Portugal

A Day Trip To Sintra: A Palace Packed Day Trip from Lisbon

October 31, 2016

The colorful hill town of Sintra boasts three palaces, an old Moorish Castle, a gothic mansion, and miles of forested hiking paths. A day trip to Sintra is a chance to view man-made beauty in peaceful, garden settings. While it’s a popular day trip from Lisbon, you really need at least two days to visit all of the palaces and spend a bit of time in the town. If you’re limited to one day, my favorites are Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira.

Getting there

The easiest way to get from Lisbon to Sintra is the regional Comboios do Portugal (CP) train. You can purchase your reusable Viva Viagem card (€ 0,50  for the card) in the Rossio railway station in Lisbon (or almost any train or metro station) and load it with one of the following options:

  • Two one-way 4 zone tickets:  € 2,15 each way, so € 4,30 total
  • 24 hours: € 10,00 valid for unlimited trips on Comboios do Portugal (CP) trains, Carris trams and buses and metro
  • Zapping: € 1,80 each way, so € 3,60 total. We found this to be the cheapest and most convenient way to pay for transport around Lisbon. You can fill your card with as little as € 3,00, and you get a more favorable rate on trains, buses, trams and the metro than if you were to purchase a single ticket.

Getting around

The Sintra 434 bus makes a loop from the railway station to three major sites in Sintra: the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Castelo dos Mouros, and the Palácio Nacional da Pena. A single loop hop-on, hop-off ticket is €5.00 (2016). While it’s less than 3km from the railway station to the furthest stop on the loop, Pena Palace, it’s a steep incline to the top. If you want to walk, just be prepared for a decent hike.

The Sintra 435 bus makes a loop from the town centre to Quinta da Regaleira and the Palace of Monserrate. A single loop hop-on, hop-off ticket is €2.50 (2016). Quinta da Regaleira is within walking distance of the train station, while the Palace of Monserrate is an additional 3km up the road.

Sintra is a small town with congested roads and extremely limited parking, so it’s quite a hassle to drive. If you’re not interested in waiting for the overcrowded bus, there are plenty of taxis and tuk tuks that will transport you between the palaces.

Practical tips

We visited twice, once in October and once in July. To see all 5 major sights in Sintra, you really need two days. If you’re only going for a day trip to Sintra, I recommend picking three places at a maximum.

While lines weren’t really an issue in October, we knew July would be much busier, so we caught one of the first trains out of Lisbon to Sintra. If you’re sticking to the 434 loop, I’d recommend you go to Pena Palace first, walk about 10 minutes downhill to the Moors Castle, and then catch the bus back down to the center of town. On our second visit, we visited Quinta da Regaleira in the afternoon, which is only a few minutes walk from town and had no queue to get in.

To avoid queues at the ticket office, purchase tickets in advance here.

What to see

The 434 bus will take you to the National Palace, Moorish Castle, and the Pena Palace. You can purchase a combined entrance ticket for all three sites. With the rise in popularity of Sintra, the price increased to €25/€20 adult/child as of March 2016. If you’re pressed for time, consider only purchasing entrance to one of the sites, or only the gardens of Pena Palace if you’re not interested in viewing the interior.

Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Located in the center of town, our favorite details of this whitewashed 14th century palace were the geometric wall tiles found in most rooms and the massive kitchen. A unique feature of exterior is the two huge conical chimney. You can imagine the kitchen must be large when they warrant chimneys of that size.

National Palace of Sintra - Parques de Sintra

National Palace of Sintra - Parques de Sintra

Castelo dos Mouros

We loved the heavily shaded walk up to this partially restored fortress that was originally built in the 9th century. From hiking up the steps along the exterior walls of the Moors Castle, you get amazing views of Sintra and the National Palace below and Pena Palace above.

Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Castelo dos Mouros - Moors Castle in Sintra

Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal

Palácio Nacional da Pena

The last stop on the 434 bus loop is the bright and multi-colored Pena Palace. This palace was commissioned by King Ferdinand II in 1842 in an attempt to rival the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria.

