The Pena Palace

On one of Husband’s working days in Lisbon, I decided Son and I would treat ourselves and take a guided tour to Sintra and Cascais. Good reviews online steered me towards Viator, not cheap by any means, the price for the two of us was £100 but they promised a small tour and seemed to be going to fit quite a lot into the day – that swung it for me in the end.

We walked to the Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon where we were collected promptly at 9am and along with six other couples made our way to a small mini-van with our lovely guide Maria. She explained how the day would proceed and pointed out places of interest as we left the city.

Our first main stop was the Pena Palace in Sintra. This is about 20 miles north west of Lisbon so not a long journey at all but we did make a quick stop en-route at Queluz. This is a lovely pink faded palace which apparently they say is the Versailles of Portugal. Not quite sure about that but pretty nonetheless.

We carried on to Sintra, noted for its slightly cooler climate which once attracted the nobility and elite of Portugal who built exquisite palaces, extravagant residents and decorative gardens here. The closer we got, the worse the weather became. Lisbon was bright, sunny and very pleasant but gloomy, misty and rather wet were the keywords for Sintra. I totally see how appealing in summer it would be to escape the heat and intense temperatures of the city, not so much though in early spring, Son and I huddled together and braced ourselves for the weather.

We drove past the little town, up an extremely steep and winding hilly road which twisted and turned until we reached the top. We parked in Pena Park, a lovely place with a diverse collection of plants and trees and what looked like some beautiful trails – I got all of this from a notice board. It would have been nice to walk, explore and see the park properly but we had to stick with our tour guide and this was not on the agenda. To be honest I wasn’t too disappointed, it was super chilly and very damp with plenty of mist and fog, I didn’t feel we were missing out too much. A warmer day I would have most definitely felt differently.

We had the option of taking a little tourist train up the very steep hill to the palace – Son’s preferred option and he did lobby heavily for this – or a hike with our guide. All the other couples went with the hike option including one elderly couple, I over-ruled Son and we did the walk. Short, sharp and out of puff it was a good way to get up there quickly.

The Pena Palace is stunning, dominated by two huge towers and standing right on top of a hill. It is like something from a fairytale.

There are drawbridges, turrets, ramparts, battlements, domes, gargoyles and an array of pastel colours – Son and I were wowed.

Our guide strolled around with us telling us about the architecture, pointing out things of note and explaining a little of the history of the place.

We then had free time to explore and do as we pleased. Son and I took the wall walk around the edge, despite the mist there were some good views of the old castle in the distance.

We also explored the interior – it is late Victorian and Edwardian – but was just way too crowded. We were in a line of people who moved slowly from room to room.  A member of the Royal family lived here but left suddenly just before the Revolution. She took nothing and asked for nothing from the palace. It is so out of the way it was never looted so all remains as it was on the day she left. I rather like that story.

We wandered through the various rooms, checked out the gift shop and then hung around waiting for our guide to escort us back to our van.

68 thoughts on “The Pena Palace

  1. That’s incredible to think it was just abandoned, and found exactly as it was left all those years later. The Pena Palace looks stunning – all those colours on the outside, and those intricate carvings and tiles on the inside!

    • It is so unusual and very different from any other castle/palace I’ve visited. I loved the story about how it was left as well. Just a shame about the weather – I’ve seen pictures taken on a bright day and it looks really incredible.

      • The architecture alone sets it apart – certainly a spot to keep in mind (though I dread to think what the crowds are like in the height of summer). I guess unfortunately that’s the one thing you can never control!

  2. Joy, Pena Palace is fascinating. I love its architecture and the back story that everything was left the same. It seems you had a great day with Son in spite of the miserable weather!

    • We did Pam, we are used to the rain living in England but I was hoping for a bit of sunshine here!! Still, we had a great time exploring and it is a fascinating and unusual place to see.

    • I would definitely go independently – always our preference really, it was just my husband was working that day and I thought it was easier for my son and me to do it this way. If we did it again we would hire a car and explore at our leisure – I don’t really like to be stuck to a timetable!

  3. It was damp and misty the day we went to Sintra and as we clambered up the steep hill we saw very little. Lisbon weather seems very changeable – sun one minute and dark clouds the next. Nice to read about your day. Have a good weekend.

    • That was exactly our experience, I had seen so many pictures of the castle and Sintra in gorgeous sunshine and hoped it would be like that on our visit – it wasn’t! Still we did enjoy it here very much. Hope the sun comes out again this weekend – had enough of the rain now – and yours is a lovely one too.

  4. What an amazing place. The architecture is pretty weird but somehow it works as some sort of fancy confection. I really like the idea of the palace being preserved in that moment of time.

    • Me too Laura – whether it is really true or not I don’t know but I like the story. The building is incredible, wacky and definitely different but like you say somehow it works!

  5. So interesting to continue to compare our experiences! We were practically alone in some of the rooms while exploring Pena. Maybe it’s because we took the train over at 9am? Thanks for sharing the lovely photos!

  6. You do know that Viatour is just a reseller, right?

    No need for a car unless you want one. I visited Sintra by public transport – train from Rossio station and bus up the hill. Went on to Estoril by bus and Cascais by train and took the train back to Lisbon. It was not crowded when I was there (also a damp and misty day….) but that was in 2006.

    I’m not sure the story you heard about the Palace is correct. See:

    • It was very busy but we did enjoy the visit – the only problem was the weather, Lisbon was warm and sunny and Sintra was freezing!! It is definitely a great day out though – next time!!

  7. Such a lovely place!! Amazing how different it looks on a misty day. We skipped most of the inside as my boys found the line too slow, but loved wandering the grounds and the wall walk!

  8. Wow-Went almost 20 years ago. Vaguely remembered it, but the pics sure brought it back for me! Thanks! I don’t remember crowds, actually – and did go hiking on the trails – what an amazing place.

  9. Ah!!! I LITERALLY just got back from Portugal a couple of days ago, and my itinerary included Sintra too! Except we basically hiked up a mountain to get to Pena Palace – it was gorgeous though! Something out of a fairy tale!

  10. What a wonderful tour Joy – the Pena Palace looks amazing though I’m also partial to the pink “Versailles” palace too (as I love pink!). Our daughter, Mlle, stayed with friends who have a house in Sintra and she loved all the history and castles and palaces. Having seen your photos it’s definitely on the wish list! 🙂

  11. What an exciting place to visit. It looks like someone has colored in the castle walls with colouring in pens. I have never heard of it before, so thanks for introducing me to the palace. It would make a great photo for one of my Monday mystery challenge posts, if you would be willing to share. I post a different mystery photo each week, for two weeks, credit you as the source and post link backs to your blog.

  12. I was interested to go back to your review because I went there yesterday. It was a good day out by train but Sintra was horribly busy and touristic. The Palace was absolutely rammed with visitors.

    • I enjoyed seeing the Palace and Sintra but hated standing in a line inside the palace just to walk from room to room. That kind of thing makes me want to explode. I also had a sinking heart on the main street in Sintra with all the coaches and crowds of people – we tried to escape all that on the little back alleyways and streets but you are right, it is a tourist trap. We were on a tour so didn’t have too long in either place, normally I hate that too but I think it worked ok here!!

      • I nearly exploded several times and it spoilt it a bit for me until I calmed down. As we left the queue was even longer, I estimate 90 minutes just to get to the entrance. Today we walked to the castle but there was another long queue so couldn’t face it so got the train to Belem instead. 40 degrees today and too hot for sightseeing.

      • It was bad when we were there but nothing like this, not surprised you got wound up. 40 degrees means I couldn’t function – anything over 25 and I become a zombie. Hope it cools down a bit soon!

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