Many visitors to Sintra are day-trippers who make a quick visit to one or two sites before heading back to Lisbon. We spent two nights in Sintra but we easily could have spent a week or more to fully experience all that this town has to offer. The fairytale town of Sintra is full of castles, whimsical palaces and villas dotted amongst the hills of the Sintra Mountains. Only an hour train ride from Lisbon, Sintra is a resort town that was frequented by Portuguese nobility who flocked to the mountains to escape the summer temperatures in Lisbon. A visit to this peaceful town will be a time you won’t regret. Although the weather didn’t cooperate while we were there, Sintra was probably our favourite stop on our Portugal trip.
Things to Do:
- Quinta da Regaleira – Sintra is known for its beautiful palaces and villas and the main house of Quinta da Regaleira is no exception; however, the gardens surrounding this country estate are the main reason to visit. This magical property was commissioned by Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro (nicknamed Monteiro dos Milhoes or Moneybags Monteiro) and includes the main house and chapel, as well as park-like grounds with lakes and fountains, which were all designed with symbols related to secret orders. One of the highlights are the Initiation Wells which connect to the grottos and fountains through underground passageways.
How to Get There: A 15 minute walk from the centre of Sintra town up the hill along Rua Consiglieri Pedroso.
- Pena Palace (Palacio de Pena) – While planning my trip to Portugal, Pena Palace was top of my list of attractions to visit and it should be top of your list as well. It is a beautifully colourful palace that sits high above the hills of Sintra and usually has an amazing view over the region. Unfortunately it was completely clouded over the day we visited but I tried not to let that ruin my trip to Pena Palace. The palace was built in the 19th century by Ferdinand II of Portugal, the husband of Queen Maria II of Portugal as a summer residence for the royal family. It was built over the ruins of a monastery that was completely destroyed in the same 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of Lisbon. It was built in the Romanticist style and combines elements of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Islamic and Renaissance sources. In addition to viewing the exterior of the palace, you can also tour the interior rooms and surrounding gardens.
How to Get There: The Pena Palace is one of the stops on the Bus 434 from Sintra train station, which does a one-way tourist loop to the main attractions in Sintra. The Pena Palace can also be reached by tuk tuk or by car but parking may be limited. There are also hiking trails that lead to the Moors Castle and Pena Palace.
- Moors Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) – We didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Moors Castle during our visit to Sintra due to the rainy cloudy weather. One of the main reasons to visit the Moors Castle are the views overlooking the town of Sintra and the surrounding hillsides but the Castle was completely surrounded by thick clouds on that day. If you do get the opportunity to visit the Moors Castle on a clear day, you will experience a castle built during the Moorish occupation of Portugal during the 8th and 9th century. The ruined castle is surrounded by lush forests and spectacular views over the region all the way to Cabo da Roca in the west.
How to Get There: The Moors Castle is one of the stops on the Bus 434 from Sintra train station, which does a one-way tourist loop to the main attractions in Sintra. The Castle can also be reached by tuk tuk or by car but parking may be limited.
- Monserrate Palace – There was simply too much to do in the small town of Sintra that we didn’t get the opportunity to visit Monserrate Palace. Based on the pictures from other travellers, we missed out on a beautiful mansion with intricate stone details surrounded by equally beautiful gardens. As it is a little further away from the town centre, there are fewer visitors and it is often missed by day trippers. It was built as a summer residence for Sir Francis Cook, a wealthy English merchant.
How to Get There: Monserrate Palace can be reached by Bus 435 directly from the Sintra train station.
- Palacio Nacional de Sintra – We originally had not planned to visit the National Palace of Sintra during our short trip to Sintra but we woke to stormy weather and were told the National Palace was a better option than the Moors Castle if the weather was not in our favour. The palace as it stands today has remained virtually the same as it was in the mid-16th century and should not be confused with the colourful Pena Palace that sits on top of the nearby hills. The distinctive conical chimneys of the Palacio Nacional are visible throughout Sintra and while touring the palace you have the opportunity to see the kitchens where you can imagine huge pots of food were cooked under those chimneys. You are able to walk through the palace at your own pace and admire the decorative elements and azuelos that adorn each room. The highlight of the tour was the Coat of Arms Room with its amazing wooden coffered domed ceiling.
