A short drive from Lisbon, high up in the mountains, is the UNESCO World Heritage city of Sintra. Here you’ll find a collection of incredible Sintra castles including Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and the Moorish Castle. Sintra is a town that should be on everyone’s must-visit list in Portugal and makes for a good day trip from Lisbon. Follow our comprehensive guide to making the most of your day in Sintra.
Sintra one-day itinerary
Spending one day in Sintra if that is all you have available can still be done well, but I recommend limiting the number of palaces and castles you visit. Sintra is full of amazing historic buildings, but to do them properly requires more dedicated time. If you want to do all of the Sintra castles, palaces, the historic city and other notable places, I would recommend creating a two-day Sintra itinerary.
Suggested itinerary: Catch the 434 bus to Pena Palace -> Walk to Moorish Castle > Take the 434 back to Sintra town then catch 435 bus to Quinta de Regaleira -> Catch the 435 bus to Monserrate Palace -> Sintra historic town (and National Palace of Pena)
As part of our road trip from Lisbon to Porto, following the west coast of Portugal, we stopped at Sintra for a day.
Sintra is the home of fairytale castles, located less than 30 kilometres north-north-west of Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. While the town has many significant (and beautiful) buildings, there is one that shines brighter than the others. This castle is known by many names. Pena Palace is also known as Sintra Castle.
- Sintra one-day itinerary
- Sintra Castle history
- What to do at Pena Palace
- How to get from Lisbon to Sintra
- By car
- How to get around
- Other things to do
- Where to stay
- FAQs and expert tips
- Other articles to help you plan your trip to Portugal
- Useful travel resources
Sintra Castle history
Pena Palace, one of the seven wonders of Portugal, 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, towers, and overall grandiose structure, it’s easy to imagine a princess or two living here.
Like many other towns and cities in Europe, Sintra was chosen as a location for its castles due to the mountainous terrain – a natural defence against invaders. The Sintra Mountains can actually be seen from Lisbon on a clear day. Many castles were built in Sintra between the 18th and 20th centuries by the aristocracy and reflected the heavy influence of the city’s artist population.
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 renovated and extended it, turning it into the Portuguese court’s summer home. The renovation took until 1954 to complete.
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. It is also one of the most visited monuments in Portugal.
JUMP THE QUEUES. We recommend booking through Get Your Guide for a stress-free entry to Pena Palace. BOOK ONLINE NOW.
What to do at Pena Palace
Tips for making the most of your visit to the Pena Palace
- Buying your ticket online is a must! To avoid queues, buy your tickets online before you get there. We bought ours here.
- You must get there early. If you can, get there before the gates open at 9 am. If being there early isn’t possible, try later in the afternoon. The middle of the day can be excessively busy.
- If you can’t buy online, you can buy your tickets from the self-serve kiosks at the entrance. Be aware that some foreign credit cards don’t always work in these automated machines.
- While you can buy a ticket to the gardens and outside terraces and courtyards, we recommend buying a ticket that covers the inside rooms as well.
- The gates to Pena Palace (where you can find the ticket booths) open at 9 am. This means you can wander the gardens and grounds and sit in the cafe. If you want to go inside Pena Palace, access is not until 9.30 am.
- The 434 bus will drop you at the bus stop, which isn’t right at the castle. If you don’t want to walk up the hilly path (about 10-15 minutes uphill), a smaller bus will take you to the front where the ticket offices are. There is an additional cost for this.
- Note – the 434 bus doesn’t start until 9.00 am in summer and 9.30 am in winter so to get up to the gates before opening will require a different form of transport.
- Buying a ticket to multiple locations in Sintra can be done for a small discount.
- 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.
- Take time out in the cafe which also has great views.
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.
Top tip: The unique beauty of Pena Palace and the proliferation of social media has significantly impacted 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!
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 and is one of Sintra’s most incredible castles. In fact, it’s one of the most amazing castles in the world.
Be sure to spend time walking around the castle’s exterior, taking in the views from every angle.
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.
Going inside is a must if you’ve decided to come to Pena Palace. 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.
Sintra Castle is made up of several wings built over time.
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.
SKIP THE TICKET QUEUE. BUY YOUR SINTRA CASTLE TICKET (INCLUDING INSIDE) RIGHT HERE.
