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Last updated 29 November 2019
One day in Sintra Portugal
Spending one day in Sintra if that is all you have available can still be done well, but my recommendation would be to limit the number of palaces and castles that you visit. Sintra is full of amazing historical buildings, but to do them well requires time.
Sintra is the home of fairytale castles, located less than 30 kilometres north-north-west of Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. Whilst the town has many significant (and beautiful) buildings, there is one that shines brighter than the others. Pena Palace sits aloft the mountain on the second-highest point, its bright colours of ochre and yellow striking against the deep green foliage. With its turrets and towers and overall grandiose structure, it’s easy to imagine a princess or two living here.
Dating back to the early 1500s, the palace was, in fact, a monastery. By 1838, the monastery had been abandoned and the palace was quite rundown. King Ferdinand II acquired the palace and then set about renovating and extending it.
The Pena Palace became part of the UNESCO portfolio in 1995. In 2013, it also became part of the European Royal Residences network. In 2019 and no doubt for some time to come, it has also become one of the most instagrammable locations in the world. I mention this as it has had a significant impact on the number of visitors to Sintra, and can make getting a simple, clean photograph of you and your friends or family incredibly difficult. Think girls in colour matched skirts swirling all over the place and you’ll have a good idea of what I mean!
If you want to make the most of exploring the Palace of Pena, you will need to spend more than a few hours here. This castle can be viewed from a variety of different spots, each one providing a unique perspective. When you arrive, the palace will burst out of the trees. Looking up from your low position down at ground level is truly amazing.
Once up the top, there are stunning views, vistas and perspectives from windows, doors, turrets, terraces, courtyards and castle walls. Upon closer inspection, the castle is an eclectic collaboration of Gothic, Moorish (Arabic) and Neo-classical. There is mosaic tiles, concrete and timber, domes and romantic balconies. It’s a mish-mash of eras that works. It’s one of the most incredible castles I have seen.
Entrance to the inside of the castle is via a large gateway, the first of the Moorish architecture you will come across. From here, you climb the hill to make your way up to the large courtyard.
If you’ve decided to come to Pena Palace, going inside is a must. Firstly, because the effort of getting here is not insignificant and secondly because you will be missing out on the incredible rooms and decor of a royal residence if you don’t. From royal bedrooms to kitchens, grand halls and chapels, there’s so much beauty in the history on display.
Once you have finished exploring Pena Palace, be sure to spend some time in the Parque de Pena. The parkland was created and developed by King Ferdinand and it’s quite beautiful.
Tips for making the most of your visit to the Pena Palace
- I can’t stress this enough. You must get there early. We made sure we got there as the gates opened, meaning we were some of the first people through. Not only does it allow you to get some clearer photos but most importantly, it means you will reduce your time standing in queues.
- If you would like to visit other places of interest, plan to do so after your visit to Pena Palace.
- The 434 bus will drop you at the bus stop which actually isn’t right at the castle. If you don’t want to walk up the hilly path, there is a smaller bus available that will take you to the front where the ticket offices are.
- To further avoid queues, buy your tickets online before you get there. We hate waiting in queues so we bought our tickets here.
- Buying a ticket to multiple locations in Sintra can be done for a small discount.
- If you can’t buy online, you can buy your tickets from the self-serve kiosks at the entrance.
- Whilst you can buy a ticket to the gardens and outside terraces and courtyards, it is truly worthwhile buying the ticket that covers the inside rooms as well.
- During the summertime make sure you are wearing sunscreen and have a hat. Walking around here for hours can get very hot.
- Take some water with you.
- Get in early to get your best photos. It really does become competitive up here for a spare space at times.
- Toilet facilities are available.
- A cafe also operates and has a great view.
How to get from Lisbon to Sintra
Getting from Lisbon to Sintra by train is easy and provides a simple, hassle-free method of transport. Trains run frequently from Rossio train station right in the centre of Lisbon. Travel time is approximately 40 minutes and an adult ticket costs €2.25 one way. Honestly, if you are in Lisbon without a car, catching the train to Sintra is by far the best and easiest option.
If you are coming from the airport, the Oriente train station is closest and saves time coming into the city area. This train just takes slightly longer, around 47 minutes, and costs the same. Tickets may be purchased from the machines and kiosks at the train stations. Note – the machines can get very busy at peak times.
It’s one kilometre between the Sintra train station and the village so if you don’t feel like walking, the 435 bus goes into the centre. Alternatively, the 434 also leaves the station, goes via the city and also continues on to Pena Palace and many of the other locations nearby.
