Only a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, picturesque Sintra offers a fairy-tale experience for a day (or longer, as you wish). Sharing my experience with you, including many photos and all information you need to visit the five prettiest palaces and parks of Sintra. In order of suggested visits:
1: Park and Palace of Pena (Palácio da Pena)
Palace of Pena is the most extravagant, colorful, impressive palace complex of Sintra and surroundings. A clear must-see! Pena Palace is a great example of nineteenth century Portuguese Romanticism and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is on top of a hill, offering a beautiful view on its wider surroundings.
Upon arrival in the morning, the palace was covered in magical mist. By the time the entrance gate opened up to the public, the mist had just risen up. Amazing! Walking up from the main entrance gate to the actual palace takes some efforts; by foot app. 10 min with 14% rise (!) or wait in line to get in a small bus after paying an additional EUR 3. To avoid the biggest crowds, visit Palace of Pena either at the beginning or at the end of your day in Sintra. However, even when the gate opens at 09:30h late September, the line is already long.
Pena Palace is surrounded by Pena Park, which includes several highlights such as the Garden of Camellias and the Valley of the Lakes with the Duck House. Worth a stroll!
2: Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle built by the Berbers (‘Moors’) with a long history of functioning as a strategic battle point. The Moorish Castle is nowadays part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After passing the first entrance gate, it is an approximate 500 meter walk through a park to the actual entrance gate where you need to show your ticket. There are ticket sales offices at both entrance points. After passing the second entrance gate, walk straight ahead towards the wall and then go up left for the best view.
3: National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
The National Palace of Sintra is easy to recognize with its two big white, conical shaped steeples on top. The National Palace is located right in the heart of Sintra village and functions nowadays as a historical museum.
Out of the five palaces and parks mentioned in this blog post, the National Palace of Sintra is the one that I went through the fastest. Smaller and a bit less interesting compared to the others, but that is very personal of course. There is no big garden to see. However, the patio with Mudéjar-style mullioned windows and portal and 16th-century geometrical Spanish tile decoration, plus the little blue-white titled alcove, are pretty though!
4: Quinta de Regaleira
Quinta de Regaleira is definitely one of the main highlights of Sintra. Extravagant, exotic, unique and luxurious are the words that come to my mind in attempt to describe it.
The Quinta de Regaleira estate includes a palace, chapel, lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, statues and underground tunnels with caves and multiple entry points. Definitely worth a visit!
5: Monserrate Palace and Park (Palácio de Monserrate)
The design of Monserrate Palace is a fine example of Portuguese Romanticism style with obvious Arabic architectural influences. The palace has actually more the size of a villa. Both interior and exterior are beautiful with many elegant arches, a small fountain in the central hall (inside) and a big fountain in front (outside). Monserrate Palace is also used for weddings sometimes (in the summer after opening hours). I understand why.
Monserrate Park is surrounded by a variety of lush green plants, trees, grass fields, flowers, a lake, several springs and fountains and grottoes. This beautiful park was honored with a European Garden Award in 2013.
Sintra and surroundings offer enough to spend more than just one day. If you do decide to stay longer, consider to visit the following as well:
- The Chalet of the Countess (Chalet da Condessa D’Edla)
- Capuchos Convent
- Vila Sassetti
- Seteais Palace
- Palace National of Queluz
- Palace of Mafra
Make sure to at least purchase entrance tickets for Pena Palace online in advance because the ticket office also only opens at 09:30 and you will have to stand at the back of the line once you have purchased your ticket. If you do buy your ticket there, it’s a good idea to buy the three you can get here – Park and Palace of Pena, Moorish Castle and Palace National of Sintra – to get a 6% discount on the total price.
For Monserrate and Quinta de Regaleira you can easily buy the tickets at the entrance gates. There are usually no lines and do not belong to the same group, so no combo discount possibility anyway.
How to get around in Sintra
The best way to get to Sintra is by train. See below section ‘How to get there’. Exit the station and go right, walk ±100 meters to the bus station or take a taxi. A taxi from the station to Pena Palace takes ±15 min.
In practice I basically took any transport method that was soonest available; from taxi to bus to tuk-tuk, because I did not want to waste any time. Getting around by bus and foot is for sure the cheapest yet time consuming. There is another option I would consider, which is renting a scooter. Easy to park, easy available and get up to the hills. There is a scooter renting spot left of the main train station building, right next to the bus stop. Just don’t forget to bring your driver’s license.
Coming by car is to Sintra is not something I would recommend, it’s highly likely to become a frustrating experience. There are very, very limited parking spaces available in Sintra. The infrastructure of the village is simply not built for it. If you do want to come by car, it would probably be best to park around the train station and take a bus or taxi from there to go from one palace to another.
The only time I saw one single parking spot available was at Monserrat at the end of the afternoon at the end of September. As you can see on the map in this blog post Monserrat is the most far out located palace. Even arriving at 09:00 at Pena Palace I did not see a single parking spot available any more. Can only imagine how it is in July or August…
Most roads in/around Sintra are one-way circles, so planning your visits ahead is a smart thing to do to avoid having to drive around too many times, by bus or car.
