Palaces of Sintra: Portugal’s Hidden Treasures in a Whimsical Daytrip

Estimated read time 12 min read

Map of Sintra, Portugal

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Why is Sintra a Must-Visit Destination in Portugal?

Situated just an hour northwest of Lisbon, Sintra, a picturesque Portuguese town. Renowned for the enchanting palaces of Sintra which are nestled amid verdant, pine-forested hills, and the ancient ruins of a 10th-century Moorish Castle. A day trip to Sintra from Lisbon has emerged as a top recommendation for those exploring the cultural richness of Portugal.

Historically, Portugal’s nobility chose Sintra as the location for their summer residences, appreciating the region’s cooler climate. In the 1800s, Sintra’s whimsical and fairy-tale-like architecture drew the attention of Europe’s elite, transforming it into a popular retreat. But its charm extends beyond its unique buildings. Adventurers who explore Sintra’s beautiful parks will find a fusion of natural and man-made marvels that generate a sense of whimsy and magic.

Sintra’s cultural environment, an UNESCO World Heritage site, is a well-preserved tapestry of rich cultural past. It is a pioneering example of European Romanticism that spans ages.

Ferdinand II masterfully repurposed a ruined monastery into a multi-styled castle around 1840. The structure integrates Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish, and Renaissance elements in its design. The castle is more than a stunning piece of architecture, it is part of a larger Romantic park vision. This verdant oasis features rare and exotic trees, playful fountains, winding watercourses, serene ponds, quaint cottages, spiritual chapels, artistic mock ruins, and captivating pathways.

Despite modernization, Sintra has carefully preserved the authenticity of its significant landmarks, including the whimsical Pena Palace and the historic Moorish Castle. Thus, it continues to offer an unforgettable journey back in time to every visitor.

How to Plan a Perfect Day Trip from Lisbon to the Palaces of Sintra

Most people will typically and advisedly take the train from Lisbon to Sintra, followed by the 434 bus which makes its way up to the top at Pena Palace and passes by the major stops in town.  

Opting for public transportation is generally advised due to Sintra’s year-round popularity. With crowds even during the off-peak season, parking spaces in the town center are often scarce. From this central point, you’ll still need to take the bus or be ready for a substantial hike (trust us, we’ve been there) to reach the key sights.

Even if you typically shy away from popular tourist destinations, Sintra’s unique charm is irresistible. If you have only one day to experience its magic, consider booking a guided tour. A knowledgeable local guide can provide invaluable insights and streamline your itinerary. This will help you see all of Sintra’s must-visit sites without the stress and wasted energy of navigating alone.

Planning Your Visit to Sintra: Admission Tickets and Tour Options

If you’re planning a one-day itinerary in Sintra, it’s advisable to start early to make the most of your visit. A comprehensive day trip might include the following destinations:

  1. Palacio Nacional da Pena
  2. Palacio de Pena Gardens
  3. Castelo dos Mouros
  4. Quinta de la Regaleira

Bear in mind that you might have the opportunity to explore more locations if you opt not to take guided tours inside the palaces. Decide what’s most important to you for your Sintra experience.

For those seeking the best photo opportunities, access to the terraces via an entrance to Pena Palace is recommended. Please note, photography isn’t permitted inside the palace’s staterooms. To avoid crowds and capture the best shots, try to start at Pena Palace when it opens and then continue to the other sites.

Pena Palace Tickets

To tour both the park and palace of Pena, consider buying a Park + Palace Timed Entry ticket:

  • Adult Ticket (18 – 64 years): 14 €
  • Youth Ticket (6 – 17 years): 12.5 €
  • Senior Ticket (over 65 years): 12.5 €
  • Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 youths): 49 €

For those planning to explore just the gardens and the palace exterior, a Park ticket would be sufficient:

  • Adult Ticket (18 – 64 years): 7.5 €
  • Youth Ticket (6 – 17 years): 6.5 €
  • Senior Ticket (over 65 years): 6.5 €
  • Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 youths): 26 €

Timed entry tickets have strict entry time rules, so please ensure you accurately plan your arrival time. Each park and monument in Sintra has specific operating hours and ticket requirements, so it’s crucial to double-check these details while planning your Sintra visit.

Park & Palace of Monserrate 

An architectural gem showcasing a blend of Gothic and Indian styles, complemented by Moorish elements. In 2020, it was incorporated into the European Route of Historic Gardens.

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 8 €
  • Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 6,5 €
  • Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 6,5 €
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 26 €

Moorish Castle 

Experience the grandeur of the 10th-century fortification, with its formidable walls stretching across the hilltops.

