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Visiting Portugal: A Whimsical Daytrip in the Forests and Palaces of Sintra

Sintra, Portugal

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Why is Sintra Famous?

Sintra is a Portuguese town about an hour Northwest of Lisbon.  Within its magical pine forested hills, sits fantastic palaces and the ruins of a 10th century Moorish castle.  A daytrip to Sintra from Lisbon is one of the most mentioned things to do when visiting Portugal.

Portugal’s nobility constructed their summer homes in Sintra because of the cooler climate. It became a popular destination for Europe’s wealthy in the 1800’s. The architecture is often described as whimsical and fairytale-like but it’s not just the architecture.  If you dare to hike through the parks, you’ll find natural and man-made formations of whimsy and fantasy also.

The cultural landscape of Sintra is registered on the Unesco World Heritage List because of the preserved deep and rich cultural history spanning centuries as well as its groundwork as one of the first examples of European Romanticism.

Ferdinand II transformed a ruined monastery into a castle featuring Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish, and Renaissance elements around 1840. In addition to the castle, the surrounding area was crafted into a Romantic park filled with rare and exotic trees, fountains, watercourses, series of ponds, cottages, chapels, mock ruins, and magical pathways.  

They have managed to adapt to modern times while maintaining the authenticity of major landmarks which include the Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. 

Daytrip from Lisbon to 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.  

This is advised because Sintra is crowded even during off-season leaving very few places to park in the parking lots at the center.  You’ll still need to take the bus from this point unless you are prepared for a very long hike. (Speaking from experience here.)

I typically avoid these kinds of attractions but Sintra is a really special place worth seeing.  For that reason, If you are only going to see it once in your life and have only 1 day to spare, I highly recommend booking a tour with a local guide.  Their expertise will save you time and get you to everything you want to see with less hassle and wasted energy.

Admission Tickets and Tour Options

For a 1 Day Sintra itinerary, you will want to start very early and include the following:

  • Palacio Nacional da Pena ***Expect long lines to get into the Palacio Nacional da Pena, even when you’ve paid to skip the line.***
  • Palacio de Pena gardens
  • Castelo dos Mouros
  • Quinta de la Regaleira

You can do more if you are NOT entering the palaces for tours inside, you just have to know what’s more important to you.

For the best photo spots, you’ll want to enter Pena Palace in order to access the terraces. FYI – you cannot take photos inside the palace staterooms. If that is your goal then you want to start at Pena Palace and work your way back down and get there as it opens before the crowds build up.

Pena Palace

To visit Pena Palace, you must purchase a Park + Palace Timed Entry ticket:

PALACE AND PARK

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 14 €
  •  Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 12,5 €
  •  Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 12,5 €
  •  Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 49 €

To wander through the gardens only and see the outside of the palace, you can purchase a Park ticket:

  • Ticket for adults (18 – 64 years) 7,5 €
  • Ticket for youths (6 – 17 years) 6,5 €
  • Ticket for seniors (over 65 years) 6,5 €
  • Family ticket (2 adults + 2 youths) 26 €

If you purchase a timed entry, the timing is extremely strict so be sure that you have calculated your arrival time accurately.  

Each Of Sintra’s Parks and monuments has its own hours and ticket requirements, check carefully when planning.

Park & Palace of Monserrate 

A combination of Gothic and Indian influences with Moresque suggestions in its construction and integrated into the European Route of Historic Gardens in 2020.

  • 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 

A 10th century fortification with its walls snaking 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 

A palace of many palaces with buildings dating as far back as the 10th century.

  • 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 

Highlights the changes during 3 Portuguese Royal Family’s evolution from the Baroque to the Rococo and onto Neoclassicism architectural styles.

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 

Free access to the gardens, the interior is closed to the public.

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 Lisboa Card which also provides for bus/train transportation in 24 hr increments.

Cascais to Sintra

You may choose to base yourself in Cascais which is less than 30 minutes away by car.  You have many transportation options:

By car: (Not recommended.) It depends on your starting point but from Onyria Quinta da Marinha Villas, it is 20 – 25 minutes with a toll and non-toll option via A-16.  

There are free parking lots in the center of Sintra BUT they will be pretty packed even in the early hours of the morning.  You may see a “friendly helper” that points out an available parking space for you, he’ll expect a monetary gift for doing so (1 Euro).  You should have some cash on you anyway as many of the small stores and bakeries might be cash only. (And they definitely don’t take American Express.)