You can buy a full day bus ticket or single rides. Buses go pretty regularly throughout the day (usually every 20 min). From Sintra train station or centre, you can take:
- bus 434 to Pena Palace and Moorish Palace (and back)
- bus 435 to Quinta de Regaleira and Monserrate Park (and back)
You can easily walk between Pena Palace, Pena Park (exit Valley of the Lakes) and Moorish Palace as they are close to each other. You can also walk from Palace National of Sintra (located in the heart of Sintra) to Quinta de Regaleira. See also below proposed day schedule. There are many cobble stone paths in Sintra, so better leave your high heels back at the hotel.
Day plan (recommended)
Below proposed schedule will keep you busy for a full day, in my case from 08:00h from Lisbon till 19:00h (back in Lisbon). Unless you also would like to have dinner or spend the night in Sintra (for accommodation suggestions see below under ‘Where to stay’).
- Take the train from Lisbon Rossio station to Sintra (40 min)
- Take taxi or bus from station to Pena Palace (15 min)
- Visit Pena Palace (1-2 hours)
- Visit Pena Park, downhill to the Valley of Lakes (1-2 hours)
- Exit at Valley of Lakes and walk to Moorish Palace (5 min)
- Visit Moorish Palace (1-2 hours)
- Take the bus from Moorish Palace to Palace National of Sintra (15 min)
- Visit Palace National of Sintra (0.5 hour) and get lunch across the street (Sintra center)
- Walk from Sintra center to Quinta de Regaleira (15 min)
- Visit Quinta de Regaleira (1-3 hours)
- Take the bus, tuk-tuk or whatever you can get from Quinta de Regaleira to Monserrate (10 min)
- Visit Monserrate Palace and Park (0.5-1.5 hours)
- Take the bus from Monserrate to Sintra train station (20 min)
- Take the train back to Lisbon Rossio (40 min)
- High season (Apr-Sep): most parks 09:30-20:00h, most palaces 09:45-19:00h.
- Low season (Oct-Mar): most parks 10:00-18:00h, most palaces 10:00-18:00h.
- Last tickets/entry: 1 hour before closing time.
How to get to Sintra
Lisbon’s international airport, Aeroporto Humberto Delgado (LIS), is the closest airport to Sintra. Check, compare and book flight tickets via Skyscanner. From the airport, you can take the Aerobus, regular bus, regular taxi or Uber to the city center of Lisbon.
Depending on your preference, either:
- Join a day tour with a guide, or
- Travel on your own.
The first is a matter of booking the right tour. This blog is mostly aimed at the second option: folks interested to plan their own trip to Sintra. Actually a tour will be easier and possibly quite cost effective too, depending on what is included. Up to you to decide!
When traveling on your own, take the train to Sintra from Rossio station in the center of Lisbon. Trains depart at least twice an hour and the ride takes ±40 min. Check Google for departure times. If you did not have breakfast yet, buy a drink/snack at Starbucks in the main entrance hall of the train station, as there is no food/drink service on the train. Take the escalators up to the second level of the station, where the ticket office and train platforms are. There is no fixed seating in the train. There are no more than six tracks, so easy to find the right platform.
When you go back from Sintra to Lisbon-Rossio, be careful which train you take. If you take the train to Lisbon-Oriente, make sure you switch trains at Benfica station, otherwise you will end up in a completely different part of Lisbon! These white VIVA train tickets are valid 2 hours after check-in. If you switch platforms at Benfica station, you will have to check-out and check-in via the gates, but this is no problem (unless you missed the station and have to go back, like I did).
What it costs
|Train ticket Lisbon - Sintra (return)||5|
|Taxi ride Sintra train station to Pena Palace||10|
|Single bus rides Sintra (EUR 3.30 to EUR 5 per ride)||12.25|
|Entrance Pena Palace & Park, Moorish Palace and National Palace||30|
|Entrance Quinta de Regaleira||6|
|Tuk-tuk ride Quinta de Regaleira to Monserrate (after negotiation)||5|
|Lunch, snacks, water, souvenir, etc.||19|
Prices mentioned are for 1 adult in September 2018. Instead of buying single bus rides, consider buying a 24h bus ticket for EUR 15 at the beginning of the day. If you book a tour, get clear before booking what is included in the price (such as entrance tickets yes/no).
Make sure you have cash on you; I’d say at least EUR 50 each, also some coins and small bills for the bus and/or taxi rides. There are several ATM’s in Sintra, for example one at the exit gate of Sintra train station. The ticket offices also accept debit and credit cards.
Scooter rental starts at EUR 20, bike rental EUR 5. If you do decide to rent a bike, make sure it is an e-bike with enough battery, because you really should save your energy for visiting the actual palaces and parks, not the steep roads up the hills!
Where to stay
Plenty of choices. Below my favorite selection, in attempt to make your choice stress disappear…
- NH Collection Lisboa Liberdade
- Holiday Inn Lisboa Liberdade
- Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa
- Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Lisboa
For location see map above.
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