Planning a Portugal vacation, and trying to come up with an itinerary? Most Portugal holidays include one or more of Lisbon, The Algarve, Oport, Madeira and the The Azores. However, an increasingly popular tourist destination is the breathtaking tower of Sintra. Located in the Grande Lisboa subregion, Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon, and vacationers are flocking in ever-increasing numbers to behold its wonders.

The entire town of Sintra has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its historic 19th century Romantic architecture. Besides the beauty of the township itself there are several attractions for tourists to enjoy. Here are some of the best things to do in Sintra:

Visit Pena Palace

Pena Palace or Palacio National de Pena is a 19th century castle, and the oldest palace in Europe inspired by European Romanticism. Sitting high upon a hill overlooking Sintra, Pena Palace can be clearly viewed all the way from Lisbon. It is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, and is still used today for some state functions by the President of the Portuguese Republic.

Once a 15th century monastery, the site of the palace is steeped in history. In the mid 1800s King Ferdinand commissioned a German architect to build a palace on the site of the monastic ruins to serve as a summer retreat for his royal family.

Those hardy souls willing to make the steep ascent up the castle’s steps will enjoy a beautiful view overlooking Pena Park and will get a true appreciation for the incredible architecture of the structure, including the clock tower, the Arches Yard, and the cylindrical bastion of the palatial zone.

Take a stroll through Pena Park

Want to get out of the hustle and bustle and just relax with nothing but trees and birds for company? Before or after your visit to Pena Palace make sure to wander through Pena Park. Situated at the base of the palace the park features more than 200 hectares of varied terrain. Those with a love of dendrology will enjoy a wide variety of trees from a multitude of regions including Japanese Cryptomeria, Western Redcedar, Chinese Ginko, and North American Sequoia. For the more energetic in the crowd the park offers a steep ascent to Cruz Alta, which at more than 500 meters of elevation is the highest point in the park.

Tour the Museu do Brinquedo

If you’ve been traveling in Europe for awhile you may think you are “all museum’d out”. However, this particular museum is so much different from your average collection of dusty relics that it merits a visit, particularly if you are traveling with kids. It features a collection of toys collected by John Arbues Moreira gathered over more than 60 years of his life. Over that span he collected more than 40,000 toys, the largest collection of its kind in the world. A guided tour of the Toy Museum of Sintra is truly a marvel, and you should definitely endeavor to squeeze it into your itinerary if you are looking for something a little different.

Spend a day at Adraga Beach

Though certainly not the easiest beach on the planet to access, the reward waiting for you at the end is definitely worth the somewhat arduous journey to reach this gem of Portugal. With crystal blue waters, and astounding rock formations the view from the beach alone is worth the time spent getting there. However, Praia da Adraga also offers more than just a visual feast. Adventure tourists can fish, surf or bodyboard to add some spice to their vacation. For the really brave the cliffs above Adraga offer fantastic paragliding, with several excellent jumping ramps to take off from.

Visit Castelo dos Mouros

The Castle of the Moors is my final recommendation and one that absolutely cannot be overlooked when planning an itinerary of things to do in Sintra. Located on a high hill overlooking Sintra, the site provides magnificent views of the town, and the surrounding region. The original castle is ancient, having been constructed some time in the 9th or 10th century by the Moors. The castle suffered assaults multiple times during the 12th century, including a particularly violent siege from Norwegian crusaders who are have said to have killed every last defender when the Moors refused to be christened.

The castle was partially restored in the 19th century by order of King Ferdinand II, who had the towers and walls reconstructed. The views from the towers are absolutely stunning, and visitors standing on those ancient stones will feel they’ve been transported backwards in time.

These are the best tourist attractions in Sintra, Portugal in my humble opinion, but this is far from a comprehensive list of sights to see and activities to partake in when visiting this town. Take the time to meet the locals, and immerse yourself in its culture for a true picture of what life in Sintra is like. Be sure to allot yourself plenty of time to get a flavor of the region. Yes, Sintra can be done in a day trip from Lisbon, but you will be doing yourself a disservice if you flee its boundaries so quickly.

Featured image by endless autumn