Picture this. The huge blue bowl of sky above you goes on forever, studded with tumbling birdsong. Look up and, through the lush vegetation, perched up high, is a spectacular palace the colour of an orange embellished with rust, lilac and terracotta towers and creamy crenulations. Topped with a coppery dome, it overlooks a beautiful patchwork of Portuguese landscape. On the other side, there’s the sea. Welcome to Sintra, pride of Portugal and a dream of a holiday destination.
Sintra sits like a jewel in the Portuguese Riviera, just 14 miles from Lisbon, loved for its sheer charm. Popular for winter breaks, the climate is balmy. Stacked with stunning palaces and mansions, rich in 1800s gardens and surrounded by natural beauty, the Portuguese love it, always a good sign a place is worth discovering.
This well-kept secret makes an unusual destination for discerning travellers. So what goes on in Sintra? Let’s explore some of the city’s most popular attractions.
This is big country. The dramatic boulder-strewn forests above which the Pena Palace towers are dense and deep green. In contrast the region’s famous sandy beaches are only a stone’s throw away. You can comfortably experience the beaches and the mountains in one day.
Home to the wonderful Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, which is overlooked by the Sintra Mountains, the city centre is just as exciting, a treasure trove of history with its 19th century Romantic architecture, ancient estates and villas, pretty gardens, royal palaces and dramatic castles. No wonder this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The medieval Castle of the Moors, Pena National Palace and the Portuguese Renaissance Sintra National Palace are just three of the best.
Once the place where the country’s richest lived, Sintra remains exclusive. Houses go for millions, but at the same time you’ll find surprisingly good value hotels, many of them central. Take yourself out into the bustle and hustle and explore the city’s secrets. There are mysterious patterns on the walls, jewel-like hidden gardens, ancient homes and some nice out-of-the-way eateries. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a movie set, the place is so extraordinary.
Don’t miss the baked treats travesseiro de Sintra and the queijada de Sintra. We won’t spoil the surprise, but we will say they’re addictively delicious!
The Pena Palace must be the best-known Sintra landmark, a huge wonder-of-the-world to discover on your own at leisure or with a guide. The surrounding garden is enormous as well as impressively diverse, packed with natives and exotics alongside lakes and fountains. Every corner of the place is Instagrammable.
The Quinta da Regaleira, which means something like ‘the farm of satisfaction, is another huge palace, right in the centre of the city. The fabulous gardens and secret tunnels make it even more special, featuring the Initiation Well with its curious spiral staircase leading into the spooky tunnel system.
As an animal lover you’ll be thrilled by the world-renowned Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. As a sun-seeker you’ll fall truly, madly and deeply in love with the magnificent coastline. And for big city fun, try Lisbon at night.
If you’re looking for a resort holiday to Sintra consider the 5 star Penha Longa Resort, complete with a 27 hole championship golf course, a huge spa centre, plus three Michelin star restaurants. It’s only a couple of miles from the city and features fab indoor and outdoor pools, tennis and squash courts, horse riding, a fitness centre, children’s club and more.
The hotels and apartments on offer in the city are varied, with something for everyone. Whatever your accommodation style, there’s something for you in Sintra, from the smart purpose-built Vila Gale Sintra, centrally located in Varzea de Sintra and popular for its focus on wellness, to the magnificent Sintra Marmoris Palace, restored in 2017 to sophisticated perfection and surrounded by 14,000 square metres of luscious landscaped gardens. If you fancy following in the footsteps of Lord Byron, choose the English-style Lawrences Hotel, opened way back in1764 by an Englishman and the country’s oldest hotel. There are boutique hotels and villas available too, along with some great B&Bs.
Are you inspired? If so, take a tour of our Sintra holidays covering every taste and season, and every kind of accommodation and style of holiday. This special place awaits you, and it’ll be a holiday to remember.