Palace of Pena on the Hill

They say the best way to get to know Portugal is by car. When pressed for time, day-tripping from Lisbon is a practical alternative to road tripping. There are districts outside of the city, such as Sintra, which make you feel as if you’ve been transported to a different world altogether. Sintra is home to a fairytale palace that sits on a hill above the pine trees. Rumor has it that even the drive through the winding canyons and dense forests is enchanting. On my most recent trip to Portugal, a friend and I decided to experience this “storyland” for ourselves. 

After a 30-minute drive from Lisbon, we arrived at our hotel and walked around the town’s main square. The cobblestone streets added genuine charm to this fantasy realm that we practically stumbled into. While admiring the picturesque buildings, we visited Casa Piriquita to try one of the region’s famous desserts: travesseiros. The warm egg cream and almond pastry was a welcomed snack on a brisk morning. Knowing that we had a long day ahead of us, we bought a box of travesseiros for the road. 

We began our hike up the monstrous hill, where the colorful Palace of Pena proudly overlooked the valley below. The striking pink, yellow, purple, and blue facades were stunning in person, and the intricate Moorish architecture and handmade tiling were captivating. Our afternoon was spent touring the royal grounds, meandering along trails, and getting wonderfully lost among the pines. We even stopped to say “hello” to the Brabant horses at the stables. I couldn’t help but feel like Belle from Beauty and the Beast

Castle of the Moors

Through the woods of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and surrounding mountains, we caught a glimpse of the Castle of the Moors. Our curiosity got the best of us, so we made our way down one steep hill and up another equally steep hill. The imposing fortress walls were an amazing architectural feat. Despite my fear of heights, I was compelled to climb to the castle’s turret. I scaled the rickety stone stairs and leaned against a cannon to regain my strength. Though exhausted, I was rewarded with a panoramic view of farmland and rugged coastline. 

View from the Castle of the Moors

Sintra is truly awe-inspiring to behold. If your time in Portugal is limited, spend at least a day exploring the township. Who wouldn’t be enchanted by a palace that was built in the 19th century and a castle built in the 8th century? The combination of historic structures and beautiful scenery make Sintra the ultimate destination. There is no question as to why it is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Add Sintra to your day-tripping list!