Big city life certainly has its appeal, but sometimes you just need to slow things down a bit. For anyone traveling to Lisbon for several days, Sintra offers just that sort of brief & beautiful getaway you may be looking for. From ornate palaces & humble stone fortresses to the enchanting forests that connect them, Sintra is an absolute must-visit locale in central Portugal.
Most travelers visit Sintra as a day-trip from Lisbon. As you’ll see, this historical gem offers architecture and activities to keep you occupied for several days, if you have the time and desire.
If you’ve only got 1 day, visit:
- Pena Palace & National Park
- Moorish Castle
If you’ve got 2 days, add:
- Sintra National Palace
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Monserrate Palace
- Convento dos Capuchos
- Cabo da Roca
Getting from Lisbon → downtown Sintra
Sintra is only 18 miles (29 km) from Lisbon, and easy to get to. Here are your best options:
By train: you’ve got 2 options departing from 2 different stations: 1) Rossio station (→ green metro line) and 2) Estação do Oriente (→ red metro line). The fares are the same and the journey times are similar (~40 minutes).
By car: some online resources will discourage you from driving a car to Sintra, because parking options at the monuments of Sintra are extremely limited. We agree! The drive can take anywhere from 40-60 minutes depending on traffic, and it is very difficult to find parking near the main sites. If you do decide to drive, we recommend parking at the train station or in the historic city center close to the 434 bus route, which we will now explain.
Getting from downtown Sintra → the landmarks
Once you’ve arrived in Sintra, take the 434 tourist bus which connects the train station, the historic city center and the Pena Palace in a one direction loop. The bus route is called the Circuito da Pena (Pena Circuit). Here’s a timetable. Make sure to scroll down and click on the 434 route! You can catch this bus directly from the train station, or you can also walk 20 minutes into town – along the Av. Miguel Bombarda – and catch the bus from the historic city center.
The bus will drop you off in front of the ticket office to Pena Palace. From there, you can catch one of the small 30-person transfer shuttles to take you the final stretch to the palace itself.
If you are up for the challenge, you can also walk all the way from the train station or the city center up to the main sites, but be prepared: the walk is very steep and will take you at least an hour.
travelhelix tip: there is very little car parking around the Pena Palace. If you have chosen to drive to Sintra – and you’ve decided to test your luck by driving up the mountain – AND you’re able to find a parking spot – first of all: congratulations!. However, you’ll STILL have a bit of a hike in front of you to reach the palace. Look for one of the many tuk-tuk drivers to give you a ride up the mountain if you’re not prepared for the hike!
The Pena Palace & National Park
Commissioned by King Ferdinand II in 1842, this architectural masterpiece is the visual highlight of Sintra. Bright, vibrant colors are the trademark of El Palácio da Pena’s unforgettable exterior. Inside, tour the corridors to get a taste of Portuguese royalty, as if it were 200 years ago.
Surrounding Pena Palace is El Parque Nacional da Pena (Pena National Park). These dense forests include hidden pathways, tranquil lakes and lookout points that provide incredible views of Pena Palace from afar.
A quick walk around the palace can take as few as 45 minutes, although we recommend giving yourself at least 3 hours to fully appreciate the outside of the palace, tour the inside of the palace and explore the surrounding park.
- opening hours: 9:30am in the summer and 10:00am in the winter. Closing time is always 6:00pm.
- when to go: Pena Palace is the most popular tourist attraction in Sintra. If you’re visiting during the summer months, arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.
- tickets: available for purchase outside of the palace, but you’ll save time by buying them online. All profits from ticket sales are reinvested into maintaining Sintra’s monuments!
Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)
If you’re standing on an outdoor terrace at Pena Palace and look directly north, you’ll see a stone fortress off in the distance, about 1 mile away. This fortress is the Moorish Castle of Sintra, built in the 8th & 9th centuries as a strategic military outpost because of its panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding area. Over the next 1000 years, the castle would gradually deteriorate from war, fire & earthquakes only to be restored in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II.
Today, El Castelo dos Mouros is one of Sintra’s primary historical landmarks and tourist attractions. Our recommendation: begin at Pena Palace, then walk through Pena National Park until arriving at the castle. From there, you’ll find spectacular ocean views, as well as some different, more distant perspective on Pena Palace. Here are some of the highlights of what you can expect to see at the castle, plus a useful map.
- opening hours: 9:30am-8:00pm in the summer; 10:00am–6:00pm in the winter. The last admission is 1 hour before closing. The castle is open 7 days a week, including Monday when many monuments in Lisbon are closed.
- when to go: many travelers start at Pena Palace and then visit the Moorish Castle afterward. We recommend doing the same – unless you happen to arrive midday, when the lines outside of Pena Palace are long and crowded. In this case, you may consider starting at the castle, allowing a couple hours for the crowds to decrease.
- tickets: available for purchase outside of the castle, but you’ll save time by buying them online.
we promise: you won’t find a Moor impressive castle in Sintra 😉
Other Things to Do In Sintra
If you have more than 1 day in Sintra, there are plenty more sites to see. The total distance between the 5 points below is 10 miles (16 km), so we’d recommend a car. If you’d like to see them all, take your time – give yourself another full day for this itinerary.
- National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra): a gothic palace that housed Portuguese royalty for 500 years… and imprisoned King Alonfso VI for a short while as well.
- Quinta da Regaleira: less popular and less crowded than other landmarks of Sintra – yet possibly more intriguing – this gothic mansion features gardens, caves, secret passageways and… an “initiation well.”
- Monserrate Palace: you’ll find exquisite Islamic-inspired architecture in this 19th century mansion.
- Convento dos Capuchos: a Franciscan monastery built from only boulders & trees of the surrounding forest.
- Cabo da Roca: the westernmost point of mainland Europe!
Of course, there’s always the option of just having a relaxing afternoon meal with your loved ones ♥
We hope you enjoy Sintra as much as we did!