Even if you only have time to make one daytrip in the Lisbon area, the town of Sintra in Portugal is pretty much essential viewing for every discerning tourist. Sintra is a hilltop town packed with history as it was where the kings of Portugal spent their summers, and where the Moorish lords from Lisbon used to hang out before that. When visiting Sintra, the young Byron wrote that it was “perhaps in every aspect the most delightful place in Europe”. Sintra has been one of Portugal’s Unesco World Heritage sites since 1995 and it aims to become the cultural capital of Portugal. With such a long list of recommendations, how could you not visit the verdant Sintra yourself?
Situated 28km northwest of the capital, Sintra also makes a good base from which to explore the region. You might even want to stay there to avoid paying the higher cost of accommodation in the capital, taking daytrips to Lisbon from Sintra. There are inexpensive trains every 15 minutes between the two towns.
Accommodation should be booked well in advance, particularly during the festivals throughout July and August, although the turismo (tourist office) off Praça de República (219 231 157) can help with last-minute bookings. Accommodation in Sintra ranges from the breathtaking Palácio de Seteais (219 233 200) with palatial rooms from €200 per night, and for the same price Lawrence’s Hotel (219 105 500) where Byron stayed in 1809, to more modest accommodation in pensões and private rooms for around €30 per night.
Sintra is packed with beautiful architecture, such as the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Not to be confused with the rather bizarre 18th-century architectural concoction that is the Palácio Nacional da Pena, the Paço Real, as it is also known, dominates the skyline and is of Moorish descent. Joao I enlarged it during the 15th century and Manuel I added his eponymous touch to it a hundred years later. It has since been turned into a museum (€3), with highlights including the kitchens and Sala das Pegas (Magpie Room).
Sintra’s best restaurants are in São Pedro, like Adega do Salolio (219 231 422), about twenty minutes’ walk from the centre where the restaurants are more touristy and mundane. You can hear fado music at O Chico, Rua Arco do Teixeira 8, on Thursdays, but the standard fare is expensive. There are more inexpensive establishments about though, such as Alcobaça, Rua das Padarias 7-11, and Casa da Avo, Rua Visconde de Monserrate 46, which serve decent, uncomplicated meals and cheap wine.
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