Have you heard of Sintra?
If you’ve been to Portugal, or if it’s on your bucketlist, you probably have. The picturesque fairytale town just about an hour away from Lisbon with beautiful castles and buildings. A Sintra day trip is a popular choice for many, who go only to realize that it’s not really that small, and the sites are quite spread out. I’ve heard from more than a few people that they wished they had longer, or planned in advance.
Needless to say when I was planning on visiting Lisbon, Sintra was an absolute must on my list. While most people rush to Pena Palace, I was most interested in visiting the Quinta da Regaleira and it’s awesome looking wells. Of course, when I asked people about it, that seemed to be one of the sites that most travellers missed on their quick visit, so it was hard for me to get tips and figure out my own route.
Thankfully, my Lisbon hostel came to the rescue. Lookout Lisbon! hostel advertised half day tours to Sintra with a local tour company, The Wanderers. I checked out the itinerary which I was thrilled to see included the Quinta da Regaleira along with some pretty cool viewpoints. Since I only had three days in Lisbon, and was worried about time, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.
Our guide for the day, Alex, showed up at the hostel at 2pm with a fabulous old school bright yellow van. It’s pretty amazing. There were nine of us total, including Alex, on the day trip and we piled into the van just outside the hostel and headed for the fairytale sites of Sintra.
About an hour later we arrived at our first stop; the stunning Quinta da Regaleira. Alex collected our money (6 euro each) and skipped ahead of the line to buy our tickets. Tickets in hand we passed through the gates and into the complex where we would have an hour and a half to explore.
My main goal in visiting the Quinta da Regaleira was to see the spiral well; used by the freemasons in initiation ceremonies. The well has 9 flights of stairs to represent both Dante’s nine levels of hell and the human gestational period. Descending into the well and exiting via the tunnels below represented a re-birth for new members. Of course, being me, I did things a bit backwards and ended up going through the underground tunnels to find the well.
While I was thrilled to see (and take a million photos) the well, it wasn’t the only highlight of the Quinta da Regaleria. The whole grounds are stunning, with tons to explore. Bridges across ponds, castle-like viewing towers, forest trails and a beautiful house that looks more like a medieval castle. It was gorgeous to explore plus, being obsessed with mythology and legends, I loved that the property was shrouded in mystery and symbolism of an ancient order.
After exploring the Quinta da Regaleria, Alex took us into Sintra town for a couple of lookout points and a stop at a famous bakery called Casa Piriquita. Given the logo I thought it was just a bird, but questioned my assumptions when I noticed the two Braziliian girls in our group snickering. Later they shared with me that Piriquita, in Brazil, is a nickname for lady bits. Once I heard that, I had to laugh too. But, despite the funny nickname, the pastries were amazing. I followed Alex’s suggestion and tried an almond and egg filled pastry called Travesseiro; a secret recipe that was so good it left me wishing I had several more.
After about an hour exploring Sintra town we piled back into our trust yellow bus and headed for the first lookout point in Sintra National Park. It was a bumpy and twisty ride (lots of fun in my opinion) up the mountain and through the forests. We made a quick photo stop to see Pena Palace perched on top of the cliff, then continued on up the hill for a stunning panoramic view over the national park and out over the ocean. According to legend, it’s a religious site where the Virgin Mary was believed to have been seen and restored the vision of a poor blind girl who offered to get the disguised religious icon some food.
Once we took in the stunning 360 degree views on top of the mountain it was time to go to our next stop, Cabo da Roca which is the westernmost point of mainland Europe. It also offered beautiful views over the sea and out along the cliffs.
With it being later in the season, the original plan was to do a quick stop at Cabo da Roca, then head to the final stop, Guincho Beach, for the sunset. However, Cabo da Roca was beautiful and we ended up staying a bit longer, so we watched the sunset from there while enjoying a glass of ginjinha, a local cherry flavoured liquor. Not a bad way to end a gorgeous afternoon exploring this fairytale region of Portugal.
Know Before You Go
- The Wanderers Tours run 3 days a week: Monday, Wednesday, Friday.
- Tours cost 40 euro per person. All transportation is included however admission to Quinta da Regaleria (6 euros) is not.
- Bring some extra money for the pastry shop, and if you want/need water.
- Tours book up quickly! So book early
- While you will get a view of Pena Palace on the tour, this tour does not actually go there.
- It’s a fun and easy way to see some of Sintra’s highlights for travellers who are short on time.
- You can check out the Sintra tour, and other tours run by The Wanderers, here.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Wanderers Tours, however all opinions are my own!