Sintra. Where to start with Sintra? Sintra was glorious. Sintra was my favorite place in Portugal.
Sintra was simply magical.
Getting to Sintra
Ash and I left for Sintra mid-morning. The weather in Cascais was sunny and warm as we walked to the bus station. The station was located just north of the town's center, right in the middle of the N6 split (if looking at a map). We had read that there were two buses that would take you to Sintra: the 403 and the 417. We chose the 403 because it was more scenic and would take us to our destination by way of the coast. The bus arrived and we paid the driver for our tickets.
We left Cascais, heading towards a distant mountainous landscape that was capped in thick clouds. As we climbed higher, the morning sun began to dim, and the fog began to surround the bus. We could see the small village houses lining the street, but nothing was visible beyond that. It was beautiful and made the drive very cozy.
Palacio Nacional de Pena
We made it to our final destination in just over an hour. The city center of Sintra was very different than Cascais. Although still touristy, it was far from a beach town. It felt older in a way. The fog that crept through the streets as we walked from the bus terminal to the local bus stops.
There were a few ways to get to Sintra's different attractions, but we chose to stick with the bus. There were multiple lines that would take you to multiple places. We started with bus 434, and after paying for our ticket (which you could use to hop on and off the line as many times as you wanted), we found our seats and rode until we hit our first stop: Palacio Nacional de Pena Gardens.
We chose only to pay for entry to the park, which still gave us the ability to see the palace from the outside. The Pena Palace Gardens were incredible, and to call it a garden was somewhat of an understatement; it was a forest filled with natural foliage and incredible moss-covered architectural structures. The fog clung to the forest as we walked around, giving us the ability to capture some magical shots as we made our way through the maze of pathways. Eventually we found ourselves at the base of Pena Palace, but only spent a bit of time here as swarms of people covered the exterior like little ants. It was fun to see, but we were glad we didn't pay to go in... maybe sometime in the future we will cross this off our bucket list!
Castelo dos Mouros
Rather than hop back on the bus, we decided to walk a short distance to our next stop, Castelo dos Mouros. Now when I say that Sintra was my favorite place in Portugal, this castle may have been what solidified that decision. This 10th century fortification was built during Muslim rule of the Iberian Peninsula. Though it didn't always look this way, various rulers, earthquakes, and rebuildings have turned the castle into the structure we see today. [As always, all historical information I choose to share should be credited. Please visit to the castle website that is linked above.]
Ash and I scaled every wall we could, taking in each step and all angles of view possible. I am sure that a clear, sunny day would have provided excellent views of the city below, but the fact that we had clouds literally swirling around us made this a spectacular experience- I would not have changed the weather for anything.
Quinta da Regaleira
After finishing our lap on bus 434, we hopped onto bus 435 that would bring us to our final stop, Quinta da Regaleira. We went here specifically to see the Iniciatic Well, which was incredible, but unexpectedly we ended up seeing a lot more.
The well is worth seeing. Being high tourist season, I was surprised that the line was as short as it was. We barely had a 10 minute wait before we were at the top of the structure looking down multiple levels. The well looked just like the photos you see online: dark, damp, covered in moss, and dreamy. We slowly circled our way down, stopping to take photos every so often. Once at the bottom, we found ourselves within the earth, surrounded by caves. I am sure there were multiple ways to exit, but all of them required leaving via the tunnels, so we followed a handful of people moving towards a small opening of light. We arrived to a small line, and were unsure as to why we were waiting until we saw a pond lined with stepping stones: in order to leave, we had to walk the stones to the other side of the pond. Awesome. We successfully made it over the water, to the other side, and began to explore the rest of the area.
Quinta da Regaleira was full of surprises. The garden area was filled with gorgeous flowers, and small castle-like towers that you could climb up and look out of popped up every so often. Secret tunnels and pathways brought you to different garden levels. Wonderfully carved statues were placed strategically around the plant-life. And right before we were about to leave we found ourselves in front of a palace with the most brilliant facade covered in incredible detail. Needless to say, our trip here was a successful one.
Heading back to Cascais
After some gelato in Sintra's city center, we caught the 417 bus home. Because we had taken the longer, more scenic 403 out of Cascais, we decided that we would take a quicker way back. Within 30 minutes we were back in our seaside village we called home for three days, and ready to relax with good food and drink.
Our time in Sintra was quick. We would have loved another day or two there, but we felt so lucky to see what we were able to in the short time we were there. I would love to know if anyone else has been here, and what your thoughts were? What did you see? What did you enjoy? We would love to hear about your adventures in the box below!
I do ask that this stays a positive and safe space for readers, so please, no hurtful language or remarks about other's experiences. Thank you.