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  • Writer's pictureCatarina

Discover the Magic of Sintra and Cascais: The Best Places to Visit

Updated: 1 day ago

Welcome to an enchanted universe where history blends with natural beauty in a unique way. Sintra and Cascais, two hidden gems on the coast of Portugal, are destinations that capture the hearts of the most demanding travellers. I invite you to embark on this tour of the main monuments in these two stunning towns. Get ready to be enveloped by the magical atmosphere of each of them, where every corner reveals a fascinating history and architecture typical of each era.


This post is intended to be a short guide to what you can visit in Sintra, from the point of view of a guide and resident, and also to show you the best way to do it if you really want to make the most of your day and explore as much as possible without missing any important points.


Jardim da Correnteza - Sintra



As you may have realised, I'm also a Sintra resident and I'm going to speak not just as a local guide but as a resident, I've lived here all my life, my father's house was behind the train station and he too is a Sintra native, just like my mother, although she lived further away from the centre at the time they met. I chose to be a local guide because it's something I really enjoy, socialising with people and showing them this beautiful land, enchanted by its history and mysteries. I know I'm a bit of a suspect and of course I'm going to "pull the wool over my eyes", but of course the choice will always be yours.


Carrinha da MoonShadow Tours
MoonShadow Tours Van at Cabo da Roca

A tour guide's view


In my day-to-day life, I see many tourists who arrive in Sintra without knowing exactly what to see, or who think that everything is close by, when in reality this is not the case. Although many of the places to visit are located in the centre.



Sintra is the second largest municipality in Portugal, with around 400,000 inhabitants, from Queluz to the town of Sintra.

Sintra was inhabited by Celts, Romans, Moors and even Vikings, it was the end of the known world and also a place of pilgrimage, its unique characteristics making it what it is today. But if until about 15 years ago it was possible to find secret places without tourists, nowadays it's almost mission impossible.


To begin with, it's best to arrive early! When leaving Lisbon, you should take the train from Rossio station, a direct line that takes around 45 minutes. You can also drive yourself, but be warned that parking in Sintra is scarce and expensive. As well as narrow streets, the little parking there is is far from the centre, so if you have trouble walking it's not recommended.


 

Tip: If you want to come by car, the best suggestion is to hire a driver or guide who will take you to Sintra in around 20 minutes and guide you on your visit.

 


Estação de Comboios de Sintra
Estação de Comboios de Sintra
Travelling by train

When you arrive at the station, don't be alarmed - you'll find lots of guides and tuk tuk drivers with posters in hand trying to sell you something. The deafening noise of the vehicles and the shouts of the vendors can leave you disorientated, so be prepared to be approached and chased. Analyse calmly as the service may not be what you want. You may be tempted to take the bus because of its low price (which I still consider to be expensive for a public bus: 15€ in high season), but don't be fooled, this bus is always full, you risk standing up, not to mention the time it takes and it makes a circular circuit between the Pena Palace and the station.

Most of these guides will just sell you a lift to the Pena Palace and then leave you there (without any guidance) and go back to the station to get more people, you'll be lucky if they tell you the real story about the monuments. And the later you arrive, the worse! The queues are enormous.


On my tours you can be sure that I'll wait for you while you visit the monuments, and I'll tell you the real history about them as well as some of the legends and curiosities.

The first place everyone wants to visit is the Pena Palace, and most people when they arrive in Sintra ONLY ask about this monument, but let me tell you, there are many more places to see and they are much more interesting. But let's break it down:


Palácio da Pena - Sintra
Visiting the Pena Palace

Since 2020/2021, a slot system has been implemented to enter the Palace of Pena to avoid crowds of people, which means that visits will be by appointment, which means that in addition to the queue to buy tickets, there will be another queue to enter the palace. In total, the visit can take between 1.30 and 3 hours. Prices range from €10 for the gardens alone (there is no appointment) to €20 for the gardens and palace. Inside the gardens you'll also find the Countess's Chalet, which is included in the visit whichever ticket you buy. I recommend buying tickets in advance, especially if you want to visit the palace from the inside, as it's difficult to avoid the queue anyway (even if a guide promises you this) unless it's low season.


The Palace of Pena receives around 6,000 visitors a day. Tickets to visit the palace have an appointment and a limit of 300 visitors per slot, which is why they sell out so quickly.


Moorish Castle

I don't usually encourage to visit it, you'll pay €12 to walk around the walls for 45 minutes and enjoy the view, when you can do the same at the Pena Palace. But of course you're free to enter and visit if you wish.





Historic Centre: The Town Centre of Sintra


Since 2018, cars have been banned from the centre of Sintra, and only residents, taxis and shoppers are allowed. To visit the centre of Sintra, you'll have to walk. Here you'll find Sintra's oldest pastry shop, Piriquita, with a very curious history, where you can try Sintra's traditional sweets: queijadas and travesseiros.





In the Historic Centre you can also find restaurants and souvenir shops, and before you know it you'll have spent the whole morning. Look for a local restaurant for lunch, forget the pizzas and burgers if you really like real food! My recommendations are Adega das Caves in the village of Sintra or Apeadeiro near the railway station. I have a third recommendation, but that's only for those who go on tours with me, so if you want to know which one it is, you know what to do, but I can assure you that these two will serve you very well!