How to Get There: The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is located in the centre of Sintra town and just a 15 minute walk from the Sintra train station. The Palace is also the first stop on the Bus 434 from Sintra train station, which does a one-way tourist loop to the main attractions in Sintra.
- Indulge in Pastries at Piriquita – We worked up quite an appetite exploring the castles and villas of Sintra, so it was nice to rest our feet with a hot tea and coffee along with a pastry at this cute local cafe. The bakery that would later become the cafe, Piriquita, was founded in 1862. It is known for the local specialty pastries, queijadas and travesseiros. The queijadas are small sweets made with cheese while the travesseiros are a pillowy pastry filled with egg cream and almond.
How to Get There: Piriquita cafe is located in the centre of Sintra town directly across from the National Palace of Sintra on a small side street.
- Hiking Trails in Sintra – If you have extra time (and extra energy), it is possible to reach many of the sights in Sintra via hiking trails. Even though the weather was not in our favour, we decided to embark on some adventurous exploring and walk down the hill from Pena Palace. On our journey we walked past the Moors Castle and encountered some sections of the outer walls which we could climb and explore without any crowds. We walked through the forest a while before arriving at a small church. From the church we walked through a local neighbourhood back to the town centre.
- Santa Maria Trail – This is the trail we took from Pena Palace, past the Moors Castle and the Church of Santa Maria back to the town centre (about 1 hour).
- Seteais Trail – This trail starts at the Seteais Palace (hotel) and travels along a forested path to the Pena Palace. It is longer and more challenging than the Santa Maria Trail (about 1.5 hours).
- Vila Sassetti – From the Vila Sassetti and gardens there is a footpath that leads towards both the Moors Castle and Pena Palace (about 45 minutes).
Other Things to Do:
- Chalet e Jardim da Condessa D’Edla – house modelled after an alpine chalet which was built by Elise Hensler, the second wife of King Ferdinand II of Portugal.
- Convent of the Capuchos – Franciscan convent
- Sanctuary of Peninha – known for some of the best views in Sintra.
- Cabo Da Roca – cliffs which form the westernmost point of Europe.
- Cascais – another small beachside town that is an easy day trip from Lisbon.
- Azenhas do Mar – a pretty seaside town perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific.
- Sintra Tram – historic tram that runs from Sintra town to Praia das Macas in the summer.
- Combination tickets for a number of sites including the Moors Castle, Pena Palace, and Monserrate Palace are available at discounted prices.
- Most people visit Sintra on a day trip from Lisbon but stay overnight and you can experience this charming town in the evenings once the tourists have returned to the city.
How to Get To Sintra From Lisbon:
- About 1 hour on the Linha de Sintra from Lisbon’s Rossio Station to Sintra Station
- Once you arrive in Sintra, Bus 434 is a one-way loop starting and ending at Sintra Station that stops at some of the major tourist stops including the National Palace, Moors Castle and Pena Palace.
- Bus 435 is a one-way loop starting and ending at Sintra Station that stops at the National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, Seteais Palace, and Monserrate Palace.
Where to Eat:
- Cafe Saudade – breakfast, coffee, tea and sandwiches
- Romaria de Baco – one of the best meals we had in Portugal
- Tascantiga – small plates and friendly service
- Piriquita – bakery to try the local specialty, the Travesseiro, an almond pastry
Where to Stay:
- Chalet Saudade – We stayed at the Chalet Saudade, a beautifully restored house just a few minutes walk from the Sintra train station. As soon as we walked into the Chalet Saudade we felt at home and it was the perfect place to set the mood for our upcoming adventures exploring the fairytale castles of Sintra. It was all the small details, like the complementary port available in the sitting room while we enjoyed the view over the valley, that made our stay very memorable.
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