While the joys of visiting Portugal are now quite well known among travelers, many are still surprised by all the incredible destinations this beautiful country has to offer. That’s because even smaller destinations like the town of Sintra are able to completely overwhelm you with their charm and wonders. Sintra may be one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon and would be reason enough to visit this part of Portugal even if Lisbon were boring (which it most definitely is not!)
To tell you why Sintra needs to be in your travel plans and how to get the most from a visit, we’ve assembled this comprehensive guide to Sintra that’s packed full of useful information. Hopefully it will answer all the questions you have regarding travel to Sintra, from where to visit to how to get there and just how long you really need to experience it properly.
Brief Background of Sintra in Portugal
Rather than immediately dive into what to see and do in Sintra, let’s start with a general background and what makes a visit special. The town of Sintra lies within its own municipality in Lisbon District at the foot of the hills of the Serra de Sintra. From some outlooks, you can clearly make out the nearby coast of the Atlantic Ocean, home to beaches and the popular Cabo da Roca viewpoint.
While the natural beauty of the landscape around the town is definitely impressive, the main draw for tourists is usually its history. That’s because Sintra is home to an enticing collection of castles, palaces, and villas, some of which even have a royal connection. These sights and their beautiful Romantic architecture hark back to the 19th century when Sintra was a thriving retreat for the royal family and Lisbon nobility.
That said, there are landmarks and palaces in Sintra that predate this period as well. Most noteworthy are the medieval remains of the Castelo dos Mouros and the Convent of the Capuchos. Little wonder then that these impressive historical landmarks were classified by UNESCO as the Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage site.
How to Get to Sintra from Lisbon
Sintra is found to the northwest of Lisbon just beyond its city limits. Most people visit Sintra as part of their travels in and around the capital. The proximity means that you shouldn’t have any difficulty adding it to your Portugal itinerary, especially since there are a nice range of options for how to get to Sintra.
- On a Guided Tour: If you’re looking to enjoy your visit without the hassle of finding your way about, then it’s best to go with a guided Sintra tour. Not only do you remove the worry about transport throughout the day, you’ll also have someone show you the most interesting places and explain why they’re so special. You can book a guided tour here.
- By Train: By far the cheapest and easiest independent option for getting from Lisbon to Sintra is to travel by train. From Lisboa Rossio station, direct trains depart every 30 minutes and take 40 minutes. Use your preloaded Lisboa Viva card to pay for the journey as you would for travel on public transport in the city. Just make sure not to take the train to Mira Sintra-Melecas as that’s a different place entirely.
- By Car: If you’re planning to explore more of Portugal beyond Lisbon and Sintra, it may make sense to rent a car for your trip. Driving to Sintra from Lisbon is quite quick, taking just under half an hour to get to the town center.
How Long to Visit Sintra
When planning a trip to Sintra, most people end up only allowing one day to explore the town and its sights. While one day in Sintra will definitely enable you to experience the highlights of this charming royal town, many visitors won’t feel it to be quite long enough. Most day tours only include a few of the main Sintra sights to allow for stops elsewhere like Cascais and Estoril.
It will ultimately depend on your interest levels in the local palaces and castles in Sintra and how long you spend exploring each. Then there are the woods and hiking trails through the hills, which are gorgeous and peaceful but something most people simply don’t have time for. Basically, if you’re keen on seeing everything Sintra has to offer, then you probably need at least two days.
This is where having flexible travel plans can come in quite handy. You could always do a tour or day trip to Sintra to start and then see whether you want to come back for another day.
How to Get Around Sintra
Sintra may not be a large town but its attractions are quite spread out, so you will have to give some thought to how you get around. Some means of transport will depend on how you get there, but there are basically three options.
1. On Foot
Not for the faint-hearted or unfit, it is possible to walk everywhere in Sintra if you’re up for it. While wandering around the town itself isn’t too hard, things get more challenging when it comes to climbing the surrounding hills.
The Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace may not look far away on the map, but the walking trails and roads are uphill all the way. Expect a much longer walk, through pretty forest mind you, if you want to reach the Convent of the Capuchos, however. Walking will take up a considerable amount of time, so it’s best suited to travelers who plan on spending more than one day in Sintra.
2. By Tourist Bus
A quicker and more sensible approach to travel in Sintra is to use the local tourist buses designed to take you from one attraction to the next. There are several that run routes throughout Sintra and its hills, so you’ll likely use several different ones throughout the day.
Two routes worth knowing are the 435 from the station into the town center and the 434 bus that runs from the Sintra National Palace up to Pena Palace. The downside is that there are no ordinary local buses here, and tickets for the tourist buses are relatively expensive. Individual tickets are from €3.90 for a single trip on the 434 bus, while a 24-hour ticket costs €15.10.
