Add seeing Sinta, a village beside Lisbon that is loaded with castles, right to the top of your bucket list. I know Portugal is a hot travel destination right now, but I’m surprised I’m not hearing more buzz about Sinta specifically. My friend Debi Lilly suggested Sintra to me, and I’m smart enough to follow Debi’s advice. I mean, what could be better than spending a day going from castle to castle?! Sintra has SIX castles to see and I’m hoping the photos convince you to visit.
There are a few quick things you should know about Sintra. It’s a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, and it’s only 5 Euros round trip. You will be walking a lot and there are plenty of stairs. Choose your footwear wisely (I wore my beloved hiking boots). I do not recommend hiking up the hill to the Moorish Castle and Peña Castle – it takes an hour, it’s a steep hill, and the walk isn’t very interesting. Instead, pay 5 Euro to ride a TukTuk or buy a 5.50 Euro ticket on the round trip tourist bus connecting the castles to the train station. Sintra is up on a hill so it’s a little chilly and very windy. Wear a jacket and maybe bring a scarf. Lastly, Kelly (not my sister, but a lovely Canadian woman) said that if you are considering cutting bangs before going to Sintra, don’t. The combination of bangs and Sintra’s wind will frustrate you. Perhaps pull your hair up, or wear a hat to prevent crazy tangles.
I spent about half a day exploring Sintra and visiting three of the castles, each from a very different period of Portuguese history. The Moorish Castle is the oldest. It dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries, a time when the area was ruled by Muslims.
The Moorish Castle is more of a fortress. It sits up on a hill beside Peña Castle and was used as a lookout point. The castle experienced significant damage during an earthquake in 1755 and today exists as well preserved ruins. I thought that it looked like the castles I used to draw when I was a kid.
The castle has no interior, but there is still a lot of explore, and walking along the castle walls offers views of the towns below and out to the ocean.
Peña Palace is the most scenic. It’s so picturesque that it almost feels like a Disney attraction. If you want to see only one castle in Sintra, go here. I’ve been to a handful of European castles, and Peña just might be my favorite. I loved the brightly colored painted exterior with ceramic tiles, and the interior is in excellent condition – it almost feels untouched.
Peña Palace was converted from a monastery to a castle for 1838-1847. Its architecture was inspired by both Medieval and Muslim architecture. Upon completion, the palace was used by the royal family as a summer residence. In 1910 the palace became a national monument.
The interior of Peña Palace is in fantastic shape and is fully furnished. I could have moved right in. The excellent condition is due to the fact it is much newer than the other castles and it was built after the earthquake.
Warning: after a visit to Peña Palace you will want to tile your entire home.
I loved seeing the kitchen fully furnished with dozens of copper pots.
The third and final castle I visited was the National Palace of Sintra. This palace was built in the 15th and 16th centuries. This is the view of the palace from the Moorish Castle – it’s the white building with the two white towers.
The National Palace is down in the village of Sintra. It is a short walk from the train, making it the easiest palace to get to. This is the view of the town from the castle.
If you love history, this castle is the place to learn about Portuguese history. The palace was restored to its original state after the 1755 earthquake and contains beautiful historic furnishings. The room with a swan painted ceiling was a favorite – and unlike anything I had ever seen. By the time I made it to the National Palace I was getting a little tired so I didn’t take as many photos.
I spent just about 6 hours in Sintra and it felt just right. I had plenty of time to see 3 castles and stop for lunch. It would be downright crazy to go to Libson and not make it to Sintra. It was one of my favorite travel experiences.
It seems appropriate to end this post with a note about Canadians. Whenever I travel, I end up befriending Canadians. This isn’t a coincidence. Canadians are so friendly and welcoming that befriending them is inevitable. I’ve partied with Canadians at Oktoberfest, swam with them in the Blue Lagoon, and in Lisbon I met Kelly and Rob. We were eating dinner at neighboring tables and we struck up a conversation. The next day we ran into each other in Sintra and spent the day hanging out. I owe them a big thank you for taking the photos of me (I was worried about not getting any photos of myself when I was traveling alone)! So cheers to you Canada, I’ve never met a Canadian that I didn’t love!
I would LOVE to hear stories about Sintra and awesome Canadians in the comments.