This is not a post about any park and palace. This is a post about the most beautiful park and palace you may have the chance to lay your eyes on. Once at its doorsteps, your imagination about the fairytales castles you used to read as a child will be awaken.
Situated in the middle of an exotic vegetation, Pena Palace stands out from afar. Similar to a lighthouse, it guides travellers to Sintra. It’s that tiny yellow dot one can see from the surroundings of Lisbon and from the highway: “Look, Pena!” Edgar cheerfully points it out while driving the car.
Here we are, on a Saturday early morning ready for our visit to one of the most spectacular attractions in Portugal, and would even dare to say, in the world. Being a tour guide, I (Edgar) know Pena by heart, but I found a good reason to go back with Diana, this time more laid back. I (Diana) have seen it before in pictures, all tourists hustle about it, so I had to finally meet one of Portugal’s seven wonders. Note! You must start early in the morning, so you can surpass the madness of the ticket lines. For information about visiting hours, tickets price and other technicalities, check out the end of the post.
Few are the visitors that dedicate a whole day to the stunning park that surrounds Pena Palace because there are always other attractions on the list, like Quinta de Regaleira or The Moorish Castle. Still, for whoever is fond of nature and getting lost in a forest maze, it is a perfect escape, especially in the heat of the summer sun.
Therefore visiting both the Park and National Palace of Pena would mean a day trip to Sintra. Follow this link to see how you can best enjoy this day!
First, some history…
The history of the palace started long time ago, when in the 16th century king Manuel I ordered the construction of a monastery. The legend says he was hunting on the surroundings of an old chapel when he saw the arrival of Vasco da Gama’s armada, returning from India. On that moment and thanking God for the major event, he promised to build a convent in that same place. It was a small convent, with a capacity of no more than 18 monks living together.
On the day of the Big Earthquake, on 1st November of 1755, the building suffered several damages and it was abandoned. For almost a century, the abandoned convent became a ruin, and in 1834 eventually became part of the state properties after the suppression of the religious orders in Portugal.
In 1838 it was sold, alongside with the surrounding lands, on a public auction to a private owner.
…but this is not the end, as you may guess.
Born in 1816, in Vienna, Austria, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was grown at the finest schools and raised as a proper prince for the time. He was of royal blood line, with connections to several royal families in Europe.
At the age of 19, he came to Portugal to marry Maria II of Portugal. With this marriage he had the chance to visit and learn more about the country’s culture, society and history. A man of several interests, he was particularly passionate about arts. Back to the year of the auction, in 1838, he was the only buyer of the old monastery. At first, he decided to repair the old building transforming it in a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. He refurbished the previous cells where the monks used to live into bigger rooms. However, the size of the building wouldn’t be enough for a proper royal palace, thus he decided to create a new wing (the New Palace).
The difference between both wings can be noticed at a great distance, the red side is the old monastery and the yellow side is the New Palace. Considered “one of the most romantic castles in the world” it merges old classic styles with new modern techniques of building, the reason why the architectural art is a combination of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Moorish and Neo-Renaissance influences and it is truly a masterpiece.
A few words about Sintra mountain and Pena Park
Sintra mountain is magic. Situated on the north west side of Lisbon, its geographical location has been always important to all the several civilizations that have crossed this land we call Portugal.
It is essentially strategic because of the views – one could control the surroundings, from the ocean until the city of Lisbon…if the weather allowed. The Sintra region has its own microclimate that provides all the elements necessary for the growth of several different species of flowers, plants and trees.
Grab a map and look where the mountain is positioned. If you look closer to the shape of Portugal, you’ll notice that it is similar to a face, with Sintra as part of the nose. Just like the nose which is one of the most exposed parts, Sintra mountain suffers a lot of its exposure to the winds coming from the ocean. Besides, it also serves as a filter, blocking this same air from passing to the south. These winds normally bring moister which when concentrated on the mountain become either clouds or mist.
It is normal to visit Sintra on a summer day and encounter foggy or cloudy weather while in the surrounding areas it’s clear sky. This microclimate makes the mountain range be green all year long, creating an atmosphere of enigma, mystery and romance. Hence, the interest for so many people throughout the centuries in visiting Sintra.
Back to Pena Park: it is an amazing and unique park where you can easily spend a day just exploring it.
The Park of Pena has some interesting facts:
When ordering the construction of the Pena Palace, Ferdinand also ordered the reforestation of the hilltop around the palace. But in this case, knowing in advance about the existence of the microclimate, he brought into the park a whole variation of vegetation from around the world. From sequoia to cedar, from magnolias to exotic flower, everything flourished with the help of the climate.
Inside tip: when in the park, listen to the sounds around you. You’ll notice that very few wild life exists. That’s because the local Portuguese wildlife hasn’t had time to adapt to this new vegetation. There are very few birds that feed themselves from the park’s seeds and flowers.
While you explore the park, you can reach the highest point of the mountain (528 meters), where you will find a tall cross, a replica of the 16th century original one that was struck by a lightning and had to be replaced.
Next to this cross, one can find the Queen’s throne, one of the most beautiful look outs to the palace. The name makes a reference to the favourite place of Queen Amélia, where she would go to meditate or spend some time just gazing at the palace.
On the opposite side of the park, we can find another beautiful attraction of the estate, the chalet of the countess of Edla. Elise Hensler, countess of Edla, became Ferdinand’s second wife. On the western most side of the estate both decided to create an idyllic space with a strong scenic character. Next to it we have yet another beautiful viewpoint to the palace in between a few boulders.
You are able to visit both the palace and the park with only one ticket. If you have more time in Portugal, our recommendation is to take advantage of both. Once you arrive, the best option would be to visit the palace right away to avoid the line and the tourist concentration. After all, this is (if not the most) one of the most visited monuments in Portugal.
Fee entrance to both Pena Palace and Park: €14 – adult; €12.50 – children and seniors; You can also buy it online beforehand!
Opening hours (summer and winter):
Summer (April- October) : Palace 9.45 – 19.00 and Park 9.30 – 20.00 (last admission – 1 hour before closing time) Note! in the summer days it gets crowded, so better be there early in the morning!
Winter (November – March): 10.00 – 18.00
Lunch at Pena Palace: In front of Pena Palace there’s a terrace and a restaurant, with accessible prices, and believe us, after 3 hours of visit, you will probably feel the need to grab some snacks. We went for the lunch and it was yum!
Wondering how to get to Sintra from Lisbon?
By train (40 min): Take the Sintra Line, from the departure stations:
Estação do Rossio
Estação de Entrecampo
Estação do Oriente
At Sintra’s railway station, take Scotturb bus No. 434, which will take you to Pena.
By car (20 min):
Take the IC19 from Lisbon. When you arrive in the town’s historic centre, you’ll see a vertical sign showing the way to Pena (3.5 km). The GPS coordinates are: 38º 47’ 16.45” N 9º 23’ 15.35” W
To see what other beauties and gems Sintra has to offer, stay tuned for a future post! 🙂