Ok, so imagine a mountain village, high up in the forests of Portugal. It’s cobbled streets, wooden houses with terracotta tops, locals sitting around on the benches just watching the world go by, and flowers winding their way around stone buildings.
There is a peace in the air.
Then add into this vision, tens of thousands of tourists with their cameras, baseball caps and backpacks. This was our first impression of Sintra. Massively a tourist town!
As we walked into the historic centre, we considered turning back and moving on. No joke.
We nearly skipped a UNESCO World Heritage listed site simply due to the amount of tourists that buzzed through the tiny cobbled area. And we were four of them (my mum joined us for this part of the trip)!
However, you MUST look beyond this.
You MUST put up with the crowds and push your way through the tourists to see this town. Trust me, as much as we like to avoid the tourist traps, this one is totally worth it.
Sintra is like a fairytale village, surrounded by lush forests and full with palaces with tall turrets to compliment its 10th-century Moorish castle.
It sits high in the mountains of Portugal, almost 400 metres above sea level, and in the distance, you can spot the glistening Atlantic sea. As you walk from the carpark down into the village, you are treated to views across the valley as well as small snippets of the fairytale, Sintra’s pièce de résistance, the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.
It just has to been seen up close to be appreciated. It truly is a wonder, and our top pick for things to see in Portugal.
Want to know how to avoid the crowds and see the palace for cheap? Check out our cheat sheet top tips below!
1. Park on the outskirts
If you are travelling by car or camper, park on the outskirts of town. DO NOT venture into the historical centre as you will get stuck. It’s also hilly and was a total traffic bottleneck road. You will not move quickly in the sheer volume of traffic. For the majority of the time we were there the roads were at a standstill, chock-a-block as we say!
Tip: Park in Praca Dom Fernando II. GPS N38 47’24 W9 22’47. Oh and be aware of the man with a badge pretending to be the parking attendant. He will try and charge you a euro.
2. Grab a map
Head to the tourist information centre as its full of fantastic information on Sintra and the surrounding area. They can provide a great map of the town and the walking route to and back down from the Palace.
3. Avoid the bus and grab a Tuk Tuk!
This will save you soooo much time. Everyone will tell you to wait for the number 43 bus down in the town itself. It’s 5 euros for a round trip to the Palace, 3 euros one way. The buses are your usual city centre jobbies, with just one deck so to speak. Each time they stop at a point, just a few come out and hundreds try to pile in. There just aren’t enough buses to accommodate the volume of tourists. So, best advice ever is to jump in one of the many fantastic tuk-tuks for a more fun experience!
They will take you up to the Palace for 5 euros each. And not only that, you will have an amazing time too! Fresh air, space, incredible views and no sweaty tourist armpit in your face on the bus. If you are going to take anything from this blog, please take away this!
Tip: Been to Thailand or India and used a Tuk Tuk? If yes, remember your tactics of getting one to stop for you with a smile and a nod. If not, you could just blantantly shout one over (nicely of course!).
4. Pay to see the Palace of Pena Park
One thing I must say about Sintra is the ticket pricing can be a little confusing. You have seemingly quite a few ticket options depending on what your preference is. It’s 14.50 euros (an adult during peak time) to go inside the palace, the grounds and the surrounding park. It’s just 7.50 to visit the palace and park grounds, and unless you have a deep desire to see inside and have a larger budget, we would say the grounds are more than enough to give you a true sense of just how majestic the palace really is.
For 7.50 euros, you can walk right up to the palace, through it’s gates and tunnels, around the turrets and across the bridges. You can see the incredible architecture, witness the magical colours and even find tiny spaces to imagine yourself as a princess there (yes, secret princess wannabe over here). You are only limited to entering inside the palace itself, and as much as I am sure it is just as spectacular inside, there is enough to see and do outside of the palace to warrant the saved 7.50 euros.
Included in your ticket is access to the park. The park is of a forest and luxuriant gardens with over five hundred different species of trees originating from the four corners of the earth and could take up hours of your time exploring. There are lakes, a small farm and an aviary too! The air was fresh and there are enough walking paths and options to keep you busy for days!
4. Be prepared to walk!
Get those walking boots on as we said in the beginning, Sintra in on a mountain and it sure is hilly! As you treated yourself to a tuk-tuk to the top, take your time and walk back down to the village nice and slowly. With lush forests, amazing views of the surroundings, a sneak peek of the castle, and nice easy steps, it’s a great choice. Although be aware that the palace itself involves a lot of walking too, so you will be on your feet for quite some hours! The nicely marked walking path will take you around an hour, however there is always the option of the bus back down for 3 euros if you get too tired to make it!
Oh and don’t attempt to take a pushchair, you will thank yourself for leaving it behind!
5. Overnight at the beach!
If you are a camper or motorhomer, and you’d like a place to camp after your visit to Sintra, we found a magical spot for you! We heard some negative reviews of the Aires campsites in Sintra, so made our way across the mountain to a Wild Camping spot on the coast. And it was sooo worth it. After spending the day in tourist central, it was a welcome relief to see the sun go down on one of Portugal’s most beautiful beaches.
Surrounded by mountains, forests and sheer cliffs. GPS: N38 55’47 W9 25’7
So there you have it! Our top tips to get you through a day in Sintra. There are also other delights on offer in the town if you have more time, however avoid weekends and holidays as if it was full up with tourists on a Tuesday, I can’t imagine how busy it would be on a weekend!