Portuguese royalty once retreated to the sanctum of Sintra: a mountainous landscape a stone's throw from Portugal's capital of Lisbon, partitioned by dense forest. The world's wealthy wanderers soon caught on, designing for themselves a romantic, fairytale-like landscape now referred to as the Portuguese Riviera.
Visitors tend to take day trips from Lisbon to visit the colourful Pena Palace, but there's so much more to see. Sintra-Cascais Natural Park extends to 145 km², encompassing mountains, valleys, forests, towns and miles of pristine Atlantic coastline.
How to visit Sintra, Portugal on a budget
Thanks to transport links and cheaper accommodation options, Sintra is no longer reserved for the wealthy - it's totally possible to visit on a shoestring. Hire a car from Lisbon airport, and use one of the nearby towns as your base for exploring the area.
Colares, for example, is a no-frills town with a smattering of cheap hotels and B&Bs, restaurants, and a gorgeous coastline with several beaches including: Praia das Maçãs (a large, clean, family-friendly sandy beach), Praia Pequena do Rodízio (a quieter beach enclosed by steep cliffs), or further south, the spectacular beaches Praia da Ursa and Praia da Adraga (a little more difficult to access but totally worth the journey).
Driving into the Sintra hills can be hellish in the peak season, though. Use local buses instead, a charmingly old-fashioned tram, or park your car near Portela di Sintra train station for free and make the 20 minute up-hill walk to the old town.
Now, here are the 7 best things to do in Sintra, Portugal...