe-inspiring views that Sintra has to offer.
What to see in Sintra
A tour of Sintra should begin in the historic town centre. Here you can explore an array of quirky boutiques, admire the atmospheric cobblestone streets or load up on Sintra’s famous sweet pastries, ready for a day of sightseeing. Just off the main square, you’ll find one of Sintra’s many elaborate residences; Sintra Palace.
Formerly home to the Portuguese royalty, today Sintra Palace is the best-preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal, recognisable by its distinctive conical chimneys. Originally built by the Moors, renovations and extensions over the centuries have given the palace a delightful mix of Manueline, Gothic and Arabic architecture. The interior is even more elaborate, decorated with impressive tile work, where visitors can journey through the history of the palace and its inhabitants.
The most visited attraction and the highlight of any trip to Sintra is the magnificent Pena Palace, perched high on a hilltop above the town and visible from Lisbon on a clear day. Pena Palace combines a whimsical mix of architectural styles, pieced together in a seemingly random fashion and painted in bright reds and yellows. The palace was built by Ferdinand II of Portugal in the 19th-century on the ruins of a former monastery. Once you’ve taken in the fantastical architecture and impressive rooms of the palace, the extensive gardens are a treat to explore, filled with exotic plants from around the world.
Pena Palace might be the most famous building in Sintra, but Quinta da Regaleira is certainly the most curious. Just when you think the palaces and castles of Sintra couldn’t get any more eccentric, Quinta da Regaleira comes and ignites the imagination once more. Build by an outlandish Brazilian millionaire, the exterior of the palace exudes Romantic-era charm, adorned with mysterious motifs related to different mystical beliefs from the 19th-century. The owner was interested in Alchemy, Masonry and the Knights Templar, and this symbolism can be found throughout the estate. The palace itself is just the beginning, as the gardens are where your imagination begins to run wild! Amongst the greenery and curious statues are two Initiation Wells, similar to underground towers, with spiral staircases leading down to a hidden room, thought to be used for ceremonial purposes. Deep down in the earth, underground tunnels connect the wells to different parts of the gardens and if you’re brave enough, visitors can explore these hidden passageways for themselves.