Sintra, Portugal with Kids
Updated: Mar 9
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Sintra, Portugal is located to the west of Lisbon. Home of some of the most breathtaking palaces' in the world... in my humble opinion. Home to the Quinta da Regaleira, Pena Palace, Moorish castle, Sintra National Palace, Monserrate Palace, Chalet and Garden of Condessa d'Ella, and Queluz National Palace. Phew! Say that five times fast. The tiny town of Sintra is so quaint, that the palaces feel like secrets hidden from the rest of the world... Then you get to the line outside of the Pena Palace and you start to suspect that someone has been telling secrets. It's all good. What's a secret between friends?
Look up images with your kids and choose a couple palaces to visit. I showed my kids pictures of the palaces before we went, and they were stoked to explore these famous sites. We chose the Quinta da Regaleira and Pena Palace. Both are UNESCO World Heritage sites. I recommend only picking a couple ,so your family can truly explore without feeling rushed. All of the palaces in SIntra have beautiful gardens that children will love to explore.
What to Bring with You
Water bottles: It's often times cheaper in Europe to get wine and beer over water, so bring a water bottle with yo. You will be walking a lot in the warm sun, so everyone will get thirsty. The tap water is safe to drink here, so fill up your bottles whenever you stop at a restaurant or bathroom. If the water is not safe for drinking, there will be a sign above the faucet. We did not find this in Sintra and continued to fill up our water bottles throughout the day. I like water bottles that have good insulation with No STRAWS. I dislike (trying not to use the word hate) cleaning out those gross straws that come with kids water bottles. Here's my pick:
Good Walking Shoes: Lots of walking in Sintra. Those old cobblestone streets require good walking shoes. You don't want any meltdowns because shoes are hurting people's feet. I wore TEVAS and my kids wore tennis shoes.
Band Aids: With all the fun running around in gardens, there is bound to be a scratch. Sometimes my kids need a sympathy band aid to make themselves feel better after a stumble. Even though you thought you packed appropriate shoes for this adventure, someone could still end up with a blister that requires a band aid.
Baby Carrier: Sintra is full of old streets, trails, and hills. Strollers are not going to be a good idea. I saw a handful of parents struggling to navigate the cobblestones with those pesky things. If you have tiny trourists in tow, with tiny legs and feet, its best to bring a baby carrier to help get them around. My three year old walks pretty well but with 3 older siblings, he just can't keep up the entire day. I carry him in a baby carrier when he gets tired. Ergo's baby carriers are my favorite because they are the most comfortable and you can fit bigger babies in them.*
* Three is still a baby, and he will always be the baby. End of disussion!
Mini Backpacks for Everyone: I have all my kids carry a tiny day backpack everywhere we go. They put their own water bottle inside, and one activity to do at a restaurant/train/in line etc. You don't want the backpack to be too heavy because you want them to be able to carry it all day. As fun as it is to keep fishing out six different water bottles from my backpack, I let my kids carry their own. They are used to it and prefer to have their own control over this basic need. Often times they can get to it quicker thmesleves, then waiting for me to fish it out of my bag. If you have kids ages 3 and under, you may end up carrying their tiny backpack. Three is a good age to start teaching them to bring their own little bags on adventures, but vacation is not the place to start training them. Truly, any small backpack will do. I see these all over Europe
Snacks: If you have kids, this is a no brainer. Do we ever leave home without them? The world may come to an end if they don't have a snack the moment they are hungry or bored. Kidding. Not kidding. I actually just pack some apples, carrots, or any easy fruit or veggie that I can easily toss in my bag. On a hot day with lots of activities, this is what kids will actually be craving....besides gelato. I find my kids are more likely to try new foods in a different country, when their tummies aren't full of snacks. I stick to veggies and fruit for snacks. We do end up getting gelato quite frequently as well on trips, but I usually wait until later in the day. I threw some apples and cucumber slices in my bag for this trip. The kids gobbled them up while they hiked.
Comfortable Clothing: check the weather forecast the day before you go to Sintra. Since a lot of time will be spent outside, it is important to be dressed appropriate for the weather. In Germany, they believe there is no bad weather, just people who aren't dressed appropriately for it. I don't often bring umbrellas because they are just another thing to carry around with kids. We will not melt. I'm all about the raincoat and water resistant jackets for rainy days.
Wear flowy comfortable clothes that breathe. Most days will be hot in SIntra. It's a warmer climate.
