Doug and I have concluded that for most cities, four is the magic number of days to stay in the city proper. That gives plenty of time to see all the touristy sites while also leaving some quality neighborhood exploration time. It’s nice to be able to have one or two late nights out knowing you can afford to sleep in! We gave ourselves five days in Lisbon and Madrid this trip, planning to take one day trip from each home base.
I love day trips. In Europe, trains are brilliant for this and so many areas have a plethora of small towns accessible. In Thailand, we’d arrange for Tuk Tuks or cars since they were SO CHEAP. We popped over to Phang Nga from Phuket two days in a row, actually, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. More on that later.
Everyone we asked about Lisbon-based day trips said Sintra, Sintra, Sintra. After visiting, I completely agree with them. If you’re planning a Lisbon trip, give yourself a Sintra day. You will not regret it!
Sintra is about an hour away by train. What’s in Sintra, you ask? Why only two palaces, a medieval Moorish castle, and a giant park full of all the flora and fauna you can wish! Plus museums on museums on museums and more NATA. Nata forever.
The thing about Sintra is it IS super touristy. It was probably Lisbon’s best-kept secret at one point, but the secret is definitely out now. However, as long as you forge your own path once you get there, it’s totally worth it. When you get off the train in Sintra, you WILL be accosted by tour guides and this WILL be a rip off. Politely say “No, ‘brigado,” and make your own way up towards town. There’s a cheap local bus that will take you to all of the major sites, and boom! There’s your tour.
Let it also be known that the lines for train tickets in the Lisbon station are LONG. While we were waiting we actually ran into our cab driver from Belem day, and he alerted us that you can buy train tickets in the station tabaceria, for which there was no line. Another reason to take cabs! That advice was priceless.
So. We skipped the line and bopped on over to Sintra. First stop, the National Palace. You’re able to buy group tickets to multiple attractions which is a cheaper option, so do it. We decided on the Big Three: National Palace, Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace. There were additional options of museums, but for one day this ended up being plenty to explore. Pena Palace has a whole park attached, and scrambling around the Castelo dos Mouros takes ENERGY. We were totally satisfied with the day’s activities!
The National Palace is beautiful, and very estately. It’s probably the most underwhelming of the three, so it’s a good place to start. Let it be known, though, that I mean underwhelming in the fact that everything here is impressive AF, this just happened to be the least impressive. The Mediterranean architecture and old artifacts are still really lovely, and I would not have passed it up.
We had lunch in the town square before boarding the bus up to the Moorish Castle. And THIS, guys. It was so cool. We cimbled all around and the views were insane. The knowledge of how OLD the structure is is also amazing. Try standing at the top of a turret that was built hundreds of years before the United States was even a glimmer in her fathers’ eyes, and tell me you don’t feel like an epic explorer.
It was super windy which made me feel half like a goddess, and half like I was going to fall off of the damn thing at any minute. Completely exhilarating, in other words. I’ll say it again: Go to Sintra. Climb the Castelo dos Mouros. Feel like you’re in Game of Thrones, probably Winterfell.
We then walked down to the Palace of Pena, which was about a mile walk, if I’m remembering correctly. You can definitely take the bus there but we were feeling STRONG after conquering the castle so. We walked.
There are two routes to the Palace of Pena: the short one that goes right to the palace and is NOT a mile from the Castle, it turns out, or the one we took which takes you through the whole Parque de Pena and is another fifteen minutes or so to the palace. (The guard told us it would be half an hour, but pshh. Not for us warriors.) It was by total happy accident that we took the park route, not realizing there WAS another option. The park was GORGEOUS, though, and largely undeveloped so you really get a sense of the local foliage. Look at me, saying things like “local foliage.”
Pena Palace was by far my favorite part of Sintra, and I loved the lead up that the park provided. It really made us feel in it, like we were really experiencing the slice of stunning life that living in the palace would provide. Going with the Game of Thrones metaphor, which is basically how I live my life even when not exploring medieval grounds: if Castelo dos Mouros is Winterfell, Parque de Pena is King’s Landing and the palace is the Red Keep. Needless to say, I decided within two minutes of entering the palace that my dragons and I would be moving in.
Guys, the COLORS here. I mean honestly, look at that! Unreal. The views were even more insane than those from the Castle. There were plants and flowers everywhere, so basically my dream. I wished it was acceptable to just lay down on the outer walk somewhere and stay for hours. But the tourist traffic would have trampled me, so this did not happen.
We returned to the main town inundated with beauty and majesty had had, of course, a quick nata and coffee break before catching the train back to Lisbon. And were we done for the day? OH, WE WERE NOT. We grabbed some quick tacos and sangria and hit what we heard was the spot for some of the best cocktails in Lisbon: Double9 bar. All of their cocktails are TEA INFUSED, so yes please. Plus, they come with crazy fun things like rubber ducks chillin on top.
We shared something called Tales of Thailand which had lemongrass and chocolate powder because yes. We also had their house cocktail, complete with duck and egg whites, and watched drink after drink poured with dry ice and panache. These drinks were EXPERIENCES, and very cool ones at that. For a night out you will not soon forget, Double9 is a must!