We visited Lisbon for a long weekend and decided to take a day trip to Sintra. After reading and researching about things to do in Sintra, we agreed to visit the colourful Pena Palace and the mystical Quinta da Regaleira as a minimum.
Sintra is definitely worth visiting and was a real highlight of our trip! In this article we recommend things to do in Sintra for a day and share a one day itinerary for Sintra from Lisbon.
- What is Sintra Famous For?
- Transport To and Around Sintra
- Things To Do in Sintra
- Food Options in Sintra
- Suggested 1-day Itinerary of Sintra from Lisbon
- Organised Tours from Lisbon to Sintra
- Final Remarks
What is Sintra Famous For?
Sintra is a town in Greater Lisbon famous for its 19th-century Romanticist architecture, historic estates and villas, gardens, and royal palaces.
Beautiful, picturesque, unique! In 1995 Sintra gained the UNESCO Cultural Landscape classification and became a World Heritage Site.
If you are wondering what to see in Sintra, some of the main landmarks include the medieval Castle of the Moors, the romanticist Pena National Palace, the Sintra National Palace, Monserrate Palace and Quinta da Regaleira
We had the pleasure to visit some of the key landmarks and had the opportunity to explore the old town and sightsee some of the famous attractions. In many respects, Sintra reminded us a lot of Sinaia in Romania
Below we have provided an overview of these places and our impressions.
Transport To and Around Sintra
Traveling to Sintra from Lisbon
Sintra is located 25km west of Lisbon and is easily accessible from Portugal’s capital. To make the most of your day in Sintra, be ready to start early in the morning.
We left Lisbon at 9am but could have certainly left earlier to maximise on our time in Sintra.
You have a few options for getting to Sintra from Lisbon.
- Public transportation – getting a train from Lisbon to Sintra is the most convenient way and fairly inexpensive. We got a train from Rossio station which only took 40 minutes and the train ticket was already included in the Lisbon Card. Depending on your location, you could also get a train from Oriente station. There are also bus services but they take longer and may not be the best public transport option.
- Organised tours – if you prefer to have your day organised by someone else, you can join a private tour from Lisbon to Sintra. Getyouguide have organised trips to Sintra which you may find useful and some of them also combine multiple destinations.
- Driving to Sintra – whilst this is an option, after seeing the narrow hill roads and the traffic during the day, this doesn’t look like a viable option. Should you decide to drive to Sintra, be prepared to be stuck in traffic.
After arriving at Sintra train station, you may be bombarded with people trying to sell you guided tours and different ways to explore Sintra. If you stick to our guide, you won’t need this.
If you, however, decide to join a guided tour, it’s advisable to get this organised from Lisbon so you can avoid the hassle of public transport.
Our first stop was Pena Palace and if you decide to go to Pena Palace in the morning, the best option is to catch bus 434 which is the tourist bus and serves the main attractions.
We bought a day ticket which is valid for 24 hours and you can hop on and off at the various stops to visit certain attractions.
Bus 434 goes in one direction loop from the train station to the historic centre before climbing up to Pena Palace and other sights.
Other alternatives include tuk tuk, taxi, sightseeing bus or walking if you are up for the hike. Warning – the hills are steep and unless you are physically prepared to climb up/ hike, you may regret your trip to Sintra.
Things To Do in Sintra
1. Admire the Colourful Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena)
Pena Palace probably is the most popular attraction in Sintra and one of the main reasons to visit this beautiful town.
It constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world and when you visit it, you would understand why.
The castle’s history dates back to the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. Later on a monastery was built which suffered damage from a lightning and an earthquake.
It wasn’t until 1842 when King Ferdinand II set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.
In terms of architecture, this place is so unique and different, almost like coming from a fairy tale. You can see vault arches, Medieval and Islamic elements, carvings of mythical monsters and striking colours catching the attention of any visitor.
