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Sintra. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal and it encompasses a huge swath of land including castles, palaces, gardens, hills, forests, beaches and royal estates. It also comes complete with its own micro climate. The area is huge and we know we’ll only be able to dent it, and because it’s so large that we won’t really be able to get around. With this in mind we make the collective decision to rent bikes. But we’ve got to get there first, it’s a 40 minute ride on the train.
There are two stations where you can catch the train to Sintra from: Rossio & Oriente. Rossio is the main station, closer to the center but we choose Oriente because it’s on the same metro line as our hostel. It will prove quicker for us. We’re up bright and early to make the most of our day, we’ve got pack lunches and lots of snacks to save money. Being careful with money when visiting Sintra is important because my god is it expensive and everything costs. You can spend hundreds of euros if you’re not careful.
The train costs €2.25 per person each way so around €10 return for two people. At least the train is reasonably priced. The journey is uneventful except for the glimpse of suburban life we witness, sprawling concrete and soulless copy-paste buildings. Not something we imagined we would see in Portugal.
Now it’s time to reveal our ridiculous secret plan. We are going to rent bikes. Not just any bikes though. Electric bikes. We are kind of ashamed and excited at the same time. Hear us out: Sintra is too big to explore by foot, the bus would require numerous fairs and inconvenient times. A normal bike is not going to cut it because, well, we have no mountain biking experience and there are some pretty tough inclines around the area. Pushing the bike for half the day would defeat the point. So there it is, you can clearly see we have no other option.
We walk the five minutes across what feels like a strange suburbia to Park E-Bike where we arrive exactly at the opening time to pick up our bikes, which we pre-booked. It takes another five minutes to go over the charging and battery change procedures and some other health and safety spiel.
We leap on our bikes and zoom off with big smiles on our faces. It turns out electric bikes are quite liberating. Our first stop is Pena palace. The ridiculously ram shack, Disney coloured, perched on a rock, princess castle. We’ve got to see it. Or maybe not. The weather’s not quite on our side, thick mist seems to obscure even the closest buildings. As we leave the main road and enter the national park and the countryside, everything changes.
The land is mountainous, nothing is flat. The vegetation is thick and lush, wet and green. The forests are dense and sprawl on, for kilometres. The roads become ever so tight and twist so much you have to slow down in order to not crash into oncoming traffic on blind bends. They’re also extremely steep and already within the first twenty minutes we’re decidedely content we made the right decision. We’d already be pushing normal bikes by now. The park oozes a sense of mystique. Fantasy, nature and religion are all at one here.
We ride maybe twenty minutes from the cute little village of Sintra to the Pena Palace gardens. Along the way there are numerous stops: fountains, palaces & castles but we put them on the back burner. At the gardens we lock our bikes and go rambling through the woods. We look on maps.me and pick random cool sounding locations, various look out points, ponds, little fort-like buildings and so on. We have a lot of fun. It’s nice to be in nature again: we’ve been exploring cities for the last week or so and had an absolute blast in Porto.
After reaching the lookout point and clambering onto the tallest rock we peer out to the magnificent view of… fog. Thick white fog. We can’t see anything at all. From here, on a nice day, there are said to be dazzling views of Pena Palace besieging the landscape. Not today. We drop back in to the woods and the fog lowers through the tree tops. The wind howls, shaking the trees and blowing the fog through the eerie forests. If we can’t get any nice shots of the landscapes and palaces and least we will have some cool ones of spooky forests. That’s fine by me.
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Next stop: palace. We meander through the forests to the main admission area of the Palace. So far we’ve met barely any other souls. That’s because they’re all here. It’s rammed, which is surprising since it is the middle of winter. It’s probably never quiet here. We purchase terrace tickets for €7.50 which allows us in the courtyards and viewing platforms around the palace. The full price to enter inside costs €14. We’ll skip the rich indulgence and instead admire the architecture and views. Except we won’t because, well, fog.
Next stop on the itinerary is the Atlantic coast. We are heading for a spectacular looking beach named Praia da Adraga. We find the most logical route on the map and pick a few stops along the way to explore. As soon as we exit the palace and zoom through the forest, we’re once again alone with our thoughts.
