Sintra: what to see in the city of fairytale castles

If you have to choose only one excursion to do from Lisbon I would tell you without a doubt to come to Sintra! This hilly town surrounded by greenery has a perfect climate that has made it, since the 800th century, the retreat of many rich and famous families. Moreover, with its beauty, Sintra has inspired several European artists and writers such as Hans Christian Andersen or the English poet Lord Byron. In 1995 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in recent years it has become by far one of the richest and most expensive resorts in Portugal. It is a very touristy city and on weekends or in high season it can be really full of people (ergo, if you can choose a day of the week). Despite being famous for its various castles and palaces (especially the questionable and extravagant Palacio da Pena), the most beautiful part of Sintra for me is the lush nature in which it is immersed. The various historic buildings pop out between the trees and the views and gardens are something incredible. 

How to get to Sintra from Lisbon

It is very convenient and easy to reach Sintra from Lisbon by train. From Rossio station you will be in Sintra in about 40-45 ', and from Oriente station a few more minutes. There are many rides (approximately every 20-30 ') and the cost of the ticket is 4,5 euros round trip. I strongly advise you not to come to Sintra by car because you would have problems parking the car (in fact it is impossible to park near the main attractions) and some streets are also particularly narrow. The car parks are all paid (and you can only stop for a few hours) and are located outside the center. 

Getting around in Sintra

Once you arrive at the Sintra station you can walk to the historic center (where the Palacio National is located) and then from there, still on foot, reach Quinta da Regaleira. To visit Palacio da Pena, Castelo Dos Mouros and the other palaces instead you will have to take the bus (or a taxi, but they are very expensive!), Unless you really have a lot of time available and you like walking uphill. There are 3 tourist bus lines:

  • bus 434: starts from the station and stops in the historic center (Palacio Nacional), at the Castelo dos Mouros and at the Palácio da Pena
  • bus 435: it always starts from the station and stops in the historic center (Palacio Nacional), the Quinta da Regaleira, the Palácio de Seteais and the Palacio de Monserrate
  • Bus hop-off: double-decker panoramic bus, with 2 different itineraries, from which you can get on and off as many times as you want. It comes up to Cape of Roca

How long does it take to visit Sintra?

Most people visit Sintra in one day or even less, but you can't see everything, not even running like crazy. To see “everything” you will need at least 2 days, but Sintra is a city where you are happy to spend even more days alternating between visits to palaces / castles and walks in the surrounding area. If you are there for 2 days, I recommend that you take part in this first free tour of the historic center 2h and 30 'where they will tell you the history of the city and its most famous monuments. 

If you are only there for one day you will necessarily have to choose what to see; if you arrive early and you organize your movements well you can see the Palacio Nacional, la Quinta da Regaleira, Palacio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros

What to see in Sintra and surroundings

National Palace

The first thing to see when you arrive in Sintra is definitely the National Palace. It is the oldest palace in Portugal (dating from the late 1300s) and its conical chimneys dominate the historic center. The palace dates back to the reign of King John I and inside there is a mix of architectural styles, with elements ranging from Moorish azulejos, to Manueline decorations, up to the Gothic battlements. Among the most beautiful rooms is the Two Swans Room (Sala dei Cigni), named for the decorations on the ceiling. The Palacio Nacional is the most visited monument in Sintra; if you want to avoid the queues, especially in high season, I recommend you buy tickets online (there is no surcharge compared to the ticket office on site).  

Vacation Specials

Walking 10 'from the Palacio National you can reach the Vacation Specials, a complex of buildings immersed in a particularly elaborate and fascinating park. Declared UNESCO heritage, the Quinta da Regaleira was designed by the Italian architect Luigi Manini in the late 1900s for a wealthy landowner. The main building is the Palace of the Millions, in mock Manueline style, and around it develops a large park that hides terraces, towers, lakes, wells, fountains and caves. One thing definitely not to be missed is the well of initiation, inspired by the rites of the Templars and Freemasons (which is very reminiscent of the well of San Patrizio in Orvieto). To descend the moss-covered spiral staircase, you pass through a revolving stone door, before finally arriving in a gallery that re-emerges next to a pond. The whole, however, is very impressive. 