***Where to get cash in Portugal: Use the Multibanco atm’s, select no conversion, and hopefully you are using a card that does not charge foreign transaction fees. ***

The 434 Bus

Once parked, proceed to the train station to catch the 434 Bus.  Pay attention to the difference in scheduling for low and high season.  Typically buses run every 15 – 20 minutes. The bus runs a one-way loop from the Sintra train station with stops at 

  • Sao Pedro de Sintra
  • Castelo dos Mouros
  • Palacio da Pena
  • Sintra Vila (historic center)
  • Sintra Estacio (returns to the train station)

The 24 Hour Hop on Hop Off Bus ticket is €11,50 and can be used for 417 to Cascais also. It can be purchased online.

Alternatives:

You can take a Tuktuk up to Pena Palace and there will be many people by the stations trying to sell you tours and rides.  Scheduling a tuktuk transfer ahead of time might be advised as you may be given a wide range of prices from the tour guides on site.  

***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.***

You may find a variety of tours offered for Sintra, read your options carefully as many do not include tickets to some attractions.  If you’re not interested in going into the palaces, maybe a scenic tour would best suit you.

Taxi will be the most expensive option and can be hard to find to go up.  

When you come out though, there are many options if you find yourself too tired to walk anymore.  It’s also cheaper for a ride down than going up.

forest path in serra da sintra

Sintra Hiking

Sintra is a magical place for hiking and it’s how you’ll really get to see the forests for their amazing views.  A Sintra Day Trip is an excellent time for a family or couples hike.  All advice says DO NOT Hike up to Pena Palace but if you’re a hiker, I say do it.

Here’s how to avoid my mistakes though.  It was never my intention to hike up, only to hike down.  It happened in the strange way these things happen where one decision leads to another and before you know it, you’re wandering uphill. 

Had I realized that’s what we were going to do, I just would’ve done it a little differently because one of my littles was completely exhausted after hours of uphill wandering Serra de Sintra.  We were on our way to the Moorish Castle (Castelos dos Mouros), it was so close, I felt like I was already there when we had to turn around and go back to the taxis and tuk tuks to arrange a ride back down to the Sintra parking lot. (And don’t be afraid to keep going to another person if the first one says a price that’s too high.)  

Our ride was  €30 in a van for 5.  Others told me €40 – 50.  Okay, so the van might not have been the swankiest ride, the running board fell off twice when I was getting in. But, hey, we made it and the driver was friendly so that makes it an awesome ride.

I was pretty bummed but it was time to call it quits.  We wound up walking 2 of the hiking trails as we ran into detours, closed gates, and looked for shortcuts.  Now that I know better, there is one trail that I would recommend for families or walkers – “PR2 SNT – Pena”. It’s an easy, kid-friendly 2.9 mi loop from the National Palace in the Historic center of Sintra.  There is an elevation gain of 790 feet.  You can print a map of it through Alltrails for a fee or download the app for free navigation as you go.

The other trail that we wound up combining with PR2 SNT- Pena was Parque das Merendas – Quinta da Pena – Feteira da Rainha which is a much more challenging 3.3 mile loop (1043 ft elevation gain).  I don’t recommend this one for kids. 

The scenery along the way was worth the hike.  I would gladly spend a week walking the forests of Sintra.

One Day DIY Itinerary in Sintra

  • 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.
  • Pre-purchase tickets and take the tram (additional fee) or walk up to the entry line by 9:30 to beat the crowds. (Remember, timed entry is the only option and they are unforgiving about late arrival.)
  • Be sure to check out all of the terraces of the palace for sweeping views and instagrammable moments.
  • Take the trail to the Moorish Castle and then back down to the historic town center.  
  • End your DIY Sintra tour visiting the historic town center attractions.

Sintra Historic Town Center Attractions

  • Initiation Well – Poço Iniciático
  • Gruta do Labirinto in Quinta da Regaleira
  • Fonte Mourisca 
  • Park Liberdade – Botanical Garden
  • Fonte da Sabuga
  • Parque das Merendas
boulders in the forest sintra

Want to Stay in the middle of it all?

Try Casa da Pendoa or Villa Gale Sintra.

Recommended Places to Eat in Sintra 

Restaurante Metamorphosis (Portuguese Cuisine) Rua Joao de Deus 41 45, Sintra 2710-580 Portugal

Villa Craft Beer & Bread Calçada Rio do Porto, 2710-616 Sintra, Portugal 

Enjoy craft beers with fresh baked bruschettas.

Casa Piriquita (Pastries & Coffee) R. Padarias 1, 2710-603 Sintra, Portugal 

Try the famous travesseiro pastries and ‘queijadas’.

100 Tachos Rua Guilherme Gomes Fernandes nº 19, Sintra 2710-721 Portugal

While walking uphill 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.

Happy Wandering on a Day Trip to Sintra!

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