Conquer a castle in Sintra

Explore the hillsides and palaces outside of Lisbon on foot

Getting to Sintra

The alarm sounded and we dragged ourselves out of bed. With the motivation of a day trip to get on with and a train to catch we managed to escape from the covers and get out the door.

As we walked to the train station I spotted Fabrica de Nata, one of the many shops that claims to have the best pasteis de nata in Lisbon.

“Do you want to get some pasteis?” I ask Tim.

Tim laughs. I ask this everyday, sometimes multiple times.

“Let’s do it. But let’s get some “real” food too.”

€4 later, we were sitting down with 2 pasteis de nata, 1 tosta mista (essentially grilled cheese with ham) and some freshly squeezed orange juice, loving every bite.

We finished up breakfast, power walked across the street to Rossio train station (at this point we’re now running the risk of missing the train!), fumbled or way through the ticket machine, hopped on the train, and enjoyed a lovely 40min train ride to Sintra.

Finding our way

“Would you like a tuk-tuk? How about an eco car? Its small but very comfortable!”

As we stepped out of the train station, the chorus of sales pitches grew. It was certainly clear that we had arrived in a tourist hot spot. One step at a time we pushed through throngs of people trying to sell their tuk-tuk or eco-car. Eventually we broke free and made our way towards the old town.

Our plan was to walk to two of Sintra’s landmark sights, the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. I had read that there were trails we could take there, but hadn’t remembered the details about how to find the trails. We spotted a large map ahead and made our way to it, hoping to get our bearings and figure out the best route.

As soon as we stopped to look at the map, we became clear bait for someone trying to sell us their tour. Ugh.

“Hello, can I help you? Would you like me to take you on a tour of Sintra and it’s beautiful palaces?”

“Thank you for asking, but no, we’re good thank you”

We try to look at the map again.

“Sintra has eight major sights to see, and you really can only see them all if you come on my tour....”

“No thank you, we’ve already made plans for the day”

Fed up with having to say no, we gave up on trying the find “the right” path and followed google map’s suggested walking route. It didn’t take us on the intended hiking path, but it got us away from the tuk tuk drivers and headed towards our destination. And bonus, it meant that we ended up doing a loop, which is really much preferable to an out and back walk.

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We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of vegetation surrounding us, and freshness in the air as we walked the three kilometres along footpaths and roads to the Moorish Castle.

The Moorish Castle

The ‘castle’ is really more of a military wall that spans 500m along the perimeter of a hilltop, from which we could look down to the town of Sintra below and across to the Pena Palace. We enjoyed walking the perimeter of the castle more than we expected. That might have been because we were caught up in the Netflix show The Last Kingdom. Although not set in Portugal, the parallels in time period (the show is set in the 9th century which is when the Moorish castle was constructed), and heavy features of battles and castles helped our imaginations bring the castle to life.

Moorish Castle

Moorish Castle

Pena Palace and Gardens

Another kilometre behind us and we arrived at the gates of the Pena Palace. To be honest, one castle probably was enough for us for one day, but we were already there, so why not?

The palace grounds are very expansive, and we ended up clocking in another five kilometres within them. Our highlight of the grounds were two lookouts a couple kilometres south of the palace, one of them known as the High Cross lookout.

Pena palace

Pena Palace Lookout

Winding down

We eventually found the park exit, and luckily our hiking trail as well! The hike down to the old town was one of my favourite parts of the day as it meant that we were getting close to food (we finished the glorified grilled cheese 15km ago!) and because it was also a beautiful trail, with gardens and views the whole way down.

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The verdict

I am always in favour of a day trip, and we both had a fun time spending the day walking and taking in new old sites.