3. By Car
Finally, if you’re already driving over to Sintra, it makes sense that you use your car to get from one attraction to the next. It will certainly help with outlying ones like the Convent of the Capuchos. Fair warning, though: the roads through the hills to many attractions can get quite narrow and winding.
Map of Sintra
Here is the official bus map for Sintra to help plan your itinerary.
Best Time to Visit Sintra
As for most places in Portugal, some times are better than others for your visit. Both Lisbon and Sintra are at their busiest during the summer months, when crowds of tourists flock to experience their culture and the capital’s beaches. So, naturally, from the perspective of crowds and accommodation availability, summer is far from an ideal time to come.
Instead, the best time to visit Sintra is generally during the shoulder seasons of spring and early autumn. Visit either side of summer, and you still get the pleasant weather and longer days while avoiding the hot weather and peak tourist period. An added bonus is seeing all the trees and nature around Sintra blooming with life in spring and speckled with color during autumn.
Where to Stay in Sintra (or Lisbon)
There are really two ways you can go about planning your visit to Sintra, regardless of how long you plan on spending there. Whether it’s one day or longer, you’re going to need to stay somewhere convenient. Your options really boil down to staying in Sintra with everything close by or traveling to and from Lisbon and staying there. Both approaches work well, so it’s really up to you.
1. Staying in Sintra
Even though it sees mostly day-trippers, there’s a healthy variety of places to stay in Sintra. One nice bonus of staying there is that the town really settles down once the day-trippers head home, so you can soak in its quaint splendor in peace. Most hotels in Sintra are located between the historical center and the Portela de Sintra area, although there are a few places among its scenic hills.
If you’re after a grand stay befitting the town’s royal nature, Sintra Marmoris Palace is the way to go. Set inside a 19th-century manor house, this luxurious guesthouse is full of elegant touches, including a heated outdoor swimming pool.
For a glamorous stay without a hefty price tag, it’s hard to beat Chalet Saudade, situated in the center of town. You’ll get a cute room inside a magnificent historic building and a delicious breakfast as well.
There aren’t as many budget options in Sintra as there are in Lisbon, but one nice central spot is the Lanui Guest House. With a friendly host, enviable location, and free breakfast, it has all the basics ready for you.
2. Staying in Lisbon
Most people choose to stay in Lisbon. This way you can explore Sintra during the day and then take advantage of all the great restaurants, bars, and nightlife in Lisbon.
To really take your trip to the next level, choose the excellent Santiago de Alfama boutique hotel in Lisbon’s charming Alfama district. This refined and traditional hotel offers river views and plenty of comfort.
If you’re interested in staying somewhere a little more midrange, then you may want to look at The 7 Hotel. Centrally positioned within the Baixa district, this boutique hotel offers studios with chic decor and plenty of comfort.
You should have no trouble finding hostels in Lisbon for budget travelers thanks to places like the Lisbon Destination Hostel. This great hostel has a breezy look to it with lots of room and light, not to mention a fun indoor patio area to hang out in.
Extra Tips for Visiting Sintra
Here are a few extra tips for visiting Sintra just to help as best we can:
1. Arrive Early or Late
Because Sintra is such a popular day-trip destination, it’s generally at its busiest during the late morning and afternoon. This means that if you visit the most popular spots either early or late, you’re likely to have a more enjoyable time sightseeing.
Many attractions in Sintra don’t open until 10 a.m., but if you can get to them as they open, they may be a little quieter. Alternatively, some attractions don’t close until 6 p.m. in spring, summer, and autumn, so you could hold off seeing them until the late afternoon. You may also find the light is better for photography at these times — not that these scenic places necessarily need it.
2. Ways to Save Money
Portugal is typically one of Europe’s more affordable destinations, but it’s always nice to save money where possible. One way you can reduce the cost of a day trip to Sintra is with the Sintra Green Card. This special pass bundles your train travel with the 434 bus circuit and entry to Pena Palace, Sintra National Palace, and a museum of your choice.
3. Things to Pack
Sintra isn’t the kind of place where what you pack is absolutely crucial, but there are still some things worth bringing for a pleasant experience. You won’t have any trouble getting food or drinks in town, but make sure you’re stocked up on water and snacks when you head off to walk around Pena Park or to outlying attractions like Monserrate Palace.
Most of the places to visit in Sintra are primarily outdoor destinations, so make sure to bring a sun hat and sunscreen during summer. Same goes for an umbrella or jacket if the weather is rainy. It’s also wise to wear comfortable walking shoes if you plan on doing any walking or exploring the expansive grounds of Pena Park.
