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The Palaces of Sintra

I am an absolute sucker for castles.  When my husband and I got married a lifetime ago, we did the obligatory Europe on $5 to $10 a day trip, using the money we got as wedding gifts.  We spent the first two weeks traveling up and down England and Scotland visiting a “castle a day.”  Loved it.

So you can imagine my excitement when I started researching Sintra, a town not far from Lisbon, and discovered this is where the royals and wealthy built their summer homes—Palaces—and many of them were open for touring.  Oh what fun.

We saw six in a two-day period.  Before you gasp and gag, know that one was the one we were staying in—the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais …once a palace. I described it in another post on Sintra.

Castelo dos Mouros

We also visited the ruins of an 8th century Moorish castle where we meandered through a deep moss covered forest, reminding us both of Ireland.  We then climbed the remaining and restored castle wall.   The Moors built a fortress high on a hill where they could see the land around them and the Atlantic beyond.  Stunning view and quite safe from invaders I imagine.


Here are some highlights of the other four palaces we visited.

Palacio Nacional

The royal palace in the center of town– Palacio Nacional—is high on the must see list.  It spans more than eight centuries making it Portugal’s oldest palace. Over time it has been added on to and changed, each royal making his mark. Most of it is beautiful with wonderful use of tiles.

I personally liked the swan room, largest space in the Palace, used today for receptions. It was built for the birthday of a 27 year old princess who was particularly fond of swans.


I also liked the boat room—making reference to the Portugues penchant for exploring.  Jack marveled at the huge ballroom like space with its walls covered with blue and white ceramic murals. His comment, “It’s like being swallowed in a soup bowl.”

About a mile away sits the Palacio Regaleria which couldn’t have been more different. The exterior so gooped up that they couldn’t’ add anything…. Oh my…talk about excess… gargoyles, mythological grottos, turrets and towers and décor on top of décor.

Looks like a perfect setting for a horror movie. Might we call it Ghastly Gothic? The interior was dark and gloomy, not all restored.  Interesting were original drawings of much of the ornamentation.  Kept a lot of craftsmen employed for a long time.

One of the guidebooks says, “It teeters on the brink of kitsch.”  I’d say it isn’t teetering… has fallen into an abyss.  Eccentric Excess but really fun to see. Shows that being wealthy doesn’t guarantee having good taste.

If you are a garden lover, plan extra time here.  From grottos to lakes to lots of look out points, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Palacio de Pena

The Palace in Sintra everyone talks about is the Palacio da Pena.  It’s a Wow Moment high, high, high on the top of a mountain.A blogger  dubbed it “Crazy Gothic” inventing a new architectural style featuring daffodil yellow and strawberry pink turreted wedding cake of a palace. One might say wedding cake gone amok. It’s complete with a Triton arch, which depicts a fierce sea monster.

The word “eclectic” is kind.  It’s a jumble of styles….. dreamed up after having had too many glasses of wine.  Disney land before Walt was born.  It has everything:  battlements, towers, park and garden.  Even a drawbridge.

We weren’t allowed to photograph the interiors which were  just as family left them.  I’d call it a mishmash.  I enjoyed the tour but kept wondering, “What possessed people to keep adding so many different styles?”

The interior was dark.  Victorian at its worst.  The brightest and most inviting space was the kitchen, with an attractive collection of copper pots.  And the views from the terraces were lovely.

Palacio de Monserrate

The last Palace we popped to see was the Palacio de Monserrate.  It’s my personal fav. It is in the middle of being restored. The interior features plaster molded low relief, all over. They were light and lacy and will be stunning when the restoration is complete.

Originally commissioned by an English family to be a Fantasy Orientalist Extravaganza.  At the time it took 2,000 people to build the palace and another 50 to plant the trees. When the restoration is complete it should be quite lovely.  At one end, a charming space is already set up with a grand piano for concerts.  How fun it would be to attend one.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Jul 1, 2011 Reply

    I know I have to go to Portugal!  Love these unusual castles!  Thanks for sharing.

  2. posted by
    Sintra – a fairytale in the heart of Portugal | Traveleurope Blog | Travel tips, advices and useful info
    Oct 21, 2011 Reply

    […] town hosts many curious and extraordinary palaces, including the three national palaces, Paço Real, in the historical centre, of which its central […]

  3. posted by
    Oct 21, 2011 Reply

    great post, thank you for the inspiration 😉
    you made me appreciate this town even more, if possible.
    I loved it just like you.
    keep up the good work

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