Sintra is magical. The beautiful mountains and ocean, the well-preserved old town, and the numerous castles and forts make it one of the most unique and interesting places to visit in Europe. Sintra can be reached as a day trip from Lisbon, but you could easily spend two or more days in this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city.
I hopped on a train in the late morning, and less than an hour later I arrived at Sintra’s train station. From there, it was an easy walk down a small hill to the old town where the Sintra National Palace and a variety of shops and restaurants were located. The real gems of Sintra are the beautiful palaces and forts that line the hills around the city. Most notable are the Pena National Palace and the Castle of the Moors.
Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a beautiful and vibrant coastal city, complemented by its rich history and culture. I noticed a similar vibe in Lisbon as I had felt in some of the Spanish cities I visited on my trip, which is to say it is very relaxed. And to top it all off, Portugal is somehow even more inexpensive than Spain.
My visit to Lisbon started at 4:00 AM following an eight-hour overnight bus ride. I knew the bus was stopping at a transit center, so I figured there would be buses or taxis or some other means of transportation to get where I was going (where was I going that early?), but I was wrong. Dead wrong. The transportation center was completely empty, and it was cold — way colder than I felt it should have been in Portugal. I found the entrance to the metro, but it didn’t open until much later either. So I waited. Actually, almost everyone from the bus waited. We walked around the station aimlessly, examining the architecture and wondering why the cafés weren’t open to receive our business. I’m convinced that Lisbon’s transit center would be the perfect setting for a fight scene in a James Bond movie — complete with concrete catwalks, lots of funky shaped objects to use as cover from gunfire, and security guards patrolling the area following predictable routes. After walking the catwalks for a while, I eventually found a bench and dozed off. Around six o’clock, the station employees arrived and opened the waiting area. All of the stragglers descended on the waiting area and laid out on the benches, napping until around eight when the transportation officially started. Such a long wait, but it was worth it for Lisbon.
Ceramic tiles, called Azulejos, are a key feature of Lisbon’s architecture. A walk down any street will reveal colorful and detailed tilework on buildings, both inside and out. This beautiful tile work isn’t just on important palaces and churches either; it can be found on many regular houses, shops and public buildings. Much of the tiling consists of bright colors and elaborate shapes, but some of the tiling also depicts stories and scenes from Portuguese history.