The Palace is also surrounded by the Pena park with beautiful gardens, picturesque footpaths and places offering wonderful viewpoints. In all honesty, we didn’t explore much of the gardens as we decided to enjoy the views from the castle’s café and were on a mission to cover the main points of interest.
Useful information for visiting Pena Palace
Entrance to the Palace is via a timed ticket; you can choose to visit the gardens only or the gardens and the Palace.
We were at the Palace around 10:15am and got the 11am ticket and the queue was almost non-existent. At lunchtime, the queue was too long and the entrance of Pena Palace was overcrowded with tourists.
Make sure you go to Pena Palace early to avoid disappointment. We visited at the end of February which is considered low season and there were a lot of tourists, so we can only imagine how busy it gets during peak season.
To learn more about Pena Palace, we bought a guided tour via Google Play Store for €0.99, so you may consider this for your next visit.
Pena Palace tickets
If visiting during busier period, it might be a good idea to book your Pena Palace ticket in advance to secure your preferred time slot and skip the queue. If you visit off-peak and early in the morning, this may not be necessary.
If you have a valid Lisbon card, you can also get 10% discount on your ticket. This is what we did to save some money 🙂
2. Explore the Gardens of Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira was the other main landmark we wanted to visit in Sintra. This place consists of a Romantic palace and chapel, and a unique park /garden that features lakes, grottoes, interesting wells, fountains and beautiful constructions.
The Regaleira Palace (Palácio da Regaleira) is a decorative 19th-century gothic-inspired mansion. The façade is characterised by Gothic pinnacles, gargoyles and an impressive octagonal tower.
The outside of the Palace is impressive and so is the inside.
A highlight at Quinta da Regaleira is the “Initiation Well” which contains a 27-metre spiral staircase. This is linked to Tarot mysticism, Freemasonry or Knights Templar rituals.
This well never really served as a water source and actually resembles an underground tower with stairs.
The Regaleira park also contains and extensive and enigmatic system of tunnels with multiple entry points that include grottoes, the chapel, Waterfall Lake etc. All of this felt so unusual and unreal and yet so intriguing.
Useful information for visiting Quinta da Regaleira
If you purchase a 24 hour ticket for bus 434, this also includes bus 435 which can take you to Regaleira Palace.
During our visit, bus 435 wasn’t in operation and nobody told us about it. In any case, you can reach Quinta da Regaleira on foot from Sintra Palace and from the historic centre in Sintra.
Quinta da Regaleira tickets
If visiting during busier period, it might be a good idea to book your Quinta da Regaleira ticket in advance. If you visit off-peak, this may not be necessary.
If you have a valid Lisbon card, you can also get 20% discount on your ticket. This is what we did to save some money 🙂
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3. Hike up to the Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)
The Castle of the Moors is another place we wanted to visit and managed to include this in our itinerary for the day. This castle was built by the Moors between the 8th and 9th centuries.
It is situated on the top of the Sintra Mountains and was constructed for defence but also as a strategic viewpoint over the Atlantic coastline and the surrounding region. On a clear day, you can see Lisbon from the top of the castle.
The castle follows a 450-metre perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff and it could look like the Great Wall of China.
Useful information for visiting the Castle of the Moors
The castle is only 400-500 metres downhill from Pena Palace, so a good option to visit and there is no need to catch a bus as you can just walk downhill.
Be prepared to climb up and down the castle – you will be rewarded with great views but may also end up with muscle fatigue.
Castle of the Moors tickets
If visiting during busier period, it might be a good idea to book your Castle of the Moors Fast Track ticket in advance. If you visit off-peak, this may not be necessary.
If you have a valid Lisbon card, you can also get 10% discount on your ticket. We couldn’t get our discount as the ticket office was closed for lunch but we were able to purchase our tickets online with 5% discount.
4. See the Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
Sintra Palace is situated in the centre of the town. You would recognise this by the two white coned chimneys.
It is the best-preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal and most used royal palace in continual use from 15th century until the fall of the monarchy in 1910.
