A fairy tale land with hilltop castles, mythical forests and labyrinthine caves, Sintra is a magical town that’s just a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, making it the perfect destination for a fantastic day trip from the city. While Sintra is worthy of a two-day visit, it can easily be seen in a day. Read on to find out everything you need to know when visiting Sintra from Lisbon.
Visiting Sintra from Lisbon:
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon:
The cheapest and easiest way to get to Sintra is via train from the Rossio station in the centre of Lisbon. The train is a direct service that takes around 40 minutes and it runs every 30 minutes from Lisbon and once every hour from Sintra to Lisbon. In May 2019 on Saturdays and Sundays, this was on the hour and half past the hour from Lisbon and 50 past the hour from Sintra. The ticket costs €4.50 for a return journey. In order to get to Sintra before it gets too busy, aim to get the train for around 8am.
The best way to get around Sintra:
While some of the attractions in Sintra are within walking distance from one another – Pena Palace and The Castle of the Moors, for example – most of them are relatively spread out and located on steep hills, meaning it’s too far to walk and you’ll need some form of transport to get around. Do not, however, attempt to drive because the roads are very narrow and congested and there is limited parking.
There are two tourists buses available (details below) as well as plenty of tuk tuks ready to hail, but the most convenient and possibly the cheapest way is actually by Uber. An Uber from Sintra train station to Pena Palace costs around €7 first thing in the morning and around €4 from The Castle of the Moors to Sintra train station in the afternoon. Quinta da Regaleira, meanwhile, is within walking distance from the train station. So, when you consider that the tourist bus costs between €3 and €6.90 per person, Uber may turn out to be about the same price or cheaper depending on how many sights you want to see and how many people you’re travelling with. If you’re hoping to beat the crowds to Pena Palace in the morning, it’s definitely quicker and less stressful to opt for an Uber.
The tourist buses:
434 Bus: This bus loops from Sintra train station to Sintra National Palace, The Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace, which is the last stop on the route. The ticket costs €3.90 for a single and €6.90 for a 24-hour hop on and hop off service.
435 Bus: This bus journeys from the town centre to Quinta da Regaleira and the Palace of Monserrate. The single fare costs €3 and the hop on and hop off ticket costs €5 per person.
Things to see in Sintra:
The most popular attractions in Sintra are Pena Palace, The Castle of the Moors and Quinta da Regaleira while further sights include the Palace of Monserrate and the Sintra National Palace. If you have limited time, the first three should be enough to create a satisfying visit but do try to squeeze in the other two if you can.
Pena Palace and Pena Palace Park
With striking bold colours and a fairy tale aesthetic, Pena Palace is a visually impressive structure and one of Portugal’s best-known examples of 19th-century romanticism. Perched proudly on the top of one of Sintra’s highest peaks, it’s surrounded by a blanket of lush forest that’s often shrouded in mist, making for an atmospheric setting that could come straight off the pages of a storybook.
There are three different parts to the palace: the palace grounds and terraces, the interiors, and the surrounding park. Within the park is the High Cross, which is the only point in Sintra that’s higher than Pena Palace, making for a fantastic spot to enjoy spectacular views of the palace peeking out from the surrounding treetops. The park itself is also incredibly beautiful with verdant greenery interspersed with hidden trails, mini stone bridges and glistening streams. Be sure to walk through the middle of the Queen’s Fern Valley and don’t miss the peaceful Temple of the Columns.
The Castle of the Moors
Sitting a little further down the hill from Pena Palace, The Castle of the Moors is another attraction not to be missed when visiting Sintra. Dating back to the 9th century, the castle was established by the North African Moors, but following the Cristian conquest of Portugal in 1147, it was left to ruin. Today, only the castle walls and steps remain, tightly hugging the hill 412 metres above sea level. A hike along the walls makes for a breathtaking experience with views all across Sintra and its unique topography. Despite sitting lower than its neighbour, the castle is also one of the best places to enjoy views of Pena Palace.