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 8 €
  • Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 6,5 €
  • Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 6,5 €
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 26 €

National Palace of Sintra 

Explore a unique complex featuring structures dating back to the 10th century, often referred to as a ‘palace of many palaces’.

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 10 €
  • Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 8,5 €
  • Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 8,5 €
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 33 €

Convent of the Capuchos

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 7 €
  • Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 5,5 €
  • Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 5,5 €
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 22 €

National Palace of Queluz 

A historical landmark encapsulating the evolution of the Portuguese Royal Family’s architectural tastes, transitioning from Baroque to Rococo, and eventually to Neoclassicism.

PALACE AND GARDENS

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 10 €
  • Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 8,5 €
  • Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 8,5 €
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 33 €

Villa Sassetti 

While access to the interior is closed, visitors can enjoy free entry to the serene gardens.

Sintra can get expensive if you want to see inside all of the attractions. When time and funds are limited, here are some ways to save while exploring the beautiful town:

You can save on entry fees with the which also provides for bus/train transportation in 24 hr increments.

Traveling from Cascais to Sintra: Options and Tips

Should you decide to make Cascais your home base during your Portugal visit, you’re only a short trip away from the historic town of Sintra. Cascais to Sintra is less than 30 minutes by car, and you have multiple transport options:

By Car: While driving is an option, it’s not typically recommended due to traffic and parking challenges. If you do choose to drive, from locations like Onyria Quinta da Marinha Villas, the journey usually takes between 20 and 25 minutes, with both toll and non-toll options available via A-16.

If you’re considering parking in Sintra, be prepared for packed parking lots, even early in the morning. It’s common to encounter “friendly helpers” who will direct you to an available spot for a small fee (usually around 1 Euro).

Remember to carry some cash, as many of the local shops and bakeries may only accept cash payments. Moreover, some establishments might not accept certain credit cards, like American Express.

Cash Tips for Portugal: If you need to withdraw cash in Portugal, Multibanco ATMs are widely available. To avoid additional conversion charges, select the ‘no conversion’ option and, ideally, use a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees.

Once you’ve secured parking in Sintra, head over to the train station to catch the 434 Bus. Ensure to familiarize yourself with the varying bus schedules for low and high tourist seasons. Buses generally run every 15 – 20 minutes, making this a reliable option for getting around.

The 434 Bus operates a one-way loop from the Sintra train station, with convenient stops at the following must-see attractions:

  1. Sao Pedro de Sintra
  2. Castelo dos Mouros
  3. Palacio da Pena
  4. Sintra Vila (historic center)
  5. Sintra Estacio (returns to the train station)

The 24-hour Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket, priced at €11.50, offers great value. Plus, you can also use this ticket for the 417 route to Cascais. Tickets are available for purchase online.

Alternatives to the Bus: If you’re looking for a unique way to explore Sintra, consider a Tuktuk ride up to Pena Palace. You’ll find numerous sellers near the stations offering these rides.

***Keep in mind that pricing only includes a ride up to the main gate.  You still need a ticket to enter the gardens and palace, then you have to get uphill from the ticket center which could include a short tram ride for an additional fee.  Once you get up there, you will still be getting into a very long line.  “Skip the line” simply means skip the purchasing ticket line, not the entry line.***

Tour Options and Transport Tips in Sintra

Sintra boasts a wide array of tours tailored to varying interests. However, it’s essential to read through the options carefully as some tours might not include entry tickets to certain attractions. If you’re more captivated by the town’s exterior charm and aren’t keen on palace interiors, a scenic tour might be an excellent fit for you.

Taxi Travel: While taxis provide a convenient way to navigate Sintra, they tend to be the priciest option and can sometimes be challenging to find, especially for uphill journeys.

Downhill Journeys: After a day of exploration, if you find yourself too exhausted to walk, there are numerous transport options available for a relaxing ride downhill. You’ll also find that the fare for these journeys is typically cheaper than going uphill.

forest path in serra da sintra

Experiencing Sintra’s Wonders: Hiking Amidst the Forests

Sintra, with its enchanting landscapes, provides an idyllic setting for hiking. An excursion here, whether for a family day out or a romantic getaway, is an unmissable opportunity to immerse yourself in nature and soak up the awe-inspiring views. While conventional advice discourages hiking up to Pena Palace, adventurous spirits might find the challenge quite invigorating.