Best Things to Do in Sintra
Now that you have everything you need to plan a trip to Sintra, let’s take a look at the best places to visit so you can build your itinerary. This will by no means be a complete list of attractions in Sintra, as there are plenty of villas and small museums that you could make time to see.
Of course, there is also the historic center which is worth a wander and the many walking trails through the forest of the Serra de Sintra. The following are just the most important attractions you may want to keep in mind.
Pena Palace and Park
By far the most famous and most adored attraction in Sintra is the Pena Palace and Park. After all, it’s not everyday that you get to visit a boldly painted yellow and red palace that would fit right in at Disneyland. It may be hard to believe that the palace is the real deal, but its lively colors and unusual architecture trace back to its construction in 1854.
With a visit here, you can choose to either just explore the park and the terraces of the palace or head inside and experience Pena Palace completely. Many will be content with just getting to see this vivid palace up close and take in the sweeping views it provides, but the ornate tiles and lavish furnishings of the interior are quite pretty as well.
Often quickly skipped, the enormous park that surrounds Pena Palace offers plenty to see. Gentle walking trails lead right through the quiet forest and gardens, bringing you to beautiful spots like the Chalet of the Countess of Edla and the scenic viewpoint by the Cruz Alta cross. It’s actually from Cruz Alta that you get one of the best views of Pena Palace, and yet many visitors miss it completely.
Castelo dos Mouros
Sitting immediately over the town of Sintra are the crenelated walls and remains of Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). Built by the Moors during their occupation of the region in the 9th century, this hilltop castle lost importance after the creation of the Kingdom of Portugal. Luckily, the castle remains were restored, and visitors today can walk along its walls, climb its towers, and appreciate the sweeping views that the castle boasts.
Quinta da Regaleira
One of many villas that grace the hills around Sintra, the Quinta da Regaleira is an extravagant gothic manor with one very special sight that you won’t want to miss. The interior of this 20th century villa is quite stately and worth a walk through, but it’s out in the villa park with its grottos and terraces where tourists will be properly enchanted.
That’s because the Quinta da Regaleira is home to the surreal Initiation Well, a deep vertical tunnel lined with spiral staircases that make for an incredibly atmospheric place to explore. Trust us, the view from the bottom looking up is pretty phenomenal.
Sintra National Palace
Found in the heart of the town and identified by its twin white towers, the Sintra National Palace offers far more than meets the eye. This palace actually dates back to the 15th century, making it one of the older attractions around town. Add in the fact that this was a royal residence for centuries and its intriguing mix of architectural styles, and you have an attraction with lots to offer.
With a tour through the Sintra Palace you’ll see that the interior is nothing like the bright white exterior, especially in the exquisite Sala dos Brasões, the palace’s Coat of Arms room.
Convent of the Capuchos
An interesting contrast from the glamor of the local palaces is the humble nature of the Convent of the Capuchos. Hidden away in the forested hills, this historic convent is quite fascinating despite its modesty. That’s because the personal quarters and rooms that once housed the Franciscan monks are incredibly small, making you appreciate what living there must have been like. Another interesting detail of this 16th century convent is the remaining cork paneling that once covered its interior.
One last attraction that’ll you want to be mindful of is the beautiful Monserrate Palace to the west of the town center. While several kilometers away from the main sights of Sintra, it’s also one of the most peaceful and quite different to the other places you will see.
Monserrate Palace has the strongest Mudéjar Moorish Revival influence of all the sights, even though the current villa dates from the same 19th century period as the others. Interestingly, the palace has a strong English connection, having had a long list of English owners over the years.
Day Trip to Sintra Itinerary
The sample itinerary below is an all-day adventure and is best done with a hop-on hop-off bus ticket. Don’t attempt to walk it all if you only have a day in Sintra, as certain parts of this Sintra itinerary require a very long uphill walk.
- Pena Palace and Park: As soon as you arrive at the train station in Sintra town, hop on Bus 434 and head straight to the Pena Palace.
- Castelo dos Mouros: Walk from Pena Palace to the Castle of the Moors.
- Lunch in Sintra Town: Take Bus 434 back to Sintra town for some lunch.
- Sintra National Palace: After lunch, take either Bus 434 or 435 to Sintra National Palace.
- Quinta da Regaleira: Walk from Sintra National Palace to Quinta da Regaleira. Once you are done exploring, it’s only a short walk back to the Sintra train station.
So there you have it, a comprehensive look at the town of Sintra and what you need to know before you visit. There should be no doubt now that a trip there is essential when you travel to this region of Portugal.