Sunscreen: As much as I love a good "shorts tan", I still wear lots of sunscreen . Even if its overcast, you can still get sunburnt. So apply sunscreen on everyone, frequently. My kids won't always, or ever really, keep a hat on their head, so we put lots of face sunscreen on. Bring it with you and reapply throughout the day. I prefer stick sunscreen because i can just run it across my kid's face, without having to rub anything in and worry about getting it in their eyes. There is so much mom debate on sunscreen, I just don't have the time to debate it in this post. We always need a high SPF because we are outside for long stretches. Often times I will pick the higher SPF over the all natural variety...and I have tried them all. Bring the sunscreen you like and can easily apply to your kids. If I'm jammed for time and run into the drug store (so pretty much everytime), this is my favorite stick sunscreen to get....
Motrin: Bring ibuprofen for kids and grown ups. Things come up and if you are planning on being out all day, it's better to be safe then sorry.
Positive Patty Attitude: Put on your rose colored glasses and be prepared to ooze positivity. Kids will feed off of your attitude. If kids say, "It's so hot out". Me, "Ooh I love that sun on my face. Get me some of that Vitamin D." Mostly my big kids smirk and roll their eyes, but they know I am not giving in to any negative comments for the day. I constantly comment on how neat and beautiful everything is. Going up a steep hill, I often compliment them on their ability to walk long distances. Any complaint that was brewing, often is put on pause by all the kids. I did say PAUSE, so keep those positive compliments going throughout the day. Always stay calm and happy on the outside, even when kids lose it. Be their calm. Let them calm down on thier own...and they will. Know that somewhere along the way, there will be a glass of sangria or beer with your name on it. Gelato can also cure any ailment. Honestly, bringing a positive attitude will make your trip....EVERYTIME.
*I've put in some amazon links of things I truly find useful. I put these link to make your life easier.. Living in Germany, it is my easiest place to shop for things the kids and I need.
We took the 40 minute train ride from Rossio Station directly to sintra. SIntra is so popular , it is better to leave on the first train in the morning. We took the 8 am train to SIntra. Nobody was in our train car, SO LET THE GAMES BEGIN. I sort of feel like my train experience was different then the hubs (see pics).
We wanted to attempt to get to the most famous palace, Pena Palace, before the flood of tourists. Our kids enjoy hiking and I enjoy any activity that involves getting their energy out, so we decided to hike up to the palace. This is a 47 minute hike (in kid time, so add some minutes) uphill. If you don't want to walk, you can take the #434 bus by the train station. My 3 year old ended up being carried in the ergo for over half the hike...Tapas, I'm coming for you later! The 12, 9, and 5 year old were fine and enjoyed hiking through this small town. The great part of walking up is taking in the sites of the town. Often times in a vehicle, the world rushes by too quickly. Pena Palace looks like its out of a fairy tale. My kids were definitely motivated to see if the pics I showed them of the palace, were real. CAUTION: Closer to the palace, you'll be walking along a little road that you'll share with buses and other tourist's vehicles. Often times kids walk in zig zags , so hold small children's hand to ensure they stay to the side of the road. We actually hurried our kids along during this part of the hike. It was a little stressful when cars passed us along the side of the road. For safety purposes, if you have a carrier for toddlers, this is a good time to put them in it.
Pena Palace is the place of Instagramer's dreams. This UNESCO World Heritage site is on the highest hill in the Sintra Mountains. Known as one of the seven wonders of Portugal, the Pena Palace was restored to it's colorful glory in 1854 by King Ferdinand. He wanted the palace for a summer retreat. You can tour through the palace and admire the detailed architecture and antique furniture within. Have your breath taken away by the views surrounding the palace. This palace is as pretty up close as it is in pictures. The Sintra mountains surrounding the castle look like a fake backdrop. It's hard to imagine that you are actually standing in such a beautiful place.
We opted to hike up the mountain from the train station because we wanted to be the first at the palace before it opened (Feel free to start laughing at me now). We got to the top of the mountain about half an hour before it opened. There was still a large line of people waiting to buy tickets and get in the entrance. Apparently, a lot of people hired private vans and tour groups that took them up the mountain earlier then the bus.
It wasn't that bad of a line and I quickly bought our entrance ticket online while waiting to get let into the castle grounds. This saved our family from waiting in an extra line. Wait time was only 20 minutes. If you get there later in the day, your wait time will be much longer. Try to arrive before opening and buy your entrance ticket in advance online, or waiting in line (like I did).
