Sintra | Pretty Palaces and Panoramic Views

You’d think that if you’re taking a day trip to somewhere, a place you’d specifically come to Lisbon to visit, you’d get up early and make the most of it, right? Well…you’d think. 

Turns out I was super tired from all the darn hills I’d encountered in Portugal so far. My plan for the day was still to visit Sintra, but I didn’t get up and trek the hills to the train station until mid-morning. The usual method of using the train journey to research what there is to see and how to get the most out of my time failed as I was still so tired I fell asleep on the train to Sintra. 

Stepping out of Sintra train station around lunch time, I had only just woken up from my nap and grumpily bypassed all the touts selling bus tours and tickets, instead making a beeline for a cafe on the other side of the road. Taking some quiet time with a drink and bite to eat for lunch, I found the two things I really wanted to do – Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle – the best route and how to get there, as it’s quite a trek from the train station. 

Heading back past the touts and towards the local bus stop, I jumped on the bus and enjoyed the winding route up to Pena Palace. I’m not entirely sure the roads are really big enough to fit a bus, and was so grateful we didn’t pass any cars or other buses on the hairpin turns, but I guess they do it often enough to know the roads. 

Arriving at the entrance to Pena Palace, I was a bit underwhelmed. Although I had no real expectations, the photos on Instagram had led me to believe I’d be wow’ed with a huge, colourful palace. In reality, the huge queues in front of the gates were just blocking the way to a road up a hill. I should have expected the hill, and after getting my ticket for the palace and castle, started my trek up. 

I’d been given a map with my ticket, and could tell that the hills were a constant feature across the huge complex, which is made up of so much more than just the palace. While I had energy, the first logical stop was to the top of the hill to visit the cross. The grounds of the palace are stunning, with paved and unpaved pathways criss-crossing over the hills, and I stumbled upon so many cool things. 

I chose the most winding path to the cross with the hope of passing as much on the way up to keep me going. First thing was a temple, and after the sneak peek at the palace in the distance I left the small temple and proceeded to walk straight into a branch hanging across the path. Having a little chuckle to myself and silently thankful that no-one was around to see, I carried on to the Table of the Queen. 

Because I was alone and not super heavy footed, I guess I don’t make much noise as I walk along. As I came up to the table I saw two girls enjoying a full blown insta-shoot on the table. Stuck with whether to leave them to it and just carry on, or poke my head in and see what the table was like, I opted to interrupt the shoot and quickly see what it was like. Evidently they hadn’t heard me coming and as I stepped into the clearing made them both jump. Spoiler alert: it’s just a table. 

Onwards to the high cross, I got a little bit lost trying to follow the map and pathways, but eventually found myself at the base of the cross. Scrambling up the rocks to the top, I was questioning my footwear choice whilst simultaneously trying to block out the ‘you’d fall soooo far if you slip’ thoughts from my mind. The cross is impressive, but the views are just stunning and reason enough on their own to make the trek. So worth the effort to get up there! 

Back down to the palace, I opted for a different route so that I could stop by the Monk’s Cave. If I’d have thought about it properly, I would have been able to foresee just how freaked out I’d get by a dark cave in the middle of quiet woods, away from a pathway and not seeing any other people for a while. As soon I got close to the cave I couldn’t stop thinking about how easy it would be to go missing in the woods, and truly scared myself to the point that I then got lost and couldn’t find the pathway again. 

It was a fun ten minutes…

Eventually making it to Pena Palace in one piece, I enjoyed having a look around the building and took the wobbly-leg-inducing walk around the perimeter of the building. Stunning panoramic views for miles, but totally not for anyone scared of heights. 

By now I was getting tired and still wanted to visit the Moorish Castle, so made my way downhill – woop! – through the gardens and to the castle. Glad that I hadn’t split my day 50/50 between the two as there’s not a huge amount to do at the castle, I had a look around the grounds and then hiked up the walls. 

Presented with a choice of left or right, I decided to go left, past a man painting the beautiful view and climbed, climbed, climbed, paused to cry about my poor legs then climbed a bit more. Another one that isn’t really recommended for people with a fear of heights as the stairs aren’t totally enclosed, the climb is so worth it and once I got to the top I sat for a while to just soak up the views. 

By now I was so tired, I could barely muster the energy to walk back to the bus stop. As luck would have it, I walked up the hill as a bus drove off and I could have cried. I just wanted to sit and sleep, but thankfully as I neared the bus stop I spotted another that was just about to make the journey back to Sintra train station. Jumping on, I grabbed a seat and made it back to the station where I slept the whole way back to Lisbon. 

It had been a great day and I definitely will go back to Sintra, but next time I’m taking snacks! 

< Lisbon | #15 | Bermeo >

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