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  • Writer's pictureWill

Visiting the palaces and castles of Sintra- a strategy

Located just to the West of Lisbon the hill town of Sintra was once the Summer refuge for the Royal Family escaping the oppressive heat in the capital.

So for 2-3 months a year the entire court would move into various palaces and exotic quintas (country houses).

Even though the Royal Family and their courtiers are long gone their Palaces and houses remain to be enjoyed by countless visitors every year, and this is where your problems start.

The enigmatic Quinta da Regaleira

There are 6 main sites to see and we will go over those separately but this post will deal with surviving the tourist masses. In 2017 there were 3.2 million visitors to Sintra, that is a lot and can leave you struggling to move sometimes.

Where to Park?

This is the eternal question, assuming you want to see all that Sintra has to offer you will realistically need a full day. If you want to get an early start, and yes you do, overnight parking is available in the Portela Station carpark.

There is a special campervan rate for the station park or free parking over the other side of the road on the dirt car park, this is used by commuters so will be busy in the mornings.

All other parking in Sintra is paid by the hour and generally not available, the traffic jams are legendary and especially in a VW bus it is to be avoided at all costs.

If parking overnight in a station car park does not appeal there are some great places a few miles out of town towards the coast, Praia Grande has a large new car park that welcomes vans overlooking the beach but there are spots up and down the coast. If you park out of town you can either park in the station car park or ride the bus to Sintra, any time after 9am do not be tempted to park in town.

An alternative strategy involves arriving early on the N375 from Colares passing Monserrate and parking beneath Pena Palace, this involves more walking but is a rewarding day out. There is a one way system that does not allow vehicles to travel into Sintra but you can get close enough and if you are prepared to hike this can be a great way.

Monserrate palace and gardens
Monserrate Palace and gardens

What time to go

Assuming that it is in the Summer months the earlier the better is the mantra, certainly getting the Pena Palace done as early as possible is best, take the bus from the town station or if there are more than a couple of you hire a tuk tuk, always agree a price before setting off (don't pay more than 10-15 Euros depending on how busy they are) .

The Palace is unmissable and sits right on the top of the hill, it is a long walk or short bus ride.

From there meander to the Castelo dos Mouros and then wind your way downhill to the Quinta da Regaleira and finally the Nacional Palácio in town.

Pena Palace in Winter, the perfect time to visit

If you got there early, 10am or so, you should be gently winding your way back to town as the hordes of cruise ship sheep are fighting their way up the hill.

The easy answer as ever of course is to visit either in the spring or even better in Autumn, when the days are warm and the crowds few.

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