Touring Castles In Sintra Portugal

Touring Castles In Sintra Portugal

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After a long 24 hour flight, we finally arrived at the Lisbon airport, went through the hustle and bustle of claiming baggage, going through customs, getting the rental car, and fighting through foreign traffic rituals to get away from the airport. A sane person heads straight to the hotel to catch up on well needed rest; Kendra and I take 19,931 steps (at lease according to my iPhone) touring castles in Sintra. And I must say I have no regrets. If I could take everything I love about my hometown, and mix it with everything cool about Europe, it’s Sintra… hiking through the mountains with really cool ancient shit to look at.Hirschis in Sintra

Sintra is a town in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains just outside of Lisbon near the Atlantic coast. It’s unique because there are a plethora of castles, ruins, and estates that are all located in this charming town. With so much to see in one place it’s no wonder why it’s swarming with tourists. Due to the high amount of tourism, driving to Sintra is not recommended as parking is a scarce resource. Kendra and I found several stations online where we could park and then hop on the train for the rest of the journey. Once we figured out how to get on the right road and headed in the right direction, it was only about a 20 minute drive to the Portela de Sintra (the station closest to Sintra with available parking).

Once in town, we stumbled around for about a half hour trying to figure out the best way to see everything. There is a tourist information station just a block away from where the train drops you off. We were able to find a hop-on hop-off bus service that took you to all the main sights. It was a pretty good deal, and we certainly didn’t want to do ALL of Sintra by foot. Though small, Sintra peaks and valleys resemble the scars on Deadpool’s face, so we decided to give it a try.

Our first stop was the Moorish Castle, or as the locals call it, Castelo dos Mouros.

Moorish Castle

Moorish CastleThe Moorish Castle, or what is left of it, is nestled in the forest of Sintra. If you’re like me and don’t know much about European history you’re probably wondering, “who the hell are the Moors?”. Kendra studied history in college so I usually ask her these questions. Apparently the Moors were some pretty bad ass conquerors from Africa that dominated the Iberian Peninsula for much of the Middle Ages. Since the heaviest tourist attraction is the Pena Palace we decided to purchase tickets to both castles at the ticket booth near the Moorish Castle bus stop. If this area is crowded, stroll on past it to the inner most gate of the castle to the hidden ticket office where there is usually little to no wait. Tickets for both castles are 18 euros, or 7.50 euros for just the Moorish Castle.

The Moorish Castle is the oldest of the castles in Sintra, so the outer walls and some sarcophagi are the most distinguishing features. There are parts of the outer walls that could be mistaken for a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. You can traverse the walls which offers some good views of the ocean, the city, and the other sites Sintra has to offer.

The Moorish Castle was my first attempt at using a selfie stick. The one we purchased was really cheap. I had to remove my phone case to connect it and it was kind of bulky and annoying to carry around. On the bright side, nothing puts hair on your chest like taking a picture of yourself with a bright pink stick.

Once you’ve traversed the walls, the courtyard offers a place you can purchase food, eat a picnic, and/or use the restrooms at no charge. I’ve never been so excited to pee for free, as most public restrooms in Europe require coin to use. After relieving ourselves we hopped back on the bus to hit the next stop, the Pena Palace.

Pena Palace

All the way at the tipy-top of the mountain is the Pena Palace, Sintra’s most prominent monument. Sitting so high, it can be seen from much of Lisbon on a clear day.

Pena PalacIt was originally built as a monastery. Apparently, the virgin Mary was chillin’ in the area at some point in the 1500s, so they decided to build her a church. It remained  a quiet area of meditation for centuries until an earthquake in 1755 reduced all but the chapel to ruins. It remained so until King Ferdinand took an interest in turning it, and the surrounding areas, into a retreat for the royal family in the 1800s. He commissioned a German architect to really beef this thing up, while adding a bunch of his own flair including elements of German and Portuguese style. The result is a Disney-esque fairy tale castle with each wing and minaret a different textile and color.

It’s ownership passed hands between various members of royalty until the establishment of the Portuguese Republic in 1910. Queen Amelia, Portugal’s last queen, spent her last night as royalty in the palace before being exiled from the country. At this point, it was classified as a national monument and converted into a museum. The original colors faded throughout the 1900s, but were restored by the end of the century.

