A Day in Sintra, Portugal

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Living my best mermaid life at Pena Palace

On my last full day in Lisbon, I agonised over whether or not to take a day trip to Sintra. I initially intended to go, but my friend went the previous day and said it was insanely crowded. The older I get, the less tolerant I am of crowds. After breakfast, I made the spontaneous decision to go to Sintra and I am so happy I did! I happened to be on the same train (40 minutes to Sintra) as Luis, a guy I met on my walking tour two days before. We decided to spend the day together and I can’t imagine it any other way. We had a blast!

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We decided to hire a private driver for the day because we were both feeling lazy and a bit overwhelmed. We randomly chose Tania (Off Course Tours / reviews here) and had no idea how lucky we were to choose her! She kept us laughing all day – if you are planning to go to Sintra and you have a good sense of humour, please hire Tania! She is fabulous. We got to skip all of the queues and saved an incredible amount of time. Every time we did this, Tania asked us to wave like royalty so the three of us would do so, and this became the theme of the day (see below). Another reason to hire Tania: the palaces and monuments of Sintra are very spread out – if you are only in Sintra for a day, it will be quite stressful to try to see more than one monument on your own.

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Pena Palace

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This guy matches the palace perfectly!!

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View of the Moorish Castle

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Being at Pena Palace felt like being in Disney World for adults! Quite spectacular and so much to explore. I was very pleased with the amount of people in Sintra – not too crowded at all. I cannot imagine being there in summer!

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The grounds below the Pena Palace

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Being a princess

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Royal wave… everywhere we went!

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Having a blast!

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Sintra has a microclimate and we experienced almost every season in one day! The weather is rarely the same as it is in Lisbon. It was extremely windy, quite chilly, very hot and humid, raining (luckily this didn’t last long at all!), super sunny, very cloudy. It changed every couple minutes, literally.

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Chalet of the Countess of Edla… looks like the Hansel and Gretel house!

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After lunch with a view (at a lovely local cafe called Garagem – we had gorgeous soup, a codfish croquette, a steak sandwich and a coffee… all for €6.50!!!), we went to Quinta de Regaleira. Every time I spoke to someone who had already been to Sintra, this was the place that they most recommended seeing and I can see why! So, so beautiful. We definitely had a major “wow” moment when Tania drove us up to the entrance and we had our first view of this beauty!

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The Masonic Initiation Well

The pair of wells, known as the ‘Initiation Wells’ or ‘Inverted Towers’, consist of ‘winding stair’ architecture, which carries symbolic meaning including the death/rebirth allegory common to many hermetic traditions. One of the wells contains nine platforms, which are said to be “reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise.”” source

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Walking on water!

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Cork tree in Sintra

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We were unfortunately too tired to hike down to the Monserrate Palace. This is at the top of my list the next time I am in Portugal!

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This truly was the highlight of my day in Sintra. After we left Quinta da Regaleira, Tania drove us to a viewpoint of Monserrate and then, on our way to the town centre of Sintra, she said “would you like to try the best shrimp cake you’ll ever have?” It didn’t sound particularly appetising to me at the time, but I never say no to trying new food! We pulled up to this very unassuming old shop on the side of the road. Cafe Pereira or Cafe Salvador, as it is owned and operated by a sweet man named Salvador (pictured above, with Tania, our guide).

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These photos were taken from Google Maps

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To clarify, this “shrimp cake” is a savoury food, not a sweet cake. I don’t know how to describe it as it was unlike anything I’ve ever had before, but it was absolutely delicious!! Salvador also makes incredible espresso (and I’m a coffee connoisseur!). He was so pleased we decided to visit him, but really, he has no idea how happy he made me. Tania said he doesn’t get as much business as he used to, partially due to the location outside of town. This made me so sad because really, businesses like Salvador’s are who we should be supporting. Please, if you have a car in Sintra or if you hire Tania, visit Salvador’s shop and try his shrimp cake, or at least his coffee!!!

 

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The laneways of the town of Sintra were reminiscent of being in Greece!

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Sintra

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National Palace of Sintra

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Enjoying a travesseiro

Another must do when in Sintra: go to a place called Periquita and try the travesseiro pastry! Travesseiro means pillow, but that doesn’t give much away in regards to its taste. It is made of puff pastry with a filling of almond cream, but the taste really cannot be described! Please note: Piriquita currently has two units, one right of the main entrance of the alley of Sintra and the other on the same street but higher up – just keep going (it’s very close).

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Luis and I went out to dinner together in Lisbon after our day in Sintra at Alfaia and we noticed this piece of artwork hanging in the restaurant. He said he was the bald guy and I was the lady with the crazy hair – perfectly accurate. I could not stop laughing.

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Pure happiness at the end of our day in Sintra – I love meeting new people when travelling

If you’re visiting during off season or shoulder season, I would strongly recommend visiting Sintra. Please make sure you bring layers and be prepared for all types of weather – don’t let the weather in Lisbon fool you! I would also highly recommend more than one day in Sintra to really do it justice as it is quite mountainous and the monuments are spread out. Don’t skip the town of Sintra itself as it really exceeded my expectations. It is beautiful and quaint and really enjoyable to wander around.

