Side Trip To Sintra

On the Sunday of our weekend trip to Portugal, the husband I and decided to get a bit outside of Lisbon and head to Sintra.  We woke up a bit late, again, so decided to take an Uber to get there to save some time. Everyone that we’d talked to that had been to Portugal said that Sintra was a must-see.  It’s located about 30 minutes northwest of Lisbon, making it an easy half-day, day, or weekend trip.  Sintra itself is both a town and municipality and there is a LOT to explore in the area.

 
View out to the Ocean from the Moorish Castle in Sintra

We were dropped off by our super nice Uber driver in the center of the city right outside the Sintra National Palace.  Whilst beautiful, and I’m sure very interesting, we were short on time and had two other stops on our list, so decided to skip it.  We walked 1.5 blocks to a bus stop and hopped on a bus to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), which stands on top of a hill above Sintra.  You can walk to the Castle from the town, but it’s about 45 minutes straight uphill. We were lazy short on time, so we hopped on the bus.

 
Exploring the Moorish Castle

I didn’t do a ton of research into the castle before going, and needless to say I was a bit unprepared for the terrain. I always used to laugh at the people who visit a tourist site in the completely wrong attire. To the people at Machu Picchu wearing high heels, I’m sorry I judged you for your inappropriate choice in shoes. I´ve since felt your pain.  You see, the castle is not really a castle, but ruins. This means lots of cobblestone, dirt pathways, and uneven walking surfaces. As we arrived, it became clear that nearly everyone except us was in hiking gear. I had read that it was in a National Park, but clearly didn’t put two and two together enough to not wear skinny jeans and booties. Hiking is, quite literally, the only form of exercise that I love. I was more than a little bummed that we were going to have to miss out on the beautiful hiking/picnicking in the National Park just because I chose 10 more minutes of sleep over doing proper research into what exactly these sites we planned on visiting entailed.  I eventually got over it and had a lovely time exploring the grounds of the castle, even if it did take a toll on my shoes (and my ankles).

 
Not pictured: my horrible choice in footwear.  Pictured: the only coat I brought to Europe and thus my awkward look for hiking

Located in the Sintra National Park, the Castelo dos Mouros was built by the Moors in the 10th century to defend the city of Sintra during the reconquest.  It’s been in various hands, including Ferdinand I, since that time, and suffered significant damage from an earthquake in the 18th century.  It ended up overgrown and in need of TLC.  Thankfully, it was cleaned up and is now a lovely spot to explore for an hour or so before hiking through the park in which it resides and enjoying the views of the sea from the vistas.  Admission is only 8 euros and well worth the cost.

 
A little better than the topography of Columbus, Ohio, I’d say

After the castle, we walked to arguably the most famous site in Sintra, and definitely the one that appears on the front of all of the postcards, the Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).  It, like the Moorish Castle, stands on top of a hill, and can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day.  It’s brightly colored to say the least, and is one of the major expressions of 19th century Romanticism in the world.  It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and, as if that’s not enough to get me to want to go there, one of the seven wonders of Portugal (we’d already seen two of the wonders–Bélem Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery).

 

After grabbing a quick snack in the little cafe in the palace, and enjoying the views for a few minutes, we explored the Palace.  It started off as a chapel constructed in the middle ages after an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and later a monastery was constructed on the site.  It, like the moorish castle ,was damaged in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, and remained in ruins until King Ferdinand II came around in the 1830s.  From the ruins of the monastery, he created a palace to be used as the Portuguese royal family’s summer home.  The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amelia, lived there until her exile, after which point it became a popular monument.

 

A rare non-selfie

I must admit, the outside was quite impressive and beautiful.  There are clearly islamic influences, among others, in the design, and I found its bright colors beautiful and not at all garish.  The inside is worth a quick walk through, but not as impressive as other palaces I’ve visited.  (Perhaps that’s because the two that come to mind are Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace, both of which serve as homes for real-live royal families to this day.)

 
This reminded me of the tiles decorating Mosques in Turkey

  

An inner courtyard again with lots of islamic influences

After Sintra, we took a 45 minute train back into the heart of Lisbon.  We explored the Praça do Comércio for a bit, popped in a very strange but also cool free (at least the first floor was free) art museum, the Museu do Design, and then headed down the street to our lunch spot, where we ate, arguably, the best burgers we’ve ever had.

 

My sensible hiking attire

  

How pretty is this street?  All the sidewalks and pedestrian zones are this beautiful cobblestone laid in a pattern

We had an awesome trip to Lisbon and Sintra.  It didn’t hurt that we found the Portuguese to be among some of the nicest people we’ve encountered while traveling.  We also loved low-key, ocean side vibe of Lisbon.  It’s a lot smaller than the other popular tourist destinations in Europe, but has a very distinct culture and authentic feel to it that can’t be beat.  We tend to enjoy the places that don’t feel as though half the population is tourists, and Lisbon feels more local than most.  I could stare at the washed out tile facades of the buildings with a nice glass of vinho verde and a book all day long.  The husband and I definitely want to make it back to explore more of Portugal, indulging in all the delicious food along the way.  Maybe I’ll even get super adventurous and try some fish.  Let’s be honest, probably not.

  

Love this guy and loved Lisbon