Of all places that me and my friends visited in Portugal, undoubtedly, Sintra is together with Lisbon the most beautiful. It’s only after you’ve been there that you understand that it is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of those places that captivates you and you keep thinking about it long after you’ve left.
Sintra is approximately 30km from Lisbon. The same as Fatima, it’s also possible to do a day trip. That’s exactly what we did. We had a car and it was nice and easy to go there and to come back to Lisbon in one day. Otherwise, there is also a rail link between the two cities and perhaps that may be a better option. If you choose to go by train, you don’t have to worry about where to park your car when you arrive to Sintra.
But, Sintra is not a place that you should visit in one day. In all honesty, it was a mistake that we did, although I don’t think that any of us had imagined that there would be so much to see there. We should have stayed two or perhaps three days, to see everything properly and without rushing. However, we allocated only one day for this visit and in the end we managed to see quite a lot. But, we missed some of the most important historical buildings: Pena National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace.
OUR TOUR OF SINTRA
We certainly did not rush through Sintra. Although, now that I know how much there is there to see, we shouldn’t have taken it so easy. We arrived to Sintra in the early afternoon. The first thing we did was to look for a place for something to eat and to have drinks. But, that was perfectly fine. When you do such tours, it can’t be about walking and visiting touristic sites only. Having a lunch and a short rest is an integral part of the time with friends. That social aspect is very precious because it enables a meaningful interaction. However, that feeling of togetherness almost disappears while visiting historical sites, when everyone is embroiled in their own thoughts and impressions.
We had a very good lunch in a small Restaurante Tirol. I have to add, it was extra pleasant because it was a very hot day, so sitting in the shadow under the big parasol for an hour or so was most enjoyable.
Although we arrived by car, we also started our tour of the city from a side where the train station is. Sintra is not a compact place, rather it’s scattered around a big park and to see everything, you have to walk a lot. We didn’t know that, several times I had to stop to figure out where to go next.
There are many beautiful houses and villas along the road. As an example, I took photos of some of them and I could’ve photographed nearly all of them, although that’s practically impossible and not necessary.
SINTRA TOWN HALL
We arrived to the Sintra Town Hall (Câmara Municipal de Sintra). Constructed in 1910, it’s a beautiful Neo-Gothic building. Its architectural style, perhaps a bit unusual for the time of its construction, is perfectly appropriate for the city. It stands out as one of the major landmark buildings in the city. It’s strange to think that it’s government offices inside of what you would more appropriately imagine to be a museum or some other precious historical building.
We continued our tour along Volta do Duche, a curvy road around the Liberty Park (Park Liberdade). I would say that this was where we spent most of our time. The reason – there were numerous little stalls along the road, with people selling trinkets to tourists. Although I did not have any intention of buying anything, it was nevertheless interesting to stop and look at everything on offer. I’ve learnt a long time ago to resist temptation and to limit myself to observing only. Most of the time in the past, whenever I bought something that at the time seemed like a very good buy, it ended up collecting dust and it was of not much practical use. Additionally, when you are in a group and everyone stops to look at something that they consider particularly interesting, it takes a lot of time to go through all of it.
Along the way, we arrived to the Moorish Fountain (Fonte Mourisca). It’s a Neo-Arabic fountain, originally constructed in 1922. It was dismantled in 1960, during the widening of the road that leads to the most central part of the city. The fountain was reassembled 20 years later, although not in its original place.
There were more beautiful villas on the way to the historical area.
SINTRA NATIONAL PALACE
We finally reached the city centre. The most prominent historical building and one of Sintra’s most famous landmarks is the National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra).
This palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portugal. The Portuguese kings used it, almost continuously, from the early 15th until the end of the 19th century. Architecturally, it’s a combination of different styles. Its two conical kitchen chimneys are certainly the most intriguing. It is a feature that I have never seen on any similar palatial building before.
The palace is no longer in use, simply because Portugal is a republic now and there is no royal family. Rather, it is a museum. We did not go inside primarily because we did not have enough time, but also because there were too many tourists in and around the palace. I don’t think that any of us had necessary patience and strength to deal with big crowds of people. I am sure that the palace is beautiful inside and very interesting to see. If I ever go back, I will make sure to visit it properly.
SINTRA CITY CENTRE
When you arrive to the National Palace, you are in a city centre. It is the most important part of the city that you would want to visit. But, keep in mind that the National Palace is the only major historical structure in the centre. Other palaces and historical building that you would also want to see are all in other locations. And that’s precisely why we missed them, we simply did not have enough time to see everything in one day.
There were many tourist, although not in such huge numbers like in Lisbon. Still, when you have so many tourists everywhere around you, it takes away a bit of a magic.
But, it’s not only the tourists, it’s also that everything else that there is in the city centre is geared towards tourism. In other words, it’s touristic shops and touristic restaurants everywhere. Unfortunately, apart from beautiful buildings in the city, there is nothing else authentic to see in the centre of Sintra.
Anyway, it is the same in all other popular touristic places. With so many tourists visiting, it’s normal that local businesses adapt. After all, everyone wants to make money by selling things or services that may entice tourists to part with their money.
One part of the historical area consists of narrow, cobbled streets. Make sure that you don’t miss it, because it’s very beautiful and that’s where you can get a good feel of old Sintra. Although, absolutely all shops in that particular section are touristic and not cheap.
A building that you can see below is an image that I used for the main photo for this post. It is almost opposite the National Palace.
We did not venture much further beyond this point. There were some more interesting buildings along the way, with facades that have typical Portuguese decorative ornaments.
These are just some of spectacular images created with traditional azulejo tiles. Almost all buildings in Sintra have such plaques, they narrate stories from the local and perhaps the national history.
I am very glad that we visited this beautiful city, even if for one day only. At the same time, I am a bit sad that we missed some of the most spectacular historical buildings in that area.
But, never mind!
If I ever go back to Lisbon, I will make sure that I go back to Sintra too. I will ensure that I make the most of my future visit and see everything that there is there to see. Sometimes, it’s good to leave something for the next time, it incentives us to visit that particular place again.