07 Dec

The advice is the same from everyone who’s ever visited Lisbon: be sure to spend at least a day in Sintra. Though part of the greater Lisbon region, Sintra feels like a world of its own, and there’s plenty there to keep you occupied for hours on end.

Sintra is a mountainous region with its own micro-climate resulting in lush acres of national park that brim with botanical diversity. Scattered throughout are numerous historical sites including the ancient Castle of the Moors, the romantic estate of Quinta da Regaleira, and the impressively grand Pena National Palace and Gardens.

To get to Sintra you can take a direct train from Rossio train station in the center of Lisbon. The journey will take roughly 45 minutes and once you arrive you can either explore the immediate surroundings (consisting of the charming Sintra local township) or hop on a bus to the monuments and sites. Car or bus is definitely recommended for this as the sites are spread throughout the forest and there’s a lot of uphill walking to be done if you choose to go on foot.

One practical option is to take the bus 434 which is specifically designed to shuttle tourists between the historic town center, the Pena Palace and the Moorish castle. Other buses operate longer journeys between Sintra train station and Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of Europe. Cabo da Roca features a simple monument and lighthouse, and while there’s little to do there by way of activities, the cape is worth a visit for its sweeping coastal views and for the feeling of leaning out towards the sea with nothing but the Atlantic ocean lying beyond, and all of Europe left behind you.

The other side of the Sintra area is often missed by tourists, but is well worth a visit if you have the time. Buses and even a historic tram service operate through the parkland and up further north to where the coastal towns are small but lovely. Make your way to Azenhas do Mar for a breathtaking view of a small village completely clustered into the top of a dramatic cliff-face.

Even if you don’t get to see the whole Sintra area, it’s definitely worth taking a day to spend a little time in the historic town center, indulge in a few of the area’s traditional pastries and sweets, and explore several of the palaces, castles and gardens.

Be sure to take your camera: there’s hardly a corner of Sintra that isn’t picture perfect.