Though we had to push through more tourists at this site, it was definitely worth it. Not only are the views of the castle itself stunning, but so are the views of the surrounding area. There are some great photo opportunities for views of the Moorish castle from the Pena Palace, and vice versa.

When we had our fill of people, we headed out to the pick-up spot for our hop-on hop-off tour. We thought we were in luck as the next bus was arriving in 5 or 10 minutes; however, our luck didn’t hold. The bus was completely full and we were left waiting for the next one.  Since there wasn’t a guarantee that we would get a seat on the next one, which was scheduled to arrive an hour later, we started looking for other options.  We were running out of daylight and we wanted time to see the Quinta da Regaliera. This estate is what first brought us to Portugal and Sintra. There was no way we were going to miss it due to some bus schedule. So we found a local that runs a taxi service. It was a little extra cost, but she added a lot of value. We shared the ride with some tourists heading to a different attraction and we got to hear a little bit of the history of both attractions on our ride.

Quinta Da Regaliera

The Quinta da Regaliera was a private home until the 1990s. It was owned throughout most of the 1900s by an extravagant rich dude that really decked out the grounds with elements of Masonry, the Knights Templar, and all sorts of Illuminati hocus pocus mumbo jumbo. The mansion and church are Neo-Gothic in style and are small, but you go here for the grounds.

I’d have to say the grounds of this estate were one of the highlights of our trip to Portugal, the top features being the initiation wells. They are basically inverted towers wrapped in a spiral staircase with moss growing on their surfaces. The two wells don’t serve as sources of water, rather they are used for ceremonial initiation rites. The larger well contains a 27-meter staircase with several landings. The smaller well is less of a spiral and has straight stairs that link each of the ring shaped floors to one another. The smaller one is called the “Unfinished Well” as it doesn’t have the same finished touches as the other.

Initiation WellThere is a network of underground tunnels that connect the two wells and a lake area you can walk across using the stepping stones that pop up in the moss covered water.  Just be careful around the moss lake, a tourist slipped on one of the stones while we were there and fell in. She was okay, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the screams that were coming from her child.  In our initial travel search, pictures of the completed initiation well are what brought us to this place. It was well (see what I did there?) worth the trip.

The Rest of Sintra

We spent our whole day in Sintra touring the three attractions above. If we had planned a little better we would have been able to tour other cool monuments like the Palace of Sintra and the Monserrate Palace. I found a pretty cool company that offers guided tours of Sintra. If you want to maximize your time more effectively and get more of a guided tour to learn about the history and culture, give them a try.

Jardim Dos FrangosOur Evening in Cascais

After a long day of walking, we took the train back to our car and began the trek to find our hotel. We had about a fifteen minute drive to the Sheraton Cascais Resort, yet another place where I wish we would have had more time. We used 10,000 SPG points that we acquired with our Starwood Preferred Guest American Express Card to stay for free. The ambiance continued to impress upon my mind how beautiful this country is. The red stucco of the buildings contrasted well with the lush green grounds. We got to our rooms and realized the only thing that exceeded our desire for sleep was our desire for food, so after a quick shower we were off to hit the town for some dinner.

A buddy of mine lived in Cascais back in his hellion days, and was kind enough to tell me where to find good eats. Where Kendra and I could sooner solve world hunger than make a restaurant decision, this came in handy. We went to his top recommendation, Jardim Dos Frangos (garden of the chickens). A caution for when you go out to eat in Portugal; they’ll set a bunch of appetizers on the table when you sit down. We American’s are used to not paying for things we don’t ask for, so we assumed they were on the house. So the bread and goat cheese you see on the left, yep we paid for it. No regrets though, we would have done the same had we known beforehand, just wanted to give a fair warning.

We have this habit of posting pictures of our food on Facebook while traveling, and my brother-in-law took the opportunity to mock me for how American my meal looked while on the other side of the world. I must admit, it does look like it could’ve come straight from KFC, but it actually had some seasonings unique to the area. It’s called Piri Piri Chicken, and my brother-in-law can suck it, because it was quite delightful…(even if it was served with french fries).

After a 5,100 mile flight, a 19,000 step hike, and one breast of chicken in my belly, it was time to be done. We took the short drive back to our hotel and hit the hay for a good night’s rest. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I’d love to hear any experiences you have had as well. Thanks for reading.

