Sintra is one of the most magical places I have ever visited. Back in 2012 I spent just a few hours there for the first time and fell in love with it. Since it’s conveniently placed just an hour train ride from Lisbon, it is the easiest and most popular day trip from the city center.
However, I recently went back to explore this medieval wonderland again and decided to spend a few nights at the Hotel Sintra Jardim. Slowing it down a little this time was such a nice change of pace from my first visit. One of my biggest regrets while traveling in Europe for four months was not really taking the time to sit and soak up just one place for awhile.
Rushing through a city is something I think a lot of new travelers do, because when you’re exploring new countries there is just so much to see. But I’m here to tell you that Sintra can be more than just a day trip if you want it to be and you would be wise to slow it down just a little here.
From every angel, Sintra appears to be frozen in time and barely leaves a real local vibe to the place. The shop owners, Airbnb hosts, and hotel and restaurant workers appear to be the only true natives you can find anywhere. Although in a lot of cases extreme tourism can taint a place beyond enjoyability, (I swear Google says that’s a word, but I’m still not sure) Sintra manages to keep its head above water.
A lot of cities that are taken over by tourists on a regular basis can be quite stifling, but somehow Sintra manages to still let you breathe a little. Especially if you visit off-season (I went in March the first time and April on my second visit) when the crowds are less overwhelming and the lines never get out of hand.
Quick side note though, I want to make it clear that I do think it is worth seeing Sintra as a day trip if you’re short on time. I think the city is a must visit no matter what. But I would encourage you to take the time to spend at least one night in this fairytale land if you can.
Where to Stay
The Hotel Sintra Jardim is an old and beautiful hotel, and with its creaky floors and antique furniture it doesn’t even feel like a hotel. It felt more like I was staying at the house of a rich relative a hundred years ago. Visiting a little off-season with cool weather created a quiet, peaceful and almost eerie vibe at the hotel. I’m not sure I even saw another guest for the first few hours after checking in.
Recovering from a long train ride from Porto and a car ride from Lisbon, then squeezing a rental car through tiny roads and parking spots, it was nice to take it easy on my first evening. I wandered the grounds of the hotel and took in abandoned patios, an empty bar and quiet pool area.
Tiptoeing around the halls I peered into common areas that appeared to be pulled right out of an old country cottage. The entire hotel is surrounded by trees and nature and makes you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere even though the center of town is less than a mile away.
As a former sanctuary for Portuguese nobles, it is a great place to relax. You can read, journal, or photograph the endless supply of charming houses, spiraling staircases or antique window shutters. There are also plenty of old landmarks to visit during the day to take in every inch of beauty this place has to offer.
Out and About
From the Hotel Sintra Jardim, it’s only a ten-minute leisurely stroll to the center of town. Walking to the National Palace or the Quinta De Regailara is easily manageable (although sometimes a steep hill up). The bus system offers a full proof transportation option, dropping you off and picking you up from all the major destinations.
When I wasn’t relaxing at the hotel I was spiraling the steps of the Initiation Well at the Quinta De Regailara, standing on top of the world at the Castle of Moors and taking in the beautifully bright colors of the Pena Palace. The rest of the time, I was trying to consume as many Pastel de Nata’s as I could find.
If you’re looking for a party town, you won’t find much here. With the exception of a few bars that stay open in the city center, most of the town quiets down after dinner. I spent my two nights there in my hotel room, with some tea and my journal.
The television in the hotel room offered next to no like-able programming for a foreigner so it really was on me to find my own entertainment. The hotel restaurant provided a nice setting with a fireplace where you could enjoy a glass of wine to help relax. Even in the cool months you can enjoy the massive patio overlooking the gardens and pool with blankets provided.
Or you can simply get a delicious pot of tea brought to your room and enjoy it with the window open and the stunning view of Sintra that surrounds you. Or at least that’s what I did.