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 Estação de Rossio (Rossio train station) right in the centre of Lisbon. Travel time is approximately 40 minutes and an adult ticket costs €4.30 return. 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 by avoiding the city. 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 and queues are common. If you are in Lisbon for some time, it is recommended to get a Via Viagem reloadable card. All tickets must be validated at the boarding gates before travel.
It’s one kilometre between the Sintra train station and the village so if you don’t feel like walking, the 434 bus goes into the centre from the train station. You’ll find it at Rua Dr Alfredo da Costa, opposite the train station. As you come out of the train station, turn right to find the bus stop. Alternatively, the 435 also leaves the station, goes via the city and continues on to Pena Palace and many of the other locations nearby. (See above for more details on how to catch the bus in Sintra)
Top tip: The correct station for the exit at Sintra is Sintra station (Estação de Sintra). The station immediately before it is called Portela de Sintra (Estação Portela de Sintra )and can confuse visitors if they are not prepared.
Note: There is no direct bus service from Lisbon to Sintra so if you are not on a tour or driving your own vehicle, the train is the only other option.
Getting from Lisbon to Sintra by car can be done but it is the subject of great confusion and sometimes 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.
While I acknowledged above that catching the train to Sintra from Lisbon is the easiest option, this isn’t always possible for all visitors, especially those who are doing road trips and stopping in Sintra on the way through.
Driving to Sintra is possible and parking is also possible. It’s not easy but with a few of these tips, driving your car to Sintra can be done. The historic centre is not a good place to be driving and the roads all around the town are narrow, winding and many are one-way only. The best advice I can give 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 and do, come to a standstill on the main roads, especially during the peak holiday season. It also means you can find a car park much easier.
2023 UPDATE: Vehicle access and parking. In late 2019, the local government introduced restrictions for vehicle entry into the historic centre to try and alleviate some of the known congestion issues. This means that the parks that were once possible in the streets and near the Sintra Castle and other monuments are no longer possible. You can however still park at one of the many paid public carparks.
Watch out for people trying to scam those who enter Sintra by car. Apart from not being able to drive and park near the most popular places to visit in Sintra like the castles and palaces, you can drive here and there are legitimate places to park. The best places to park in Sintra are listed below.
We still recommend buying your SKIP THE LINE tickets in advance. You can buy the advance tickets for Pena Palace here. Other links for online tickets can be found in the relevant monuments section.
- P1 North Portela 1 Norte (North) – Av Mario Firmino Miguel (close to Portela de Sintra train station)
- Parque de Estacionamento P1 Sul (South) – Av Mario Firmino Miguel (close to Portela de Sintra train station). Electric vehicle charging station nearby.
- Parque de Estacionamento P3 Portela Sintra – Largo Francisco Cordeiro Batista
- Estacionamento – Azinhaga Sardinha 5. Electric vehicle charging station nearby.
- Emes – Empresa Municipal de Estacionamento de Sintra – R. Dr. Alfredo da Costa Nº 7
- Estacionamento Large Sao Pedro Pennaferrim – Praça Dom Fernando II 11
We drove to Sintra in our campervan as part of our road trip in Portugal. Read all about our campervan hire in Portugal
Tours from Lisbon to Sintra
If you want to visit Sintra and don’t have a car or getting public transport feels too confusing or time-consuming, there are many great tours from Lisbon available, that will take you directly to Sintra. 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 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 gloss over the surface. This is the full-day tour that goes from Lisbon to Sintra via Cascais. Having driven to Cascais from Lisbon and stayed the night, there’s enough to do in Cascais 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 and you’ll get to the end and wished you had taken more time. Still, if time isn’t on your side, this tour will give you some highlights.
Instead, try something like this half-day Lisbon to Sintra tour with a small group private tour of Pena Palace and the National Palace of Pena.
Full day Lisbon to Sintra tour – this full-day tour is actually good value as it doesn’t try to do too much.
- Explore Pena Palace
- Visit Regaleira Palace and the Initiation Well near the Moorish Castle
- City Hall and the Park of Liberty
- Drive past Seteais Palace and through the mountains of Sintra
- Visit Monserrate Palace and the gardens
Check availability and book a tour here.
