Sintra is a fairytale town outside Lisbon, Portugal, that looks like a fantasy kingdom or an ethereal and enchanted forest. It has bewitched visitors and poets throughout history, with Lord Byron calling it a “glorious Eden” and Robert Southey describing it as "the most blessed spot on the whole inhabitable globe."
This is where the Celts worshiped the moon, the Moors built their "great wall," and royalty erected their dream palaces. The most spectacular of those is Pena Palace, looking like a Disney extravagance but an actual royal residence from the 1800s. Other almost surreal constructions include Quinta da Regaleira, the Capuchos Convent and Monserrate Palace, plus fountains and waterfalls further adding to the mystical atmosphere whose spell no one is able to resist.
All together, those constructions resulted in Europe's first center of Romantic architecture, and it is now a World Heritage Site (it was the first "cultural landscape" in Europe to be listed by UNESCO).
Just outside the center of town is Cabo da Roca (the westernmost point of the European continent) and some stunning beaches. Their golden sand is nestled between cliffs and their powerful waves attract surfers and bodyboarders.
Sintra Highlights - 3 Reasons to Go
- UNESCO World Heritage Site with an enchanting atmosphere
- European capital of Romanticism, with fairytale palaces and castles
- Beautiful wild beaches on Europe's westernmost coast
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Sintra
- You need to be patient - In a World Heritage Site with so many marvelous monuments, you can obviously expect crowds. You’ll be standing in line to board the bus that goes up the mountain to Pena Palace, you’ll wait for quite some time by the entrance of the top attractions, and even at the train station in Lisbon to get your train tickets. To know how to avoid the crowds and skip lines, see the Sintra sightseeing guide.
- Its attractions are more expensive than Lisbon's - High tourist demand means higher prices. Tickets to Sintra’s monuments are more expensive than even those to Lisbon’s top attractions, and the Lisboa Card does not offer free admission (it does, however, offer discounts at the main palaces and free rides on the Lisbon-Sintra train).
- Spring and late summer is the best time to go - The best times to visit Sintra are in the months of May, June and September. That’s when the days are longer and sunnier, but without the bigger summer crowds. Although it’s never freezing, it can be cold and wet in winter.
- Temperatures are lower than in Lisbon - Due to its high elevation and microclimate, Sintra is always 2-to-5 degrees cooler than Lisbon. It can also be quite foggy in the mornings and evenings, while it’s clear and sunny elsewhere in Portugal.
- You need two days to see everything - While Sintra is usually visited on a day trip from Lisbon or Cascais, you need at least two days to see all of its wonderful attractions. On a day trip you’ll only have time to see two or three of the palaces. You should consider staying overnight, especially in the summer, when you can explore the beautiful beaches on the coast and the cape of Roca, the westernmost point in Europe.
- It's home to some of Portugal's sweetest pastries - While Lisbon’s custard tarts are now famous and enjoyed around the world, few know about Sintra’s sweet specialities. That is, until they arrive in town and see people lining up to try its queijadas and travesseiros. The queijadas are cheese tarts, and the place to get them is at Piriquita, a shop found on a pedestrian street close to the National Palace. There you’ll also see the travesseiros, which are crumbly almond pastries.