Six hours in Sintra
Did you know that, just 30 minutes' drive from the centre of Lisbon, there lies a fairytale land of colour-pop castles, mist-soaked pine forests and secret gardens?

When you arrive at Sintra, it's hard not to get the feeling that you've just stepped into your very own fairy tale. The town, which lies in the foothills of the Sintra mountains, is a UNESCO World Heritage site - and it's not hard to see why.

Wherever you look, your eye falls on turreted fortresses, atmospheric forests and royal retreats - such as the medieval Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), Pena Palace and Sintra National Palace.
Getting there
Travelling to and from Sintra is very easy.

On the way there, we took a taxi. The journey took about half an hour, and cost €35. Top tip: get a quote from a taxi on the street, rather than booking through your hotel. We initially asked our hotel how much it would cost, and were told €70- but a normal cabbie did it for literally half the price.

On the way back, it was clear that taxis weren't an option, as there were none around. So, we took the train. Tickets were dirt cheap - less than €3 each - and the train was well-maintained and pretty empty, even on a Saturday. Trains run to and from Sintra at half-hour intervals, and take about 40 minutes.
Things to do and see
We were only in Lisbon for a weekend, so only spent a day in Sintra, to allow us enough time to explore the capital itself.

As time was of the essence, we had to be pretty ruthless about what we chose to do. I imagine you could easily spend a full weekend in this little town, as it's so packed with places to explore.

So here's what we managed to fit into the six hours or so we spend in Sintra.
Quinta Da Regaleira
This was top of our list, so we headed straight here.

As time was so tight, we decided to skip the house (although from the sounds of it it's equally fantastic, so if you have the time you should definitely go) and get stuck into exploring the gardens.

Armed with a map, we explored pretty much every landmark at a leisurely pace, in about two hours.

This place is so much fun that it definitely deserves its own post - so you can read more about this splendid treasure-trove here.

Learn more
Castle of the Moors
After we'd finished with the gardens, we headed straight for the Castle of the Moors…that is, until we saw where it was - at the very top of a huge hill!

To cut a long story short, we ended up taking one of the many electric two-seater tuk tuks that were buzzing around, and reached the top in about ten minutes (price: €5 each). I'm usually one for tackling hills, but in this instance I'm glad we didn't as it would have taken 58 minutes to walk there.

This isn't a castle that you can look round: rather, this site offers you splendid panoramic views as you walk the castle walls that encircle the remains of this 10th century Moorish castle.

Lots of steps, but definitely worth it- even on a cloudy day. There's also a small café where I availed myself of a Kitkat to give me moral support for climbing all those stairs!

Lunch at Tascantiga
After such a lot of walking, we definitely deserved some proper food - and we were lucky enough to stumble across a superb little restaurant in a cobbled courtyard.

Welcoming atmosphere, delicious food (try the soup and pork cheeks), and filled with happy locals. Check it out yourself at Escadinhas da Fonte da Pipa 2, 2710-588 Sintra.
Pena Palace
Our last stop was the Pena palace - the colour-pop castle you see on most Sintra postcards. This 19th century Romanticist palace is definitely fairytale territory - but its bright colours give it a modern twist.

Perched on a high rock, this palace was built on the site of a former monastery, and gives excellent views of the parkland that surrounds it. There are lots of little quirks to find - including stone gargoyles in the shape of crocodiles.

This was by far the busiest site we visited in Sintra, though - so don't expect it to be as peaceful as the postcards portray.
A few tips for your Sintra visit
Wear comfortable shoes. Sintra is very hilly, and depending on where you're looking round, you'll end up racking up a good few miles. Thanks to my FitBit, I can tell you that I climbed the equivalent of 165 flights of stairs on my visit.

Eat! Because of all the walking, make sure you make regular food stops. I'd recommend Tascantiga, a lovely place set on a cobbled courtyard in a backstreet, with a homely atmosphere and delicious food

Take tuk tuks. There are lots of little tuk tuks whizzing around, taking visitors up to the Castle of the Moors for 5 euros per person, each way. Although I usually prefer walking, I'd recommend taking the tuk tuk on this occasion. There's so much to see if you're only there for a day, so there's no point in wasting a large chunk of that time walking up dirty great hills

Realise that you'll have to share your fairytale with other people! Sintra is not a very well-kept secret, and great minds think alike: lots of people take day-trips here from Lisbon. I can imagine it would get quite crowded in the summer months
I would definitely recommend you visit Sintra if you're in Lisbon. We visited on a very cloudy, overcast day and it was still beautiful - so I can only imagine how stunning those views must be on a clear, sunny day.

It's such a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the capital, and boasts such pretty and unusual architecture - plus, it's so close to Lisbon, you have no excuse not to! In fact, I much preferred Sintra to Lisbon itself.

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