The colorful hill town of Sintra boasts three palaces, an old Moorish Castle, a gothic mansion, and miles of forested hiking paths. A 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.
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.
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.
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 one, I recommend you pick 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, you can purchase tickets in advance here.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
We hope you enjoy exploring colorful Sintra!