How to get around
There’s no escaping the hills in Sintra. The major attractions are all high up on the hill. I’ve seen many people talk about walking to Pena Palace. Walking is recommended for fit and mobile people, who are prepared to walk for a while. It’s a constant climb up to the top, along an ordinary footpath, and in the summer heat, it’s not an easy walk. If walking, allow 30-45 minutes depending on your level of fitness.
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 as cheap as some European public transport. For a hop on-hop off service (in one direction) on the Number 434 bus is €7.00. 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 number 435 bus is €5.00.
The buses in Sintra are run by ScottURB and you will find this written on the buses to help with identification. The bus numbers are also on the front of the buses.
Note: The travel forums are often full of complaints about this bus service, calling it a ripoff, commenting about delays and that the drivers aren’t offering a good tourist service. The delays can be quite common. The roads are one-way in most instances and narrow. At peak times, sticking to timetables can be difficult, so you should be prepared for delays and allow for this in your schedule. The bus ticket is not the cheapest around, but the alternatives are to walk, which many people can’t. Alternatively, there are tuk-tuks and Uber. This is also not a tour bus, so therefore the price you pay is for transport only and you should not expect commentary or for the drivers to point out points of interest along the way.
Tip: Be aware that there are some tuk-tuk drivers who will try to encourage you to travel with them at inflated prices.
Bus 434 Circuito da Pena (circular route)
- Sintra Train Station (Estação de Sintra)
- São Pedro de Sintra
- Sintra historic town centre
- Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
- Pena Palace and Park (Palacio Nacional da Pena and Parque da Pena)
- Sintra historic town centre
- Sintra Train Station (Estação de Sintra)
When planning how you will approach your Sintra one-day itinerary, it’s important to understand how the 434 bus works. The 434 bus operates in one direction as a hop-on-hop-off service, but you can only do the circular route once. This means once you have passed one of the Sintra castles, parks or monuments, you can’t do another full loop to go back to the one you’ve missed.
So, if you are catching the 434 bus, you will need to get off first at the Moorish Castle first. Once you have finished at the Moorish Castle, then you can board the 434 bus once again and get off at the Sintra Castle and so on. However, doing it in this way may not suit your plans and it will certainly get you to the Sintra Castle later in the day, even if you catch the first 434 bus.
Top tip: If you still want to catch the 434 bus, we recommend going to the Sintra Castle/Pena Palace first, and as early as possible, and then when you have finished here, walk back to the Moorish Castle. The walk is about 850 metres through the park.
Timetable found here.
Bus 435 Villa Express – 4 Palaces
- Sintra Train Station (Estação de Sintra)
- São Pedro de Sintra
- Sintra historic town centre
- Regaleira Estate (Quinta da Regaleira)
- Seteais Palace (Palácio de Seteais)
- Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate)
- Ribeira de Sintra
- Montes Santos
- Sintra Train Station (Estação de Sintra)
Timetable found here. The 435 bus does not return to the historic town centre.
The tickets for both buses can be purchased directly from the driver and you only need to pay once for each route per day. Timetables change depending on the season and there are always more frequent buses during the peak summer periods.
Other combined travel tickets
There is a €16 tourist ticket, called a Turístico diário. This covers all bus transport for 24 hours, including the bus (route 403) from Cascais and Estoril (route 418).
If you are planning on catching the train from Lisbon to Sintra or Cascais to Sintra, the Comboios de Portugal offer a daily travel card for the train and buses in Sintra. The ticket allows you to get to and from cities on the Cascais and Azambuja lines (for towns in between Alcântara-Terra and Oriente) and all Scotturb buses in Sintra. this ticket must be loaded onto the Navegante card and can be used in an unlimited fashion until the final bus and train of the day. The ticket costs €16.00. Tickets can be purchased at Lisbon train stations and from vending machines.
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.
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 spending time here, however, and there are some good places to eat.
Uber and tuk-tuks
Uber now operates in Sintra and the fares are very economical. Likewise, grab a tuk-tuk from near the train station or bus stop and get a locally guided tour on the way to your destination. Fares should be no more than €7-€10. Watch for scams involving overpriced tuk-tuks.
Other things to do
Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle)
Located close by Sintra Castle, the Moorish Castle is the first stop on the #434 bus. A military fort, this grey-stoned castle built in the eighth century is another of Portugal’s historic monuments. Like many of the important icons in this area, the castle is well looked after, showcasing thousands of years of history to new visitors every day.
