Close your eyes and picture the most outrageous Disney-princess-enchanted-wonderland you can imagine. I’m here to tell you that that place exists, and that you can frolic your way through palaces, fortresses and gardens!
Sintra is a charming town nestled in the foothills of Portugal’s Sintra Mountains and a crown jewel in the Portuguese Riviera region. It features a number of historic estates, gardens, royal palaces, castles and military fortifications, which makes it one of the most-visited places in Portugal.
Its landscape and combination of Romantic, Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance architectural elements led Sintra to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is only a hop and skip away from Lisbon (25 KM) and is a popular day trip destination for those visiting the Portugese Riviera.
I dreamt of wandering through the halls of the castles that once housed Portugal’s monarchs including the stunning red, purple and yellow Pena Palace, peering into the depths of the initiation well at Quinta de Regaleira, walking along the Moorish Castle and gallivanting through the Monserrate Palace (just to name a few). Guess what? We did a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon and it definitely lives up to the hype.
Planning a day trip to Sintra? Read on for all the places you have to see if you only have 1 day in Sintra!
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Where to stay in Lisbon
As we hired a car to travel through Portugal and drove from the Algarve all the way up through Lisbon to Porto, we decided against staying in the heart of Lisbon to avoid the infamous steep hills and narrow streets. Instead, we stayed at Apartment CCB View in the neighboring Belem right next to the Jerónimos Monastery and mere steps away from the Belém Tower.
Our 2-bedroom apartment complete with a full kitchen, washing machine and living room was the perfect place to base ourselves for a few nights to explore Lisbon (a quick tram ride away), Belem and Sintra, and offered plenty of free street parking right outside the flat. The location couldn’t be more convenient and is a 5-minute stroll away from the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery. Click here to see availability and rates at Apartment CCB View in Belem, Portugal. Traveling without a car and prefer to stay in the heart of Lisbon? Click here to see highly rated hotels in Lisbon instead!
Ready to travel to Lisbon? I made most of these travel mistakes so that you don’t have to! Click here to read 7 travel mistakes you’re not going to want to make in Lisbon
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon
By car: Sintra is an easy 30 minute drive away from Lisbon/Belem. As soon as you exit the city it’s a straight shot on the freeway to Sintra. Though many people advise against driving to Sintra we actually didn’t encounter any issues with parking or traffic in June. You may want to reconsider traveling around Sintra by car during the peak travel months of July to September.
It’s also possible to do a day trip to Sintra from Cascais – it will take you 20-25 minutes by car to get to this fairy tale town.
By train: Take the Sintra line from Estação do Rossio, Estação do Oriente or Estação de Entrecampos stations in Lisbon. The train from Lisbon to Sintra takes under an hour and the trains run frequently throughout the day.
How to get around Sintra
If you’re traveling by car, there are a number of parking lots around the major sights of Sintra, just follow the signs. When we visited in June 2017, parking in Sintra wasn’t a problem and there was no parking fee at any of these parking lots. People also often park on the side of the road, especially around Quinta de Regaleira.
Driving in Sintra can be tricky, as the roads can be really narrow and there are a number of 1-way streets as well. Nevertheless, as long as you drive carefully it is manageable. Because of the flexibility that driving in Sintra gives you, I believe it’s one of the best ways to see Sintra.
If you’re arriving in Sintra by train, take the 434 tourist bus which runs several times every hour from Sintra’s train station to the Pena Palace, National Palace and Castle of the Moors. Just a word of warning though, the bus gets packed during the summer months.
Despite being a small town, the sights are scattered around and it is not a good idea to try to visit them all on foot. Even if you’re driving or taking the tourist bus, you’ll still want to wear a pair of comfortable walking shoes as there is tons of walking to be done within each of the sights.
Best time of year to visit Sintra
The peak travel season for Sintra is from July to September, and this is when the tourist crowds can be overwhelming. It can also be extremely warm during the summer months and the majority of the sights are not shaded. The best time to visit Sintra is in spring or autumn – April to June or September to November – the weather is milder and the crowds are thinner.
Is 1 day enough for Sintra?
There are many things to do and places to see in Sintra, but in my opinion, 1 day in Sintra is plenty. You’ll want to start early and leave Lisbon by about 8:30 AM in order to get to Sintra before the palaces open and to sort out parking/your tickets, but you can easily get back to Lisbon by 5 or 6 PM in the afternoon. Most of the palaces and parks are open until about 7 PM with the last entry at 30 minutes before closing.
