A DAY IN WONDERLAND
We spent the 2nd full day of our end-of-summer vacation making a day trip out to Sintra, a sleepy picturesque Portuguese town located about 1 hour away (by train) from the bustling capital of Lisbon. Aside from being set on a hill in Sintra Mountains (Serra de Sintra), it also just happens to house one of the most unique and beautiful palaces we ever visited - Palacio Nacional de Pena. Pena Palace exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture, and it truly is breathtaking from almost every angle.
Trust us when we say that Cinderella's Castle in Disney World has nothing on this grand and exquisitely detailed home that was fit for Kings and Queens. The most distinctive feature of Pena Palace is definitely the painted walls of yellow, light grey-purple and burnt red that distinguishes this castle as straight out of any five year old's dream coloring book. Despite being a crowded tourist trap, we had so much fun wandering through the ins and outs of the Palace from running up and down crackled staircases to peeking out nearly every turret that we could gain access to. The inside of the palace was restored to reflect the decor in 1910, so guests can tour the interior and get a glimpse into the lives of those who lived in the palace before it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Surrounding the palace grounds is a vast 494-acre park (200 hectares) that spreads over uneven terrain. We had little time to explore it, but definitely recommend leaving a few hours in your day to walk around and visit.
-Plan your visit according to the weather! The day we visited was extremely foggy with mist and drizzles throughout most of the morning and early afternoon. We ended up leaving the castle and coming back later in the afternoon when the sun finally came out and we could see the castle again and views of the park.
-Bring sensible shoes! Although it looks like we may have trekked the castle grounds in 5-inch heels and jewel encrusted flats, we absolutely brought walking shoes with us.
-Get there early in the morning or later in the evening (2-3 hours before closing time) to avoid the crowds. As one of the most famous landmarks in Portugal, you better believe that everyone and their mothers will be visiting anytime during the week. Check out opening and closing times on the Parques de Sintra Website.
HOW TO GET TO SINTRA FROM LISBON
Sintra is approximate a 1 hour train ride away from Lisbon, and the Sintra train station can be accessed via many different terminals within Lisbon. Be sure to check train times according to which Lisbon Station is most convenient for you, though we found that the trains do run pretty frequently so you should not have too many issues with timing. Our round trip Lisbon-Sintra train tickets and 1 day bus pass cost 15 Euros and can be purchased at any train station.
After you arrive in Sintra Station, the easiest option to get to the park is to take the local 434 bus, which will be a 5 minute walk to the right once you step out of the train gates. There will most likely be people standing right outside offering you private tours and selling different options to visit the castle and other palaces if you decide to choose a package. We decided to take the circulator 434 bus that stops by the major sites (Dos Moros, Sintra Palace, Palace de Regalos, and finally, Pena Palace). The bus comes about every 15 minutes and even though we arrived relatively early, the line was pretty deep. The ride on the bus took about 20 minutes, and takes you right to the front of the entrance of Pena Palace. Keep in mind that there is an option to just walk to each site, but it will take much longer and is pretty steep according to our research and what we hear from friends who have chosen this option before. There are different entry prices to enter Pena Palace and admission depending on what you want to see, but the ticket to the castle will also include a ticket to visit Pena Park, which is the vast surrounding grounds of the palace (14 Euros for adults). A 3 Euro shuttle bus from the base of Pena to the front of the castle is not included in the price and must be purchased separately. The line for this shuttle goes fairly quickly and the ride is only about 5 minutes (although it is very steep if you do decide to walk it).
Jess: There really is nothing more we love than wearing long, dramatic dresses in scenic places (Take Provence and Nara Park, example), and this trip really was no exception. Although Mel decided on a romper this time around, I stuck with a maxi dress that truly made me feel like a princess in one of the most beautiful castles I have ever visited. This strapless, navy number is from Bloomingdale’s, and I picked it up during the Friends & Family sale just a couple weeks back. I really love the fit of the dress on my 5’3 frame (even without heels!), and I couldn’t pass it up because I was so drawn to the gorgeous lace panel detailing toward the bottom of the dress. Although it was slightly chilly that day we visited Pena, I was happy to get my last chance to wear a floral maxi this year! I keep accessories minimal, and paired the look with some classic pointed toe heels. Don’t be fool though, it is nearly impossible to scale the castle steps in 5-inchers, so I did also have a pair of walking shoes with me for the strenuous walks!
Mel: Though we went to Portugal in mid-October, the temperatures were still pretty warm and resembled much of the late summer months, so to take advantage of the end of summer sales, I filled the the majority of my suitcase with floral dresses and light rompers. Since Jess and I were spending our 2nd day in Portugal at a palace that looks painted straight from a Disney fairy tale, I wanted to wear something that didn't compete with the beautiful dusty colors of this hill top castle. Instead of sporting one of the many floral dresses I had stuffed in my luggage, I opted for a simple white lace romper as it reminds me of modern day princess attire and was comfortable enough for me to wear while exploring every nook and cranny of Pena Palace. The delicate lace of the romper and the elegant sleeves brought some femininity into the look which contrasted flawlessly with the stunning multi-colored background. Since I kept my romper understated, I threw on my boldest shoes which were a pair of navy blue embellished flats I picked up last year at J-crew's sample sale and topped everything off with my trusty old boater hat that I carried with me all around Japan this past May.