SINTRA- A Unesco World Heritage Site
From Lisbon, you can take a commuter train to Sintra (Linha de Sintra) directly from Rossio Station downtown. Rossio Station can be accessed using the green line of the Lisbon Metro. Then you catch the 434 bus to get out to Pena Palace as well as a few others. (Please see map below as the 435 takes you to other palaces as well. There is so much to see that we were only able to take in 2 of the palaces and the only castle, even though we caught the 8:00 a.m. train in the morning. It takes about 1 hour to get to the buses and another 1/2 hr by bus. We went to Pena Palace first thing at 9:30 in the morning and could not get a ticket until 12:30. We decided to head to the Moorish castle which was a walkable distance away from Pena Palace.
This is the only castle in the whole town. The views alone make it worth the visit. You can actually see the ocean in the distance.
The forest grounds were blooming with all sorts of colourful flowers.
Pena Palace is the only fully furnished palace in Sintra and the interior has been restored to show how it looked when the Royal family departed in 1910. To avoid line ups and get in right away, buy your tickets ahead of time for the time slot that you can make it for.
Take some time to walk the palace grounds which have over 200 hectares of forest, paths, mini ponds, secret sculptures and even exotic plants to discover. Our time was limited as we wanted to get to the Regaleira Castle so we did not get to explore the grounds as much as I would have liked.
Quinta de Regaleira
This palace was so intriguing. The combination of its stunning architecture, lush gardens, hidden tunnels, and symbolic features create an atmosphere that was built to reflect the incredible nature that surrounded it.
It is speculated that the Knights Templar used this Initiation Well.
- Hindsight being 20/20, if you are wanting to see ALL the palaces as well as the 1 castle, it probably would be better to stay overnight in Sintra and do the 1 loop of the palaces on one day (Bus route 434 – Hop on Hop off) and the second loop on the second day (Bus 435 – Hop On, Hop off). As you can see, the bus routes are totally seperate, so you need to return to where you got the first bus and then walk 1 block up to take the other route.
- If you do not have that much time, do it all in one day, and buy tickets for both buses, but you will have to pick and choose which palaces you most want to see.
- Pre-buy your tickets for the most touristy palaces to avoid the line ups.
Belem is just 15 minutes west of Lisbon. You can get there by taking the number 15 tram, which departs from the Praça da Figueira, Belem was the location of Lisbon’s shipyards and docks. Main sites recommended to see include Belem Tower, Mosterio do Jerominos, eating at the famous Pastel de Nata (custard tart) at the Pasteis de Belem, and Padrao dos Descobrimentos. I have included a couple extra that we took in.
This fort was to guard Lisbon from attack by sea. We did not go for a tour of the inside as we were told it was not worth the money or the time.
The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos
The monastery took over 100 years to complete and was funded by the 16th century spice trade. Sailors went and made their confessions before heading out to sea. It was impressive, but to be honest, after the 1 hour wait in line, I was expecting more. As a side note, I had pre-bought tickets from Tiquets which I do not recommend as they had stated we would be able to “skip the line up” by buying in advance and we were not able to.
Igerja Santa Maria de Belem Church
This is FREE to go into and is quite impressive.
Pasteis de Belem
Next to the monastery, you can find this amazing restaurant that guards the secret recipe for the very popular Pastel de Nata custard tart. This recipe came from the nuns at the monastery. They used the egg whites as starch and needed to do something with the yolks. They created this very yummy custard tart that is to be drunk with an expresso. In fact, the “correct” way to eat the tart is to use the expresso spoon to scoop out and eat the custard and then enjoy the flaky tart shell with the expresso shot. There can be huge line ups, but we were very lucky and were able to get a seat quickly.
The Padrao dos Descobrimentos
I saw this towering monument as we flew into Lisbon. It is on the banks of the Tagus River and celebrates the seafaring history of Portugal. There is beautiful detailing on this, complete with a huge sword on the back of the monument. You can also go into the museum and up to the top of this monument (for a price of course) and apparently get a good view of Lisbon. We did not try this.
National Coach Museum
The museum houses a very unique collection of coaches from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. It does get overwhelming to see all the different coaches on display, but since my grandfather built a stagecoach with drawings from the Smithsonian Institute, I really wanted to see these.
These were the coaches that the princes and princesses used to promenade around the grounds of the palaces.
Sunset Cruise from Belem
We did this cruise with Vitor recommended on Air BnB. His passion for living in Portugal and sharing his love of it comes shining through. This was a lovely way to finish off our day trip to Belem. As we left from the Belem Tower area seeing both the tower and the Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument from the water, Vitor pointed out this MAAT which stands for Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology which he said was very worth a visit. We unfortunately did not get the time to go and visit this.
From the boat, we were able to see The Cristo Rei which is one of the most iconic monuments in Lisbon. The statue of Christ stands high above the southern banks of the Tagus river, and depicts Christ with arms raised, blessing the city. We also went under this bridge (the 25 de Abril Bridge) that was modeled after two San Francisco Bay Area Bridges. The orange colour is the same as the famous Golden Gate Bridge and the design is similar to the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. It was built to withstand earthquakes and according to Vitor, the steel used to make it could wrap around the world 3 times!