Sintra is a town near the west coast of Portugal, about 30km north west of Lisbon. The town is legendary in Portugal and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it’s large concentration of castles, palaces, estates and royal residences dating from the 9th to the 19th century.
As a tourist Sintra seems like something from a fairytale. Lavish Romantic era Disney style palaces nestle amongst the beautiful forest that dominates the area; untold wealth, decadence and history is flaunted around every corner. It’s an impressive place and not one to miss.
We spent a day in Sintra during our week in Lisbon.
Sintra is pretty much part of Lisbon, so you likely need to depart from there.
By far the easiest way to reach Sintra is via train from Rossio station. Even if you have a car, trains are so regular, cheap and convenient that it’s worth leaving it behind. Trains depart every 20 minutes and cost €4.50 return per person. The Sintra fare is not included in the local Lisbon 24h travel ticket.
If you do decide to drive to Sintra make sure to avoid the morning and afternoon peak times, as the highway is a major commuter route. Also avoid driving into the town centre as you will never find a park. There’s a parking lot near the train station, about 1.5km east of the town centre.
You can get around Sintra on the 434 tourist bus that connects the train station, town centre, Pena Palace and Castle of the Moors. A single loop is €5 and you buy tickets directly from the driver.
Walking around Sintra is the option that we chose, so we know it’s viable. From the train station to the town centre takes about 25 minutes and was easy enough aside from the July heat. Up to the Pena Palace and Castle of the Moors is a medium to difficult 45 minute hike (at least) up a very steep hill, so you need to be fit. We found walking tiring but rewarding as you get to experience stunning forest and gardens that you would miss on the bus.
There are also tuk-tuk’s and novelty taxis vying for the tourist Euro. These look fun but expensive.
Hint – Travel early to avoid queues and congestion. Earlier than you think.
We were staying in an Airbnb in Lisbon and visited Sintra as a day-trip, which is what most people do, but honestly if we were to do it again we would stay overnight.
If you search with a site like Airbnb you can find a private double room from €30 per night and a whole apartment from €50 per night.
Hotels in Sintra start from €50 per night for a double room in a well reviewed hotel.
Really what you do in Sintra is just walk around looking at fancy architecture, manicured gardens and lush forest. There’s art galleries, craft stalls, local cafés and restaurants, museums and everything else; great if you are staying in Sintra and have the time, but superfluous if you are only visiting for a day.
The Sintra historical town centre is gorgeous but entirely tourist-focused. Think coach-bus-only parking, pissed-off locals and spinning postcard stands. Look out for a place called Bar Binho ‘The House of Port’, where you can get sour cherry liquor in chocolate shot glasses for €1 each, but otherwise save the souvenir shopping for Lisbon and you wont get so ripped off. Residential Sintra is in an entirely different area that we didn’t visit.
Your budget will dictate the attractions you enter, but it’s still worth visiting some even if you don’t go inside. A good example of this is the Quinta da Regaleira which is worth the walk there alone, but perhaps not essential to enter, even though it’s only €6 per adult.
If there’s only one place you do visit, make it the Pena Palace. This is the quintessential image of Sintra you will see everywhere; a surreal, colourfully painted palace, perched on top of a huge hill that overlooks the region with miles of uninterrupted views. It’s a truly stunning sight. The palace itself is incredible and allows access to the turrets and ramparts of its walls, but for us the immense park that serves as the palace grounds was the highlight. You can easily spend a few hours walking around the park, but make sure you go up to the ‘Cruz Alta’ (High Cross); the highest peak in the park and the best views available. Tickets are €11.50 for the palace and park or €6.50 for the park only, although prices and entry times vary depending on season, as we paid €7.50 in July.
If your budget is tight consider buying a park only ticket. You can still walk right up to the palace and the ticket checking system up there is very sparse if you catch my drift. Sneaking into the Pena Palace is entirely situational, is not advised or recommended and could get you kicked out of the park entirely, so don’t do it…
Walking to and from the palace was an awesome way to see the area, if slower than the bus. The gardens and Villa Sassetti walking track were absolutely mind-blowing in scale and beauty, if at all possible I recommend walking as much as you can.
The Castelo dos Mouros is the Moorish castle on another massive hill. Regrettably we didn’t have time to visit here but it looks awesome and is only €6.50 to enter.
The National Palace of Sintra is another cool palace worth a visit and is the best-preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal. Entry here is €8.50.
We had originally planned to visit one of Praia Grande or Praia da Adraga beaches, but again we ran out of time. This is where staying overnight would have been sensible as the area really has so much to offer.
Sintra-portugal.com has great one and two day itineraries to help you plan and decide.
Hint – Take a packed lunch if you prefer not to have your budget blown. Food prices, especially at the Pena Palace, are indicative of an entirely tourist-catered market and there are loads of stunning picnic spots. Also, take your own water and plenty of it, otherwise buy one bottle and ask at the café to get it re-filled. I know that sounds cheap, but buying water here is nearly three times more expensive than outside the palace.
Sintra day trip;
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