A day exploring Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is a beautiful 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, making it the perfect day trip from the Portuguese capital.

About Sintra

Sintra is where the Portuguese 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. It is also famous for its 19th-century Romanticist architecture, which resulted in the classification of the town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sintra is one of the wealthiest and most expensive places in Portugal and is home to one of the largest foreign expat communities along the Portuguese Riviera. It also consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in Portugal and it’s not difficult to see why.

What there is to see in Sintra

Sintra itself is quite big and spread out, so 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.

There are many sites to explore at Sintra, and doing them all in one day would be incredibly rushed, so I think it’s better to pick a couple and do them properly – or stay over night to see everything.

A. 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, and we spent about 2 hours here.

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

B. 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!

At the ‘beautiful waterfall’ and in the gardens

C. 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

D. 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.

E. The historic centre of Sintra (best for lunch)

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.

In Sintra centre

F. 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.

Suggested Itinerary

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. A good itinerary could look something like this:

  • Pena Palace: 09:30-10:30
  • Pena Palace Gardens: 10:30-12:00
  • 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 much, much longer in Sintra.

Just because it’s my favourite photo ever – In the tuk tuk!

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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