Quinta da Regaleira
The former residence of eccentric businessman Antonio Carvalho Monteiro, Quinta da Regaleira is a sprawling, otherworldly site with hidden passageways, labyrinthine caves and deep mythical wells. References to the Knights Templar and mythological figures can be seen throughout – most notably the spiralling underground well that references the Knights Templar initiation ceremony – while other features include the mansion’s intricate gothic façade and magnificent interiors. Be sure to allow plenty of time to get lost in the gardens – many of the doorways lead to unexpected places – and stop for a beer at the on-site café, which sits right next door to the mansion.
How much it costs to visit Sintra:
All tickets for attractions in Sintra can be bought on the day at the entrance of each sight. However, in order to save money and time, it’s best to book your tickets online in advance. This also provides the option of buying combined tickets and receiving a discount for doing so. Buying two combined tickets offers a 5% discount and the percentage increases with the number of attractions you buy tickets for, with the maximum discount available being 10% for six sights.
There are two different ticket types for Pena Palace: the Palace and the Park and just the Park. If you do not want to visit inside the palace, you can buy just the Park ticket. This provides access to the surrounding park grounds and the palace’s exterior, including the terraces, turrets and outdoor stairs.
Palace and the Park: Adult €14, child €12.50, family €49
Park: Adult €7.50, child €6.50, family €26
There is also the option of paying an extra €3 for the minibus that acts as a transfer from the entrance gates to the palace itself. However, it’s only a short distance so this is only really needed for those who are less able to walk.
The Castle of the Moors:
Adult €8, child €6.50
Quinta da Regaleira:
Adult €8, child €4, family €18
How long you need to see Sintra:
With so much to see in Sintra, it’s best to try and spread your visit across two days. Pena Palace and The Castle of the Moors are a short walk from one another so they can be seen together in one day while Sintra National Palace, the Palace of Monserrate and Quinta da Regaleira are about a 15-minute drive away. If you do only have one day, it’s best to aim for Pena Palace first thing followed by Pena Park and The Castle of the Moors before visiting the other attractions in the afternoon. Quinta da Regaleira gets very quiet in the hour leading up to closing at 7pm and you can comfortably roam through the caves, wells and turrets without too many other people getting in your way.
The perfect one-day Sintra itinerary:
8am: Get the train from Lisbon Rossio station to Sintra.
8.40am: Catch an Uber from Sintra train station to Pena Palace.
9am: Start queuing for Pena Palace. Purchase your tickets from the machine if you haven’t bought them in advance – the ticket office doesn’t open until 9.30am so do not wait for this if you want to beat the crowds inside.
9.30am: Enter Pena Palace. Skip the transfer minibus and power walk up the hill to the palace. See the terraces and palace grounds first before exploring the interiors.
11am: Hike up to the High Cross viewpoint to enjoy panoramic views of Pena Palace.
11.30am: Wander through Pena Palace Park, stopping by the Queen’s Fern Valley, the Temple of the Columns and the Valley of the Lakes.
12.30pm: Walk to The Castle of the Moors and spend an hour or so exploring, taking in even more spectacular views of neighbouring Pena Palace.
1.30pm: Get an Uber back to Sintra village for some lunch.
4.30pm: Walk from Sintra village to Quinta da Regaleira. Spend a couple of hours exploring Quinta da Regaleira, making the famous well your last stop in order to see it at its quietest.
7pm: Walk back to Sintra train station and get the train back to Lisbon.
Recap – Top tips when visiting Sintra:
- Purchase your tickets online in advance to save money and prevent having to queue at the ticket office.
- If you cannot purchase them in advance, use the ticket machine at Pena Palace to buy your ticket because the ticket office does not open until 9.30am, at which time everyone will already be entering the palace.
- Tickets for The Castle of the Moors can be bought at the help desk within Pena Palace. Purchasing them here after your visit will save time on queuing at the castle.
- Likewise, tickets for Pena Palace can be bought at the entrance of The Castle of the Moors. If you arrive later in the day, purchase your Pena Palace tickets here as the queue will be smaller.
- Make Pena Palace your first point of call in order to beat the queues. Aim to be there for around 9am.
- Visit Quinta da Regaleira at the end of the day, aiming to be at the well right before closing at 7pm.
- Upon arrival in Sintra, check the times of the return trains. The timetables are not always accurate and they only run once every hour on weekends.
- Check the price of Uber before taking the tourist bus. Do not use the tuk tuks, which are far more expensive.
For another day trip from Lisbon, consider Costa da Caparica.