Tip: The correct station for exit at Sintra is Sintra station. The station immediately before it is called Portela de Sintra and can confuse visitors if they are not prepared.
For the latest timetables and prices check the official website.
Getting from Lisbon to Sintra by car can be done but it is the subject of confusion and some incorrect advice. If you do a basic Google search of “can you drive from Lisbon to Sintra” or “can you park in Sintra”, the most common advice you will find is “no, you can’t”, or ” it’s not possible”. This is in fact, incorrect. Whilst I acknowledged above that catching the train to Sintra from Lisbon is definitely the easiest option, this isn’t always possible for all visitors.
So, I am here to advise that driving to Sintra is possible and parking is also possible. You just need to know how and where to do it the best way. The best advice I can give if you are driving to Sintra is to get there early. This will also hold you in good stead for avoiding the queues at Pena Palace. Arriving early means you avoid the lines of traffic that can come to a standstill on the main roads, especially during peak holiday season. It also means you can find a car park much easier.
There are public car parks available on the perimeter of the city, and down near the train station. There are also street parks available. As the road winds up towards Pena Palace there are also car parking spots available on the side of the road. Everything from small cars to large motorhomes was parked along here. There is also a parking area near the entrance to the castle.
There are two carparks near the Portela de Sintra train station and another below the Sintra village.
If you are wanting something more organised and getting public transport around Sintra isn’t something you want to be bothered with, there are many great tours available from Lisbon that will take you directly to Sintra, thus avoiding any perceived hassle with other logistics. My recommendation here would be to not try and do everything at once. A visit to Sintra is really a two-day affair if you want to visit everything and do it well. This will also allow for some downtime in the village.
There are many tours that simply try to fit too much in and you’ll end up exhausted by the time you get back to Lisbon. There is one tour, especially that I think would just gloss over the surface. This is the full day tour that goes from Lisbon to Sintra via Cascais. Having driven to Cascais from Lison and stayed the night, there’s enough to do in Cascais alone, that would benefit from a day trip from Lisbon. To add it into a trip to Sintra is not going to do any location justice.
Instead, try something like this half-day Lisbon to Sintra tour with a small group private tour of the Pena Palace.
How to get around Sintra
There’s no escaping the hills in Sintra. The major attractions are all strategically placed high up on the hill. I’ve seen many people talk about walking to Pena Palace. I stress that this should only be for fit and mobile people, who are prepared to walk for a while. It’s a constant climb up to the top and in the summer heat, it’s not an easy walk.
For those who would prefer to take it a little easier, or for those with mobility issues, there is a very good bus service available operated by Scotturb. It’s not cheap, but they know they have a captive market. For a hop on-hop off service (in one direction) on the Number 434 bus is €6.90. For unlimited rides, there is a €15 tourist ticket. Once again, the earlier you can get here the better as the bus lines can imitate all other queues you will find during peak times.
The bus ends at the Sintra train station, completing a full loop that has stops at the Sintra village, Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace. The Number 435 bus will also take you from Sintra train station, with stops at Palacio de Monserrate and the Quinta de Regaleira.
The village of Sintra is easy enough to walk around and there are many cafes, restaurants, bakeries and ice cream shops for when you need a break. to do in Sintra village
The small, cobblestoned village of Sintra is beautiful but it is busy and it’s definitely been well covered by people trying to sell to tourists. It’s still worthwhile to spend some time here, however, and there are some good places to eat. Having tried and tested the Portuguese pastries, Pasteis de Nata, during our time in Lisbon, we needed to check out the local speciality here. Whilst most people just think of Pasteis de Nata when they think of Portuguese sweets, there are actually many local variations.
In Sintra, a visit to local bakery Casa Piriquita is an absolute must. It’s right in the centre of the village and usually noticeable by yet another queue. Here you take a number and wait (and wait) for it to be called.
There are several items that should be on your must-try list here. Firstly, the Queijada de Sintra, the pastry that brought this shop to prominence way back in 1862. It quickly became a favourite of the royals that visited and lived in the area. The key difference to these tiny tarts is the inclusion of soft cheese as a key ingredient.
Other things to do in Sintra
- Castelo dos Mouros – an 8th-century Moorish castle
- Quinta da Regaleira – a 20th-century residence
- Palacio Nacional de Sintra – a medieval royal residence
- Parque de Pena