9 Things to do in Sintra: The Best Day Trip from Lisbon

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There are so many amazing things to do in Sintra, one of the most popular Lisbon day trips. I quickly found suggestions to visit this fairytale land of Sintra when I started researching Lisbon.

It is nestled in the mountains with a generally cooler climate than Lisbon, as the mountains push the cold air up. This makes it especially popular during the summer, especially as Lisbon can be quite hot and humid. When we arrived at the city, the mountains were cast in fog giving the palaces atop an almost mystical quality.

Many people visit Sintra as a Lisbon day trip and it’s easy to do. Catch a train out of Rossio station with a 40-minute ride. However, there is a lot to see and do in Sintra, and I was sorry that I didn’t plan to spend a night there to do some additional exploration.

This article includes the places I visited and some that I was unable to due to my time constraint. This should help you decide how to plan your visit.

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Pena Palace

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Why You Should Visit Sintra

The “cultural landscape of Sintra” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its many picturesque castles. I’m a huge fan of castles and other historic architecture, so quickly added Sintra to my trip itinerary. Being able to visit these amazing structures in such a beautiful setting is a huge draw to visit Sintra.

According to UNESCO, “Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture….the use of Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements. ” Archaeological findings show a presence in this area as early as the fifth-Century B.C. It was later occupied by the Moors and the Romans.

How to Get to Sintra

There are a few ways to get to Sintra from Lisbon. The easiest way that I mentioned above is to take the train. You can get it from Rossio Station in the heart of Lisbon. It’s an interesting station and they have a merry-go-round there!

The site to buy tickets and to check the timetable is here. Trains run almost every 30 minutes throughout the day and the cost is currently 2,25 EUR each way.

You can drive a car, of course. However, parking is challenging in Sintra so it’s not recommended. You can also take a taxi though it can be expensive relative to the train. I do recommend going by train.

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How to Get Around Sintra

There are a couple of good transportation options in Sintra. First, there is the 434 bus. It connects the Sintra train station with Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle at the very peak overlooking the city. You can see them from the historic center of town. You have the option of getting one-way tickets or a hop-on-hop-off ticket. Here is the site to check prices and timetables.

There are also tuk-tuks available for hire. They are open motorized carts and you’ll see them all around. They charge by the trip and not the person, so it’s a good idea to buddy up and fill it. I believe the charge was 20 EUR ($24 USD). The ride takes close to 45 minutes, so while this may be expensive, it’s not too bad when you share the cost.

You can also hike if you’d like. If you choose to do so, I recommend taking the hiking trails up to the palace and not just walking up the road. The roads and winding and narrow and the cars are really impressive zipping up there (tuk-tuks as well!) So, it’s not very safe to walk.

Arriving in Sintra

The train station is right in the center of Sintra, which has a charming small town center. It rivals others that I have seen like Chesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic and Hohenschwangau, where Neuschwanstein Castle is located. It is worth taking some time just to walk around the center. You can admire the beautiful architecture and walk through the shops.

My Top List of Things to do in Sintra

I decided to tour Sintra with a walking tour that left from Lisbon through Sandeman’s. This was the same group that I took the free walking tour of Lisbon with the day before. I had met a wonderful couple from Minnesota that decided to do the tour, and they invited me to tag along.  It’s nice when you’re traveling solo to make some personal connections, so I decided to join. Additionally, I love to learn about the history of a place, so walking tours are a great way to learn.

The tour guide was really good, however, the tour size was unwieldy at close to 40 people. We spent a lot of time that could have been used for exploring, waiting for people to catch up. I also felt the tour was a bit overpriced. With one exception that I will share below, I would recommend going on your own so you can set the pace. Otherwise, I would recommend you visit Sintra and seek a local tour if you are so inclined but make sure it does limit the tour sizes.

Visit the National Palace of Sintra

Our first visit was to the National Palace of Sintra which is only a few minutes’ walk from the train. It’s easy to identify by the two large conical chimneys. We spent some time outside the building learning about architecture and craftsmanship. It has Moorish, Gothic and Manueline styles. Our guide pointed out the Manueline architecture features represented by nature, religion, and royalty and the various stylistic features and symbols associated with each. We also learned about the history of the rulers who lived there.

