Sintra in Portugal is famous for its natural beauty, fairy tale palaces and brightly coloured buildings. Gaining its UNESCO Cultural Landscape clarification in 1995, the town of Sintra and its surrounding areas are bursting with things to do and is a must when visiting Portugal. Given its close proximity to Lisbon and Cascais, it is feasible to visit Sintra as a day trip. However, I’d highly recommend spending at least two days in Sintra to have enough time to properly see everything.
Things to Do in Sintra
There are plenty of things to do in Sintra. I would strongly suggest you plan out exactly what you want to see ahead of your journey, to make choosing bus routes there much easier.
Park and National Palace of Pena
Probably one of the most recognisable images of Portugal, the Pena Palace is even more breathtaking in person. This colourful fairytale palace is situated at the top of Sintra Mountains, giving you expansive views of the village below, and its surrounding areas. The exterior of Pena Palace is a combination of colourful pinks, blues and yellows, which contrast beautifully against the surrounding forests. Once inside the Palace, walk up the stairs and join the walkway that surrounds the Palace. This will not only give you an up-close look at the architecture of Pena Palace but you’ll be treated to some breathtaking, panoramic views of Sintra and its countryside. This was a highlight of my day and something not to miss!
Pena Palace Tickets
You can buy tickets to enter Pena Palace online, saving you time on queues and 5% off entry fee. However, you’ll need to know the date and time you’re planning to go. I found easier to buy my ticket once I have arrived at the Palace and the queues weren’t too bad. Tickets for the National Palace of Pena cost €14 adult and can be found at the Palace’s main entrance.
Once through the main entrance, you’ll walk through Park of Pena until you reach the Pena Palace entrance. It’s a 15 minute uphill walk or you can pay for the bus that goes up. As you walk up you’ll be greeted by the colourful palace
As you can see from the map of Pena Palace, it’s a pretty big area that could easily take a day to cover. I only managed the Palace and the High Cross.
Quinta da Regaleria
Quinta da Regaleria, or Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire, is a 20th Century Palace that’s famously known for its architectural features, labyrinth network of underground tunnels and initiation wells. Nestled within the hills of Sintra, this neo-Manueline style mansion is rich in symbolic details and sits amongst luscious gardens. The most famous party of Quinta de Regaleria is probably the wells or ‘inverted towers’. These moss-covered, spiralling wells have become a famous image of Sintra and are a key stopping point in Sintra for visitors. Aside from the wells, I really enjoyed hearing a bit about the mysterious history of the Palace and the different theories behind its original purpose. Definitely a must-do whilst in Sintra! With Quinta da Regaleria, you can actually walk from Sintra’s town centre for about 15 minutes to reach the Palace.
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros, or Castle of the Moors, is a hilltop medieval castle that’s part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These 8th Century ruins will give you sweeping, panoramic views over Sintra’s forests, the National Palace and beyond. The remnants of the Castle is well preserved, with many walls and towers still in place, allowing you to take a step back in time. As with most sights in Sintra, I’d recommend visiting the Castle; taking the time to explore the ruins and learn about the history of this medieval fortress.
For Castelo dos Mouros, you need to follow the same bus route as Pena Palace by taking the 434 bus and walking from there. It’s a short walk from the bus stop.
Founded in the 19th century, the Palace of Monserrate was originally a summer holiday home for the Portuguese Court. Nowadays it’s better known as an architectural masterpiece that’s surrounded by an exceptional garden. Its architecture is unique as it blends Indian, Gothic, Moorish, and Islamic influences to create this fairy tale palace that is often seen as a symbol of the Romanticism movement.
The Monserrate Palace, and its gardens, are estimated to take 1-2 hours to explore properly. The palace itself is worth visiting to see the stunning interior, stained glass windows and decorative tiles. However, if you’re short on time, opt for walking around the botanical garden that surrounds the palace. Home to an extensive collection of plants from around the world, the gardens provide a tranquil escape. As one of the least visited sights in the region, you won’t need to contend with the masses or queues.
The Monserrate Palace is roughly 4km away from the Historic Centre and can be accessed on the 435 bus route. I would say if you’re trying to visit all these sights in a day, it can make for a rushed experience…what was supposed to be a gentle walk through the gardens, ended up being me sprinting through trying to see everything quickly. This is why I’d highly recommend having a few days in Sintra, to visit everything in a relaxed manner.
Sintra Historic Centre
One of my favourite things to do in Sintra was to wander around the Historic Centre. Lined with winding cobbled streets, quaint shops, and unique architecture, Sintra’s Historic Centre is worth exploring. You can easily spend a few hours getting lost in the colourful side streets, enjoying outdoor eateries, and sampling the many gelaterias around the village.
A few things to see in Sintra’s Historic Center include;
- The welcome centre (great guides here providing tailored information)
- NewsMuseum – a museum of journalism and media
- The Sintra National Palace
- Palácio Valenças – a 15th-century former royal palace with tours available.
- Jardim do Bico – a children’s playground
- All the gelato!!!
Sintra National Palace
The National Palace of Sintra is located within the Historic Centre and is one of the best-preserved medieval royal palaces. The Palace contains the largest set of Mudéjar tiles, multicultural artifacts and decorate art from the 16-18th Century. You’ll be The National Palace is a great opportunity to get a deeper understanding of Portugal’s rich history. Entry to the National Palace will cost you €10/€8.5/€33 (adult/child & seniors/family) but you can buy your ticket as a combi deal with the other attractions.