20 Replies to “Touring Castles In Sintra Portugal”

  1. Hey there!

    Umm…. Your pictures are stunning, and now I want to go to Sintra!! =O I’ve never been to Europe, and have kind of been waiting until I finish my History BA. I’ve always wanted to go, but I thought if I was more educated; as there is so much history there, then I might get more out of the trip! One more year to go for me!

    Those underground tunnels and the unfinished well is beautiful! Gaah – I just wish there was the power to experience life in a past era. It would be so cool to see how everything worked then 🙂

    Thanks for the great post and inspirations!

    1. Thanks for the comment. If you’ve got a year until you go, that gives you plenty of time to rack up some serious bonus points with credit cards so you can cover the majority of your airfare and hotel costs. Then you can spend the money you saved having fun. 

      I know a little about history, but not enough to consider myself too educated, and I loved every bit of it. I hope you’re able to find your way there soon. Be sure to let me know how it goes. 

  2. Hi Dustin,

    It looks like you had a blast in Portugal. I gotta say it’s come to my attention that people tend to overlook Portugal when they travel to Europe and opt instead for Spain, France, and Italy.

    That being said, thanks to your post I’ve officially put The Moors Castle on my bucket list. It’s incredible what you discover about a country when you do a little research. It’s great that you have Kendra with you to keep you well informed.

    Keep rocking that pink selfie stick,

    1. Hi Diana,

      Haha ya, I think I’ll keep her around. Thank you for the comment.

      All those people that are skipping over Portugal can keep on doing it. Smaller crowds for the rest of us right?  I’ve noticed the same thing with Switzerland and Croatia; both beautiful countries, but not nearly as touristy as those you mentioned. 

      I hope you’re able to make it to Sintra. Be sure to let me know if you do. 

      Take care,


  3. Hi Dustin – really enjoyed reading your post. I’ve been meaning to visit Portugal for a long time – we’ve been to Spain and France several times (a short hop from the UK really). And I was thinking of planning for a trip next Spring. Portugal was on my radar for the great golf courses they have, but I like sightseeing too and Sintra definitely looks worth a visit. I like the idea of the guided tours – we would have limited time there and would like to pack in as much as we could. Great photos too – thanks, Kathy

    1. Thanks for the comment Kathy. While we were there we met a lot of people from your neck of the woods. Especially in the Algarve; it seems to be a popular vacation or second home destination for many Europeans. Most Americans seem to overlook it. 

      I hope you make it over there next spring. Be sure to tell me about it if you do. Stay tuned the next few days as I’ll be posting about more cool places we visited while there. 

  4. Hi Dustin and Kendra
    What a surprising trip we have here. I visit Portugal some years ago, driving with my camper from north to south, but I missed the castles clearly. So now i found a reason to go again.
    Portugal left me wonderful memories and i love to go back again. Nice tips i found here.

    1. Hi Philip,

      I bet that was an amazing trip. I’d love to do something like that. We were able to visit the Lisbon and Algarve regions. I’d like to go back and visit the northern half of the country some day. 

      Thanks for the comment. 

  5. Hey Dustin!

    Man! I didn’t know there were so many amazing castles in Portugal!

    They always show you the ones in the UK, the French Loire, and Germany, and that’s it.

    The Quinta da Regaliera is magic! I’ll definitely put it on my bucket list. I gotta go there! 😉

    Thanks for sharing these treasures with us!

    1. No problem Israel. Thanks for the comment.

      The Quinta Da Regaleira was definitely our favorite. I hope you’re able to make it there. 


    I was hanging on your every (funny) word, Dustin. I know absolutely nothing of Portugal, so I’m not so sure why I was surprised to hear they have castles…but I was!

    For first time tourists to Portugal, would you recommend a particular season to visit. Also, I’m not always a fan of tour groups; they make sense but sometimes they can just be so stifling for my taste. Are you able to visits these castles on your own, or do you have to be within a tour group?

    My mind started to wander a bit and I found myself getting lost in one of those castles…but having the time of my life!

    So, it seems I now have to add Portugal to my list of countries to visit. Thank you for such an excellent review of castles in Sintra Portugal, Dustin!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Veronica.

      I’m excited for you to go experience Portugal. Our time there is truly among our fondest memories.

