Less than an hour’s train ride from the heart of Lisbon is the uniquely enchanting town of Sintra. Not only will you be enthralled by its captivating architecture, you’ll also find that you are completely mesmerized by its lush and colorful surroundings. Sintra is a must-visit destination on your visit to Portugal. Allow us to provide you with some tips for making the most of your visit to this mystical, magical, medieval town!
Getting to Sintra
Lisbon to Sintra
Getting to Sintra from Lisbon is a cinch! Take the regional train from the Rossio station in the heart of Lisbon. The Rossio train station is connected to the Rossio metro station, which is served by the green metro line. There are several trains leaving for Sintra every hour and a little less frequently on the weekends. Here’s a PDF version of the Lisbon-Sintra train schedule. Because the train from Lisbon to Sintra is a regional service, you cannot book tickets in advance. To avoid long lines at the ticket counter (or ticket machine), it’s best to leave earlier in the day. Ticket prices are €2.15/adult and a return trip is just double the price at €4.30 (as of July 2016). We recommend buying a return ticket at the beginning of your journey, so you don’t have to bother with standing in another ticket line for your return trip back to Lisbon. It is also recommended for you to board the train early, as seats may become a commodity, and you could find yourself standing for the duration of the 40 minute journey. Unlike the scenic train ride to Cascais that takes you along the coast, the journey to Sintra takes you through mostly residential areas in the outskirts of Lisbon.
Cascais to Sintra
Bus service from Lisbon to Sintra is not recommended, simply due to the ease of the regional train. However, if you are coming from the seaside town of Cascais, just 10 minutes away, it is recommended that you take the bus. You have two bus options that both leave from the Cascais bus station, located next to Cascais Villa (shopping centre), just 100m north of the train station. Bus 417 takes just 30 minutes, whereas Bus 403 takes about an hour following a much more scenic (coastal) route. The 403 bus also includes a stop at Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe and what was thought to be the end of the known world in the 14th century. You don’t have to get off at this stop, but if time permits, you might consider exploring the area because the landscape is stunning! Each of the bus services (417 and 403) only depart from Cascais once every hour. The timetables alter depending on the season, so check departure times at the Cascais bus station. The bus station in Sintra is located right next to the train station making it easy to hop on a local tourist bus or walk into the historical town centre.
More Than Just a Day Trip From Lisbon
We’d heard that Sintra is one of many great day trips from Lisbon (much like Cascais and Obidos), however having now visited ourselves, we can strongly recommend visiting Sintra for more than just one day. There’s too much to see and explore and certainly not enough hours in a day to see it all. Something we didn’t realize before our visit: though it is considered a small town, Sintra is fairly spread out and very hilly! Trying to pack too much into one day will leave you absolutely exhausted! One final thing to note is that Sintra can get very crowded, especially in the summer months. Staying a few days, as opposed to just visiting on a day trip, will allow you to visit the attractions early in the morning and/or later in the afternoon before and after the day-trippers have come and gone. All of that being said, Sintra is absolutely worth a visit if you find yourself in central Portugal. Knowing how, when, and what to visit will make for a more memorable experience. So, without further ado, here’s our account of what to do in Sintra!
Attractions in Sintra
Quinta da Regaleira
Following windy tree-lined paths in this 10-acre (4-hectare) estate, you will come upon an ornate Gothic palace, a Roman Catholic chapel, lakes, fountains, cisterns, towers, and intriguing tunnel entrances. Quinta da Regaleira is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site within the Cultural Landscape of Sintra and its grounds are simply magnificent! The palace, built in neo-manueline style, was the summer residence of the Carvalho Monteiro family. It contains 5 floors of regal rooms, including family bedrooms and suites, and servants quarters, along with former billiard and hunting rooms. There is a subterranean passage linking the palace to the small chapel nearby, and although the chapel appears quite small on the outside, there are several floors to this beautifully decorated building.
