With its rippling mountains, dewy forests thick with ferns and lichen, exotic gardens and glittering palaces, Sintra is like a page torn from a fairy tale. Its Unesco World Heritage–listed centre, Sintra-Vila, is dotted with pastel-hued manors folded into luxuriant hills that roll down to the blue Atlantic.
Celts worshipped their moon god here, the Moors built a precipitous castle, and 18th-century Portuguese royals swanned around its dreamy gardens. Even Lord Byron waxed lyrical about Sintra’s charms: ‘Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes, in variegated maze of mount and glen’, which inspired his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
It’s the must-do day trip and, if time’s not an issue, has enough allure to keep you there for several days. Sintra has become quite popular in recent years, and it’s hard to escape the tourist masses (especially in the summer). Go early in the day mid-week to escape the worst of the crowds.
If arriving by train, go to the last stop – Portela de Sintra – from which it’s a pleasant 1km walk (or short bus ride) into the village.