Sintra is a town in the Lisbon Region of Portugal. Its spectacular setting, 28 km from Lisbon, houses a Royal Palace, used by generations of Portuguese royalty prior to the 1910 revolution. The surrounding hills are surmounted by the remains of the Moorish Castle and by the 19th century Pena Palace. Historic Sintra is an heritage patrimony site declared by UNESCO.
Near Estoril, the majestic Sintra Mountains cast a veil of mystery over the town nestling on its northern slopes. The hills and the surrounding area have been classified as
The name Sintra is derived from the same root as the English word “sun”. It is located in a mountain range some 28 km (17 mi) north-west of Lisbon, and approximately 9 km (5.6 mi) from the Atlantic coast in the west. There is evidence of human activity in the area at least since the Paleolothic stone age. The site is famous for the Sintra Collar, a golden neck ring from around the 9th century BC kept at the British Museum in London. During the 8th century it became part of Al-Andalus, Muslim Iberia. The new rulers fortified one of the mountain tops, creating what is today called The Castle of the Moores. The castle remained in Moorish hands until 1147 when it surrendered to crusader troops, one month after the fall of Lisbon.
In addition to the mountain top castle the Moores constructed a residential palace further down-hill. This palace, simply known as Sintra Palace, was eventually assumed as the summer residence of the rulers of Portugal. It has been expanded and rebuilt several times, and the oldest sections still standing today is a palace chapel constructed by King Dinis I during the early 14th century, as a gift to his wife Saint Elizabeth of Aragon. Other parts of the building where constructed during the reign of King John I, and King Manuel I, after whom the neo-gothic “Manueline” architectural style is named. King Afonso VI was imprisoned in the palace from 1676 until his death in 1683, after being deposed by his brother Pedro II. The palace was damaged in the great earthquake of Lisbon in 1755, but was later fully restored.
By the end if the 18th century Sintra’s exotic and mysterious ruins and nature became renowned and awed by several romantic poets. Lord Byron called it the “Glorioso Eden” while Richard Strauss claimed it to be “a true garden of Klingsor, and there in the heights, a castle of the Holy Grail”. It became a routine part of the Grand Tour, which many young nobles made around Europe at the time. As a consequence of it’s fame it became popular for Portuguese upper class to construct villas in the area, making Sintra something of a village of Chateaus.
The most notable of these residences is Pena Palace; a romanticist castle on a mountain top, constructed by the King-Consort Ferdinand II of Portugal 1838-1854, out of a former Hieronymite monastery. After the death of Queen Maria II, Ferdinand remarried the Countess of Edla. He caused national outrage when he donated the palace to his new wife, but the matter was eventually settled as palace was sold to King Luís in 1890. It was then used as a residence for the royal family until the 1910 republican revolution. After the revolution the palaces were nationalized and opened to the public, and to an ever-growing stream of tourists.
The town proper is a 10-minute walk from the train station. However, city buses to the center can be caught from the small bus stop directly on the right as one exits said station. These are the same buses that take circular routes to all the tourist sites, and offer tickets good for all day, so odds are one would be buying one of their tickets anyway. There is no real reason to walk from the station to the town proper, unless just for exercise, or if the tourist queues for the city buses are too long.
- 1 Estação Ferroviária de Sintra (Sintra Train Station), Av. Dr. Miguel Bombarda. Ticket office: M-F 06:45-20:30, Sa Su and holidays 07:00-20:30. Sintra can be reached by frequent CPcommuter train service from several Lisbon stations, including Santa Apolónia, Oriente, Campolide and Rossio, with most trains departing from Rossio. Lisbon’s public transit Viva Viagem cards are valid for travel to Sintra, with round-trip tickets costing around €4.40. If you do not already have a Viva Viagem card, note that queues for the ticket counters in Rossio can be enormous and clogged with tourists, especially mid-morning.
(updated May 2017)
- Queues for the ticket machines may be shorter, but may be equally slow as many machines take coins only, and many tourists may not understand how to operate them. Tell the machine that you want a ticket for two trips; you will need one for the outward and one for the return journey. Remember to validate your ticket by touching it to the checkpoint before boarding the return train. Keep the used ticket, as you can re-charge it for other trips in and around Lisbon.