Sintra lies in hilly country close to Lisbon and is considered such an extraordinary town that the whole place is UNESCO World Heritage listed. As one of the most popular day trips from the Portuguese capital, Sintra has a cluster of beguiling attractions to explore, from fairy-tale castles and palaces perched on hilltops to the flamboyant clash of Moorish, Gothic and 19th-century Neo-classical architecture, but the stand-out building is the National Palace.
The gigantic, whitewashed National Palace and its two conical chimneys dominate Sintra’s main square as well as the flat plains for miles around. Starting life in the 10th century as home to Lisbon’s Moorish rulers, the palace has been consistently remodeled throughout its thousand-year-plus history and now is largely a happy mishmash of Gothic, Renaissance and Manueline styles in appearance.
After the conquest of Lisbon by the first king of Portugal in 1147, the palace became the summer retreat of the Portuguese royal family and remained so until 1910; the richness of its interior reflects this importance. From the 14th century onwards this wonderful jumble of royal apartments and chambers, courtyards and patios, corridors, staircases and chapel was bedecked with one of the world’s most important collections of azulejos tiles.
In addition many of the staterooms reveal ceilings encrusted in intricate gilt paneling and exhibit a rare collection of Portuguese decorative arts; the Grand Hall is renowned for its elaborately gilded ceiling portraying royal coats of arms and those iconic chimneys on top of the palace can be traced to the vast palace kitchens.