06 Dec

Sintra is its own world of unearthly forests, ancient castles and romantic palaces. An easy day trip from the centre of Lisbon, it ranks as one of the must-see spots on every traveller’s agenda.

Here are a few key tips for making the most of your Sintra visit:

Leave early.

If you only plan on spending one day in Sintra, make it a full one. Though less than an hour from Lisbon by train, it’s worth leaving early and making the most of the daylight – especially if you’re visiting in autumn or winter when the days are shorter.

Accept that you won’t see everything.

It’s not uncommon to emerge from the very first site you’ve visited in Sintra only to find that the day has disappeared, lost somewhere between the sunlit avenues, lush forests and mossy stone walls. Each place in Sintra is magical, so if you don’t keep track of time it will quickly run away from you.

You can roll with spending longer than you’d expected at one place, or you can schedule out your time to make sure you fit plenty in. Even then, you probably won’t see everything in one day. Your best bet is to single out, say, three sites that appeal to you most – and leave the rest as an excuse to come back on another trip.

Brush up on a little history before you go.

Unless you’re going on a guided tour that will explain everything to you, it’s worth knowing a little about each site before you go. The estate of Quinta Da Regaleira, in particular, has hidden meanings and symbolisms scattered all through its rambling gardens, underground passages, classical statues and intricate stonework. And that’s without even mentioning the iconic Initiation Well that spirals down into the ground, captivating visitors with its endless photo opportunities. If you don’t know anything about the story behind the place before you go, you’ll pass by many of the symbols without even noticing them.

Save some room for sweets.

Along with its nature and heritage sites, Sintra has another claim to fame: its pastries.

Be sure to squeeze in a pitstop at cafe Piriquita for some travesseiros. The name of this pastry translates literally to “pillows”, and once you glimpse the soft, sugar-dusted rectangle of puff pastry – filled with egg and almond cream – you’ll understand how they got their name. These pillows are certainly the kind that induce sweet dreams.

Another traditional pastry of the area is the queijada de Sintra. The name queijada comes from queijo, Portuguese for cheese, and these small tarts include fresh white cheese (“quijo fresco”) as one of their key ingredients. You’ll find them at most pastelerias and cafes around Sintra, so if you’re too sugared up from the travesseiros to fit some in, you can always take a few home for later.