Packed with colourful fairy tale palaces, rambling hilltop castles and exotic flora, one day in Sintra makes an excellent day trip from Lisbon. Here’s all you need to know about visiting this Portuguese gem.


Once a simple monastery on a hill just outside Lisbon, King Ferdinand II converted Sintra into a flamboyant and decorative summer palace surrounded by castellated battlements, turrets and a drawbridge. His mix of Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance influences created a mish-mash of decorative styles and a very photogenic building.

He set his palace in a landscaped park introducing a vast array of exotic species of trees. The result is a truly unique masterpiece combining respect for the past with the beauty of nature.

Others would follow his lead. More whimsical palaces and gardens would follow; Sintra would become the birthplace of European Romanticism. In 1995 its quality and uniqueness was recognised by UNESCO who bestowed its much sought-after world heritage listing.

There are lots of palaces, parks and castles to see in Sintra, and it’s not possible to see them all in one day. But this one day Sintra itinerary captures the highlights.

WHAT TO SEE IN ONE DAY IN SINTRA

PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE PENA AND GARDENS / Colourful stomping ground of King Ferdinand II

CASTELO DOS MOUROS / 8th-century Moorish hilltop castle

HISTORIC CENTRE OF SINTRA / Touristy but cute cobblestone streets

QUINTA DA REGALERIA / Flamboyant architecture & gardens inspired by mythology

PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE SINTRA / The best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal

HOW TO GET TO SINTRA?

The palaces and castles of Sintra are spread all over the 145 square kilometres of the Parque Natural Sintra-Caiscais. Visiting all the sites requires hiring a car. But with a bit of careful planning, you can visit many of the best sites using public transport on a day trip from Lisbon.

The easiest way to get to Sintra from Lisbon is by train. Trains run regularly from Rossio (40 minutes, €5 return) and from Oriente stations (45 minutes, €5 return). Tickets are easily available at the machines or kiosks at the stations. Make sure you exit the train at Sintra station, not the misleadingly named Portela de Sintra which is first.

HOW TO GET AROUND SINTRA?

Sintra train station lies at the bottom of a hill and most of the sights are arranged above it on the hillside.
You have three options for getting around the sites.

WALKING / Walking around Sintra is excellent. The exotic species of plant add a fascinating backdrop to the castles and palaces. But the hill over which the sights are spread can be steep and the distance soon adds up. If you were to walk this entire itinerary, as well as around the sights themselves, you could easily cover 10 km and 300m of ascent and descent.

BUSES / Two helpful buses run from the station. Bus 434 makes a loop passed Pena Palace, Moorish Castle & National Palace of Sintra (Sintra town) before returning to the station. It costs €6.90 to hop on and off this service or €3.90 for a one way trip. The first bus leaves at 9:15 from Sintra train station and runs every 15 minutes during peak tourist times. The last bus is at 19:50.

TAXIS / Tuk-tuk drivers operate from the train station and will run you up and down to Pena Palace. They charge €5 per person, with the advantage that they will drop you wherever you want.

If you enjoy walking, but still want to have time to see the sights, we suggest you get a tuk-tuk to the lower entrance of the Pena Palace and then visit the rest of the sights as you walk down the hill from there. If you are less keen on walking, buy the 435 hop on / hop off ticket to make your way between the sights.

Whatever you do, try to make sure you arrive at the lower entrance to Pena Palace when the gates open in the morning.

HOW TO SPEND ONE DAY IN SINTRA?

There’s a lot to do, but if you only have one day in Sintra, here how we think you should do it. We’ve put the main sights that you wouldn’t want to miss, in the right order so you can waste no time in collecting some of the area’s star attractions.

1 / PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE PENA AND GARDENS

Pena Palace, perched on top of a rocky peak, has history dating back to the middle ages. Originally a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary it became a monastery in the 15th century. In the 18th century, a lightning strike and earthquake reduced much of it to ruins.