You could spend hours wandering the grounds of this estate, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s more… underground! There’s an extensive network of navigable underground tunnels connecting various attractions within the estate. We had to use the flashlight on our cell phones a time or two until our eyes adjusted to the low light. Using the Grotto of the East entrance, we made our way through the tunnel and to the Initiatic Well. We were most excited to visit this particular attraction within the estate, though sadly there were just too many people in too small of a place and it simply wasn’t enjoyable. Quinta da Regaleira as a whole is one of Sintra’s most popular attractions, as was evidenced by the long queue at the ticket counter. Spanning 10-acres, the estate is fairly spread out, however when you visit some of the smaller attractions within the estate, the amount of people visiting becomes more apparent. Our visit happened to fall mid-day, so it’s probably safe to assume if you arrive earlier or later in the day, the crowds will hopefully be a little less daunting.
Perched upon one of the highest hills in the Sintra mountains is the Moorish Castle. Built in the 10th century by the Moors to defend the town of Sintra, the castle has had its fair share of conquers and surrenders, eventually being acquired and reconstructed by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century. The hike to and along the the castle walls will leave you breathless and the views will further take your breath away! You’ll have incredible 360-degree views overlooking all of Sintra and out to the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of the Berlengas archipelago, which is definitely worth a visit during your time in Portugal.
Once on the castle walls, be sure to visit the Royal Tower where it is said King Ferdinand II used to paint, along with the Castle Keep, where the civil or church authorities resided. Both offer spectacular views of the surrounding area. Because of recent restoration efforts, there are several new archaeological findings also worth checking out. The Historical Interpretation Centre of the Moorish Castle boasts an exhibition of the most important finds collected during archaeological digs.
Sintra’s most recognizable attraction is the 19th-century Palace of Pena, which is located just a short (uphill) walk from the Moorish Castle. Two wings make up this colorful and unconventional structure: the former Manueline monastery of the Order of St. Jerome and the wing built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. Its prominent location and eccentric look were obviously intentional as it can be seen from many corners of the region.
The palace interior is just as lavish as the exterior, including several uniquely decorated courtyards and ornate rooms with enchanting ceilings. Because the Pena Palace is THE attraction almost everyone visits on a trip to Sintra, the amount of people present really took away from the experience for us. It left us wishing we had spent more time exploring the park surrounding the palace and the nearby Chalet of the Countess of Edla, rather than the palace itself. The park occupies 210 acres (85 hectares) and contains over five hundred different species of trees originating from all over the globe. Just one more reason why you need more than just a day in Sintra!
Getting to the Palace of Pena: Either hike 1-hour (Villa Sassetti Pedestrian Footpath) from the town center or take the 434 hop-on/hop-off bus combined with a 5-10 minute (uphill) walk from the Moorish Castle
National Palace of Queluz
Because of its location outside the city centre, the National Palace of Queluz isn’t as frequently visited as some of Sintra’s other centrally-located attractions, which is one of a few reasons why it ranked among one of our favorites! (Can you tell we’re not big on crowds?) To get to the palace, you must take a train about 15-20 minutes back in the direction of Lisbon and then walk about 10 minutes from the station. We felt it was absolutely worth the excursion to visit what is known to many as the Portuguese Versailles. This extravagant 18th-century mansion is a landmark of both Portuguese architecture and landscape design, and ornate doesn’t even begin to describe its décor.
The French- and Dutch-inspired gardens surrounding the palace cover close to 50 acres (20 hectares) and are adorned with statues inspired by classical mythology. Though it was exceptionally hot during our July visit, strolling through the gardens was quite peaceful, as there were hardly any other people around. The formal gardens lead out into a sprawling park complete with beautiful magnolia and mulberry trees.