      Both trips Kenda and I have taken to Europe have been in the early fall. This is a nice time as it’s the shoulder tourist season; so not quite as large of crowds as in the summer. Yet it was still warm enough to enjoy the beautiful beaches in the Algarve region. The same could probably be said about spring time. So I would recommend any time from March through May, or September through October.

      Kendra and I typically travel by ourselves and avoid large tour groups. This requires a bit more planning, but that’s something we enjoy doing together throughout the year; anticipation is half the fun. That being said, tour groups do have their place. It may be nice to not have to put a lot of time in to learning about the ins and outs of how to get around before your trip. Just know that it will also take away a lot of your freedom as you’ll be on someone else’s schedule.

      We’ve never done a whole trip in a group format, but we have found some of the smaller two to three hour guided tours to be quite fun. For example we did a dolphin watching and sea cave boat tour in the Algarve. We also did a walking tour of the old city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. That was cool because we were able to learn a lot of the history from the tour guide. 

      So my recommendation would be to mix it up a little. I’d always recommend to plan your own trip and blaze your own trail, but there are situations where a small tour comes in nice if you want to learn more of the culture or just sit back and let someone else worry about the details for a few hours.

  7. this is a very nice page… I am in the midst of planning a trip to Europe but I’m drifting towards east Europe. Hungary has many beautiful castles worth checking out and it blends well with gothic architecture.

    My main concern is I have this preconception that anyone holding a credit card is buying things they cannot afford. Is there a tangible benefit in using credit cards to save money? my impression is how can you save more money using a credit card if you are getting charged interest on top?

    I enjoy the way you write and the font is excellent because that’s how a travel blog should be. I am from Australia so I’m not sure if you recommend credit cards based on which country someone lives in or which credit cards are most suitable for Europe in general?

    1. Hi Ryan Sam, and thank you for the comment. I’ve never been to Hungary, but the pictures look fantastic. The furthest east we’ve been is Croatia, and we loved it. 

      I would not recommend the credit card method of traveling to anyone that can’t use one responsibly. The idea is to spend the same amount you would as if you were using cash, and always pay your whole balance off every month. That way, you pay zero interest. 

      Unfortunately I’m not as well versed in the Australian credit card market. I did a little research and found this page that lists some reward cards available there. At first glance, it looks like your banks charge higher annual fees. But if you do a little research on each card, you may find that the value of the benefit outweighs the cost of the fee, or they may waive it entirely for the first year.

      Regardless, I hope you have a great time on your tour of East Europe. If you have time, I’d love to hear about it. And thanks again for the kind words. Take care. 

  8. What a great trip you had. well, our flight is going to take a bit longer than your “long one hour flight” but you made us think twice as for our next vacation. we thought about Latin America and then we came across your post. What do you think will be the best time of the year as we are afraid of hot weather….

    1. Thanks for the comment. I recommend either of the shoulder seasons, meaning just before or right after the heavy tourist season. March through May or September through October. Europe can be hot, muggy, and crowded as hell in the dead of summer. All our European trips have been in September and both turned out great in terms of weather and manageable crowds. 

  9. When you think of castles, you think of England, France and Spain, Maybe Germany. The is really an intriguing piece and what makes it so inviting is that you are just doing the castles in Sintra. Think of what the rest of Portugal has to offer. Really appreciate the amount of steps taken to do this. I walk around 10,000 steps per day and would have to get into better shape.

    Did you get a chance to taste any of the wines? Every now and then I taste a wine from Portugal and it’s excellent!

    Thanks for posting. Great info.


    1. One of the beauties of Portugal is that it is a bit overlooked by tourists that flock to the places you mentioned… makes it nice for people like us who aren’t to keen on crowds. We were able to tour the area right around Lisbon as well as the Algarve coast. We’d love to go back to explore the rest of the country some day.

      Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try any wines. I hear they’re excellent though.

      Thanks for the comment.

  10. Awesome post! Sintra sounds amazing! I love touring ruins and castles. I appreciate you talking about this after you visited Sintra and providing the pictures. I liked your story about landing and walking over 19,000 steps. I would’ve been the one to go straight to my hotel room and slept before doing any touring.

    The Quinta Da Regaliera looks very interesting. I’d be content with just seeing that. I appreciate you talking a little about the history in your post.

    Thank you for sharing!


    1. Thanks for the comment Weston. It really was such a cool place to see. I hope you’re able to make it there someday soon.

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