The palace was believed to have been first built in the 10th Century by the Moors and was then added to until the 16th Century, the state in which it remains today. It is the only Palace in Portugal that has survived in the same state. This is in large part because the earthquake of 1755 caused limited damage to it. The National Palace of Sintra is, according to Wikipedia, “the best-preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal, being inhabited more or less continuously from at least the early 15th century to the late 19th century.”

The National Palace of Sintra is located at Largo Rainha Dona Amélia, 2710-616 Sintra, Portugal. It is open daily from 9:30 to 7 and costs 10 EUR ($11.20 USD). Discounts are offered for tickets to see multiple sites in Sintra.

Explore Sintra Center

There is an area in the center with a number of shops and restaurants and I recommend a visit for lunch and browsing.

Casa Piriquita

Our guide recommended Casa Piriquita for two pastries that Sintra is known for. The first was Queijada de Sintra, a not-too-sweet mini pie made of cheese, sugar, eggs, flour, and dusted with cinnamon. The second is called Travesseiro de Sintra, or Sintra’s pillows. It is a long slender dough-based pastry filled with almond cream and other secret ingredients.   

Portugal does love its pastries. Casa Piriquita has been open since 1862. It is an institution for Sintra pastries, so I highly recommend this gem and trying these pastries or others that strike your fancy. The pastries were only a Euro or so each.

Puro Sabor

We also went to a sandwich shop, Puro Sabor, which was just around the corner from Casa Piriquita and the square. Though it did seem to be the place some of the tours stopped for lunch, it was a “cheap eats” place with good food. I got a homemade baguette sandwich with prosciutto-style ham for only a few euros.

Unfortunately, we did not get to see much of the city center on our tour. I would have liked to have had some time to meander through the streets. Every corner had a hidden gem waiting to be seen, and the architecture is strikingly beautiful. The bright colors used to decorate the houses and buildings are also impressive.

Quinta da Regaleira

We started to climb to our next destination, Quinta da Regaleira. This was by far the most interesting stop on the trip. And, this is the one place where I would highly recommend getting a guide, even though you can walk on the property on your own. You can get a guide here.

Were it not for my castle obsession, I would say this was a clear winner to add to the top of your list to see when you visit Sintra. TripAdvisor does rank it currently as the #1 thing to do in Sintra.

History of Quinta da Regaleira

Carvalho Monteiro purchased the 4-acre property in 1892. He had the vision to “build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies.” The property is littered with symbols related to Masons (Freemasonry), the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians.

He built the estate in partnership with Italian architect  Luigi Manini, completing most of the work in just a few years, in 1910. The architecture hails from Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles.

Initiation Well

One of the most interesting aspects of touring the Regaleira is the Initiation Well. You enter at the top and make your way down 27 meters of spiral staircases, past nine platforms. This is strongly linked to Dante’s walk through the nine gates of hell in Divine Comedy.

A large system of tunnels connects to the bottom of the well. We made our way through, always taking the left branch until we saw the light from an opening. Here, we “walked on water” by placing our feet carefully on stones to cross the water, thus becoming enlightened. According to our guide, there are multiple interpretations of this procession. Though both are of the same topic, another interpretation shows this as the path to death and not to enlightenment.

Quinta da Regaleira is located at Rue Barbosa du Bocage 5, 2710-567 Sintra, Portugal. It is open from 9:30 to 7 daily and it costs 8 EUR ($9 USD). You can buy a ticket online to avoid waiting in the queue.

Quinta da Regaleira Palace and Chapel

We did a quick tour of Regaleira Palace and viewed the impressive artistry and carvings of the Regaleira Chapel. I found some exquisite photos by a professional photographer of the property.

I mentioned earlier that there is one location where I would highly recommend a guide and this is it. It was so interesting to get the story behind the Initiation Well. I think it would have been interesting to do a longer tour of the property to get to see more of the mysticism behind the design. This is a must-do. You cannot visit Sintra without seeing the Regaleira.

