The enchanting UNESCO World Heritage landscape of Sintra is an understandably popular destination. Although it’s less than an hour from Lisbon, it’s a world apart.
In fact, there are so many things to do in Sintra that you’ll need to plan ahead to make the most of your time. We’re talking forested hills filled with fanciful palaces, romantic gardens, centuries-old castles and convents, all contained within a natural park fringed by beautiful beaches.
Whether you’re planning a one day trip to Sintra or a more leisurely break, my insider travel tips will help you get the most out of your visit, whatever your interests.
Discover what to do in Sintra in one day or more, how to get around Sintra and how long to allow for each main sight.
Click on a link to jump to a specific section in the article or simply scroll through to get all the information you need:
- How to plan a trip to Sintra
- Guided tours to Sintra
- Sintra National Palace
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Castelo dos Mouros
- Pena Palace, Sintra
- Chalet da Condessa d’Edla
- Villa Sassetti Hiking Trail
- Convento dos Capuchos
- Monserrate Palace and gardens
- Seteias Palace
- Colares wine
- Walks in and around Sintra
- Souvenirs and shopping in Sintra
- Eating and drinking in Sintra
- Places to stay in Sintra
- Getting to and around Sintra
How to plan your ideal Sintra itinerary
1. Decide how many days to spend in Sintra
Many people come here on a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra but one day is not long enough to see all of it’s attractions.
Ideally, you’ll need two, if not three or four days to fully appreciate Sintra’s charms, especially if you want to do any walks in the surrounding Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Note: See my Sintra hotels and accommodation tips if you intend to stay overnight.
If you really can only spend one day in Sintra, it’s wise to plan ahead to create an itinerary that maximises whatever time you’ve got. If this sounds like too much work, there are several guided tours that will take care of the decision-making and logistics for you.
Alternatively, let my partner travel agent take care of everything on one of my Portugal Itineraries. My 8-Day Introduction To Portugal Itinerary includes a day trip to Sintra while the 2-week tour gives you two nights here and the chance to explore the natural park.
2. Choose how to get to Sintra
Start by working out how you’re going to get to there (see practicalities) to establish how long you will have in Sintra itself.
3. Pick your preferred things to do in Sintra and pace yourself accordingly
Next, read through the following summaries of my favourite Sintra sights to decide which appeal to you most. I’ve explained how to get to each sight and how long you should allow.
Some sights are easier to get to and therefore more visited than others but all of the ones I’ve listed are worthy of your time.
I recommend taking your time to fully explore an average of two sites per day rather than cramming in too many.
You’ll probably want to factor in at least an hour to browse the shops and cobbled streets in the historical centre and sample the local cakes. If you overdo it with the pastries, you can always walk off the calories on one of the many walking trails around the town or the 20-minute walk to the train station.
4. Plan how to get between Sintra attractions
Your next job is to work out how to get around (again, see the map and practicalities below) to check that your plan is feasible.
If you’re trying to do Sintra in a day, you may be better off concentrating on the more central sights, such as the National Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, to save the travel time going up the hill to Pena Palace or the Moorish Castle.
Guided tours to Sintra from Lisbon
If you can only spend one day in Sintra and don’t have time for detailed planning, you might want to consider one of the many guided tours from Lisbon to Sintra, Cascais and surrounds.
If you want to concentrate your time on Sintra’s UNESCO World Heritage sights, this full day small group tour is ideal. Unlike many ‘standard’ Sintra tours, it doesn’t include time in Cascais, meaning that you can visit three of Sintra’s best sights including the harder-to-get-to Capuchos Convent.
If you have very limited time and want to combine your visit to Sintra with a quick look at the pretty resort town of Cascais, Cabo da Roca viewpoint and Guincho coastline, this full day small group tour covers all of these bases.
If you are more interested in a private tour of Sintra, get in touch with your preferences and I’ll connect you with the most appropriate tour operator.
Or click on an image to find out more about these alternative Sintra day trips from Lisbon:
Things to do: Discover centuries of history at Sintra National Palace
One of the oldest and certainly the most central of Sintra’s monuments is the National Palace, which is also one of my favourites. Its iconic double chimney stacks belong to the kitchen and are impressive from inside and out.
Other special features of the town’s oldest royal palace include the ceilings painted with swans, magpies and ships and the fabulous array of original azulejos (painted tiles) which span the 15th to the 19th centuries. You’ll also find some splendid examples of Mudejar and Manueline architecture.
Allow at least an hour for visiting Sintra National Palace. Two if you like to take your time over details. €10. Open daily.