A visit to the Moorish Castle also offers you an opportunity to walk its walls, rewarding you with incredible views as you do so.
Avoid the ticket queues with the skip-the-line ticket for the Moorish Castle here.
Quinta da Regaleira (Regaleira Palace)
Built as a residence in the 20th century, this elegant historic house was privately owned. It is also known locally as the Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire, a nod to its original builder Mr Antonio Monteiro. Aside from the elegant building, the landscaped gardens are beautiful to stroll around in.
Don’t miss the Initiation Well, a multi-level spiral of stone, where you can walk the narrow staircase right down to the bottom.
Palácio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace)
It’s not all about the Sintra Castle here. The Monserrate Palace is another beautiful building here in Sintra, but it flies under the radar a little, meaning there are usually fewer crowds to manage.
In 1856, an English merchant named Francis Cook purchased the land and commenced building in 1863, making this quite a modern building when compared to others in Sintra. Like other buildings here in Sintra, the architecture showcased Islamic influences. The building is also surrounded by beautiful gardens.
The Portuguese government purchased the palace in 1947 and following major renovations in 2000 it is now open to the public.
Buy your SKIP THE LINE tickets here at the same price as at the entrance gate, just without the queues.
Palácio Nacional de Sintra (National Palace of Pena)
The National Palace of Pena is the easiest of all Sintra monuments to access as it is right in the centre of the historic town centre. The palace is best known for its conical chimneys, painted ceilings and detailed tiling.
Historians believe that the first building was constructed around the 10th or 11th century, and more buildings and wings were added throughout the years. It was a meeting place for the monarchy with the nobles and foreign ambassadors. Many kings and queens have walked through Palacio Nacional’s decorated chambers.
Buy your ticket online here and avoid the queues.
Palácio dos Seteais (Seteais Palace)
Built for the Dutch consul in the 18th century, it has strong neo-classical architectural influences. From politics to royalty, this was the prestigious home of many prior to the Portuguese government buying it in 1946. Now a heritage-listed building, it has been a luxury hotel since 1954.
Visitors can only explore the gardens outside. If you’d like to stay at the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais Hotel you can check reviews, availability and pricing on Trip Advisor.
Cabo da Roca
These are the famously tall rocks on the sea, located in the most western part of Europe, a short ride out from the centre of Sintra. While many people include Cabo da Roca in a one-day Sintra itinerary, I believe this is better left to another day, if time allows. Visiting all of the castles, palaces and city centre of Sintra is more than enough to fill a complete day.
In Sintra, a visit to the 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 between these tiny tarts is the inclusion of soft cheese as a key ingredient.
Having tried and tested the Portuguese pastries, Pasteis de Nata, during our time in Lisbon, we needed to check out the local speciality here. While most people just think of Pasteis de Nata when they think of Portuguese sweets, there are actually many local variations.
The Travesseiro, which translates to pillow, are rolls of puff pastry filled with egg and almond cream and sprinkled generously with sugar.
Where to stay
If you are arriving the day before, or you love it so much you decide to stay for another day, here are some of the best places to stay in Sintra. Please note that Sintra is one of the most popular places to visit in Portugal, especially in the summer season, so advance bookings for hotels are recommended.
Tivoli Palacio de Seteais Hotel – Heritage-listed, this property is the most spectacular of all hotels in Sintra. As noted above, you can still visit the gardens and admire the building from the outside, even if you aren’t staying.
Sintra Palace Marmoris – a 19th-century palace in the heart of Sintra.
Sintra Boutique Hotel – full of contemporary art, right in the city centre
Sintra Bliss House – a modern place to stay in the city, located 100 metres walk from the Sintra Train Station.
If you can manage travelling at non-peak times, your best bet is March-April and October-November. Visit during weekdays and avoid public holidays and weekends.
FAQs and expert tips
This question is always asked but it is dependent on your own personal preferences and of course, your own availability and budget. It is known, however, that visiting Sintra in summer means higher prices for accommodation and plenty of crowds. It means it takes longer to catch buses, there will be more queues, and you’ll have more people to deal with in general. Of course, you can mostly avoid the ticket queues by buying your tickets online before you get there.