But a young prince (later to become King Ferdinand II), wowed by the ruins, purchased the old monastery, the nearby castle of the moors and the surrounding land. He set about converting the monastery into a summer palace. But it would be no ordinary summer palace.

The old monastery was rebuilt along with a new European grand house all surrounded by the battlements, watchtowers, and drawbridge of a faux castle. Islamic and Medieval Christian influences are spread throughout the palace with tiles, vaulted arches and intricate carvings dominating the interior.

GAUDY & TACKY, BUT IN A GOOD WAY

With a bright yellow monastery, a rustic red castle and ornate battlements the whole sight could easily feel gaudy, tacky and cheap. It’s all of those things but somehow manages to win you over.

Ferdinand also meticulously landscaped most of the grounds. Birds frolic in man-made lakes surrounded by over 500 different species of trees. Sequoias and eucalyptus trees (introduced over the years) tower over a mix of ferns and colourful flowers. It’s a beautiful spot.

This place would be the birth of European Romanticism, a movement that celebrated combining both the beauty of the past and of nature. The result is decorative and flamboyant buildings, of which Pena Palace is the greatest. UNESCO made this place a world heritage site in 1995, and it is easy to see why.


HOW TO GET THERE / Take a tuk-tuk or a bus from Sintra station to the lower entrance at Pena Palace. The queues at the lower entrance are shorter than at the main entrance and it is a beautiful walk up through the gardens to the palace. Allow 1 hour 30 minutes to explore the grounds and palace.

PENA PALACE & GARDENS / High Season: 9:30 – 20:00 (gardens); 9:45 – 18:30 (palace); Low Season: 10:00 – 18:00; with last admission 1 hour before closing | Price: €7.50 gardens and palace exterior; €14 for gardens, palace exterior and palace interior | Bookings: Book online to save queuing and for a 5% discount.

2 / CASTELO DOS MOUROS

Castelo dos Mouros sits on another rocky peak of the hill just a few hundred meters away. It was built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors (Muslims that occupied the Iberian peninsula at the time). Its vantage point allowed it to control the Atlantic coast and the inlet to Lisbon. But it was not enough and after Lisbon fell in 1147 the castle was captured to the Christian King Alfonso Henriques.

In 1755 an earthquake destroyed much of the castle leaving the tower in ruins. But just as he had renovated the monastery, in 1839 King Ferdinand II began restoring the castle as well. He rebuilt the chapel, repaired the walls and reforested the area.

The castle is now a sight to behold with its walls meandering up and down the contours of the hill. Each turret provides excellent views over the surrounding area. Inside an interpretation centre highlights its Moorish history with artefacts found during various digs.


HOW TO GET THERE / Exit the Pena Palace at the main entrance, turn left on the road and after a couple of minutes you will arrive at the Moorish Castle ticket office. The castle is another 5-minute walk beyond the ticket office.

MOORISH CASTLE / 9:30 – 19:00 (high season); 10:00 – 17:00 (low season) last admission one hour before closing | Price: €8 | Bookings: Book online for a 5% discount and to avoid the queues.

3 / HISTORIC CENTRE OF SINTRA

There is no denying that the centre of Sintra old town can be busy and the restaurants touristy. But it’s not as bad as it could be. Take a stroll along the pedestrianised cobblestone streets and narrow stairways admiring the cute shops, churches and townhouses.

Grab lunch at Tascantiga, which serves excellent tapas on the southern edge of town, before stopping off a Piriquita II for either the fine pastel de nata or the even better chocolate salami (a slice of chocolate log packed with nuts and biscuits). Refreshed and energised head towards Quinta da Regaleira.


HOW TO GET THERE / Exit the Moorish castle and head into Sintra old town. Walk the path signed to Sintra which runs down the east side of the hill, then turns left at the main road into Sintra old town (20 minutes). Alternatively, head back to the ticket office and get the bus into town.

