Goodbyes are always difficult. No one ever wants to say farewell to a dear friend or a place they’ve come to love. For me, saying goodbye to Portugal was melancholic. I knew I had so much left to explore and see, but I was all out of time to do so. And I knew, no matter what, home is still the best place in the world, no matter how chaotic it is. But before I said goodbye to Portugal, I headed off to Sintra.
Sintra is literally a place of wonder. Packed full of lush green forests and rippling mountains, stunning gardens, and many, many castles, there’s really no place quite like Sintra. It’s a world of its own and only an hour train ride from Lisbon. The town’s centre is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. Marks of its historical inhabitants, from the Celts to the Moors to Portuguese royalty, can be seen across Sintra in its palaces and museums and even on the very streets that you’ll walk on.
Exploring Sintra is definitely a daylong activity. There’s literally so much to see and explore that you’ll have to pick and choose where you want to go, and you’ll have to be ruthless because the lines are long. There’s a number of ways to explore Sintra – by foot (which I don’t recommend), by tuk-tuk (either for a short ride or for a full tour), a tour guide (I recommend checking out some on Airbnb’s Experience section), or by bus (the two main ones being the ‘Hop-on/Hop-off’ bus or Sintra’s own bus system).
I personally chose the ‘Hop-on/hop-off’ bus, in which there are two bus routes that’ll ferry you to some of the palaces and other attractions and the tuk-tuk. While both aren’t the cheapest options, they also weren’t the most expensive. (I saw a tuk-tuk tour charging €108 for a tour.)
In my limited time in Sintra, I chose to explore 3 places: Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena Palace), and Quinta da Regaleria. Out of all three places, Quinta da Regaleria was my absolute favourite, hands down. Personally, I would actually skip Palácio Nacional da Pena if I had to do the trip over again. It wasn’t worth the incredibly long line just to get to the back of the palace, which is where most of the photos that you’ll see in travel posts and Instagram are from and the really structured winding tour for the actual palace had me rushing through the palace as quickly as I could.
Quinta da Regaleria and Castelo dos Mouros were both really exploratory. You could go wherever you want, see whatever you want, and not feel like you were being herded through like livestock. Quinta da Regaleria was my favourite because you truly feel like you’ve stepped into another world, with its lush gardens, grottos, lakes, underground tunnels, and winding footpaths. You can definitely get lost in the place and it will feel like the best thing in the world. (It was at Quinta that I saw another solo female traveller just killing the solo photography game with her tripod setup, it was brilliant!)
One of the coolest things about Quinta is Poço Iniciático, which is an initiation well that plunges tens of meters into the ground. You can actually walk into the tunnel along its winding staircase, which makes you feel like you’ve fallen into some kind of fantasy world as you descend into the well.
I finished up my visit to Sintra by meeting my friend in Azenhas do Mar, which is a coastal town not far from Sintra. I watched as the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean while snaking on Travesserio de Sintra and Salem de Chocolate pastries from famed Sintra bakery, Casa Piriquita, and sipping on a cider. It was really the perfect ending to my trip in Portugal as I looked out and saw waves lapping at the sandy beach, kid’s laughter filtering through the air, and hanging out with one of my dearest friends in the world. It was just a fantastic end to the evening before I headed back to pack for my flight home the next day.
Portugal was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. It was the perfect place for me to start and lean into my desire to travel solo and see the world. Portugal was the place of many firsts for me, it was my first time in Europe, it was my first solo trip, it was the first time that I’ve eaten alone for so many meals and wandered about not having to worry about anyone else but me. It was also the place where I checked off a few things from my list of things that I wanted to do by the time I turn 30. Portugal is a place of wonder and history and vibrant culture, and it was the place that I needed to be at that point in my life at 25.
I also understood how incredibly privileged I was to be able to travel solo, feel safe doing so, and have the ability to indulge in my creature comforts and be able to afford to eat and drink wherever I so chose. By no way was this trip cheap, the Euro is still quite a bit higher in value compared to the Canadian dollar and while prices in Portugal aren’t outrageously expensive, they still cost me a pretty penny. My fluency in English also helped me along quite a bit when getting around or ordering items off menus, especially in larger cities where many Portuguese speak not only English but a number of different languages. Lisbon is an incredibly cosmopolitan and diverse city, which is not something that I expected but was delighted to see. The start of Tram 28 line actually starts near Lisbon’s Chinatown, which I didn’t even know existed.
Travelling solo as a woman, especially as a woman of colour, is not something I see a lot of when it comes to the media or at all during my visit to Portugal. But it’s something that I want to do again and again if my life allows for it. Portugal gave me a slice of life that showed me that being by myself, exploring the world around me and looking introspectively at myself is something worthwhile and worth pursuing and I’m grateful that I got the opportunity to do so. I’m also really thankful for my friend who took time out of her life to show me around Portugal during her time off when she didn’t have to.
I would love to return to Portugal one day and explore this amazing country even more since I really only scratched the surface.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my rambles about my first solo adventure in Portugal. I hope that it’ll help inspire you to go on a solo vacation as well.
(All pictures featured in the post were shot by me with my iPhone 6s.)
Thanks for reading!