Yes, it can, but like anything, if you have more time to spend here, then you will easily find enough to do in Sintra for two days, even three. But, with the right itinerary, you can see a lot of really wonderful places here in one day.
Nothing special is required. You should make sure though that you have plenty of water, sunscreen, a hat and even some snacks for your day out. Other than at Pena Palace, there are limited opportunities to buy food and drinks, outside of the town.
If you are in Lisbon, Cascais or other nearby cities and just want a day trip, then catching a train is definitely the best option. It’s cheap, quick and hassle-free.
Sintra is now a protected zone where only residents, buses, taxis and other approved operators can park in the historic centre. However, there are many public car parks available. Refer to the notes in this article for where to park.
Other articles to help you plan your trip to Portugal
- 2 days in Porto: One of the best cities to visit in Portugal
- Day trips from Porto Portugal
- Lisbon to Porto drive: An 8 day Portugal road trip in a campervan
- Pasteis de Nata: Finding the best Portuguese custard tarts in Portugal
- Why you should visit Belem Portugal
- How to make the most of 3 days in Lisbon Portugal
Useful travel resources
Book your flight: Flights are an important part of travel and we’re always looking for the best deals. If you can travel mid-week and be flexible, you’ll often find great deals on flights. We also use Skyscanner and Momondo(US) and Airfare Watchdog is a useful resource for checking flight prices.
Book your accommodation: We all love to stay in different places. From the comfort of a self-contained apartment or house to a resort or luxury hotel. sometimes we just need something quick, easy and comfortable for an overnight stay. Vrbo is great for holiday rentals of more than seven days and often has great discounts for longer periods. Trip Advisor is perfect for getting reviews, checking availability and pricing comparisons all in one place. For the same reason, we also love Hotels Combined and have often found great savings on their sites.
Book your rental car or motorhome: We always use Discover Rental Cars anywhere in the world for car hire. We recommend Apollo Motorhomes in Hamburg (use our code APDEBEERCROI for €50 off your hire) and Anywhere Campers if you want one-way hire motorhome in Europe. If you’d like to buy your own motorhome in France, we use and recommend France Motorhome Sales. Use our code FMS1022 or tell John we sent you!
Book a tour: We travel independently but occasionally even we find a great tour we are dying to take. If you are looking for advance tickets to an attraction, groups tours or private tours, we use and recommend Get Your Guide and Viator. Both have a great range of tours and flexible cancellation policies. If you are looking to do a food tour in Europe, we also recommend Eating Europe Tours.
Be covered: We always travel with travel insurance. We did it before the pandemic and it’s even more important for us to do so now. We use Cover-More in Australia. SafetyWing has great rates for travellers who are away from home for extended periods. World Nomads also has good coverage.
Be ready: Make sure you pack a few essentials: universal adaptor, power bank and noise cancelling headphones
5 thoughts on “One day in Sintra Portugal (and why it’s still ok to drive there)”
Hi Monica, I’m so sorry to hear that happened to you (and others). Theft from cars is unfortunately something that can happen anywhere in the world. It will no more happen here in Sintra than it would in other areas. We’ve parked here with no problems at all. It’s always a good idea to not leave anything valuable in a vehicle, and having insurance is always something se recommend having when you travel and are hiring cars.
Hi we went by rental car…warning…we did not find parking easily and ended up parking here.
Our rental car was broken into and two bags stolen one of which had our passports. ( this latter part was of course our crazy moment since we always keep these on our bodies:( But I just want to warn all people not to leave anything at all in the car as 4 other cars were broken into in the same parking lot on that one day. in fact I would say
1. do buy insurance when you rent the car
2. do not leave anything in the car.
And you will be fine. Funnily during planning we did not read or hear about this at all. This ruined the next few days for us.
Portugal is a beautiful country and Sintra is a must visit. We will go back again some day. Enjoy it thoroughly just look after your belongings 🙂
Thanks Natasha. I’m the first to admit that it is definitely easier if you don’t have to drive, but not everyone is in that situation. I hope you enjoy Sintra.
The information about the parking is pure GOLD! I knew there had to be a way! Thank you so much for this. 🙂
Wow thank you SO MUCH for all of this information! I am scrambling today to plan a visit to Sintra today/tomorrow and with or without a rental car (I’m trying to decide) and this was so helpful!