There are only a limited number of hotel options in Sintra and the prices skyrocket during the peak season, so my recommendation would be to stay overnight in Lisbon or Belem. If you’re set on staying overnight in Sintra, you can check out highly rated hotels and guesthouses in Sintra by clicking here.
Tickets for the Sintra monuments
The entry fees for the monuments in Sintra vary from about 8 Euros to 10 Euros. You can buy tickets online ahead of time, but your best bet is to head straight to the Pena Palace at 9:30 AM when it opens and buying it at the counter there so that you can ask any questions about the tickets.
If you buy a combined ticket (like we did), you get a small discount – 5% off if you visit 2 sites, 6% for 3 sites and so on. Just a small note that the Quinta da Regaleira is operated independently of the other monuments so will require a separate ticket that can be bought at the estate itself (6 Euros). More information on opening times and prices are available here.
Must-visit places in Sintra
Planning a Sintra day trip and wondering what order to visit the monuments in? This is how we decided to visit the palaces and castles of Sintra for maximum convenience and flexibility.
1. Park and National Palace of Pena
Head straight to the Park and National Palace of Pena, AKA Parque e Palácio Nacional da Pena. The Palace of Pena stands atop a rocky peak (the second highest point in the Sintra hills) surrounded by gardens with winding paths, waterfalls, ponds, pavilions and stone benches.
The whimsical palace is perhaps the most well known landmark in Sintra and is extremely photogenic thanks to its bold red, yellow and purple facade. If you are driving, leave your car at the parking lot near the entrance.
Plan to spend at least 2 hours wandering through the palace and the gardens, and make sure you check out Cruz Alta (the highest point in Sintra). However, this is not actually the best viewpoint in Sintra. For unobstructed views of Pena Palace, make your way to this secret viewpoint in Sintra: Saint Catherine’s Heights, Queen Amélia’s favourite viewing point.
Click here for a map of the park – Saint Catherine’s Heights is situated lower down than Alta Cruz, right between the Grotto of the Monk and The Warrior Statue. You’ll need to do some climbing through boulders and trees to get here, but the view is worth it. Make sure you climb and walk around very, very, very carefully.
2. The Moorish Castle
If you are driving, leave your car in the same parking lot and walk over to the Moorish Castle. The Castle of the Moors, AKA the Castelo dos Mouros, is located next to the Pena Palace and overlooks the Sintra hills and town. As a military fortification, it is strategically perched atop of a hill with steep cliff faces and narrow watch towers. It was built in the 10th century and offers some seriously breathtaking views of Sintra from above.
From the entrance, you’ll need to walk 10-15 minutes to get to the castle itself. Plan to spend at least an hour here to take in the views. You get a great panoramic view of Sintra town as well as the National Palace of Sintra. We ended up skipping the National Palace as we got a good look at it from the Moorish Castle and wanted to spend more time at the next 2 locations.
3. Montserrate Palace
Hop in the car and head 4 KM west from the historic centre to Montserrate Palace. As it is slightly further from the other sites, Montserrate Palace tends to be far less crowded and off the beaten track. If you’re taking the tourist bus, you’ll want to head back to the historic centre on bus 434 and hop on bus 435 instead.
The 19th century park and small palace offers beautiful interiors and gardens and is a hidden gem in Sintra not to be missed. There is also a small, reasonably priced cafe and clean toilets in the garden if you’re feeling peckish.
There is a large parking lot right outside the entrance to the Montserrate Palace.
4. Quinta da Regaleira
One of the most intriguing landmarks in Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira is a private estate on the outskirts of Sintra town. The sprawling complex has changed ownership several times over the years, first belonging to a family of wealthy merchants before being sold to an eccentric millionaire who was fascinated by the Knights Templar, tarot, alchemy and the Masons. It was then sold to other private owners including a Japanese corporation before being acquired by the town council.
Plan to spend at least an hour at Quinta da Regaleira to wander around the palace, park, tunnels and the famous moss-covered initiation well. There is no parking outside Quinta da Regaleira so park on the side of the road (out of the way of traffic, obviously) between Quinta da Regaleira and Montserrate Palace.
5. Fonte Mourisca
On your way out of Sintra, make a quick pit stop at this small fountain built in the early 1900s. The small Moorish-influenced fountain features beautiful arches & a tiled wall as a backdrop.
Ready to book your dream trip to Sintra? Click here to see availability and rates at Apartment CCB View in Belem, Portugal. Traveling without a car? Click here to see highly rated hotels in Lisbon instead!
Have you done a day trip to Sintra? What was your favorite monument?
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