Sintra's National Palace

The National Palace or Paço da Vila as the locals call it is also interesting to visit because it is a medieval palace, its origins dating back to the Moors although it underwent some changes from the 12th to the 15th centuries. The ticket costs 13€ and the visit takes around 1:30h.



Manor Houses in Sintra: Chalet Biester, Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate

On the way to Quinta da Regaleira you'll find a really interesting place to visit. If you really want to avoid the queues, visit Chalet Biester. You'll be enchanted by its gardens and the building itself, which dates back to the 18th century, with paintings by Luigi Manini and tiles by Bordalo Pinheiro, among other famous artists of the time. The ticket costs 11€ for a visit time of between 1.30 and 2 hours.




The building of this palace dates back to the 19th century (1880-1899). The Biester Palace is a unique example of romantic architecture, having been the residence of the Biester family, who commissioned it from José Luiz Monteiro, a renowned architect in Portugal, who gave it a unique decoration and various artistic details, which were the responsibility of the master carver Leandro Braga and the artists Luigi Manini and Paul Baudry.

The decorative details you'll find in the Biester Palace are undoubtedly one of its greatest attractions for a longer visit.


Poço Iniciático - Quinta da Regaleira

A few metres ahead you'll find Quinta da Regaleira, which is also very popular. You may find a queue here if you buy tickets, which cost around €12, but if you have them in advance you don't have to worry, you'll be able to visit the site calmly in around 1:30 to 2 hours. Inside you'll find the Initiation Well, various symbols of Templar Masonry and mystical and esoteric meanings.


On the road to the village of Colares, you'll pass Monserrate Palace, almost unnoticeable in the middle of the vegetation. The vast majority of guidebooks don't even stop here, it's not one of the most visited places but its gardens are to be appreciated. On my visits I usually make a quick stop here just to see the outside, but if you still have time it's another place I'd recommend entering to get a closer look. The ticket price is 12€ with a visit time of around 1 hour.



Palácio de Monserrate - Sintra


Other less visited places of interest


By now it's almost 5 or 6pm and the day is almost over. Yes, it's very exhausting to visit Sintra in one day, but I still have two more places to talk about. The first is the Convento dos Capuchos, this is the least visited in Sintra and little or nothing is said about it, it was a convent of Franciscan monks and there are still many stories associated with them. The ticket costs 11€ and the visit lasts around 45 minutes. The second is the Palácio de Queluz, located in the town of Queluz, it was the summer palace of the royal family, designed and built in the image of the Palace of Versailles. To get here, look out for the Queluz-Belas stop when you're on the train. The ticket costs €6 for the gardens and €13 for the palace, with a visit time of around 1.30 hours.



Things to remember
  1. Arrive early

  2. There is little parking

  3. Avoid the bus

  4. Buy tickets in advance

  5. The historic centre can only be visited on foot

  6. Have lunch in local restaurants (help local traders)

  7. Pay attention to the closing times of the monuments.



My recommendations

For a day visit without long queues

  • Pena Palace (outside only or gardens only)

  • Chalet Biester

  • Quinta da Regaleira

  • Monserrate Palace

  • Capuchos Convent

  • Queluz Palace

  • Visit Sintra with a guide



Cascais: A Fishermen's Village


After all we've seen, when you leave Sintra you'll stop at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in Europe, and from here you'll follow the road towards Cascais.

Bathed in Atlantic sunshine and imbued with a relaxed seaside charm, Cascais is a destination that arouses the curiosity of those who love the sea. At the end of a day, it's good to relax by the sea and Cascais is the perfect place for that, and if you have time, even better.


Visiting Cascais: 5 must-see places to visit in Cascais:
  1. Boca do Inferno: This impressive rock formation, sculpted by the erosion of the sea, is one of Cascais' most famous sights. The "Boca do Inferno" offers spectacular views of the ocean and is a perfect place to enjoy the sunset.

  2. Cidadela de Cascais: Located in the historic centre of the city, the Cidadela de Cascais is a 17th century fortress that now houses a series of museums, art galleries, shops and restaurants. Explore its ancient walls and immerse yourself in the region's rich history.

  3. Parque Marechal Carmona: This tranquil public park offers a green haven away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With serene lakes, manicured gardens and play areas, it's the perfect place for a relaxing stroll or a family picnic.

  4. Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães: Housed in a beautiful 19th century palace, this museum houses an impressive collection of art and historical artefacts. Explore the elegant halls and lush gardens while learning about the history and culture of Cascais.

  5. Guincho Beach: For lovers of surfing and windsurfing, Guincho Beach is a paradise. Located just a few kilometres from the centre of Cascais, this stunning beach is famous for its powerful waves and breathtaking scenery, making it a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts.



Conclusion


Phew! I told you there was a lot to see! One last tip is to pay attention to the closing times of the monuments, depending on whether it's high season or low season.

It will always be a pleasure to be your guide, you can book directly on the website where I already have pre-defined routes, but I'm always available for something more personalized, just send me an email with the points you want to visit and I'll draw up the route as best I can. Apart from the fact that you can buy tickets in advance if it suits you, they are not included in the tours and will therefore be charged separately. You can also see what is and isn't included in each tour on the tour page, so there's no doubt.



I hope you've enjoyed the tips I've given here, from my point of view as a local guide and resident, and that they'll help you plan your next visit to Sintra. I realise that first-time visitors can be a little daunted, but with the right support you'll be able to make the most of your day.

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