Palace of Pena

The most famous thing to see in Sintra is undoubtedly Palace of Pena, the most photographed and most iconic palace in the city. Palacio da Pena really looks like a fairytale castle, with towers, statues and colorful domes. It was built at the behest of a German baron at the end of the 800th century and was subsequently used as a summer residence for Portuguese royalty. Here too there is a nice mix of architectural styles ranging from Moorish to Manueline. The interior rooms are full of furniture and furnishing accessories, paintings and statues (the ballroom and the dining room in particular). To reach the building from the ticket office (which is located further down) you will have to walk about twenty minutes or you can take the shuttle. As for the Palacio Nacional, Palacio da Pena is also worth it (pardon the pun) buy tickets online first to avoid queues. 

Castle of the Moors

Looking up, from every point of Sintra you will be able to see the walls and ramparts of the Castelo Dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors). To visit it you will have to reach the ticket office located on the road to Sintra (on foot from the historic center are 30-40 ', or 150 going down from Palacio da Pena) and from there you can then climb the walls. The castle rests on rocky spurs and the views from up there are truly spectacular, as you will be able to see both the Atlantic and the hinterland. Also for the Castelo dos Mouros you can buy the online tickets at no extra charge through this site. 

Monserrate and the Convento dos Capuchos

Among the things to see in Sintra, especially if you have more than one day available, there are the gardens and the palace of Monserrate and Convent dos Capuchos. The Monserrate gardens are located an hour's walk from the Quinta de Regaleira and are associated with the English politician William Beckford and Sir Francis Cook who embellished the estate with waterfalls and plants. Sir Francis Cook had the gardener from Kew Gardens in London come here to plant plants of all kinds, succulents, tropicals, ferns, etc. Even today, the Monserrate gardens are among the richest gardens in Europe with over 1000 species of trees and plants. The mansion of the estate is inspired by the Royal Pavillon in Brighton, with a mix of Moorish and Italian decorations. Here you can buy tickets online and avoid the queues. Even the Convent dos Capuchos it is located a little outside Sintra, about 5 km from the historic center, and is known as the "convent of cork" for the doors and cells covered with this material. The convent was inhabited until 1834 and it is possible to visit some chapels of the penitents.

Cabo da Roca

While you have arrived in Sintra, whether you are by public transport or by car, it is worth the stretch to Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Continental Europe. Cabo da Roca is located 17 km from Sintra and can be reached with the bus n.403 which covers the route Sintra – Cascais. At the tip of the cliff is the lighthouse and, of course, a plaque. Other than that there isn't much else to see, but I could stay for hours watching the Atlantic waves crash on these beautiful cliffs. The more adventurous, who may even want to take a bath in the ocean, can follow the path that arrives in the beautiful Ursa Beach (be careful because it is not for everyone and certainly not with slippers!). 

Where to sleep in Sintra and surroundings

  • Chalet Saudade (Sintra): to enter the nineteenth-century mood of Sintra it is simply perfect!
  • Oasis Backpacker Hostel (Colares): a hostel / surf house located within the rural-chic district of Aldeia da Praia (see below). Perfect if you are looking for a countryside situation, beautiful and close to the sea.

Where to eat in Sintra and surroundings

  • Don Quixote Mill (Colares): if you have your own car, I recommend that you go for lunch or an aperitif in this beautiful place overlooking the sea. The restaurant is completely surrounded by greenery, next to an old mill. We also eat very well.
  • Bottom Bar (Praia Grande): I recommend this excellent fish restaurant instead for dinner or an aperitif. It is located at the end of Praia Grande and you will be able to see a magnificent sunset.
  • beach village (Colares): it is a rural-chic “district” that includes a hostel, a surf house, 3 restaurants (including a very good pizzeria!), A coworking and much more. Very nice.
Don Quixote Mill
Bottom Bar

FAQ su Sintra

You might also be interested in these other articles I wrote about Portugal:

  • Lisbon: what to see in 3 days
  • Unusual Lisbon: 15 places to see to feel local
  • Where to sleep in Lisbon: better neighborhoods and hotels 
  • How to organize a trip to the Azores: when to go, how and where
  • Azores: what to see and what to do in these dream islands
  • What to see in the Algarve: a road trip in southern Portugal
  • Alentejo (Portugal): what to see

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