When was the last time you heard a fairy tale?
My parents used to tell me and my siblings stories. Some were about ghosts or trolls. Others were about dragons, knights and wizards. I was always so wrapped up in them as a kid.
It was disappointing to know they had an ending. I wanted them to go on and on, and I wanted it to be real. Now, as a grown traveler, I’ve found that these places are real.
If you’re after a fairy tale-like trip, make a stop in Sintra, Portugal.
Being only 40 minutes away from Lisbon by train, Sintra is accessible to travelers, which, if you took a trip like I did, makes it nice to go back and forth between cities.
Getting there is the easy part. It’s deciding what to do once you’re there that’s difficult.
Sintra is built at the base of the mountains, featuring brightly colored palaces and buildings that stand out against the densely forested area. Looking up at the peak of the mountain sits a castle that’s thousands of years old.
This is what you see upon arrival, so you haven’t even scratched the surface.
Here’s what you must see in Sintra:
The Moorish Castle
The Moorish Castle sits atop the Sintra Mountains, noticeable right when you step off the train.
Built in the 10th century, the castle features high towers stone walls and towers, with narrow passages where knights and guards could overlook the town far below.
You can walk around the grounds to take in the entangled, forested landscape that exposes large gray rock, upon which the castle is built. Excavations and exhibits are open for visitors to take a closer look at the tools and artifacts from the hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
Within the castle walls, you can enjoy a packed lunch in the cafe area, before taking in more of the ancient architecture that’s being taken over by the forest.
And then, grab a tuk tuk and zip off to the next destination:
Quinta da Regaleira
This 20th century, gothic-styled summer home is surrounded by tangled gardens and surreal natural wonders that tie into myths and legends around the world.
The grounds made the visit for me. You can spend hours wandering around, hiking up and down the hillside, exploring caves and peering at waterfalls.
Myths and Legends Museum
After walking the wild gardens of Quinta da Regaleira, we stopped at the Myth and Legends museum, which features interactive exhibits that tell old tales long known to the area.
Visiting this museum really tied our visit to Sintra together. We spent a great deal of time walking the grounds, visiting palaces and hiking in the forest, and this museum tells about what these local features translate to in the city’s story and history.
If I were to do it over, though, I’d visit this place first. You’d have a better understanding going into some places.
The Palace of Pena
You might have to pinch yourself when you get here. Yes, it’s real.
This brightly colored palace houses some of the most intricate work in Sintra, with Moorish and Manueline architectural influences. (It’s a must-see — hands down.) It’s as extraordinary on the outside as it is on the inside, containing countless works of art and historical exhibits. Don’t leave until you’ve seen the gardens, either.