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It was already 3:30 p.m., so instead of navigating the bus, I decided to hop on a tuk-tuk to ride to the top of the hill to Pena Palace. We picked up two more passengers and started up the steep mountain. Our driver had the impressive skills of a racecar driver, and the 45-minute ride, literally, flew by.

Pena Palace and Pena Park (Palácio da Pena)

Pena Palace (sometimes known as Sintra castle) is an incredible example of 19th Century Romanticism architecture and is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.  I have now visited four of them, including the Castle of Guimarães,  Belém Tower and Jerónimos Monastery.  Each is so very different and beautiful in its own way.

I bought a dual ticket for the Sintra castle and Pena Park and started to make my climb to the palace. There is a bus that will take you to the gates as well and of course, you can walk. The palace origins were in the Middle Ages, however, the Earthquake of 1755 did destroy the convent that originally stood. It was rebuilt to its current state starting in 1838 by King Ferdinand II. Then Pena Palace became a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.

The Sintra castle was amazing, but unfortunately, I was too tired to explore further. As a result, I missed much of Pena Park and several other places I wanted to see. I found a ride back down the mountain, hopped on the train back to Lisbon arriving fairly late.

I am so glad I went to visit Sintra and saw what I was most interested in. However, I want to provide a list of some other places that I wanted to see but ran out of time. I hope to go back someday to see some of these other places and to spend more time where I did go.

Pena Palace is open from 9:30 to 7, and Pena Park until 8 p.m. The combination palace and park ticket cost is 14 EUR ($15.75 USD). The park-only ticket is 7.50 EUR ($8.40 USD). It is located at Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal.

Other Recommended Things to do in Sintra

Castelo dos Mouros

The Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) was only a few minutes by foot from Pena Palace and I was a bit disappointed to not get to see it up close. I had been told that it’s “just a ruin and not much to see.” However, as the oldest structure in the area dating back to the 8th or 9th Century, I think it would be interesting.

In addition to being part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also a National Monument. It was damaged in the Earthquake of 1755 and was partially rebuilt and stabilized in 1838 by King Ferdinand II. It’s an impressive monument overlooking the city of Sintra.

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Cruz Alta

Cruz Alta is the highest point in the Sintra mountain range. It is a hike within Pena Park area which shows panoramic views of the mountains. I saw signs for it while I hiked up the hill to Pena Palace.

Access is included in the Pena Park ticket for 7.50 EUR ($8.75 USD).

Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate)

This stunning palace is around 2 miles from the Sintra city center. As a result, it is much less viewed than other sites in the city. According to Sintra-Portugal.com, “Monserrate Palace seamlessly blends Arabic, Gothic, and Indian architectural styles to create a wonderful summer house that is surrounded by beautiful gardens; when you visit Sintra do not miss out on this hidden gem.”

Monserrate Palace is open from 9:30 to 7 and the park remains open until 8. The entrance fee is 8 EUR ($9 USD). It is located at 2710-405 Sintra, Portugal.

Convent of the Friars Minor Capuchin (Convento dos Capuchos)

The Convent of the Friars Minor Capuchin is popularly known as the Convent of the Capuchos (Convento dos Cappuchos). Officially it is called the Convento de Santa Cruz da Serra da Sintra (Convent of the Holy Cross of the Sintra Mountains). It was built in the dense forest and giant granite boulders of the Serra da Sintra National Park. The convent was built to have minimal impact on the natural surroundings and to be very different from the opulence of Sintra.

This post included quite a few “off the beaten path” places to visit in Sintra, including some that I listed as well as some others.

Sintra is a Must Do

Sintra is a magical place and I highly recommend visiting when you’re in Lisbon. If you do like architecture and history, I’d suggest doing an overnight to really get to explore all this tremendously historic city has to offer.  Were I to do it again on a day trip, I would have either done a local tour or gone on my own and found a guide for the Regaleira. I would have spent more time in the city center, time touring the gardens of Pena. and a visit to the Castle of the Moors.

If you decide to go to Sintra on your own, I found this wonderful website which has a very detailed itinerary including the specifics of how to navigate from Lisbon on public transportation. If you’d rather a guided tour, check these out.

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