A stone’s throw from Lisbon, Sintra is a traditional Portuguese village built into the hills of the Serra de Sintra. Hiking is Sintra is extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.
Charging out of the deep green hill, like a tall yellow flame, is the Palacio Nacional da Pena, one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe, with a distinct Portuguese vibe thanks to its vibrantly painted façade.
In fact, Sintra is a real hub for castles, drawing together many styles and eras of Portuguese history.
It’s also a fantastic destination for an active hiking holiday, with a series of routes – of varying lengths – accommodating all experience levels and distances.
Short Route: Santa Maria
Time: 1 hour
This short, circular trail starts at the Palacio Nacional de Sintra and explores the old town, with a particular highlight being the Santa Maria Church.
You’ll enjoy a spectacular view of the town and hills from Miradouro da Ferraria, marvel at the medieval Fonte da Sabuga, and relax in the exotix Parque da Liberdade.
This walk makes for a perfect, easy-going morning, which can be stretched out to a couple of hours if you stop off at a few of the highlights rather than taking it as one solid hike.
Short Route: Quintas
Distance: 2.3 km
Time: 1-2 hours
If you want to see how the other half live, this is the hike for you. In this circular route, you’ll pass the most exquisite noble estates and manor houses in the historical heart of Sintra.
The Quinta da Regaleira will be a memorable highlight of this hike. It was built on the edge of Sintra in the first decade of the 20th Century, in the boom years before the First World War.
The architecture demonstrates a real creative spirit and you’ll love losing yourself to your fantasy daydreams in this magical environment, resplendent with mysterious nooks and crannies.
This hike is the thing of story books… and yet it’s real! One to excite the whole family.
Medium Route: Peninha
Distance: 5.9 km
Time: 3 hours
Out of the town, this rugged, rural hike takes you on a tour of the Sintra Mountain, which has served the local agricultural community for centuries.
Nature photographers will appreciate the spectacular views afforded by the mountain, and anyone needing to fill their lungs with brisk, fresh air will be entirely satiated following this wild hike.
It’s not just nature though – atop the mountain you’ll discover the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Peninha. This higgledy-piggledy mishmash of rocks has been so beaten by the wind over time, that it’s a real work of art, showcasing the creative and religious spirit of locals, and the brute force of the Atlantic Ocean winds.
The site is a popular pilgrimage spot thanks to the legend of a mute shepherdess to whom the Virgin Mary appeared in the 16th Century.
Medium Route: Castelo dos Mouros and Palacio Nacional da Pena
Distance: 4.5 km
Time: 2-3 hours
Another circular route, also starting at the Palacio Nacional de Sintra. This time we’re making a dedicated tour of the castles, for which Sintra is famous.
In particular, you’ll have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the ancient Moorish Castle and the elevated, yellow Palacio Nacional da Pena at the top of the hill.
This route is an extension of the Santa Maria route (above), so you’ll enjoy all the highlights of that shorter route, plus you’ll get to visit the Casa do Adro (where fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen lived back in 1866), a 14th Century convent (Convento da Santissima Trindade), and a 12th Century chapel (Capela de Sao Pedro de Penaferrim).
This route is brimming with history and fantastic sights – bring your camera and take your time. Great for a full afternoon of exploring, followed by a hearty dinner in the old town.
Long Route: Cabo da Roca
Distance: 13.2 km
Time: 5 hours
If you’re looking for a hike that makes mother nature the star of the show, then this is your perfect day trip. The route, which starts and ends at the Cabo da Roca, follows the cliffs along the Atlantic Coast.
Cabo da Roca is the westernmost point of continental Europe – go West and the next time you’ll reach land is America.
The route is relatively easy on the feet, and even passes through a couple of beaches (Praia da Adraga and Praia Grande) if you want to plan in a picnic stop on the beach as part of the day.
When taking on this hike you’ll be following in the footsteps of giants… quite literally. Dinosaurs! Yes, there are actual dinosaur footprint tracks on the cliff south of Praia Grande – this is natural history at its most inspiring.
Within the route you’ll visit the local villages of Almoçageme and Ulgueira, which offer a contrast to the grandeur of the Quintas mentioned earlier.
Long Route: Vinho de Colares
Distance: 15.5 km
Time: 6 hours
For the wine lovers, this will be an inspirational day of hiking. Portugal is well-known for its top-quality wine – especially when it comes to the Port, which lends the country its name.
The circular route, just outside of Sintra, explores the rural area around the Colares Regional Winery.
Within the trial you’ll dip in and out of deep pine forests, skirting the Atlantic Coast, and emerge in expansive (and blissfully flat) fields, reaching as far as the villages of Fontanelas and Gouveia.
Check out the street names in Gouveia – they’re all in verse! How creative!
This route also introduces you to the traditional peasant villages that lie on the outskirts of Sintra, which offers an interesting insight into the traditional structure of Portuguese society in the region.
By the way – for the wine afficionado – the grapes are of the Ramisco variety.
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