A royal palace until 1910, the Sintra National Palace was last inhabited by Queen Maria Pia, the Italian grandmother of Manuel II, the last king of Portugal. Much of the palace was constructed in the days of the first Manuel, the Fortunate. Long before the arrival of the crusaders under Afonso Henríques, this was a summer palace of Moorish sultans. The original palace was torn down in 1863, and Moorish-style architecture was incorporated into latter-day versions.

The structure is now a conglomeration of styles, with Gothic and Manueline predominant. The glazed earthenware tiles lining many of the chambers are among the most beautiful in Portugal, but some of the chambers stand out for other reasons. The Swan Room was a favorite of João I, one of the founding kings of Portugal, father of Henry the Navigator and husband of Philippa of Lancaster. The Room of the Sirens or Mermaids is one of the most elegant in the palace. The Heraldic or Stag Room holds coats of arms of aristocratic Portuguese families, and hunting scenes. Tile-fronted stoves are in the Old Kitchen, where feasts were held in bygone days.

The palace is also rich in paintings and Iberian and Flemish tapestries, but perhaps it's simply worth a visit for its good views: In most of the rooms, wide windows look out onto attractive views of the Sintra mountain range.

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As you approach the palace, you can buy a ticket at the kiosk on your left. The palace opens onto the central town square. Outside, two conical chimney towers form the most distinctive landmark on the Sintra skyline. The walk from the train station at Sintra to the national palace takes about 10 minutes. After leaving the station, take a left and follow the road.