Today we rent a car to explore the surroundings of Lisbon. We are accompanied by my sister and her boyfriend, who have come to visit us and Lisbon for the first time.
Part 1: Travel Diary
Car rental at Europcar
Just next to our house (we are next to a TER train station: Santa Apolonia), there is a Europcaroffice ( official website) so we decide to rent a car from them. The fiat 500 costs 17€/24h and the Citroen C4 25€/24h. As we are 4, we opt for the Citroen C4, before discovering that they “upgraded” us and gave us a huge Jeep not super handy 🙁
Tour of Bélem
Since it is on the way, we stop at the Tower of Bélem, which was used to control access to the port of Lisbon. This tower isn’t very big but it is magnificent, and the view on the bridge of April 25th on the left is splendid.
Small anecdote: with our big car, we have a little difficulty to park well. We quickly spot a guy who shows the empty (non-paying) parking places and who helps us to park (more on the left, more on the right). The guy has created a job for himself, by asking us at the end to give him a tip at our convenience. If you’re good at the job and don’t need help, find another place where this guy isn’t present 🙂
We choose not to visit the interior because the returns aren’t great (6,5€/person for not much). Go there early in the morning (before the opening at 10am), it’s more pleasant.
This is where the galleys begin. Sintra is only 32 minutes by car from Lisbon (and 53 minutes by public transport) but this pretty little town isn’t suitable for cars. The streets are narrow and the parking lots near the attractions are very small and there are lots of one-way streets.
After we went to the Regaleira Palace and had a hard time finding a parking space nearby, we realized that :
- we couldn’t turn back because it’s a one-way road (except for authorized vehicles such as ambulances, police, buses)
- to come back to find a parking lot nearby, we had to make a 25-minute loop again
- the parking spaces are tiny and with a big car like ours, which we don’t control well, it’s a nightmare
I don’t know if this parking problem is linked to the fact that we visit the place on a Saturday or not…
So, after doing this 25-minute loop in the bad mood, we also took the wrong road and were forced to take a road reserved for police cars (otherwise we had to do a 25-minute loop again), we decided to park downtown and walk to the palace. Note: parking in the city center isn’t free but it’s not expensive (1 cent per minute).
The tourist attractions of the city are far away from each other, and with all those hills and narrow streets, I think the easiest option, if you only visit Sintra, would have been to come by train (go to cp. pt to check the schedules), and opt for public buses hop on hop off (15€/24h). I’ll talk about itin details in the “Practical tips” section at the bottom of the article.
The bad mood leaves very quickly when you start the visit of this magnificent palace, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This palace isn’t part of the program for day trips to Sintra – from Lisbon, so there are fewer tourists here.
The entrance is at the very top of the hill (8€/person), where you first visit (follow the arrows) the initiatory well, with 9 stairs, evoking Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as, for some, the Order of the Temple, the Rosicrucians or Freemasonry.
We have seen the picture of this well (that’s why we are here) and the well is exactly as on the pictures. It’s beautiful, romantic as you can imagine, and on top of that, you can go all the way down!
There is a footbridge leading to another well, not finished this time.
We follow the given plan to visit all the other constructions, the caves, the garden?
…. to finish at the castle, whose interior (very beautiful) does not seduce us as much as the garden.
I think it took us at least 2 hours to explore the place.
There are still other castles and palaces to explore in the area (including the famous Pena Palace, all yellow), but the stressful driving this morning makes us no longer want to struggle to find a parking lot, or to find out if this or that street is one-way.
Sintra is high up, so it was here that the Portuguese aristocracy chose to build their summer palace, resulting in a concentration of fairy-tale castles that are all more beautiful than each other.
We then have lunch downtown at Byron Bar. It isn’t high gastronomy, but it is better than the average quality of downtown restaurants. Be careful, as everywhere in Portugal, the bread, the olives served at the beginning of the meal (which they call “couvert”), are paying and their price isn’t always indicated on the menu. So if in doubt, ask for the price and refuse if you really don’t want it.
Azenhas do Mar
We park at the parking lot (free). There aren’t many places, but there aren’t many people so we could park right next to the cliffs.
We approach the barrier to look at the ocean. I discover with surprise a cliff of about twenty meters, which makes me directly dizzy. The waves are super high, and hit relentlessly the rocks from below. A fisherman is fishing from the top of the cliff and we saw him catch a very small drink.
We go down the steps and this magnificent landscape is offered to us. The village is at the top of the cliffs and we can go down to see a swimming pool filled with sea water. In summer, it must be super great to swim here, to enjoy the waves while being safe (I think there is even sand at the bottom of the pool). There is a restaurant in front of the pool if you prefer to have lunch here.
Cabo da Roca
We leave in the direction of the lighthouse of Cabo da Roca. It is the westernmost point of the European continent. There is a lot of wind, tourist buses, tourists … The place looks good on the pictures, but isn’t very interesting.
Boca do Inferno
We finish our trip by Boca do Inferno, where the waves dig a natural arch and a cave in the cliffs. It’s a pity that there are too many clouds, it could have been the perfect spot to see the sunset.
Very tired by this day, we dine at our favorite restaurant, just a few steps from the house: As ladras (attention restaurant closed on Sundays & Mondays). Nothing beats a good meal after a long day of visiting.
Part 2: Practical Tips
If you want to do the same route as we do
We recommend that you rent a small car (the fiat 500 would have been perfect for the alleys). Park in downtown Sintra (type Parkeren Sintra 1 on Google Maps and try to park nearby) and explore the rest of the Regaleira Palace on foot (12 minutes). You can then take the bus to Pena Palace if you have time.
- Car rental: 25€ and 20€ insurance with Europcar
- Gasoline : 15€
- Entrance to the Regaleira Palace: 8€/person
- Entrance to Pena Palace: 14€/person (we did not visit it this time)
- Lunch: 15€/person, drink included
- Parking: 1 cent per minute, we paid 2€ to be sure
- Dinner: 14€/person, drinks included
Total : 66,5€/person (if you are 4 people, lunch and dinner included
)or 82€/person (if you are 2, lunch and dinner included)
If you don’t have a car, you can do almost the same as we do by opting for a tour. This will allow you not to have to struggle with transportation, parking etc. You will visit the Pena Palace in addition. But you will not see the village Azerhas do Mar (the fishing village). The excursion should cost you about 50€/person *meal not included*
If you only visit Sintra
I advise you to use public transportation instead.
- To get to the Sintra station (Sintra Estaçao): use Google Maps
- Once there, buy a ticket (15€/24h) to take the unlimited tourist buses 434 and 435 to go to the different points of interest in the city
- Some buses go as far as Cabo da Boca (very far) so look at the timetables to make sure you can come back in time (or go to Cascais Terminal, where you can take a train)
I put the circuits here. Basically, there’s one every 20 minutes.