Have you ever thought about what it would be like to enter the world of Game of Thrones? If you could, where would you choose to go: somewhere in Westeros or to Essos across the Narrow Sea? As just a travel blogger, I haven’t been able to create some magical device that can manifest and send us to fictional worlds (…yet. I’m working on it). Fortunately, while travelling across Europe for the last three years, I have come across one place that, without a doubt, will make you feel like you’ve entered the World of Ice and Fire. If you’re a bit of hardcore GoT and travel fan like me, you can head on over to Sintra, Portugal for the ultimate Game of Thrones Experience.
And don’t worry, we won’t be “playing” the Game of Thrones here, so you have nothing to lose and only epic travel memories to gain. #sorrynotsorrycersei
Unlike Mdina in Malta, Dubrovnik in Croatia, and Seville in Spain, Sintra is not and has never been a filming location for the show. That being said, I stand by my grand claim about Sintra being the ultimate Game of Thrones experience for us smallfolk (GoT vocab – I’m nerding out here). When it comes to the area’s history, remaining historical sites, and geography, the similarities between Sintra and the World of Ice and Fire are just unreal.
Check them out below!
(Very mild spoiler alert. If you’ve seen the trailers, there’s nothing more revealed here).
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1. The Edge of Essos vs. Castle of the Moors
Let’s start our journey into the world of Game of Thrones in Daenerys Stormborn’s shoes. For the past 6 seasons, the Mother of Dragons has been trying to begin her quest of reclaiming what was once under Targaryen rule. After facing more obstacles than humanly possible, this Breaker of Chains finally has the army and fleet sheets needs to cross the Narrow Sea.
If you want to feel like an omnipotent Khaleesi on the verge of crossing the Narrow Sea, head up to Sintra’s Castle of the Moors. The mountaintop fortification will make you feel like a mighty king or queen surveying the land below. As a ruin, the castle serves as a magnificent but only temporary stop before crossing the sea. It’s no place to build a kingdom.
To make this castle’s placement on the Edge of Essos even more convincing, on a clear day, you can catch site of the “sea” (A.K.A. Atlantic Ocean) from the fortifications.
Looking out towards the “Narrow Sea.”
Fortress Ruins in “Essos.”
2. The Red Keep, King’s Landing vs. the Pena Palace
The Red Keep, home to the Iron Throne and the ruler of the realm, is the red castle that sits atop of the tallest hill in King’s Landing. The Pena Palace in Sintra is the area’s Red Keep. The palace sits nearly at the top of the highest hill in the Sintra Mountains. Also, a whole section of the castle is red. Yes, I’ll admit that the red is a bit more vibrant than the red of the Red Keep. However, at the end of the day, red is red. And if the colour’s purpose in the World of Ice and Fire was to remind enemies of the fire they’d be tossed in when captured, then this more vivid shade works too.
I should mention that the Red Keep sits on the edge of Westeros right by Blackwater Bay. Well, what about the Pena Palace then? While the castle wasn’t built on the very, very tip of a landmass, you can still see the Atlantic Ocean from the castle’s terraces. The Pena Palace is also no ruin, so it’s in a suitable state for royals to reside in.
If you happen to visit the palace after the Castle of the Moors, you may feel like you’re Khaleesi herself and have succeeded in your quest across the Narrow Sea. Nevertheless, if you prefer to be in cahoots with Cersei or imagine yourself sharing a goblet of wine with the late Robert Baratheon, that’s fine too – do whatever floats your Game of Thrones boat.
The Pena Palace’s fiery red façade.
3. The Clash of Divine Powers
“The night is dark and full of terrors…”
If you’ve read any of the books or been following the show, you’re probably well aware that there’s quite a bit of tension between different religions. There are the Old Gods who were worshipped by the Children of the Forest and the First Men. Then, the Andals brought the Faith of the Seven and took over. Currently, the Faith of the Seven is the predominant religion.(Yet, I do acknowledge that many in the North still believe in the Old Gods). There’s also the mysterious and controversial Lord of Light.
So what’s this clash of divine powers have to do with Sintra, Portugal?
Would you believe me if I told you that there seems to be a clash of divine powers in Sintra? If you’re hesitant to entertain the idea, know this:
Before the Reconquista, before the “Moors,” and before the Romans, Celts inhabited present-day Sintra. They proclaimed the mountain (right by today’s town) Mountain of the Moon and worshipped their moon deity there. Let’s jump through a handful of centuries. Nowadays, most people in Portugal are Roman Catholic. Therefore, Sintra has quite a few Catholic churches (churches for other denominations of Christianity exist too). However, there’s one location in Sintra that contains symbols connected to some controversial “religious” practices. When Monteiro the Millionaire bought the Quinta da Regaleira Estate near the end of the 19th century, he refashioned it according to his peculiar interests – alchemy, masonry, and Rosicrucianism. Basically, because of Mr. Millionaire, symbols linked to alchemy and places to facilitate mysterious initiation rites exist on the estate.
Today, famous guidebooks and posts, including ones published by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, talk of Sintra’s beauty. But they also describe the area as place with eccentric vibes and unusual events. Based on the area’s complex and partially offbeat “religious” history, something mystical is bound to be taking place…(If you’re curious, you can check out my first post about Sintra by clicking here).
Are the uncanny events and sensations influenced by the ancient Moon God, the predominant religion of today, or something more controversial? Who knows?
A peek into the “Initiation Well” on the Quinta da Regaleira Estate – supposedly the location for mysterious initiation rites. Check out that 8-pointed “star” at the bottom.
