I previously visited beautiful Sintra for a day-trip back in March, during my first visit to Lisbon. I loved it so much that I have been eager to return ever since! There is so much to see and do there: palaces, gardens, castles. Despite spending two days there now, I still have not seen everything and Sintra deserves time to be fully appreciated. I’m intending to go back in two weeks time, when James comes to visit so I can finally see the Castel dos Mouros and return to my absolute favourite for him to appreciate too, Quinta da Regaleira.
We arrived in Sintra at 3:30pm and bought some tasty queijadas (pastries from Sintra) from a pastry shop on the walk from the train station. We decided to go to the Pálacio Nacional de Sintra, the palace in the town center which is characterised by its two very big, white chimneys. We ideally wanted to go to the Castelo dos Mouros, but we would have had to go up the hill to the Castelo, come down for dinner and then go back up again for the Pálacio da Pena later on, so this plan seemed more ideal.
Like almost everywhere it seems in Sintra, entry for the Pálacio Nacional de Sintra was not cheap (10€) and there was no student price. The Pálacio Nacional does not take long to look around and it would be a dissapointment to visit if you were to compare it to the likes of the Pálacio da Pena on the hill, which is simply magnificent. If you have only a short visit to Sintra, I would not include this on the itinerary, as Pena and Quinta da Regaleira are much more enjoyable.
After our visit to the palace, it was time for an early dinner. Sintra is extremely touristy and there are plenty of places to eat. We opted for a small restaurant where I ate Bacalhau à Lagareiro, my favourite Portuguese cod dish, which has onions, garlic, potatos and which in this instance was swimming in olive oil!
The main attraction of going to Sintra yesterday (04/07/15) was for a charity evening being run at the Pálacio da Pena for the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Sintra. Yesterday evening, the Pálacio da Pena was exceptionally open from 8pm-midnight in solidarity for this charity. The usual entrance fee of 14€ was waivered, instead tents were set up outside the entrance to the Palace which housed food banks and a donation of foodstuffs allowed you free entry!
I just handed over a can of chopped tomatos I had brought from my kitchen, but if you didn’t bring anything, you were able to give a donation of 3€.
Thousands of people turned up for the event – thousands! We expected there to be a lot of people trying to get to the Palace, so instead of waiting until 8pm to get the free bus from the Train Station, we took a tuk tuk from the town center which climbed up the hair-raisingly steep and winding road. The traffic to get there was a nightmare, there were obviosully a lot of locals from the region who had come for the event and were trying to park near the palace. The event had been soley advertised in Portuguese, not English, and maybe this explains why we heard hardly anyone at all speak any language other than Portuguese all evening/saw any tourists.
By the time we reached near the palace, we noticed there was already a queue forming all the way up the road to get in! We jumped out of the tuk tuk and joined the queue which managed to move very quickly. It wasn’t long before we were inside the palace grounds, climbing up to the fairytale palace.
The weather turned out to be just as foggy as it had been as when I visited in March. The fog makes the park and palace seem to be surrounded in some magical mist…
We waited until sunset for the lights to go on, but we couldn’t really see the sunset as it was so foggy and cloudy. By this point, the grounds were heaving with people and it was difficult to move around. We ended up walking back down to catch a bus to the train statiion at 10pm. All the way down through the palace grounds, we went past the longest queue of people waiting to get inside! It was absolute madness. We found another queue for the free bus which came every 20 minutes, but there were already so many people waiting for it, we would have had to have waited at least an hour to get on one, and we were worried about missing the last train back to Lisbon.
Suddenly, another tuk tuk came around the corner and we managed to secure a ride before anyone could even think of getting the idea. We descended the winding road amongst loads of traffic. Some people were even walking down the road, without any street lights on! It was very dangerous, many even had small children and babies in push-chairs which was insane but, that’s Portugal for you, I guess?
Overall, I had a wonderful afternoon and evening exploring more of Sintra and I’m looking forward to returning very soon.