We only had two good weather days while we were in Lisbon. By good weather day I mean a day where it was pouring buckets of rain. So even on this particular day I had to find a destination which had a good mix of outdoor and indoor activities in case the weather decided to take a turn. So one of the things I love to do when visiting any European country is photographing castles, especially under foggy conditions. One of my all time favorite places to visit is Neuschwanstein Castle in the Bavarian Alps. Whenever I had seen images from Portugal before, I kept seeing pictures of Pena Palace which were similar to what I had seen of Neuschwanstein from Mary’s Bridge.
It turns out that the town of Sintra and its 19th Romantic architecture are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is actually full of picturesque castles and mansions in the midst of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
How we got to Sintra
Due to the historic, cultural, and economic importance of Sintra, the town is extremely well connected to Lisbon via various forms of public transport including bus and train. The town itself is only 25 km from Lisbon and a rail ticket costs no more than 4.5 Euros Roundtrip. Since it was raining we needed a ride to the train station from our Airbnb and while searching for that I looked up how much a ride to Sintra would cost in an Uber for giggles. The quoted rate was around 25 Euros, which is a steal of a deal for 4 adults since the train itself would cost us around 20 Euros.
Basically if a group of you are headed to Sintra, make sure to check out ride share prices before going. Finding an Uber in Sintra, Lisbon, or anywhere in this region is an absolute cinch. You don’t have to wait more than 10 minutes at a time. And it certainly saves you a lot of pain when it comes to walking up and down steep inclines from where the buses stop. It also saves about 30-40 minutes in commute time. Yes I do feel ashamed of myself for using the not so green option when getting to my destination!
Stop #1: Quinta da Regaleira (Cost 8 Euros/adult)
So the first stop on our tour of Sintra was the Quinta da Regaleira, which is one of the four large palaces which make up the UNESCO cultural landscape of Sintra. The palace was designed by renowned Italian architect Luigi Manini upon the request of Viscountess of Regaleira (a rich merchant from Porto). The palace was basically built so that the family could collect and cultivate their artistic passions:
The highlight of the palace had to be the initiation well, which looked like something like the place Bane escaped from in the Dark Knight Rises. It’s quite a walk down, but here is how it looks from the bottom:
Interestingly, the wells were never used for water purposes, but rather weird rituals involving tarot card readings.
Stop #2: Pena Palace (Cost: 13.30 Euros/adult)
It was almost late afternoon by the time we were done with Quinta da Regaleira so we didn’t have much time left to explore the Moorish Fort at Sintra or many of the other architectural gems. We barely made it in time to the Pena Palace to buy tickets for entry into the castle. Since the castle itself is located on top of a hill, you either need to walk up some steep walkways to the castle or take the shuttle bus to the top.
Pena Castle is easily one of the most iconic structures in all of Portugal. The bright and vibrant color choice of the front facade greatly contrasts with castles in many of the neighboring European nations, but also blends all the cultural spheres of influence on the continent. This includes Gothic, Islamic, and Renaissance styles of architecture. Just as we arrived at the castle, a wave of low clouds was making its way across the area. This just made the experience all the better albeit a bit colder:
There is quite a bit to see inside the castle itself as well, though photography isn’t allowed in some of those rooms. Perhaps one of the best of parts about the castle tour were the symmetrical dining arrangements. The most amusing parts are of course the royal chambers and bathrooms.
The Icing on the Cake
Perhaps the best part of the entire tour was our brief time in the palace gardens, waiting on the shuttle bus to go back. The misty forest, and fog shrouded pathways with its lamp posts just screamed, “you are now entering Narnia.” My sister and I were literally jumping up and down as we took images of the place because we knew just how special the atmosphere really was. Many of the images made it into my portfolio.
Apparently, the fog in the area is quite common during the spring and early summer so make sure to take those early morning or late evenings strolls through the forests and gardens surrounding the palace. I wish I could’ve spent more time in the gardens with the fog, but my family was tired of the long day of walking so we headed back to the gate where we grabbed a Uber back to Lisbon.
What We Missed
Saying we missed a lot is an understatement since we hadn’t really explored the Pena Palace gardens, the Moorish Fort, Monserrate Palace, nor much of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Let’s not forget that we didn’t really visit much of the town of Sintra itself which has its own charms. Our trip was more of an introduction to the area. For you to cover the entire place, you will easily need to spend a few nights at a hotel nearby as opposed to staying in Lisbon.
There’s no place in Portugal that deserves its fame more so than Sintra. The place looks like it came straight out of a fairytale. The region has everything you would wish for in an European destination: castles, magnificent forests, hills, seascapes, and of course an endless assortment of Romantic architecture. Unfortunately staying in Lisbon and all, I had to cut my trip short and take an Uber back to my accommodations. But if I were given a choice, I would return to this area of Portugal in a heartbeat and spend the 2 or even 3 days it deserves. For me the fog and the landscapes of Sintra really edged it over as one of my favorite places to visit in all of Europe. I can’t wait to come back here and photograph those trees in the fog once again!
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