Sintra, Portugal. Billed as a fairy tale castle city outside of Lisbon that, while not a household name, must be on every traveler’s bucket list. I visited Sintra in 2014, and I definitely had my doubts. Sintra was rumored to be terribly grandiose and was compared to the likes of Neuschwanstein and Disney castles. Despite my doubts, Sintra totally won me over! So much so that I organized a day trip to Sintra for guests at my wedding in Portugal!
Sintra is a small town located outside of Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. Despite its small size, Sintra (and the outskirts of Sintra) are home to no less than five castles (!!) and many, many gorgeous private mansions. In fact, Madonna recently moved here! The heart of Sintra is Centro, and Centro is home to many adorable shops, cafes and restaurants. Centro is also home to Sintra’s train station and one of Sintra’s five castles – The National Palace. From Centro, the remaining four castles are spread over the rolling hills surrounding Centro, which also offer gorgeous views of the Portuguese countryside and the Atlantic Ocean. Plan to spend no less than a half-day to scratch the surface of Sintra, two days to see “everything.”
Getting To And Around Sintra
Sintra is a 30 minute drive outside of Lisbon; however, I recommend taking the train from Lisbon. Sintra is an easy 40 minute train ride from Lisbon’s Rossio Station. The train to Sintra requires a Zone 4 ticket at €2,15/person; Sintra is the final stop on the line. Travelers do not need to buy train tickets in advance (its a commuter line). If you are driving to Sintra, try to arrive in off hours or ask your lodging where to park. Parking in Sintra is tiiiiiight, especially on weekends in the summer.
Once in Sintra, small buses that run from Centro to the castles and between and to the top of Pena Palace (see below for more info on Pena Palace!). The buses are inexpensive and a great way to get around the outskirts of Sintra, but expect to wait. Walking is also popular, but there is a lot of uphill space between the castles. Wear appropriate shoes and clothing.
Sintra also has these adorable little tram lines! The trams are from the 1930s and connect Sintra and the beach town of Praia das Maçãs. Tram services are limited; confirm times beforehand.
What To Do In Sintra?
There are a lot of activities to do in Sintra! To maximize your time, plan in advance as much as possible and leave some wiggle room. Sintra is very interesting and photogenic and there seems to be something worthwhile around every corner. I’ve listed the major sites here, but there are certainly others if you have more time! In terms of making an itinerary, for one day I recommend picking two castles and focusing your efforts on them. Do your favorite first and start when it opens (especially if Pena Palace is on your list!). If you only have a half day, focus your efforts on one castle – that will take up your half-day!
Pálacio de Pena a/k/a Pena Palace. If you only have one day in Sintra, visit Pena Palace. Pena Palace is one of Portugal’s best tourist sites and the most extravagant castle in Sintra. For reference, Pena Palace is the HUGE yellow castle on top of the mountain. Pena Palace is where almost all of those magical Instagram pictures from Sintra are taken, and its really a must see!
Pena Palace was built in the mid-1800s as a summer palace for the Portuguese royal family, and much of the interior has been restored to its former glory. After visiting multiple times, I do rank Pena Palace with the likes of Neuschwanstein Castle and (almost) Versailles. Getting to Pena Palace requires some light hill climbing after disembarking the bus and some stairs inside. Most able-bodied adults will have no problem.
Pálacio Nacional a/k/a the National Palace. The National Palace is the Madonna-looking (i.e. two large cones) palace right in Centro. Like Pena Palace, the National Palace was a former royal home. The National Palace is older than Pena Palace, dating back to the 16th century, and, like Pena Palace, has been largely restored to its former glory. The interior is pretty cool. Go here if you cannot leave Sintra Centro or if you have trouble walking. Oh and those conical spheres – they are chimneys! Who knew?!
Castelo dos Mouros a/k/a the Castle of the Moors a/k/a the Moorish Castle. Despite only being a shell castle (meaning that it has no interior, just walls), the Moorish Castle is my favorite castle in Sintra. It dates from the 10th century and looks like something out of Game of Thrones! Legend has it (or maybe history – unclear) that the Moores built the castle to defend Sintra. Definitely plan to wear walking shoes (my Rainbows did NOT cut it!) and plan to spend a couple hours. You can hike up and down the castle walls and get some great views of the Atlantic coast! Side note – the Moorish castle is not for people with any sort of physical inabilities.