4 / QUINTA DA REGALEIRA

What Ferdinand began, others would follow. More flamboyant decorative houses and gardens would be built in the area. One of the more impressive is Quinta da Regaleira which was completed in 1910. The property consists of an ornate palace, a small chapel and an expansive park. The palace is impressive enough with gothic turrets rising into the air and ornate features carved into the façade. But the real attraction is the remarkable gardens.

Inspired by the mythological beliefs of the owner, every corner of the park has something hidden in the vegetation. Disney like turrets and castellated walls poke through the trees. Grottos, fountains, ponds and benches lurk in the undergrowth.

The star attraction of Quinta da Regaleira is the deep well that tunnels into the ground with steps spiralling down to the bottom. It’s worth waiting behind the hordes of people trying desperately to snap selfies in very poor light. A secret tunnel takes you over a cute bridge to exit the well.

Visiting here is a voyage of discovery and every step brings a bit of intrigue.


HOW TO GET THERE / It’s a short 12-minute walk along the main road from the centre of Sintra old town west to Quinta da Regaleira. Allow yourself at least 1 hour 30 minutes to explore the house and grounds.

QUINTA DA REGALEIRA / 9:30 – 20:00 (high season); 9:30 – 18:00 (low season); last admission one hour before closing | Price: €6

5 / PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE SINTRA

If you have been quick you may just have time to look around the inside of the National Palace of Sintra. The National Palace was originally one of two Moorish castles in Sintra (the other Castelo do Mouros at the top of the hill). But nothing built during Moorish time has survived.

Instead what stands here now was constructed by Christian kings in the 15th and 16th centuries. It still contains significant Gothic, Renaissance and Moorish influences and being inhabited for much of the last 500 years, it’s currently the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal.

Even if you don’t quite have time to look around, it is worth admiring the white conical turrets rising from the palace roof that were added in the early 15th century by King John.


HOW TO GET THERE / Exit the grounds of Quinta da Regaleira and make the 12-minute return walk to Palácio Nacional de Sintra, which sits in the centre of the old town. As the palaces close and your day comes to an end either take the 10-minute walk back to Sintra station or hop on the bus one last time.

PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE SINTRA / 9:30 – 19:00 (high season); 9:30 – 18:00 (low season); last admission half an hour before closing | Price: €9.50. Bookings: Book online to save queuing and for a 5% discount.

HOW TO AVOID THE QUEUES AT SINTRA

Queues at Sintra can be long so buy your tickets in advance online and save them to your phone with our link below, which will also include a 5% discount. Please note, time might be tight, so you might want to consider buying the tickets for the Sintra National Palace when you get there, in case you run out of time.

You cannot purchase tickets online for Quinta da Regaleira, so you’ll need to do it the old fashioned way and queue up for tickets – however on our visit, it wasn’t too bad.

PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE PENA AND GARDENS / Skip the queue tickets

CASTELO DOS MOUROS / Skip the queue tickets

PALÁCIO NACIONAL DE SINTRA / Skip the queue tickets

WHERE TO NEXT?

If you’re looking at a day trip to Sintra, you’ll definitely want to take a look at our 3 day Lisbon itinerary where we uncover some of the interesting neighbourhoods that make it such a great European destination. Our 1 day in Sintra is easily added on to our Lisbon itinerary for a great short stint in Portugal.

Here’s some other reading you might be interested in.

SPENDING 3 DAYS IN SEVILLE

2 DAYS IN CÓRDOBA

AN ISLAMIC CALIPHATE IN CÓRDOBA

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Collect all the best sights in the fairy-tale village of Sintra in just one day. / Palácio Nacional de Pena / Castelo dos Mouros / Quinta de Regaleria Palácio Nacional Sintra

Collect all the best sights in the fairy-tale village of Sintra in just one day. / Palácio Nacional de Pena / Castelo dos Mouros / Quinta de Regaleria Palácio Nacional Sintra

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