Visiting Palacio de Pena, or How to Duck Selfies

Palacio de Pena, Sintra

Brave in a New World

Each new, beautiful and coveted place I visit , I find myself increasingly more annoyed by the new millennia selfie taking species.

And it’s impossible to not feel some level of dissapointment and annoyance, as you try to duck the pictures of people whose seemingly sole reason for being in that particular beautiful spot is to embellish themselves with it.

They wear it as an accessory – like a scarf, or a hat – and often only seem to see it in the after pictures, as a complement of their own self.

That was the start of my morning at Palacio de Pena, Sintra.

Imagine this place:


Now, this was an actual conversation between two young women “visiting”:

A. “Stand on the platform so I can catch your whole body. Oh so now turn to your left side. Now lose the hat.

B. Can you take one of me while sitting? But you have to lean back to get both the red and yellow towers in. No, not like that. Let me show you (she actually goes and mimics the way her friend needs to bend in order to snap the desired photo)

A. OK.. how much body do you want in the photo?

B. Well, part of my legs, but be careful not to cut them out.

(snap snap goes on for another 5 boring minutes)

A. What do you say, should we go inside?

B. Nah, too many people inside and pictures will come out crowded”

The whole conversation went on for at least 15 other minutes, as I was sipping on a coffee from the cafeteria and was desperately trying to tune them out.

Eventually, too annoyed by the same pattern of mine is better than yours photo taking instructions and selfies going on around me, I went inside.

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Inside a Fairytale: Palacio de Pena

The palace’s interior is strikingly beautiful, by the way, despite the admittedly big crowds trotting the palace’s hallways. I urge you to ignore those who say it’s not worth it.

Every little detail your eyes fall upon – from the Hispano-Moorish tiled cloister to the beautiful arched ceilings, to the emerald green wardrobe-sized telephone, to flamboyant chandeliers and superbly crafted stained glass, then onto a smoking room and a reception room – every little detail is of a gem in its own right.

There is a strong influence and preference for the Mudejar art , curiously blended with rococo. As most forgotten times palaces go, there is at times a certain overcrowding of details and decor. But, unlike other places I’ve visited, at Palacio de Pena the eye never tires of admiring.

And while flat pictures almost never quite do justice to a place like this, I’ll leave some teasers below:

Palacio de Pena vaulted ceiling
Palacio de Pena vaulted ceiling and chandelier
palacio de pena interior ceiling
palacio de pena interior sintra
palacio de pena  green telephone booth
palacio de pena interior indian statue

The selfie making species aggressivness starts to show once inside: those who, for some reason, wanted both outside and inside close ups with the accessorized palace, they will treat you as if you were an intruder into their own personal palace.

Despite my conscious attempt to not butt other people’s pictures and not to monopolize a good picture taking spot, I was scolded not once, but several times by couples who thought they had stepped on a sort of imaginary priority lane, and were now king and queen of the space.

The beautiful palace was inevitably overshadowed by the shallowness of the people in it.

So I escaped: into the gardens

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Nature Bliss: Palacio de Pena’s Gardens

Bliss. I may have counted a dozen people on my way through the fern garden to the lakes and the camellia garden

I can only assume it was the park’s slopes and stairs that weeded out the fickle from the true admirers. If you summon past travel memories and throw in a healthy dose of imagination, it’s almost like a nature tour du monde :

From the bluebells carpeting in the infamous Hallerbos forest in Belgium, to the Californian sequoias ( they’re not redwoods, but make a good impersonation) to the strangler figs dominating Angkor Wat, then all the way to the end of the world : New Zealand’s ferns ( the Queen apparently had a penchant for ferns)

palacio de pena sintra fern garden fern nursery

It is simply and utterly beautiful. A shame I only had 3 whole hours before I needed to cautiously go back to Lisbon, pick up my bags from the hotel.

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Some Tips

  1. there is always a big line at Palacio de Pena. I suggest you be there 15 to 30 minutes before it opens (at 10AM) and if you can, buy your ticket in advance.
  2. Like I said, make sure you see the interior of the Palace as well. You didn’t come all the way here to be picky about 7€ extra.
  3. Don’t bother booking a tour. Grab an Uber from Lisbon – it costs 25€ one way and it’s faster than any bus, with the added advantage of flexibility coming with private transportation.
  4. There’s WiFi coverage throughout most of the palace grounds, so you can book one even if you ‘re out of data
  5. Don’t be a sensless selfie taking tourist. Stop every once in a while – and take in the view.
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