In addition to these castles, Sintra is also home to two other castles – Monserrate and Quinta da Regaleira. I have not visited either , but I certainly hope to on my next visit. Quinta da Regaleira is home to the famous circling that you see in a lot of pictures. Monserrate is also supposed to be very nice.
Shopping. I really enjoyed shopping in Sintra, and I found some of my favorite Portuguese ceramic pieces in Sintra! Of course, everything is marked up for tourists, but there are quality pieces for sale. Aside from ceramics, Sintra sells typical Portuguese tourist goods. In the summer, local artists come out to sell their goods, including paintings of the castles.
Where To Eat In Sintra?
Hm, food in Sintra. There are a lot of touristy restaurants in Sintra – a lot! Definitely do your research in advance. When I visited, I had one meal (lunchish) at Pena Palace in its cafeteria. The food was actually pretty good and a real lunch, not just the Portuguese equivalent of a burger and fries. I also had a late after snack at Messias Wine Bar, which overlooks the National Palace and, while overpriced, the setting was phenomenal.
While Sintra is home to many restaurants catered to tourists, Sintra is also home to Casa Piriquita. Casa Piriquita has been around in some form since 1862 and it makes two famous pastries – the queijadas (cheese pastries) and travesseiros (almond pastries). Casa Piriquita is often busy but the to-go line moves quick and its reasonably priced for a famous bakery in a tourist city. To pick up pasteries, pull a number when you walk in and wait to be called. The employees speak English and are used to speaking with tourists.
Casa Piriquita – loving the teal and gold color scheme!
Where To Stay In Sintra?
Sintra is really, really east to visit from Lisbon, and thats what I recommend doing if you are short on time. If you have extra time or really like castles, Sintra has lots of hotels and bed and breakfasts. Definitely book in advance, as Sintra is popular with both the Portuguese and foreigners looking for a quick getaway.
If you are making a driving day trip to Sintra and the surrounding area or are staying in Sintra for a few days, the beach town of Cascais is close to Sintra and a lot of people pair Cascais with Sintra. I have never been to Cascais but I hear its lovely. Its also reachable via train line from Lisbon (if you wanted to train and Uber between Sintra and Caiscais). The Westernmost point in continental Europe is also nearby Sintra at Cabo da Roca. I did visit Cabo da Roca after a trip to Sintra and it worked out really well! Its really just a gorgeous viewpoint (somewhat reminiscent of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland) but its an easy add-on to Sintra. You only need about 20 – 30 minutes to explore Cabo da Roca.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Tickets for all of the Sintra sites are sold on an easy-to-use website that offer a 5% discount for purchase online. They offer further tickets for multiple-site purchases. For example, 7% off the total price if you purchase entrance to 4 sites.
Pálacio Pena: Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal. Open daily 10h – 18h (last entrance at 17h). Get there at opening to best avoid crowds, especially on weekends and during high season. €11.50/person, €3,00/person to take the bus up the hill to the castle (worth it – especially if tight on time). 5% discount for booking online here (highly recommended). Slightly reduced prices for seniors and children.
Pálacio Nacional: 9:30 – 18h30, last entrance at 17h30. €9/person. 5% discount for booking online here (highly recommended). Slightly reduced prices for seniors and children.
Castelo dos Mouros: 10h – 18h00, last entrance at 17h00. €7.5/person. 5% discount for booking online here (highly recommended). Slightly reduced prices for seniors and children.
Monserrate: 10h – 18h00, last entrance at 17h00. €7.5/person. 5% discount for booking online here (highly recommended). Slightly reduced prices for seniors and children. Monserrate also has a farmyard that you can visit.
Quinta da Regaleira. R. Barbosa do Bocage 5, 2710-567 Sintra, Portugal. Open damilu 9h30 – 17h. Quinta da Regaleira is not part of the Sintra website group – you have to go through a separate website here. €6/person, discounts for seniors, children, and holders of the Lisbon Card.
Messias Wine Bar: Rua Doutor Maximino de Matos, 288, 4820-255 Fafe, Portugal. Generally open 10h – 2h, with shorter hours on Monday and Sunday.
Casa Piriquita: R. Padarias 1, 2710-533 Sintra, Portugal. Open 9 – 20h every day except Wednesday. Take out and sit down. Reservations not required.
Cabo da Roca: Estrada do Cabo da Roca s/n, 2705-001 Colares, Portugal. Open 24 hours. Free.
ON A BUDGET
If you are on a budget, do Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon. Buy your tickets in advance online. Bring snacks/water and do not plan to eat a large meal in Sintra.