It's hard to believe that a place like Sintra exists less than 30 kilometers from Portugal's capital, Lisbon. Sintra has long been a favorite with royals and romantics alike, and is well worth visiting if you're staying in Lisbon. Even better, get away from the hustle of bustle of Lisbon by staying in Sintra, so you can lap up its beauty and peace first hand.
Sintra is located on the craggy northern slops of the Serra de Sintra, and is surrounded by lush vegetation and stunning mountain top views. Poets and mystics have sung Sintra's praises for many centuries, and even Lord Byron overcame his general dislike of Portugal to praise Sintra's natural beauties. Sintra is within the bounds of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, so there are plenty of walks and day trips you can take in the general area.
If you like sunbathing or just strolling along the beach, then visit the sandy beaches of Costa da Caparica, a glorious 8 kilometer long stretch of coastline. Perhaps you prefer to challenge the surf, in which case you will prefer the local surfing spots at Praia do Guincho, Praia Grande and Ericeira. If you're lucky, you may even be able to spot some dolphins in the Sado Estuary.
For those with a more historical bent, Sintra's historic center is part of a Unesco World Heritage Site, and provides plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful old buildings and streets. Known as Sintra-Vila (old town), it's also closely linked to the Castelo dos Mouros. The battlements of this ruined castle, built by the Moors close to 1,000 years ago, you can get fabulous views of both Sintra and the surrounding area.
One building you definitely should visit is the Pena National Palace. This is an extraordinary mix of architectural styles, with turrets, battlements and embellishments enough to satisfy the most fervent enthusiast. The interior is just as incredible, having been left untouched when the royal family fled just before the revolution in 1910. There are fascinating treasures crammed into every room, with furniture, chandeliers, murals and wall decorations that have to be seen to be believed. You enter the Palace through the Parque da Pena, and it's easiest to buy a combined entry ticket. Make sure you allow plenty of time to enjoy the lakes and exotic plants in the park as well.
For the young at heart, take a look at the Museu do Brinquedo. This is a fascinating toy museum, with a collection that draws on toys from around the globe, both historic and modern. This collection was begun more than 50 years ago, and is a wonderful way to relive your childhood, as well as discover new joys.
There's a great deal more to be discovered in and around Sintra, so if you're planning to visit Portugal, make sure you book some time in this charming and relaxing town.