If you take the bus to the ticket booth and entrance, you still have to walk up a woodsy trail to get to the Palace. There is a shuttle option if you aren't able to walk up the trail. Again, I'd rather have my kids moving and exploring than waiting in line for a shuttle. The sherbet colored architecture of the palace peeked through the treetops as we walked up the path. The kids started to squeal as we climbed higher and higher on the path. You really can't see the entire Pena Palace until you arrive at the very top. This definitely motivated my kids to walk up the path. With each step up the hill, we got to see more and more of the Palace. This path is not paved, so strollers would be very difficult.
It wasn't crowded inside the Palace. Again, why you need to get there early in the day. It took 40 minutes to walk through the whole Palace, and stare off into the great unknown on their large terraces. Walking around the outside of the palace is much more impressive then the inside. My kids loved climbing the low trees outside of the palace and staring at the views from the terraces.
If you make Pena Palace your first stop in Sintra, everything else is downhill from there. After hiking and walking for the better part of the morning, we knew it was time to feed our little mountain goats. There is no shortage of adorable cafes in this city center. They are all right next to each other, so take your pick. Many have seating outside. We ate inside at Paco Real . I split the salmon with Luca and the rest of the crew split a pizza and a bottle of sparkling water.I also pulled out some random fruit from my bag for the kids*. For dessert, the hubs and I had a cappuccino. The interior was adorable. We also used this as a chance to fill up our water bottles and go to the bathroom*. Relaxed and refueled , we were off to Quinta da Regaleira.
*No restaurant in Europe has ever had a problem with me giving the kids extra food from home.
*ALWAYS go to the bathroom when you pass one. Bathrooms are not always readily available in Europe. In a hot place, you should also be monitoring if your child is going to the bathroom, in order to make sure they aren't getting dehydrated. My 10 and 12 year old love when I ask in a loud voice , "did you make a tinkle in the potty?" . Not really, but I'm pretty amused by it. You still need to monitor older children's hydration levels. Vacation is often a place where people can develop bladder infections due to lack of hydration. I know from experience. Give your kids a heads up every morning that if you pass a bathroom, you all need to try to go. That way, there is less push back each time you make them try to go. I also tell my kids that they must give me warning for when they have to go to the bathroom, because it could take some time to find one.
Quinta da Regaleira
Luigi Manini was an architect that was commissioned in 1904 by Carvalho Monteiro to build Quinta da Regaleira. Monteiro wanted this palace to symbolize his interests. Over the years it has changed owners several times, until the Portuguese Ministry of Culture opened it to the public in 1998.
I was unprepared for the beauty and magic that is Quinta da Regaleira. I read about it, but honestly nothing can do this palace justice. There is a small part of the interior of the palace to explore and a tiny church in the gardens. Even though the arches and details of the architecture are enchanting, the gardens are the real glory of this palace.
Your kids will skip and run through lush vegetation on tiny paths, sprinkled with old architecture and statues. We had to have a talk about "staying with your grownup" because my kids got so excited to explore the gardens, they took off. There are ponds, waterfalls, wells, bridges, stepping stones, and caves to explore.
Walk down the steps into the Initiation Well and then processed through the underground passageways. These passageways were definitely my kids favorite part. Some lead to waterfalls with stepping stone paths, others dark caves where your phone flashlight is required. If you go there, I bet you can still hear the belly laughs, from my children, echoing throughout the caves. This is not a huge place, but allow your family at least two hours to explore. Go in every little building and up every wall. Take every staircase that leads to a hidden nook. Go through every passageway.
In the background of this UNESCO World Heritage site (yes, another one), see the famous Castle of the Moores perched on the hills above these gardens. I'm pretty sure my kids left a little piece of their soul in these "magical gardens". Grownups will feel like an inquisitive child exploring the hidden treasures of the Quinta da Regaleira grounds. I had to make our kids (and myself) leave to catch our train back to Lisbon, after 2 and half hours.
If you go to Sintra and only do one thing with kids, go to Quinta da Regaleira. Next time, I wish to see the other palaces that reside in Sintra. But I know if I go back, my kids will insist on returning to Quinta da Regaleira.
Have you been to Sintra with kids? Are you going to Portugal? What was your favorite part? Everyone's experience is different, so I'd love to hear about yours. Do you have questions for me? I also enjoy humerous ones, like, "why is your daughter picking her nose in one of the pictures?".
Thanks for reading. Abriga and Tchau