To make the most of your hiking experience, it’s essential to plan effectively. My own adventure began unexpectedly – an impromptu decision led to a few hours of uphill wandering in Serra de Sintra. The ascent left one of my little companions exhausted, a situation I would have navigated differently had I planned for the hike initially.

We set our sights on the Moorish Castle (Castelos dos Mouros) and almost reached it before resorting to taxis and tuk-tuks for a ride back to the Sintra parking lot. Remember, don’t hesitate to negotiate if the initial price seems too steep. Our journey back cost us €30 in a van accommodating five people. Other options quoted between €40 – €50. The van wasn’t luxurious, but it served its purpose, and the friendly driver made the ride memorable.

We ended up exploring two of Sintra’s hiking trails, encountering detours, locked gates, and attempting shortcuts. With a better understanding now, I would recommend the “PR2 SNT – Pena” for families or casual walkers. It’s a kid-friendly 2.9-mile loop from the National Palace located in Sintra’s historic center, with an elevation gain of 790 feet. You can obtain a map from Alltrails for a nominal fee or download their app for free navigation during your hike.

We also tackled the Parque das Merendas – Quinta da Pena – Feteira da Rainha trail. A more challenging 3.3-mile loop with a 1043 ft elevation gain, it isn’t advisable for kids.

The enthralling scenery that unfolds during these hikes truly makes the exertion worthwhile. Sintra’s forests offer a captivating experience that can easily occupy a whole week.

Crafting Your Perfect One-Day Self-Guided Sintra Itinerary

  • 8AM – Arrive at the train station via Lisbon or park at the Sintra parking lot.
  • Book the Tuk tuk to transport you up to Pena Palace and set a meeting time by 8:30 – 9:00.
  • To make the most of your visit, remember to pre-purchase your tickets and head towards the entrance by 9:30 AM. Keep in mind that Pena Palace operates on a strict timed-entry system, which does not accommodate late arrivals. The tram is available for an additional fee if you prefer not to walk up.
  • While exploring the palace, ensure to visit all the terraces for panoramic views and capture some Insta-worthy shots of the stunning surroundings.
  • Next, take the trail leading to the Moorish Castle before descending back to the historic town center. Finish your DIY Sintra tour by visiting the attractions that make the town center so vibrant and rich in history.

Unmissable Attractions in Sintra’s Historic Town Center

  • Initiation Well (Poço Iniciático): An intriguing subterranean tower known for its spiraling staircase, a popular symbol of Quinta da Regaleira.
  • Gruta do Labirinto in Quinta da Regaleira: A fascinating labyrinth of underground tunnels and caves.
  • Fonte Mourisca: A beautifully decorated Moorish fountain that is a testament to Sintra’s multicultural history.
  • Park Liberdade – Botanical Garden: An oasis in the heart of the town, showcasing a wide array of plants and trees.
  • Fonte da Sabuga: A historic fountain with charming aesthetics.
  • Parque das Merendas: A serene park, ideal for picnicking and taking a breather from your busy itinerary.
boulders in the forest sintra

Immerse Yourself in Sintra: Accommodation and Dining Recommendations

For a prime location in the heart of Sintra, consider staying at either Casa da Pendoa or Villa Gale Sintra.

Savor Sintra’s Cuisine: Our Top Restaurant Recommendations

Restaurante Metamorphosis

Savor traditional Portuguese cuisine at this well-regarded establishment. (Location: Rua Joao de Deus 41 45, Sintra 2710-580, Portugal)

Villa Craft Beer & Bread

A must-visit for craft beer enthusiasts, offering an array of fresh-baked bruschettas to pair with your drink. (Location: Calçada Rio do Porto, 2710-616 Sintra, Portugal)

Casa Piriquita

Start your morning with a cup of coffee and a selection of famous travesseiro pastries and ‘queijadas’ at this iconic pastry shop. (Location: R. Padarias 1, 2710-603 Sintra, Portugal)

100 Tachos

Indulge in the local flavors at this delightful eatery. (Location: Rua Guilherme Gomes Fernandes nº 19, Sintra 2710-721, Portugal)

While walking uphill in Sintra is challenging and strenuous, the peace, calm, and beauty is remarkably worth every step. It’s much easier going downhill though.  If you choose to hike up to the palaces, pace yourself, bring snacks and water. It might even be a better idea to pack a full lunch. Be sure to try some of Portugal’s famous foods.

Happy Wandering on a Day Trip to Sintra!

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  1. 4
    Sandy C.

    OMG, Sintra seems like a truly magical place to visit. Palaces, castles, and the best part is the forest. I don’t know how you could tear yourself away from it!

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