A place believed by the Celts to hold mystical powers, Sintra is a town where forested hills are dotted with whimsical palaces and elegant manors surrounded by vibrant gardens. On this full-day tour, you’ll visit this fairy-tale landscape and some of its star attractions before heading along the coast to the fashionable resort of Cascais. With a private guide to fill you in on the history of the area and the architectural styles you’ll see, it’s a great way to get a deeper insight into this distinctive part of Portugal.
On the morning of your tour, your private guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel in Lisbon for the short journey to Sintra. The drive takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on your exact location and on traffic.
Arriving into this fairy-tale landscape, it’s easy to see why the Lisbon nobility have long made it their preferred retreat. The area has a cooler climate than the city, and the deep folds of the hills are blanketed in dense forest dripping with moss.
At the heart of this fantastical landscape is Sintra-Vila, a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its Romantic architecture and landscaping. You’ll see Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance influences all at play, with many buildings looking like they’ve been pulled from the pages of a book.
When you arrive, you’ll have the option to visit either the hilltop Palácio da Pena or the central Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Both palaces have much to offer, and your guide will explain more to help you decide how to spend your time on the day.
Of the two, the Palácio da Pena is the better known and commands sweeping views of the surrounding area. The Palácio Nacional de Sintra isn’t quite so dramatic, but its well-preserved interiors, collections of historic tiles and (normally) far less crowded hallways make for a particularly interesting tour.
Once you’ve had a chance to wander the palace of your choice, the next stop is one of Sintra’s highlights: the house and gardens of Quinta da Regaleira. Created by the hugely wealthy António Carvalho Monteiro with the help of Italian opera-set designer Luigi Manini, the property is an extravagant flight of fancy. Curving paths arc through thick greenery, while spiral staircases lead to hidden grottoes and chapels, all overlaid with mythological symbols and designed to give the feeling of stepping into a magical world.
After some time for lunch (not included) in Sintra, it will be time to relax as you drive toward the coastal town of Cascais. Once a small fishing village, the town is now a popular resort, and there will be some time to explore the black-and-white cobblestone streets filled with small boutiques and cafés.
Finally, you’ll return to your hotel in Lisbon along the Marginal, a road that runs parallel to the white-sand beaches and through Estoril, known for its casino, and past historical Belém.
Photos of Sintra and Cascais coastal drive
Experience it for yourself
You can enjoy this activity as part of the suggested tours below, or we can weave it into a trip shaped entirely around you.