I like when the city I visit has much more to offer than its beauty and cool vibe. When the great attractions wait outside of it too. And such is Lisbon. The capital of Portugal is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and exploring it properly takes at least few days. But despite all the awesomeness that the city has to offer no one can leave it without visiting Sintra, a nearby town that has been a beloved destination for kings and now is a favorite place for numerous tourists. No surprise as this little gem makes a perfect day trip from Lisbon!
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I could have taken a train to Sintra, it departs right from the train station where my hostel was located. But I’ve learnt along the way that even if I really enjoy the independent travels sometimes an organized day trip is just the best option. Not only I don’t need to worry about the public transport, that usually is pretty limited off season, but I can see and learn more that way. I did it few times before (in Israel or in South Africa) and I figured it’s just not worth to be a smart pants sometimes, the one I know it all and can do it better.
Below you can find a write up of my trip to Sintra and Cabo da Roca. Click here to see the details and availability of the tour I took (and highly recommend!)
It was my second visit to Sintra but this time I fully understood why over the centuries so many people has fallen for this little town. Even if it’s so close from Lisbon, just some 30 kms away, the place feels completely different. Lush forests on the surrounding hills and incredibly beautiful mansions make Sintra look kind of mysterious and unreal
. And so incredibly charming! Even the climate is different here! While it was warm and sunny day in Lisbon, Sintra was much colder and kind of gloomy.
It’s incredible how many amazing monuments can be found in such a small town. Every second house and mansion brings your attention with the unique details and certain beauty. On top of that there are palaces, so magnificent they take a breath away. The Palacio Nacional de Sintra, the royal palace dating back to the 11th century, stands proudly in the heart of the town, impressing all the visitors with its weird chimneys. The unique Palace of Pena is hidden high in the hills and with its colorful and fairy-tale-alike look it could easily play in Disney movies. The ruins of the Moorish castle protect Sintra from above and the quirky Quinta da Regaleira is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited (but more on that later). No wonder Sintra has made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List!
After getting to Sintra we started our tour with a short walk through Parque da Liberdade – romantic garden full of trees, flowers and plants from all over the world. It took us right to the center of the town, where Palacio Nacional de Sintra stands. And even if it was a random Monday morning at the end of March the place was bustling with tourists. I didn’t expect to see that many of them there, I remember when I was in Sintra 10 years ago in July there was hardly anyone around. Still the crowds didn’t really bother us with seeing the place. And it was just as pretty as I remembered!
We wandered the narrow cobbled lanes up to the view point from where we could admire red rooftops and Palacio Nacional de Sintra in its full glory. It was best seen from here how the palace was growing bigger and bigger over the years and each part was built in a different style
. Further walk took us to the local shop where we could try some Port wine, local jams and cheese (so good!). I’m always a little bit hesitant when it comes to this kind of tastings but this one was really ok, no one pushed us to buy things and we were free to try everything we wanted to. And actually if I didn’t travel with a carry-on only I’d definitely have bought some goodies to bring back home!
It was time for the highlight of the day – visiting one of the palaces of Sintra. We were free to choose from Palace of Pena, Moorish Castle and Quinta da Regaleira. While most of the people head to the first one I went for the last option. And it was a perfect choice!
Quinta de Regaleira lies within a walking distance from the town’s center and it just felt like the most underrated of Sintra’s attractions. The fairly large property is not only the home to a fancy romantic palace and a small yet beautiful chapel but also a maze of paths, tunnels, wells and underground passages. It’s a perfect area to play hide and seek! The whole place was the idea of an eccentric owner Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro who hid here lots of symbols related to alchemy, Masonry or the Knights Templar. I felt like in some sort of amusement park, wandering around and discovering all the hidden spots! I immediately thought of “Goonies”
, one of my favorite childhood movies, as Quinta de Regaleira felt really similar to what was shown in this Hollywood production! I wouldn’t be surprised if some treasure is somewhere in there, still not discovered! It was really hard to believe that this whole bizarre place was the idea of one guy who just wanted to have an original summer house…
We had two hours to explore Quinta da Regaleira and it was enough to look inside every corner of the property. Once we were done it was time to leave Sintra behind and head to the place I was looking forward the most – Cabo da Roca! I remember very well this westernmost point of continental Europe from my previous trip to Portugal, it was the place that left me speechless the most
. Dramatic landscape with high cliffs going steep into the Atlantic Ocean, the sound of crashing waves mixed with whistling wind trembling in my ears. Over these 10 years nothing has changed there and Cabo da Roca again took my breath away! I could easily stand there for hours, staring perplexed at the view – too bad the wind was so strong it was impossible to be outside for more than 15 minutes! Even when I was trying to walk straight I couldn’t, it was that intense.
We were slowly heading back to Lisbon. On the way we stopped first at the Devil’s Mouth near Cascais. This unobtrusive point along the coast took many lives away due to the strong currents. The place looked really beautiful and it was really disturbing to think of its tragic faith.
Later on we also had a quick break in Cascais – a fisherman town that became an extremely popular holiday destination. Even if it’s super wealthy now the place still has the old times charm and seeing fatigued boats used for fishing is not an uncommon view there.
After 8 hours we got back to Lisbon Destination Hostel. I was super tired, mostly because of the wind, but also really glad about the tour. There were only 5 of us and the driver/tour guide – a really cool guy who know everything about the places we’ve visited and answered all of my questions (and I had a lot of them!).We’ve made a really nice group, mix of Polish, Australian, Korean and Portuguese and got along well very quickly. For the whole day I didn’t feel like I have not enough time for one of the attractions, we weren’t pushed to do anything (that sometimes happens on daytours) and I really think we got the most from that day out! I had such a blast on this day trip from Lisbon and I can easily recommend it to everyone visiting capital of Portugal!
Click here to read more details on the tour and check the availability!
What was the quirkiest attraction you’ve ever visited? Have you been to Portugal? Would you like to visit Sintra and Cabo da Roca?
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO PORTUGAL
With over 15 years of independent travelling I’ve learnt which websites and services are the best when planning a trip. I always use and trust following websites:
Flights – I search for the best deals on either Momondo or SkyScanner. Both search numerous sites to find the best offers. I also really like the “everywhere” option when searching for the flights as it often gives me the inspiration, if not for this trip then for the next time.
Accommodation – I always book my accommodation thgrough Booking.com. They have really good deals (especially with their “Genius” program that you become a member of after few reservations) and in most of the cases, if you plans change, you can cancel the reservation without any extra costs. I also value them for a really good customer service that I had to use few times. Check the best deals on accommodation in Lisbon here
Insurance – I never travel without the insurance as you never know what might happen on the road (I’ve learnt my lesson). I can recommend World Nomads that offer the insurance dedicated to travelers just like you and me. Check the insurance options for your trip here!
Guide books – I do like reading a guide book before and during the trip. Depending on the destination I usually buy either Lonely Planet or Bradt. You can get your guidebooks for Portugal here.
Day tours in Lisbon – I do go for a day trips when I travel as often they are the most convenient way to see the place that save you time and money. Click here to see and book the best day tours in Lisbon
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