This World Heritage small group tour from Lisbon includes a guided tour of Sintra National Palace, Pena Palace and the wonderful Capuchos Convent
Things to do: Explore the folly-filled garden at Quinta da Regaleira
What happens when you give an extremely talented and visionary designer unlimited funds and a free rein to renovate a property?
Go to Quinta da Regaleira and you’ll find out.
Luigi Manini, an Italian artist, set designer and architect, landed the job of transforming the property at the beginning of the 20th century. He spent the next nine years detailing every aspect of both the gardens and the house.
The grottos, caves and secret tunnels that are scattered throughout the grounds bear a striking resemblance to his theatre sets. Follies include a Dante-inspired inverted well, various fountains, turrets and bridges and a neo-Manueline chapel, providing immense fun for children and adults alike.
The house may not hold great appeal for kids but it definitely merits more than a quick peek.
My favourite room is the Sala da Caça (the Hunting Room), which was used as the family dining room. I’m no fan of hunting but the workmanship of the sculpted mantelpiece and doorways is awe-inspiring. Best of all is the brightly coloured mosaic floor, decorated with scenes from nature and hunting.
Each room has a unique floor and ceiling, as you’ll see when you get to the upper floor which is filled with Manini’s designs and more information than you can possibly take in during a single visit. To be fair, this is probably of most appeal to architects and designers but the ground floor rooms should not be rushed.
There’s a café in the grounds if you need a break between house and gardens.
Expect to spend around 2 hours at Quinta da Regaleira. Open daily from 9:30 am. €6.
Things to do: Conquer the rugged battlements at Castle of the Moors
As an antidote to all this ostentation, the coarse ruggedness and unadorned simplicity of Sintra’s Castelo dos Mouros works well.
Originally built in the 10th century, the Moorish Castle has been added to many times over the centuries that followed and used in strategic defense.
I enjoyed clambering around the ramparts and taking in the stunning views, although you have to work for them!
You’ll need to factor in transfer times as it’s away from Sintra town centre but once there, I’d say you’ll want up to an hour. Open daily from 9:30 am, €8.
What to do in Sintra: Be wowed by the fairy tale excess at Pena Palace
The multicoloured icon of Sintra is Palácio da Pena, on the opposite hill. Never mind icing on a cake, it actually looks like an extreme wedding cake with its bright colours, teeming with turrets and extravagant architectural details like the famous window (see photo below).
It is definitely worth the journey uphill but, being the most popular things to do in Sintra, expect to find tourists crawling all over the palace and long queues to see into roped-off rooms.
Tip: If you visit very early in the morning or late afternoon you should miss the worst of the hoards. Otherwise, at least try to avoid weekends and preferably come during the winter months.
Try to create space in your Sintra itinerary to allow you to explore the surrounding park and woodland at a more relaxed pace (see below for tips on Pena Park).
You’ll need at least 2 hours to visit Pena Palace plus travel time. Bear in mind that even if you have purchased your ticket in advance there may be a long queue to enter the palace at peak times unless you’re with an authorised guide. Open daily from 9:30, park only is €7.50, palace and park €14.
This small group tour from Lisbon includes a guided tour of Pena Palace, Sintra National Palace and Capuchos Convent.
Things to do: Escape the crowds at Chalet da Condessa d’Edla and Pena Farm
If you’d rather avoid queues at Pena Palace and be content with viewing it from the outside, you could aim straight for this small but beautifully restored chalet inside Pena Park.
Chalet da Condessa d’Edla
The Swiss-German origins of the Countess of Edla may explain some of the decorative features of the “House of Delights” that she and her husband, King Ferdinand II, had built in the forest. The building was severely damaged in a fire but has since been reconstructed with replicas of the original interior decor and imaginative use of cork.
Though mostly unfurnished, the items on display, such as the royal picnic basket, and information panels give fascinating insights into their lifestyle at the end of the 19th century.
A visit to the chalet itself will probably take up no more than half an hour (plus travel time) but allow another hour or more to explore the surrounding park, which encompasses and offers great views of Pena Palace. Open 9.30 am to 7 pm in high season, €9.50 full price, which includes access to the Pena Park.
Tip: If you intend to visit Pena Palace and/or the Moorish Castle, buy a combined ticket at the chalet and walk through the woods to reach the other entrances via the lakes. If you’re not up to walking far, there is a hop on hop off bus that does the rounds of the Pena Park for an extra €3.50.
Pena Park, farm and equestrian activities
Pena Park holds many treasures such as the Valley of the Ferns, restored greenhouses and a small ornamental farm with vegetable plots, sheep, chickens and horses that was built in the 19th century along the lines of the one that Louis XVII had.
