Fairy-tale castles seem a world away from the hussle and bussle of Lisbon, yet it takes less than an hour to get to Sintra. A day trip to Sintra is one of the most popular trips from Lisbon . Recognized as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site since 1995, the town draws thousands of visitors throughout the year. Sintra first became popular with Portuguese royalty after Lisbon became the country’s capital in 1256. Portuguese kings and nobles built summer palaces and villas in the countryside west of the city and on the cool green heights of Serra da Sintra. This has resulted in the construction of a number of quirky, spectacular palaces. In addition to all this royalty Sintra is also located near Cabo da Rocha, the westernmost point in continental Europe.
With so many things to do in Sintra it is important to make a list of what you’d like to see. Our insider tips will help you get the most out of your trip.
How to Get to Sintra
The easiest way to get to Sintra from Lisbon is to take the 45 minute train journey from Rossio train station in the city centre, you can buy a return train ticket at the station for €4.50. The 434 bus connects Sintra train station to the Moorish Castle and palace of Pena. This is the best and cheapest way to explore Sintra as the walk to the palace and castle is up a very steep hill. After leaving the train station turn right and look for the correct bus you’ll recognise it by the long queue. One of the most confusing aspects of the whole process is the cost. The buses advertise 24 hour hop-on-hop-off for €15 . However, that price is for all buses. If you are only interested in the round trip for the 434, the price is €6.90.
The current route for the 434 is as follows:
- Moorish Castle
- Palace of Pena,
- Sintra Palace
- Town centre,
- Train station.
The buses gets crowded quickly but they also empty quite a bit at every stop. While buses are supposed to leave the station every 15 minutes don’t expect to see a bus that often. The roads in Sintra are narrow and only allow one-way traffic.
The 435 connects the station to Quinta da Reguleira and the palace of Monserrate. We walked from the train station to Monserrate Palace and it took over an hour and a half. Not a walk we’d recommend, it’s a main road and there are no footpaths.
If you are driving to Sintra be warned that the roads are not designed for today’s traffic and it is almost impossible to find a parking place. So you need to have lots of patience if you plan to drive.
What to See in Sintra
Palace and Park of Pena/ Parque e Palácio Nacional da Pena
It is the most popular attraction in Sintra. The spectacular palace of Pena stands on the highest peaks of Serra de Sintra. Built in the 19th century as the dream summer palace of Dom Ferdinand II, known in Portugal as the ‘artist’ king. You’ll find an eclectic mix of architectural styles inspired by European Romanticism. With the declaration of the Republic in 191o, the palace became a museum preserved as it was when the royal family lived there. The brightly painted pink and yellow palace can be seen for miles around.
A huge park surrounds the palace, and hidden among the foliage are gazebos, fountains and a chalet built by Fernando II for his second wife the Countess of Edla. You can walk from the palace of Pena to the Moorish castle and visa versa. It is a pleasant walk through the woods and takes about 30 minutes.
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Moorish Castle/Castelo dos Mouros
This 10th century Moorish castle was conquered by Afonso Henriques in 1147. On a fine day there are great views from the castle walls over the old town to Palácio Nacional da Pena and along the coast.
Sintra National Palace/Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Sintra’s national Palace has a fascinating mix of Moorish and Manueline architecture. Inside the lavishly decorated, whimiscally themed rooms are a delight to explore.
Quinta da Regaleira
Built between 1904 and 1910 this palace and its extensive gardens are full of historical and religious references. The creation of eccentric millionaire António Augusta Carvalho Monteiro, in the grounds there are secret passages and hidden tunnels. Sintra’s local government reclaimed the site as a national monument in 1997 and opened it to the public shortly afterwards.
Palace and Park of Monserrate/ Parque e Palácio de Monserrate
Designed by Sir Francis Cook, who built a fantastic Moorish-style palace and transformed the gardens with a sweeping lawn, camellias and subtropical trees from all over the world. Although the palace of Pena is the star attraction in Sintra this was our favourite.
Built in the late 19th century, the palace is a unique example of romantic architecture. Located next door to Quinta da Regaleira and set on six hectares of the greenest botanical parks in town. At the entrance you receive a map so you don’t get lost. The paths are well marked with the places of most interest. Highlights include are two fantastic viewpoints with stunning views over the park and town of Sintra.
Organised Sintra Tour
If you don’t like queuing for public transport then it is well worth considering an organised tour. There are many organised Lisbon tours to Sintra. You’ll find a selection of the best Sintra tours here.
There are a wide selection of restaurants. and cafés in Sintra.
- Restautante Dom Pipas tucked away behind the train station is a great place for a meal away from the hussle and bussle of the centre. They serve traditional Portuguese food in a relaxed, rustic atmosphere.
- At Tascantiga Tapas and Wine, you’ll be able to sample a wide variety of Portuguese petiscos/ tapas with an original twist. In traditional tapas style the plates are small and good for sharing , but still a decent portion. They also have a kids menu.
- Antiga Fabrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa is the place to try the famous queijada from Sintra, a small sweet cake made using requeijāo (a fresh cheese).
- Café Saudade is a lovely old café in the centre of Sintra serving snacks and light meals.
If you are not visiting Sintra as part of an organised tour it is worth purchasing a good guidebook so you can discover more about the history.
- Top Ten Lisbon has a good section on Sintra.
Have we inspired you to visit Sintra? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.