We didn’t visit this place, although we could have easily spent 1.5 hours here after our visit to Quinta da Regaleira.
After looking at the photos of this Palace and comparing it to Pena Palace and Regaleira Palace, we thought that this won’t impress us enough to warrant a visit.
Palace of Sintra tickets
If visiting during busier period, it might be a good idea to book your National Palace of Sintra and Gardens Fast Track ticket in advance. If you visit off-peak, this may not be necessary.
If you have a valid Lisbon card, you can also get 10% discount on your ticket.
5. Loose Yourself in the Historic Sintra Centre
The historic centre of Sintra is not that big and presents a great way to explore the cute streets and take some beautiful photos. The narrow streets reminded me of our trip to Cannes in France.
If you decide to stop for lunch whilst exploring the many sites of Sintra, then the old town could be a good place to stop for drink and have some lunch.
The old town is right next to the National Palace of Sintra, so if you are visiting Sintra Palace, then it only makes sense to wander around and admire the historic centre. We stopped here for lunch on the way to Quinta da Regaleira.
There are a number of souvenir shops here as well, so if you would like to get a souvenir or a nice magnet, you will be spoilt for choice.
The train station is only about 15 minutes away on foot or a short bus journey away.
6. Other Places to consider in Sintra
Whilst doing our research, we considered a few more landmarks but subsequently decided to focus on the top two or three places we actually wanted to visit.
Other sites to consider for your trip to Sintra include Monserrate Palace, Seteais Palace, Biesten Palace, the Convent of the Capuchos and Cabo da Roca.
Food Options in Sintra
If you decide to stop for lunch or a light snack, the Old Town of Sintra is your best bet. Having said that, we stopped for a coffee at the café at Pena Palace from where you could get sandwiches, pastries, snacks and drinks. There was also an opened café at the Castle of the Moors as well, so you won’t starve.
On the way from the Castle of the Moors to Quinta da Regaleira we stopped in the Old Town for a quick lunch and some sightseeing. We found this place called Fabrica da Nata where we had some tasty pasteis de nata whilst watching the process of making these traditional desserts.
Suggested 1-day Itinerary of Sintra from Lisbon
To maximise on your trip to Sintra, we recommend that you select two or three places you want to visit. The two must visit places for us were Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira and we also visited the Castle of the Moors as the 3rd option.
Here is our proposed itinerary for a day trip to Sintra:
- Train from Lisbon to Sintra (the earlier the better; we left at 9am)
- Bus 434 trip from Sintra train station to Pena Palace (try to visit this first to beat the queues)
- Visit Pena Palace and the gardens (allow at least 1.5 hours)
- A short walk downhill from Pena Palace to Castle of the Moors
- Visit the Castle of the Moors and enjoy the breath-taking views from the top (allow 1 hour)
- Bus 434 trip from the Castle of the Moors to the historic centre of Sintra
- Lunch and a short visit to the historic centre of Sintra
- Walk 15 minutes to Quinta da Regaleira or take bus 435 to Regaleira Palace
- Visit Quinta da Regaleira and the mystical gardens and underground tunnels (allow 1.5 hours)
- Take bus 435 to Sintra train station (or bus 434 from the historic centre) or walk to the train station following the scenic route
- Train from Sintra to Lisbon
Organised Tours from Lisbon to Sintra
If you prefer to join an organised tour, you could even explore other places such as Cabo da Roca and Cascais. Here are some suggestions.
Sintra definitely impressed us and indeed Pena Palace and Regaleira Palace were the highlights of our trip to Sintra. They were both so different and so unique in comparison to other places we have seen and visited before.
If you are wondering is Sintra is worth it, the answer is certainly Yes! Plan your time well to allow yourself to visit at least two of the places in Sintra. Make sure to read our article about things to do in Lisbon and how best to organise your trip to ensure you maximise on your time in Portugal.
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