Early December is a great time to visit Sintra and enjoy its fairytale castles and gardens without a crowd around. We arrived around 10 am after catching the train from Rossio station in Lisbon. A return ticket costs € 5. We had a plan to see as many of the famous sights as possible in one day so we caught the 434 tourist bus at the station (cost € 2.90) and headed into the hills. The first stop is the Moorish Castle. Here you can buy a combo ticket for several palaces which saves you from standing in line later on. Though honestly on a week day in December we were out of there in 5 minutes (cost for Moorish Castle, Pene Palace and National Palace is about € 25) From here it’s an easy walk uphill to the Moorish Castle.
The Moorish Castle
The castle was probably built between the 8th and 9th century as a military fortification. Today you can climb around the ancient battlements and watchtowers. When we went the weather was amazing. We could see all the way to Lisbon one way and the Atlantic Ocean the other as well as the surrounding countryside and all the other Sintra palaces.
After our climb around the castle we headed to Pena Palace. It’s not far to walk there but we decided to take the bus again. The park at this palace is supposed to be very beautiful but unfortunately we didn’t have time to see very much of it. Maybe one day we can come back and really explore it.
The palace is painted in bright red and yellow and part of the outside is tiled and so appears to be a different shade depending on the light. Built in the early 19th century on the site of an old ruined monastery. It’s an incredible fairytale vision. I’ve never seen anything like it. The tour includes a number of rooms with exquisite furniture, paintings and other wonderful treasures, the palace kitchen and the terraces with wonderful views.
The National Palace
After enjoying the Pena Palace we took the bus to the National Palace in the town center. The history of this palace begins in the time the Moors ruled this area. In the 12th century Sintra was conquered by Portuguese King Alfonso, who started using the palace. It was inhabited by the royal family until the late 19th century. This tour again includes beautiful rooms, many with tiled walls and painted ceilings and absolutely amazing art. The kitchen in this palace was really interesting. The two giant white cones on the palace roof are chimneys from the kitchen.
Quinta da Regaleira
After touring the National Palace it’s only a short walk to Quinta da Regaleira, an estate built in the early 20th century. This site was not included in our original combo ticket but it is not expensive and well worth the visit. There is a house which we didn’t see and the most wonderful garden you could ever imagine. The garden is devided into a more natural upper part and a more cultivated lower area. There are towers, bridges, lookouts, tunnels, all kinds of water features and an amazing veriaty of plants. And here in Portugal there are flowers even in December, for example we saw camellias and cyclemen in bloom. We spent about two hours in the garden and would have stayed longer but in the winter months they close at 5 pm.
There are a lot of great restaurants in the town center if you are hungry after your exploration of Sintra and you can take the tourist bus which operates until 7:50 pm back to the station. I hope you enjoy Sintra as much as we did.