Palace of Monserrate
So, you want to know what our favorite attraction in Sintra is?! The Palace of Monserrate and its botanical gardens blew us away! It can be easily reached by the same hop-on/hop-off bus (435) that takes you to Quinta da Regaleira. The palace is a pure example of 19th century eclecticism combining Gothic and Indian influences, along with Moorish imitations. The gardens incorporate plant species from all over the world and are organized according to geographical area. The flora combined creates quite the colorful landscape!
Intricately decorated galleries containing a series of arches and columns create an illusion of depth and connect the palace’s three towers The stucco-clad wood frame of the dome in the main hall is most impressive, as are the walnut shelves in the recently restored library. Just like at the National Palace of Queluz, the crowds were minimal, which may have attributed to our admiration for this particular attraction. Though, looking back at these pictures, it’s easy to see how the Park and Palace of Monserrate won us over with its beauty and elegance.
Where to Stay in Sintra
Hopefully by now, we’ve convinced you that Sintra should not be done as just a day trip from Lisbon. There is simply too much to see spread out over a fairly large area. As it was, we stayed two nights and still didn’t have time to explore the Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla, the National Palace of Sintra, and the Convent of the Capuchos, among other attractions. So, do yourself (and your weary feet) a favor and stay a few nights.
Quinta das Murtas
We spent two nights at the picturesque Quinta das Murtas. Just a 10-minute walk from the train station and an easy 10-15 minute walk into the historic centre of town, the location of this charming bed and breakfast is ideal for exploring Sintra. Our apartment-style room was perfect for prepping meals and relaxing after a long day of sightseeing. The pool and hot-tub (both seasonal) were also a welcomed sight after a hot and exhausting day around town.
An assorted continental breakfast is included in the room rate and dinner is also often available upon request (must be arranged in advance). Because we both require internet while we travel, our only complaint about Quinta das Murtas is that the WiFi only worked for us in the lobby area. We prefer to have connectivity in our room so that we can check our e-mail and connect to our social media accounts in the evening while we’re winding down. Hopefully, this easy-to-fix issue will be corrected in the near future. Otherwise, our room at this peaceful bed and breakfast was just what we were hoping for! You know it’s going to be a good stay when you’re greeted by a grounds-worker saying, “Welcome to Paradise“!
Tips for a GREAT time in Sintra
- Visit during off-peak times (spring and early fall / during the week). Avoid July & August (and weekends). Trust us, we’re speaking from experience! The Easter Holiday (Spring Break) is also a very busy time of year.
- Visit for more than just one day. 2-4 days is probably enough time to spend quality time at each of the attractions.
- Drink plenty of water and wear comfortable shoes, you’ll be doing A LOT of walking!
- Do NOT drive in Sintra. Traffic is often jammed and there is very limited parking.
- The 434 bus (€5/RT) provides transportation between the train station, the historic town centre (location of the National Palace), Pena Palace, and the Moorish Castle.
- The 435 bus (€2.50/RT) takes visitors to the Palace of Monserrate, Quinta da Regaleira, and Seteais Palace.
- Bus tickets are purchased on-board from the driver. Prices as of July 2016.
- Money Saving Tips
- Purchase your tickets online in advance and skip the lines!
- The more you visit, the more you save! If you buy tickets for 2 sites you’ll get a 5% discount; for 3 sites a 6% discount; for 4 sites a 7% discount; for 5 sites a 8% discount and for 6 sites you’ll have a 10% discount!
- Enjoy Happy Hour at Park and Palace of Pena and the National Palace of Queluz – Every day, between 9:30-10:30 am tickets are 1€ off / save 5€ on family tickets
- COMING SOON! The Sintra Green Card – a discounted combo-ticket including entrance to the national palaces of Sintra (Queluz, Sintra, and Pena), a 434 bus ticket, and a train ticket from Lisbon
We’d like to thank Parques de Sintra for providing us with entrance to many of Sintra’s attractions, along with Quinta das Murtas for providing us with a discounted stay during our 2 nights in Sintra. As always, our write-ups are an accurate reflection of the experiences we had.