Beaches in Sintra
There are surprisingly many beaches in Sintra to take advantage of. An easy one to get to from Sintra is Praia Grande. Stretching over 2km, Praia Grande is a sandy beach known for its surfing, dinosaur footprints, and Europe’s largest seawater swimming pool. It’s fairly straightforward to get to from Sintra. Catch the train from Sintra to Portela de Sintra station, and grab the 439 or 441 bus. Services are less regular during the off-peak season (September to May) so plan ahead.
Here is a guide looking at the many beaches of Sintra
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park covers 145km² and is one of 13 Natural Parks in Portugal. Located just outside of Sintra, it’s easily accessible by public bus (1254 bus), car or even foot – although I wouldn’t advise walking along the main roads there, as they’re very winding and narrow! It’s close to Monserrate Palace
There are a large number of hikes and trails found in the area. Walking between the sights was enough of a hike for me. But when I next go back, I’ll be planning out some hiking trips. For avid hikers, AllTrails provides detailed routes and maps to help plan your trip.
Cabo da Roca
Cabo da Roca is continental Europe’s most westernpoint and is famous for its stunning views off the Atlantic Ocean and coastline. There’s also a lighthouse and monument you can check out here too. This is one best to do if you’re renting a car! Here’s a more detailed post on Cabo da Roca and the best things to do there. If you’re looking to visit Cabo da Roca by public transport, there is a 403 bus from Sintra to Cascais and then another bus from there to Cabo da Roca. I wasn’t able to fit this in with my schedule but it’s on my list for next time.
How Long to Spend in Sintra?
You can easily see the key sights of Sintra in a day. However, if you have the time, I’d highly suggest staying in the Historic Center for a few days. There are plenty of hotels in Sintra and you’ll be given a head start to the day from the crowds coming from Lisbon. In addition, you’ll be able to explore everything this region has to offer, and in good time. If you’re very short on time, I’d recommend Pena Palace as a must-do, which can be done in a morning/afternoon trip.
How to Get to Sintra from Lisbon?
Sintra is only 30km from Lisbon, making it a very easy day trip. There are several ways to get to Sintra from Lisbon:
The best way is to catch a 40-minute train from Rossio Station in Lisbon’s center. Be sure to get to the station early as the queues were crazy! I went on a weekday in March and the queues for the ticket office and booths were through the door. I can’t imagine what it’d be like during peak tourist season. After the ticket debacle, the train was very straightforward. The direct journey will take you to Sintra Station, where you have a number of travel options to take you to the various destinations this incredible town has to offer. The train costs €2.30, or free with the Lisboa card. Alternatively, if you’re staying further out of Lisbon’s centre, you can get the train direct from Oriente station.
There is also a bus that goes to Sintra station from Marques de Pombal in Lisbon. It’ll cost you €10/€15 for a single/return journey. Finally, you can drive from Lisbon to Sintra. However, be warned that it gets congested during peak times, Sintra’s historic town center isn’t car-friendly and there is limited parking.
How to Travel Around Sintra?
Getting around Sintra is fairly straightforward, but is made easier by planning your route ahead of time. The main way to travel between the sights is by bus. As the roads are narrow and winding, all bus routes are one-way loops that start in Sintra town centre. Because of this, it’s important to plan which sights you want to see and in what order. This will determine which bus loop you will need to take, with bus 434 and 435 being the two main loops. I would strongly recommend planning this ahead of time, so you’re not like me, panicking at the station as all the buses arrived.
- Bus 434: Sintra town center to several major attractions – Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle, and Quinta da Regaleira.
- Bus 435: Sintra town center to various attractions, including Monserrate Palace and Seteais Palace.
- Bus 403: Sintra to Cascais. From here you can catch buses to other destinations like Cabo da Roca.
- Bus 417: Sintra train station to Praia Grande and Azenhas do Mar on the coast.
Bus Stops: Pay attention to the names of the bus stops or landmarks along the route to ensure you don’t miss your destination.
Be sure to check out the names of the bus stop or landmarks along the route so you don’t miss your destination.
Getting around Sintra by bus is an excellent way to explore the town and its numerous attractions, allowing you to efficiently visit the historical sights, palaces, and natural wonders that make Sintra such a captivating destination. However, there are also hop-on-hop-off buses, taxis, private tuk-tuks and the options of hire cars, that can all help with your visit to Sintra.
Just a note on private tuk-tuks – this might be a good option if you’re looking for something a bit different. However at €5 per journey, this more expensive option was isn’t as private as you might expect. At several places, tuk-tuk drivers came round the queue to collect more people to join the tuk-tuk. Meaning you’ll likely be sharing a small tuk-tuk with other people.
Weather in Sintra
Like most of Portugal, the weather is favourable all year round, ranging from mild winters to hot summers. However, it does get a little chilly in parts of Sintra, like the top of Pena Palace. And expect temperatures to drop as low as 6 degrees in winter. As with anywhere, check the weather before you go and dress accordingly: sun cream, layers, hat, etc.
I hope this helps anyone looking to visit Sintra.