Have you ever visited a place that you had no expectations for and it completely blew your mind? Well I recently experienced this in Sintra while on our Portugal trip. For those of you who don’t know, Sintra is a charming little town in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra mountains, near to the capital, Lisbon. It’s the most popular day trip destination for tourists who are staying in the capital city and highly recommended for those who have more than three days in Lisbon. My favourite part about Sintra you might be wondering? Well aside from the breathtaking scenery and endless amounts of Portuguese charm, it has to be the Quinta da Regaleira Palace.
The Quinta da Regaleira Palace is something out of a fairytale – seriously, you have to see it to experience it. The palace itself is a 20th century residence that is split over five floors and has a real gothic feel to it. But the real attraction isn’t this majestic piece of architecture, it’s the enchanting gardens that surround it.
The gardens are incredibly ornate, featuring lakes, grottoes, fountains, caves and wells that are connected both above ground via maze like paths and by a series of underground tunnels lit up by pretty fairy lights. The gardens also feature a chapel and an aquarium that has been built to look as though it naturally existed amongst the rock.
Quinta da Regaleira palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site that was constructed in 1904 by a wealthy Portuguese businessman Carvalho Monteiro. This gave rise to the residence’s local name of “Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire”. Today it belongs to the Sintra local government and was first opened to the public in 1998.
Getting to Quinta da Regaleira Palace
Assuming that you are staying in Lisbon, you will need to make your way over to Sintra. The easiest way to get to Sintra from Lisbon is by using the regional Comboios do Portugal (CP) train. Viva Viagem cards are available to purchase from almost any train or metro station and can be loaded with one of the following options:
- Two one-way 4 zone tickets: The cost is 2.15 EUR each way, giving a total cost of 4.30 EUR
- 24-hour pass: For 10 EUR you can get unlimited trips on Comboios do Portugal (CP) trains, Carris trams and buses and metro
- Zapping: This will cost you 1.80 EUR each way and therefore a total of 3.60 EUR. This seems to be the cheapest and most convenient way to make your way around Lisbon.
Once in Sintra you can either take a bus up to Quinta da Regaleira Palace or you can walk. We opted to walk and I’m so glad that we did. Walking really allows you to experience the vibrant atmosphere of the Sintra area, and you can stop at different sites along the way. However, if you’re pushed for time, then the bus might be a better option. Walking will take you around 45 minutes, depending on how often you stop and for how long you stop. While I found it to be a fairly easy walk, it is uphill a lot of the way. The bus will take about 6 minutes and operates every 25 minutes between 09:40 and 18:15.
What not to miss at the Quinta da Regaleira Palace
When first entering the Quinta da Regaleira Palace grounds I felt a little overwhelmed, fully aware of how much there was to see. After looking at the map that we received at the entrance, we didn’t know where to begin, not wanting to miss anything. But about two to three hours later we left the grounds fully satisfied that we had seen all the magic that this place has to offer.
Located around the middle of the property, you will find the Tower Regaleira, which is a great spot to get a panoramic view of Sintra. You can follow a very narrow, spiral staircase up to the top ot the tower for a breathtaking view. Since it’s a one-way system be prepared to bump into people along the way. But the scenery from the top makes it all worth it. In the far distance you will see the colorful towers of the Pena Palaces and down below is the village of old Sintra.
The Initiation Well
The 27 meters deep Initiation Well is the most unique and noteworthy attraction of the Quinta da Regaleira Palace. It’s like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland. Created purely for ceremonial purposes, there are many tunnels that connect the well to other caves and monuments around the grounds.
Our first view of the well was from the top and it’s pretty spectacular. Inside what appears to be a small little tower of nothing, is 27 meters deep of beauty and a feeling as though you have just stepped into another universe. You can walk this spiral staircase all the way down to the bottom of the well. When you reach the bottom you will find exit tunnels that will lead you out to another section of the Quinta da Regaleira palace gardens.
The underground walkways
There are a large network of tunnels that link to the grottoes, chapel, lakes, and even to a cave below the Regaleira Tower. You may need a torch to get through a few of the tunnels since they aren’t all lit up. These underground walkways cover a large area of the grounds and some of these paths are really long. It really makes you wonder – what were they used for and why were they needed.
The portal of the guardians
This is a highly dynamic structure composed of twin towers. Underneath this monument you will find an underground pathway that leads to the initiation well. It seems quite mysterious from the outside as people seem to disappear after walking behind the fountain. But we quickly followed and found ourselves in a lit-up tunnel on a path to the Initiation well.
The waterfall lake
The waterfall lake is absolutely stunning. It’s a little mossy lake with stepping stones and a waterfall with some hidden tunnels. It’s a pretty magical place and it feels like you right in the middle of an exotic and distant forest. The downside is that it’s a small area and packed with tourists snapping photos. So we didn’t spend much time in this spot and couldn’t capture the photos that we would like to have. Nevertheless this was one of my favourite places of Quinta da Regaleira palace. Perhaps if you go early enough it will be less crowded.
In front of the Quinta da Regaleira Palace, you will find the Regaleira chapel. It’s a Roman Catholic chapel, constructed in the same architectural style as the castle. The interior is decorated with stained glass windows, frescoes and extravagant stuccoes. It incorporates scenes from the Life of Mary, the Life of Christ, from the Templar Order, and from the Order of Christ (successor to the Templar Order in Portugal). There is a spiral staircase that connects the chapel to the subterranean levels of the main house.
Photo opp outside the palace
Don’t miss your chance to get a fabulous photo with the main palace in the background. This is one of my favorite travel photos ever. We did this at the end of our tour but it might be best to do this early on before the crowds arrive. It can be very difficult to get the perfect photo later on in the day when it gets busy. If you’re serious about photography then try to get these photos early on. The Quinta da Regaleira palace is an instagrammers dream.
More info: Quinta da Regaleira Palace
The entrance fee for Quinta da Regaleira palace is currently 6 EUR for adults and 3 EUR for children. While we did the tour on our own, they do also offer guided tours. If you are looking to do a guided tour, then it is advised that you book online in advance. You can find more information on the Quinta da Regaleira website.
The Quinta da Regaleira Palace is open to visits every day of the year except 24 and 25 December. Opening hours are between 09:30 and 19:00 from 1 April to 30 September and 09:30 to 17:00 from 1 October to 31 March.
Have you ever visited Quinta da Regaleira Palace? What did you like best? Let me know in the comments section below.
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