Still unconvinced? Visit Quinta da Regaleira and then tell me: would you want to be stuck there alone overnight?
As well, you can check out what Rough Guides has to say about Sintra by clicking here.
4. The Kingsroad vs. Hiking the Sintra Mountains
The Kingsroad in Westeros is the most popular route for travelling through the continent. However, the road’s quality is inconsistent, and at times, the road is nothing more than a dirt path.
If you want to add even more Game of Thrones flair to your Sintra excursion, opt to hike up to the Castle of the Moors and the Pena Palace from town. You’ll get a taste of walking the King’s Road. There is a designated path to take you up to the historical sites, but the material used to make the path varies from smooth cobblestone to brown dirt. Like taking the Kingsroad, hiking in Sintra will give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. And the surrounding nature does not disappoint.
Other ways of reaching Sintra’s sites and attractions involve taking the public bus or hiring a taxi. Obviously, motor-powered vehicles don’t exist in the World of Ice and Fire. Therefore, if you’re after the ultimate GoT experience, hiking is your best bet.
(As a side note: In GoT, horses, donkeys, wagons, and carriages do exist to aid with transportation, but mostly nobles and individuals conducting business have access to these luxuries – small-smallfolk…not so much. In Sintra, sometimes we have to walk in the shoes of the “small-smallfolk”).
Perfectly smooth cobblestones to begin.
Squeezing between massive rocks further on.
Are you unimpressed by this connection? You should know that I also recommend hiking because I don’t want you to miss some hidden gems that you’ll stumble upon along the hike. One Game of Thrones-y site worth seeing is…
5. The Stone Throne
Near the start of your hike up the Sintra Mountains, you’ll walk through a very lush and well-maintained garden. In this garden, you will come across a GINOURMOUS stone throne. It’s not the Iron Throne, but it’s still pretty impressive. It’s also quite an uncanny find and puts you into the GoT state of mind!
Channel your inner Stark, Targaryen, Lannister, Tyrell, or whatnot, and snap a pic in the Stone Throne.
Hello, Stone Throne!
I guess my hair back then made me a Targaryen?
6. The Plant Life is Simply Unreal
In the World of Ice and Fire, those who believed or still believe in the Old Gods view weirwood trees as sacred. These trees, which are more common in the North, have faces carved into them. Followers of the old faith believe that’s how their gods watch over them. These commanding and slightly unsettling trees with white trunks and blood-red sap are the product of George R.R. Martin’s imagination. But some of the plant life in Sintra looks like it could be the product of one’s imagination too. Take a look at the MASSIVE plants below! Maybe the ancient moon good creates some mystical juices to help these plants grow…
A single leaf – almost as tall as me.
7. Secret Passages in the Red Keep vs. Underground Labyrinths in Quinta da Regaleira
The Red Keep in King’s Landing is reportedly full of secret passages and underground tunnels. Of course, without the electricity, one would have to navigate them by torchlight, candlelight, or in complete darkness. In Sintra’s Quinta da Regaleira, you can experience what it would be like to get lost in a labyrinth of dark, secret passageways as if you were, in fact, in the Red Keep. The Estate in Sintra has a network of underground tunnels and passages connecting various parts of the estate gardens. Only a couple of the tunnels are lit up, so others have to be explored in darkness. Please note that there are some dead ends.
There’s a rumour that cellphone batteries drain faster in Sintra. Using your phone to light your way may be risky business.
View from the end of one of the underground passages (I’m under a waterfall)!
A pitch black labyrinth can be found in the grotto behind this pond.
Now that I’ve shared the fine details with you, I would like to tell you about one of the biggest reasons that I consider Sintra, Portugal the ultimate Game of Thrones Experience. Exploring this UNESCO Cultural Landscape is the ultimate Game of Thrones experience due to the proximity of all these diverse sites and attractions. Within just a handful of kilometres, you can get a taste of Essos, the Red Keep, the Kingsroad and the “supernatural.” If you went to Iceland, you would just experience what it could be like north of the wall. If you went do Dubrovnik, you would only get a taste of King’s Landing. Sintra offers a whole lot more!
Castle of the Moors and the Atlantic Ocean/Narrow Sea as seen from the Pena Palace.
Bonus (9): Drogo and Daenerys’ Wedding in Pentos vs. Boca do Inferno
If you want to take your Sintra Game of Thrones experience one step further, you may have to travel just outside of Sintra (hence the “bonus” connection). For just over 4 Euros, you can hop on a public bus for 30 minutes and it will take you to Cascais. From Cascais, you can walk through the town to Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth). Boca do Inferno is a mesmerizing rock formation on tip of the European continent and right up against the Atlantic Ocean. It’s bound to make you feel like you’re on the very site Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen wed in Book 1/Season 1.
It’s well-known that the wedding scene was actually filmed by Malta’s Azure window, which collapsed earlier this year. However, Boca do Inferno is much closer to Sintra than the Azure Window and bears a resemblance to the structure that once stood.
A magnificent view for a magnificent wedding.
To Wrap Things Up
With the premier of Season 7 just two days away, I felt that now would be an appropriate time to share this post. Currently, only a handful of my favourite characters are still standing and, well, the show is known for its indiscriminate brutality. I wanted to write this post before the task would flood my eyes with tears. (I love you Jon Snow!)…because let’s face it – not everybody will be left standing at the end of Season 7.
Overall, if Sintra sounds like an intriguing travel destination…
Do you think you could experience a moment in the World of Game of Thrones in Sintra?
Should Sintra have been used for filming?
Comment to share your thoughts.
Last but not least: if you know a GoT fan or two, pass the post on to help them plan their next holiday!