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Lovable Lisbon

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I just returned from the most wonderful four days in Lisbon. When I was booking my flights, I was thinking to myself “yes, I’d like to go, but I’d rather go to Italy!” (a constant thought of mine). But, just like my trip to Barcelona, I was absolutely blessed with the weather (I had the luck of the Irish for once, usually the bad weather follows me!) and completely fell in love with the city. It exceeded my expectations.

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View of my B&B – MiCasaEnLisboa

I stayed in the most gorgeous B&B imaginable – MiCasaEnLisboa which is located in the neighbourhood of Graça. It is a quiet neighbourhood surrounded by many beautiful miradouros (viewpoints) and the lovely, green park Jardim da Cerca da Graça. It is also well located to explore all of Lisbon. If you are looking for a peaceful, beautiful place to stay, I couldn’t possibly recommend this B&B enough. The staff is so kind and the breakfast is really something special.

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View from MiCasaEnLisboa

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Near to MiCasaEnLisboa

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View from my room in MiCasaEnLisboa

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Part of my breakfast on day one (it is always slightly different each day). Bowl of fresh fruit, juice, coffee, homemade cake, homemade breads and jams, etc.

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These photos were taken from MiCasaEnLisboa’s TripAdvisor, as my photos do not do it justice! It is absolutely stunning. This is the common room and where breakfast is served. It really is this bright and beautiful.

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Breakfast table

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My room (the single room)

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The walk from MiCasaEnLisboa to São Jorge Castle

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Portas do Sol – beautiful miradouro

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Portas do Sol

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Lunch at Le Petit Cafe: Queijo de Azeitão (the most delicious cheese!) served with bread and a beautiful tomato soup with feta

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Miradouro de Santa Luzia – my second favourite miradouro in Lisbon

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Miradouro de Santa Luzia

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Dinner at A Cevicheria

I would highly recommend A Cevicheria for fabulous ceviche; however, expect to wait a long time. It is a small place and they do not take reservations. I waited a solid 1h15m+. It was worth it, though!

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Ceviche Puro – seasonal white fish, mashed sweet potato (a special kind only found in Portugal, it isn’t orange!! I was amazed), onions, seaweed and tiger milk

The Ceviche Puro was the surprise of the night. I thought I was going to love the Tuna Ceviche the most but the Puro was recommended by one of the waiters and it blew me away!!

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Tuna Ceviche – tuna, foie gras, lychees, hazelnuts and tiger milk with beetroot

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Rua Nova do Carvalho – the pink street

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I am missing pastel de nata from Manteigaria! Portuguese custard tarts, mmm. I got two on Sunday, one on Monday and two on Tuesday!

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Praça do Comércio – beautiful square near the Tagus River

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I spent a couple hours perched here in a lounge chair on both Sunday and again on Tuesday.

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Rosé sangria – it was 24 degrees C on this day!!

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I was really impressed with the Time Out Market! So many amazing looking stalls. 

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I chose the Miguel Castro e Silva stall based on a recommendation and I ordered the Arroz de Polvo Provençal – rice with octopus! Absolutely fabulous.

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Ice cream from Santini – I chose their flavours of the day: mango, green apple and coconut

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Miradouro da Senhora do Monte – personally my favourite miradouro! Bonus: it’s right around the corner from MiCasaEnLisboa

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View from São Jorge Castle

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São Jorge Castle

Personally, I do not think it is worth visiting the castle. It’s a new castle (not much to look at) and I think you can get equally beautiful views from the various free miradouros vs. paying 8.50 for entrance to the castle!

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Carmo Convent – the roof was destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 1755

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Elevador de Santa Justa

“The Elevador de Santa Justa stands 147 Ft (45m) tall and the structure is built in the same style as the renowned French architect, Eiffel. The similarity between his designs and this Elevator is not accidental, as it was built by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, who was an admirer of Gustave Eiffel and applied the same techniques used in some of the funiculars in France of the time.” source

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The beautiful tiles of Lisbon

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Ginja is a liqueur infused with sour cherries. It had to be tried, but honestly I thought it tasted like cherry cough medicine! xP

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Açorda de camarão @ Alfaia – Açorda is a typical Portuguese dish composed of thinly sliced bread with garlic, finely chopped coriander, olive oil, vinegar, water, salt and poached eggs. Served with shrimp. Absolutely delicious! I recommend having green wine with this dish – it’s a lovely antidote to the slight saltiness of the dish. 

 

Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon and is one of the only areas that was not destroyed by the earthquake/tsunami of 1755. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful area of Lisbon and one of my favourite activities was wandering the lanes.

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Pictures of locals are featured on the walls of Alfama – this was one of my favourite things to look at. 

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Fado (traditional Portuguese music said to be born in Alfama) at Mesa de Frades

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Sunset from Miradouro da Senhora do Monte

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Lisbon is full of friendly people, beautiful food and gorgeous sights. It is a walkable city, but is extremely hilly. I walked the entire time, but my legs were definitely sore at the end of my trip. I spent 4 full days and 4 nights in Lisbon and I would recommend not spending any less time than that. Not pictured: definitely try bacalhau (dried, salted cod) when you’re in Lisbon!

Next up: a post on my day trip to Sintra, Portugal!

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