Sintra, the colorful town of Portugal
Last year, when we went to Lisbon, we decided that we must also go to Sintra for a day. We’d seen on the Interned lots of photos with the colorful palace, the green gardens and we didn’t want to miss it. Sintra is just 40 minutes away from Lisbon by train, so many tourists choose to go here when visiting the capital. You take the train from Rossio station, every 20 minutes. We left with our new Canadian friend who we met at the hostel, wanting to catch the 14:40 train, but when we arrived at the train station there was this huge line and realized that we couldn’t make it on time. So if you want to be there at a certain hour, plan everything carefully in case you’ll end up staying in line for a while. We managed to purchase our tickets that were 4.30 € and waited for the 11:01 train inside the Destination Hostel that’s right at the train station.
Included in 1995 in UNESCO World Heritage, Sintra was the summer residence for Portugal’s royal family from the 13th to 19th century. It is a little colder here, it being more of a mountain town. You’ll find some of the same decorative elements as in Lisbon, but the city is much more colorful. We had the impression that we entered a gingerbread town and wanted to take pictures of every building that we found interesting. From the train station you can take the 434 bus that will take you to the historic part of the city and Pena Palace. We wanted to explore the city a little more and to visit the Quinta da Regaleira gardens first. There are a lot of street signs on the way so we got there pretty quickly.
Quinta da Regaleira is also known as The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire, after the name of one of its owners, Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. The Palace was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. Quinta de Regaleira is opened between 10:00-20:00 during summertime and 10.00-17.30 on the winter schedule. The entry fee is 6 € and you’ll receive a map of the main tourist attractions, including the Initiation Well (the most famous place in Quinta da Regaleira that you’ll find online). As you walk through the yard, the first thing you’ll notice is the Palace, a gothic-style construction built in 1904 by Carvalho Monteiro. The construction took 6 years and it’s opened to the public from 1998. It has 5 levels but the tourists can only visit the ground floor and the next 2 levels. We visited first the gardens, then we entered the palace.
There were signs everywhere for the main attractions and with the map that we were given we knew exactly where to go and didn’t get lost. There are a lot of towers, tunnels and grottoes in the park. And it is designed in such way that you wouldn’t miss a thing and at the end reach the Initiation Well…we found that very interesting because at some point you had to exit a grotto and step on some small stones, surrounded by water, so you had to be very careful. To get to the Well we entered the Labyrinthic Grotto which is situated right under the Well. We entered from the bottom of the well, shaped as a spiral with 9 levels, representing the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of the Purgatory and the nine skies of the Paradise. On our way back we ditched the map because we knew our way around and didn’t need to look anymore and we realized that the park is quite small. After we finished with the gardens, we entered the palace and enjoyed the decorations.
From here on we wanted to go to Pena Palace that is a few km away, up a hill, so we couldn’t walk. We had two options: look for the bus or take a tuk-tuk. Since there were 3 of us, we decided on the tuk-tuk, hoping for a discount. Which indeed happened, managing to pay 10 euros up to Pena (usually, that’s 5 euros per person). Our driver was very funny, he told us stories about Sintra, he stopped on the way to show us Leonardo DiCaprio’s vacation house (apparently, he shot a movie here, fell in love with the place and bought a house) and at the end gave us his business card in case we needed him on our way back. You have more visiting options here, the palace for 8,50 €, the palace with the park for 11,5 € or just the part for 6,5 €. Since it was already getting late, we decided that we didn’t have time to see the palace with the park so we chose to only see the palace.
From when you see it under the trees, you have the impression that you entered a fairytale realm. Well, in reality, our opinions were divided here. One of us thought that she was in a Disney movie, the other one imagined that this is what Dorne from Game of Thrones must look like. The first thing we did when we arrived was to go to the rooftop caffe to grab something to eat because we were starving. Then we began our visit. There are so many arches, little details, many breathtaking views that we didn’t know what to enjoy first. We went inside the palace, saw a bunch of beautiful rooms, then we entered an inside yard and took lots of pictures. We reach a room that was actually the kitchen and many utensils were the original ones.
We went back to the yard, took some more pictures and then we left because we were supposed to catch the bus to Cabo de Roca. But that didn’t happened because the girls from the station’s info point told us to wait for the bus on the right side of the building, but it was actually the left one, and after 30 minutes of waiting, we and some other unlucky tourists decided to give up. It was already late and didn’t seem reasonable to go see the most Western point of Europe because it was getting darker outside. We still want to go the next time we’re in Portugal, though.
When we finished the tour, our tuk-tuk driver was still there so we didn’t have to call him. He asked us where we wanted to go next and told him the city center because we didn’t have time to visit anything else in Sintra. His response was brilliant. He asked us if we wanted to go “with emotion or without”. Having no clue what he was talking about, we said “with emotion”. Big mistake…he started driving that little tuk-tuk with such speed that we were afraid we’d lose our stuff because of the wind and the crazy turns that he was making. We were also concerned to meet other crazy drivers like him on those narrow streets, but all in all, it was a fun experience, we laughed all the way down. We spent a little more time in the old center, then took the train back to Lisbon. If you’re going to Lisbon, we recommend to also spend a day in Sintra. You won’t regret it.