The façade serves as a color-coded legend. The red portion of the castle is the oldest part, built on top of the 15th century monastery that was rendered to ruins in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The ochre, or yellow, arches and domes showcase the Moorish influence, while the blue tiled structures are reminiscent of the Manueline style.

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Park and National Palace of Pena - Palácio Nacional da Pena

Park and National Palace of Pena - Palácio Nacional da Pena

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Pena Palace grounds

If your legs aren’t jelly after the stairs of Lisbon and the Moorish Castle, hike through the palace grounds about 20 minutes south to the High Cross with the Saint Maria viewpoint for a beautiful view of the palace.

Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

High Cross at Pena Palace grounds in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira

Nicknamed The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire, the real highlights of this gothic estate are the enchanting gardens with underground tunnels, caves, grottos and gardens to explore. This palace is part of the 435 bus route, but it’s only a 20 minute walk from the railway station, so easily accessible by foot.

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

Palace of Monserrate

The Park and Palace of Monserrate is about 3 km up the road from Quinta da Regaleira on the 435 bus that starts in the center of town. This domed, arabesque estate crowns another hill top of Sintra and boasts the first planted lawn in Portugal.

What to eat

Most of the restaurants in the old town center are catered towards tourists, which means they are overpriced and not very authentic. We recommend grabbing a sandwich from Café Saudade, close to the railway station. We rarely pass up a chance to try the local pastry or dessert and here, you can get both. Travesseiros fits its literal translation to “pillows,” as they are light, pillowy rectangle pastries filled with almond and egg cream. The best are from Piriquita. Queijadas de Sintra are cheesecake tarts with a caramelized top.

Piriquita in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

 

We hope you enjoy exploring colorful Sintra!


Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal | The best day trip from Lisbon

 

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12 Comments

  • Reply Julianna November 4, 2016 at 4:54 pm

    That looks beautiful – I never went to Sintra last time I was in Lisbon and now I regret it. Will definitely do so next time. Lovely piece.

    • Reply nomanbefore November 5, 2016 at 5:46 pm

      Sintra really is such a cool place. There is so much to see in Portugal, there is always a good reason to go back. 🙂 We were there for two months and I feel like we only saw a tiny fraction. Hope you find your way back soon!

  • Reply Birthe (from Wandering the World) November 8, 2016 at 10:21 am

    We’re heading to Lisbon in two weeks, and Sintra is on the planning. We’ll definitely be using the detailed information you provided here, thanks! I love castles and palaces, so I’m really looking forward to this part of the trip. Your photos got me extra excited. 😉 It looks awesome!

    • Reply nomanbefore November 9, 2016 at 9:52 pm

      Hey again Birthe!I’m excited for you guys to see Lisbon, you’ll definitely love it! Sintra is such a cool place and a really easy day trip. The castles and palaces here are all so different and unique, it’s crazy they’re all in one small town. Hopefully it won’t be too busy so you’ll have the time and space to enjoy it all. Looking forward to reading about your trip on your blog!

      • Reply Birthe (from Wandering the World) April 26, 2017 at 10:44 am

        You predicted it, guys. We loved Lisbon! And Sintra was gorgeous, thanks for all the tips! It’s indeed an easy day trip from Lisbon and definitely worth it. Too bad we only had time for the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, but they were awesome. Even though I loved the colours of Pena Palace, perhaps I liked the Moorish Castle even better. Tough choice. Anyway, we finally came around to writing our own blog posts about Lisbon, starting with our day trip to Sintra, if you’re interested in checking it out. 😉

        • Reply nomanbefore May 1, 2017 at 8:12 pm

          Hey Birthe, so glad to hear you enjoyed Portugal! I love your post on Sintra! All the castles and palaces are cool, it’s so hard to pick a favorite. Mine was Quinta da Regaleira, the park and grounds have so many caves and cool features to discover. Looking forward to your next Portugal post!

          • Birthe (from Wandering the World) May 2, 2017 at 1:40 am

            Thanks, Kelly and Aron! That post on Lisbon is coming up, but first we wrote about our walk through the Hallerbos in Belgium (our home country), to see the flowering bluebells. It was gorgeous!

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