Ok, to start this post off, let me just remind you that I am not, I repeat not a fan of small towns centered around one tourist attraction; they tend to always be full of tourists.
But today, I am one of them.
Since arriving in Lisbon fifteen days ago, I have heard nothing but great things about Sintra, a small town forty-five minutes away from Lisbon where both the Castelo dos Mouros, a medieval castle used as a watchtower for intruders to Lisbon, and the Palácio de Pena, where generations of Portuguese royalty lived, are located. Trust me, if people aren’t talking about Lisbon, they’re talking about Cascais, Belém, or here, Sintra. So, after a
failed slightly-successful second attempt in Belém, here I am for a day in Sintra.
A ticket to Sintra from Lisbon is only €2.15, or €2.65 if you need a metrocard. I highly recommend leaving around 9am, as the tourist crowds were still manageable. As you can see, I even managed to snap this photo without anybody ruining it.
My first Sintra surprise came while sipping on my abatanado (my go-to drink in Portugal) in a cozy café I found right around the corner from the train station. The day was going great – it was sunny and 70s, the train ride wasn’t too long, there were barely any toursts in Sintra yet, even the cashier at the café let me pay for a €0.75 coffee with a €20 bill (so unheard of). Then, all of a sudden I see a young, hip girl whip out a cigarette and start smoking. Like, damn girl, there is a patio ten feet from here. Then I do a little Snapchat and in walks a couple, who starts smoking. Then, the super-smily owner sits down and starts smoking with all of them! THERE IS A PATIO TEN FEET AWAY.
So that’s when I knew it was time to leave. There are some customs in countries that you just won’t ever get used to.
After that interesting twist in my day, I strolled around town, not really planning on climbing all the way up to the two main reasons tourists come to Sintra: Palácio de Pena et Castelo dos Mouros. I was convinced I could find the cool things to do in Sintra that weren’t so obvious, but after walking ten minutes, I felt like I had pretty much seen the city center. I stopped into the tourist information center and after a successful guilt trip, I was convinced that it wasn’t so logical to come all the way to Sintra and skip out on the main attractions. Still, I didn’t want to pay the €5 for the bus to the top of the mountain; I wanted to at least do something unique. While on the train from Lisbon, I read that you can take a decently-strenuous, one-hour walking trail to the top of the mountain. Ding, ding, ding – hiking Sintra it is!
The trail must have several paths because from where I entered near Quinta da Regaleira, I saw nobody for twenty minutes – which made me feel both empowered and a bit sketched out. At times I zenned out, and at other times, I wondered if I was going to get mugged (but isn’t that any hiking trail?). There are many entrances to the trails, but nearly all of them start with a sign like this:
The trail itself, or the one I took, is very lush and very Lord of the Rings, sometimes even with massive trees blocking your way, but any time you see the yellow-red line, it’s a sign to continue trekking in that direction.
I think I took the longest way possible, especially since I missed a sign and did an extra ten minute hiking trail that went in a circle, which was pretty awkward since I basically ran past a group of American tourists then passed them again ten minutes later. They were probably freaked out that I somehow got behind them? But throughout most of the trail, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to find your way; you may miss a sign or two, but for the most part, if you can find the castle on top of the hill, you can easily get back on the trail.
It took me officially 57 minutes to get from the first sign I found near Quinta da Regaleira, which personally, I was impressed after my ten-minute slip up, and frequent pauses to “take it all in.” The incline isn’t too extreme, but you can still feel the slight incline and slight burn and thus, the hiking trail up is definitely not something I would ever recommend to an older person (although I did pass many of them), a pregnant woman, or anyone who doesn’t like walking over a mile.
You’ll know when you’re approaching the end of the Castelo dos Mouros trail when you start seeing massive tour busses parked along the road. Just so you know, there are multiple ticket booths, so it is not necessary to purchase a ticket right away, as I found out by completely skipping the line and walking right on to the castle grounds without a word said. Don’t waste your time if that line is super long, because the line at the castle entrance was, well, non-existent. If you’re not looking to spend money, you can also spend a good hour roaming around the castle grounds free of charge and finding some nice corners where you’re all alone.