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Sintra is just a short drive from Lisbon and is an incredible village with two amazing castles, a Gothic mansion and a small centre with a warren of little streets filled with bars and restaurants. The Palace of Pena in particular draws thousands of tourists every year.
The centre of Sintra has a large square which is home to the Palais national de Sintra with its distinctive roof with 2 huge white cone shaped chimneys . This palace with its simple Gothic facade was used by the Portugese royalty from the 15th century until the end of the monarchy in 1910. It can be visited and particularly interesting is the room painted with magpies to symbalise the gossiping ladies in waiting.
Around the other edges of the square are tall buildings covered in the pretty tiles popular in Portugal for the exterior of houses. Most of these are now restaurants making this a bustling spot in the evening when everyrone descends after a day of castle visiting.
All around the square the hills rise up and many a magnificent house can be seen nestled in the trees. Directly behind the main shops is a charming warren of little streets which comprise the old centre of Sintra and are full of little shops and restaurants.
And of course on top of one of the hills is the quirky painted Palace of Pena and on the other the long walls and sombre castle of the Chateau des Maures. Magnificent!
The Palace of Pena
The palace of Pena is unlike any other chateau you will have seen. It has a distinctly Moorish feel to it and its many facades are painted ochre yellow or a rich orange-red or are otherwise covered in tiles.
Roofs range from domes to spires to onion shaped bulbs and also a large flat roof which houses a restaurant. It is surrounded by 85 hectares of land and gardens and many paths for you to discover. You really do need a day to visit the Palace. For more info see our Palace of Pena guide.
The Pena Palace can be visited by bus from the town centre if you arrive in Sintra without a car or wish to avoid the steep windy road to the palace.
Chateau des Maures
As well as the Palace of Pena there is the Chateau des Maures to visit. The entrance is opposite that of the Palace of Pena. This Moorish castle was built in the 9th century but gradually fell in to disrepair. It was renovated in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II.
Walking along the walls of the chateau is a popular excursion and it offers great view over the surrounding countryside. You can buy a combined ticket with entrance to the Palace of Pena, the Chateau des Maures and the gothic National Palace of Sintra in the centre of town.
The Quinta da Regaleira
The Quinta da Regaleira is a large gothic mansion and is also a hugely popular attraction in Sintra. The house has five floors but the highlight of the visit is the amazing garden which as well as plants also contains religious symbols and secret caves and passages. The huge initiation well has been drained and you will often see it featuring on photos of Sintra. It is rumoured to have been used for cult ceremonies.
The Quinta da Regaleira is close to the centre of Sintra and can be visited without taking the bus.
More attractions in Sintra
It was the cool climate of Sintra with its elevated position and shady pine woods that drew the Portugese aristocracy here. They came at the height of the Romantic period and built many houses in the Romantic style of architecture. The Palace of Pena is the highlight of these but many more examples can be found as you explore the town. Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its wealth of 19th century buildings in the Romantic architectural style.
4 kilometers out of town (on a bus route) is the beautiful Monserrate Palace. It is a 19th century mansion inspired by Moorish architecture and built by one of England's richest men of the time, Sir Francis Cook, a wool merchant.
The house is beautiful and the pretty gardens contain many exotic plants collected by Sir Francis Cook.
7 kilometers from Sintra is the evocative Convento dos Capuchos. The monastery was designed to blend with its granite rocky location and the only decoration allowed was the cork used to insulate the monks cells. Not so many tourists get here but it is a lovely and tranquille spot.
Places to Visit Nearby
The Palais National de Queluz is a beautiful Baroque palace that was home to 'mad' Queen Dom Maria when she was hidden away from the public. It is located between Sintra and Lisbon.
The interior of the castle is a wealth of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical architecture and is sumptuous indeed! The gardens are laid out in French formal style with lots of topiary.
Obviously everybody in the Sintra area will want to spend at least a couple of days in the lovely capital city of Lisbon.
If you wish to head for the coast Cascais is the favourite coastal resort of the region. Once a little fishing village it became a favourite of Portugese royalty and now boasts a wealth of elegant 19th century buildings. As it is only 20 minutes from Lisbon it is very popular.
Photos of Sintra
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Map of Sintra and places to visit
Sintra places to visit
See more places nearby in the Lisbon region guide