The few places we stop all seem to be closed, either due to renovation or out of season. Never mind, we head for the coast. It’s a long slog, in which we truly begin to appreciate the size of the national park. We zoom through numerous forests and hamlets, always descending to the coast. After what feels like an age we breach the cliffs and descend in to a narrow valley. The road snakes its way directly to the beach where a small car park and restaurant reside. There are but a few other people around. The wind is sharp and the clouds are stormy, so paddling is off the cards today.
My god is it beautiful though. Perfect soft golden sands, sharp rocks and extreme cliff faces. The crashing Atlantic ocean swallowing the beach whole with each wave. Then there is a magnificent natural arch carved from the rock which we try to run through and around before the waves catch us. We’ve still got our coats on and it reminds me of cold days on British beaches. We frolic around, tempting the waves, getting as close as we can when they withdraw and fleeing back inland as they crash at our ankles.
Time is advancing fast, and we barely saw anything yet, so we decide to leave and head for the next stop. Riding back out of the gorge is tough. The batteries on the bike are running low and this seems to make pedalling hard. Even harder than a normal bike because the electric bikes weigh a tonne. Well, what a laughable situation we are in. The battery reports it still has half its life, it doesn’t feel like it, and we’ve only ridden about 30 kilometres.
We struggle out of the gorge and swap the batteries which seems to help for a little while. We take a shortcut, which is not a shortcut. It’s a dirt road which turns in to a steep trail where we have to carry the bikes over rocks and other obstacles. After numerous arguments and uphill battles we emerge through someones back garden on to a kind of road where we are actually permitted to ride the bikes. You’re not allowed to take them off road. Oops.
By the time we get back to Sintra it’s getting late and we need to take the bikes back. We had hopes to visit some of the villas and palaces around Sintra. In particular the Initiation Well and the gothic mansion Quinta da Regaleira, but it’s too late, and to be honest, too expensive. If you’ve read this far make sure to prepare yourself better than we did and don’t follow our plans. You will do better to follow the advice over here.
We take our bikes back to rental shop and hop on the train. We’ve had a blast but we’re exhausted, back to our cheap crappy hostel in Lisbon!
We’ve got one more day in Lisbon where we will do a little more exploring and planning. With time running low, our adventures to the Algarve and the South of Spain must be perfectly calculated.
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You’re most likely going to be coming from Lisbon. If you need help getting to Lisbon, check our post about that.
The best option for getting to Sintra is by train.
There are two stations where you can catch the train from: Rossio & Oriente.
Rossio is the main station, closer to the centre but we chose Oriente because it was on the same metro line as our hostel. The train costs €2.25 per person each way so around €10 return for two people. You will most likely want to get off the train at the final destination: Sintra.
This list if by no means exhaustive. There is SO MUCH to do and see around Sintra. Check out Google Maps, click on random stuff and find your way. You will no doubt have an adventure, just like us.
You could rent e-bikes like we did. It was pretty fun, not gonna lie. Check out Park E-Bike.
Failing that, you’re left with the bus or a car. We wouldn’t really recommend driving your car around Sintra. The roads are too small and it’s a beautiful place that would be ruined with too many cars.
That leaves you with the bus.
You want bus number 434. It departs from Sintra train station and stops at a few popular places in the national park. You can find the timetable here on the bus operator website. It departs regularly during the summer, a few times an hour and less so during the winter.
You can get a hop-on, hop-off ticket for around €6.90, but it only allows one circuit.
There is another combined ticket which might be of use, which includes the train from Lisbon, the 434 bus, and another bus, the 435 which allows to visit the Palace of Monserrate. This ticket costs €15.80 and can be bought at any train station in Lisbon. This seems option seems to be the best value for money. Ask for the 1 day Sintra and Cascais ticket.
We didn’t stay in Sintra so we can’t really offer any advice here. Check on booking.com and Airbnb. There’s most likely lots of options. There are also some hostels right near the historical centre of Sintra.