A day exploring Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is a town at the foothill of the Sintra mountains, in Southern Portugal. You can reach it in 30 minutes by car (or Uber), or in 1hr by train, from Lisbon. If you’d like to learn more about Lisbon, please check out my next blog post 2 days in Lisbon.

Sintra is where the royal family used to holiday and is filled with beautiful villas, castles and palaces, the most famous of which is Pena Palace with stunning views out over the mountains.

The site itself is quite big, so to explore it we started in the little town of historic Sintra itself. There are then 2 options; you can take the 434 tourist bus round the route of the main site, or you can hire your own tuk tuk and be driven round the site. We chose the latter as the bus times didn’t quite work for us. You can get the bus from Sintra train station to the historic centre as well.

The main sites at Sintra (all on the bus route) are:
• The historic centre of Sintra (best for lunch)
• National Palace
• Castle of the Moors
• Pena Palace (highlight of the day)
• Pena Palace gardens
• Hike to Cruz Alta (optional)

We decided that as Pena Palace is the most famous we wanted to get there for opening and beat the crowds so actually got our Uber to drop us off there. We got there for 10am, were first through the door and had about 30 minutes in the palace with no-one else. Perfect. It then worked well as everyone goes there first, so we also then had most sites to ourselves until the afternoon.

Here are my top 3 of the sites, best of the rest, and full itinerary for those interested.

ONE. Pena Palace

Built by Ferdinand II, this palace was built to be seen wherever you are in the Park. And it works. The colours and sweeping views are truly beautiful. This has to be top of anyone’s list for a visit to Sintra. Even on an overcast day the views were still spectacular. We spent about 2 hours here.

Pena Palace from afar
Entering Pena Palace
Archway in the Palace
Looking out over Sintra towards the Moorish Castle (see below)

TWO. Castle of the Moors

A UNESCO world heritage site, this medieval castle sits atop the Sintra hills, looking across to Pena Palace. Again we were lucky enough to have it mostly to ourselves, by making it the second stop on our trip round Sintra. It’s a bit of a walk from the entrance of the castle to the main walls, so flip flops weren’t the best shoe choice! They also have lovely little stalls within the castle, including lemonade and roasted nuts – perfect for a mid-morning snack. We spent about 1.5 hours here.

Walking the Castle walls
Exploring the turrets

THREE. Quinta da Regaleira

This is a big, Gothic mansion with pretty gardens that contain hidden tunnels representing ancient secret orders with lots of religious symbolism. We spent about 2 hours exploring the house and gardens.

The main mansion
At the exit of one of the tunnels

The best of the rest at Sintra

  • Historic Centre of Sintra – in the centre are lots of nice restaurants and pretty buildings, as well as nice views out and up to the Palaces. We only stayed for about an hour whilst we ate lunch so didn’t get to explore the town properly.
  • National Palace – The Palacio Nacional Sintra is the best-preserved medieval royal palace in Portugal and was the Portuguese Nobility’s main residence from the 15th to 19th Centuries. It has a relatively simple exterior, and the elaborate interior is stunning.
  • Pena Palace Gardens – the gardens are lovely to explore. There are multiple woodland paths, water features, streams, lakes and you can even horse ride round the grounds. I don’t recommend going out of your way to visit the ‘waterfall’ – I’d describe it more as a trickle (see photo below).
Pena Palace Gardens
At the ‘waterfall’
Just because it’s my favourite photo ever – In the tuk tuk!

Full Itinerary (for those interested)

  • Pena Palace: 10:00-11:00
  • Pena Palace Gardens: 11:00-12:00
  • Castle of the Moors: 12:00-13:30
  • Historical Sintra for lunch: 13:30-15:00
  • Quinta da Regaleira: 15:00-16:30
  • National Palace: 16:30-18:00

We were absolutely exhausted by the end of the day, and there are multiple other places to visit (including Monseratte Palace, Seteais Palace, Villa Sassetti, Peninha Sanctuary and viewpoint and a hike to Cruz Alta), so you could easily spend 2 or even 3 days in Sintra.

Thanks for reading. I hope you found this post useful to plan your trip to Sintra. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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