We maintained a break-neck speed when we were in Portugal. In retrospect, it might have been nice to slow down just a bit, but when there's so much to see in the world and so little time in which to see it, well, slowing down isn't much of an option. We spent the last few days of our trip in Lisbon. And if you google, "things to do in Lisbon," the iconic Pena Palace in the small town of Sintra is bound to pop up. Sure, it's cliched, and expected, for a travel blogger to go there, but, I'll admit that I actually enjoyed it. You don't need a full day to visit the palace, especially if you have your own vehicle and aren't relying on public transportation, which means you have the afternoon to seek out and sample the best Pastel de nata in the city.
The skies were gray and cloudy the morning we headed out to Sintra to visit Pena Palace. We had lucked out with weather the entire week - especially since it was February - but this morning was cool and overcast. The wind was also pretty blustery and chilled us quickly. We headed west out of the city, towards the hills and a national park named for the palace. The town of Sintra sits on the north eastern edge of the park and it is through here that you need to pass to get to where the palace is located. Following tight, winding roads with sharp switchbacks, we climbed the hills and once again, I was glad that I wasn't the one driving. I prefer to leave that to Aaron when we travel.
We made it to the parking area for Pena Palace, which was full. Backtracking down the hill slightly, we located another parking area, parked the car and got out. Beyond the front gates which serve as the entrance to Pena Palace lies still more of the hill to climb. With a toddler in a stroller, we opted to pay a minimal fee to use the shuttle up to the palace. It's not a long walk, but it is pretty steep, and it wasn't something I was all that interested in doing.
Nestled in among the lush evergreens and sitting atop a rocky outcrop on the edge of a cliff, one is greeted by the most colorful castle on the planet. Ok, so I made that last bit up, but no joke, the bright colors are stunning. Always a sucker for a good European castle, this one did not disappoint. In typical Portuguese fashion, the attention to detail on this castle - both inside and outside - is impeccable. The intricate carvings covering the castle walls are accented by the cheery and colorful painted walls. I can imagine in the summer, this place is stunning with the sun shining on it, but on the gray and windy day we visited, the bight colors gave it a whimsical yet lively feeling.
Visitors are allowed to tour the castle on their own schedule. There is a defined route leading through the castle and an optional audio guide is available. This visit we opted to forgo the audio guide and instead just see the castle. Throughout the palace are informational placards, so visitor's aren't completely without information, but these are not as detailed as I imagine the audio guide is.
The National Parks of Sintra boast not only the vibrant Pena Palace, but also a number of other attractions. So while Pena Palace itself doesn't require a full day to see, visiting the park and other attractions would make for a lovely day trip from Lisbon. We had wanted to see the Quinta da Regaleira, mostly for the unique and photogenic well on the grounds, but a combination of street food the night before and the very early stages of pregnancy (which, at the time, I was unaware of!), meant we weren't feeling well and forced us to cut our visit to Sintra short. However, if you have the time, there is so much more in the parks to discover from the ruins of a Moorish Castle to the National Palace of Sintra (different from Pena Palace) to the Convent of the Capuchos. I wish we had had more time to explore this beautiful area!
Plan Your Visit
The National Park has a fantastic website with information on how to get there, prices for admission, and the history of each site. Plan for at least a morning to see Pena Palace, or an entire day to discover more of the park.