Sintra is one of the most beautiful places in Portugal, one that is an official UNESCO Cultural Landscape. Around a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, Sintra was swept up in the Romantic movement in the 19th century, when most of the town’s well-known landmarks came about. The Romanticist period can clearly be seen in not only the architecture and gardens of Sintra but its charm.
Today, it is a town known for its romantic forested terrain and astonishing palaces that once belonged to royal families and aristocrats. Despite the royals being gone, you still feel transported back into this time period.
If you are planning a trip to Sintra and wondering how to spend your days, here are the 7 best things to do in Sintra.
1. Pena Palace
Pena Palace is a 19th-century UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. This stunning palace stands on top of a hill in the mountains, overlooking the town of Sintra.
Visitors can wander around the castle, painted in multiple colors, and visit the beautiful greenery that surrounds it. Known for its Disney-like appearance, the Pena Palace is one of the most beautiful landmarks in all of Portugal.
But it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for this building. The palace was severely destroyed by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The ruins of the palace were left destroyed for decades until King Ferdinand II bought the building and finally restored it. The Pena Palace then became a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. Not a bad vacation home, right?
2. Castle of the Moors
A hilltop medieval castle in Sintra, the Castle of the Moors was built by – you guessed it – the Moors. The castle was an important strategic location during the Reconquista during the 8th and 9th centuries. In 1147, it was taken by Christian forces.
The Castle of the Moors offers panoramic views of Sintra and allows you to see Mafra and Ericeira. The castle is built along a 450-meter permit on top of a cliff and is surrounded by vegetation, leading to a Romantic feel.
The bulding includes a chapel with an arched doorway that once was a place of worship for the Muslim population when the Moors owned the castle.
3. Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira is a romantic palace and chapel, that along with other Sintra monument’s, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This quinta features a royal-like park with lakes, wells, fountains, and more. Designed by Italian architect Luigi Manini in the 1800s, the design represents Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles.
Also known as the Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire, the palace is nicknamed for its former owner, Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. However, it has had multiple owners across times.
In 1997, the property was acquired by the Sintra Town Council after it had been owned by the Japanese Aoki Corporation which kept it closed to the public for over a decade. Luckily, you can now visit Quinta da Regaleira.
4. Lunch at Seteais Palace
Built in the 18th century near the village of Sintra by a Dutch consul, Daniel Gildemeester, Seteais Palace is now owned by Tivoli Hotels & Resorts. Seteais Palace is a hotel, so it is not just open to the public for exploration.
However, you are free to enjoy a lovely lunch at Restaurante Seteais which allows you to see the inside of this unique palace. The restaurant also has a delicious afternoon tea! The room you will be seated in features beautiful paneled walls with light green and pink details, bringing you back to this romantic era of neoclassic architecture.
5. Monserrate Palace
The history of Monserrate Palace begins in 1540 when Friar Gaspar Preto order the build of a hermitage dedicated to Our Lady of Monserrate. Throughout the centuries, the palace fell into the hands of many such as the Mello e Castro family.
However, it was when Francis Cook, a 19th-century British industrialist visited the palace, he fell in love and transformed Monserrate Palace into what it is today. A palace representing romantic architecture with luxurious gardens with exotic species from all over the world, the Monserrate Palace was made a World Heritage Site in 1995.
In 1949, the Portuguese government acquired the property. In 2000, the management of the palace was handed over to Parques de Sintra. The property reopened in 2010, but was later restored and only reopened to visitors in 2016.
The most well-known pastries in Sintra are the Travesseiros, a town staple. You can find them in various cafe’s but the original and most delicious are found at Casa Piriquita, in the center of the village. This bakery was founded in 1862, by baker Amaro dos Santos and his wife, Constancia Gomes.
however, the Travesseiro was only born in the 1940s, when Constanca Luisa dos Santos Cunha, granddaughter to the founder, developed the pastry. Only the family knows the secret recipe.
The pastry features puff pastry on the exterior and an interior with egg cream and almonds. This pastry is the perfect breakfast or snack, accompanied with an espresso.
7. Tour of Sintra and Cascais
A great way to explore Sintra is through a guided tour with a local who can tell you all about the history. This is also a great alternative if you have not rented a car, but want to spend one day exploring not just Sintra, but the nearby seaside town of Cascais.
This tour of Sintra and Cascais takes you to all the best spots. It also includes a guided ticket to the Pena Palace, allowing you to skip the long lines. You can also pick between a shared or private tour. The tour includes free time and transportation.