You can also go horse riding for anything between 30 minutes and 6 hours or kids can enjoy a 15 minute pony ride. At 1 pm from Thursday to Sunday (May to September), there’s a horse-drawn carriage ride around the grounds. More details here.
What to do: Hike the Villa Sassetti trail
If you’re reasonably fit, you can hike between Sintra old town and the hilltop monuments of Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle has recently opened. The steep forest path takes you past the restored but as yet not open to the public Villa Sassetti and Penedo da Amizade, a huge boulder that climbers like to tackle.
Mike and I were pushed for time and are not keen on climbing hills so we opted to take an Uber to the Chalet da Condessa D’Edla and then walked back downhill through Pena Park and via Villa Sassetti.
We got a little lost once we reached the cobbled road at the Lakes Entrance to Pena Park but eventually located the start of the Villa Sassetti trail. It is a worthy walk and offers plenty of shade and great views so I’d recommend doing it at least one way if you have time (allow about 45 minutes to 1 hour each way).
Tip: The trail downhill starts at the end of the car park opposite the Lakes Entrance to Pena Park. In other words, cross the road and walk through the car park. The other end is beside the Parque das Merendas (picnic area) marked on this map.
Tip: Although full on hiking gear is not necessary, the terrain is uneven so you need sensible shoes.
What to do: Experience simplicity and nature at Convento dos Capuchos
Note: This site is currently closed for important restoration and is due to reopen on June 1st 2020.
For a complete contrast to the excessive grandeur of Sintra’s palaces, head a few kilometres out of the town centre to the 16th century Convento dos Capuchos.
This jumbled maze of low-level buildings is nestled in woodland, providing a relatively peaceful respite from the heavily touristed sites.
It’s easy to see why the Capuchin monks chose this location, surrounded by natural beauty with views that extend to the coast.
As you’ll see from patchy, peeling plaster, mossy boulders and cork-clad walls, the convent fell into disrepair during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into the austere lifestyle of the Capuchin monks who lived and trained here. Enter the convent itself through the Door of Death and poke around the tiny dormitories, the kitchen, chapel and cloisters.
Although I walked along the road from Sintra to the convent, it’s quite a trek and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, especially in summer. There’s no public transport, so the only alternative would be to drive or take a taxi or a guided tour like this one. Once there, you can easily while away an hour or more.
Things to see: Romantic Monserrate Palace and gardens
Monserrate is another one of Sintra’s lesser-visited sites but well worth the extra effort involved in getting there. After all, it’s only a short bus ride (bus #435) or drive from the town centre.
Monserrate Palace itself is smaller than I expected and has only been open to the public for a few years. Although still beautiful enough to inspire Lord Byron to write a poem, Monserrate’s original neo-Gothic palace was already in ruins by the time he visited.
The subsequent rebuilding, interior decoration and ingenious infrastructures plus much of the landscaped gardens you can see today were down to Sir Francis Cook who took over the property in 1858. The ceilings alone are worth straining your neck for, especially the one in the main atrium between the colonnaded galleries leading to each end of the palace.
There’s little furniture in the house now but the information boards have black and white photographs of how each room looked while the Cook family lived there. If that’s not enough, you can have a go on Edgar, the interactive butler, to find out more about the family and the history of the property.
It was raining when Mike and I visited Monserrate Gardens but that didn’t stop us following the walking trail through the romantic and exotic gardens that separate the palace from the road.
With waterfalls, lakes, ferns growing out of trees and tropical plants from around the world, it’s a wonderful sanctuary to roam. It too has follies, including a neo-Gothic chapel, deliberately ruined to create a whimsically romantic atmosphere. These days, it’s partially covered by a strangler fig and one of the ponds is home to a salamander lizard.
Factor in a couple of hours for this visit, plus travel time. Open from 9:30 am, €8.
Time in Monserrate and at the Capuchos Convent are included in my 2-Week Portugal Discovery Tour.
Or arrange a one-day guided hike to these off-the-beaten track sights by completing this enquiry form.
What to see: Neoclassical features at Seteias Palace
Seteias Palace was originally built in the 18th century for the Dutch Consul and is now a luxury hotel, part of the Tivoli Group.
High on the hill overlooking Sintra, its noble neoclassical facade is matched by the period decor inside, including frescoes and beautiful wooden furniture.
Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can treat yourself to lunch or dinner in the elegant restaurant. We did none of those things but the staff very kindly let us have a nosy around the public spaces for a few minutes.
What to do: Taste Colares wine
Portugal has many microclimates and terroirs and the unique growing conditions in the tiny Colares wine region produce some of Europe’s oldest rootstock wines.
Grown in sand, in proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, the local vines were protected from the devastating phylloxera plague that destroyed many European vineyards in the 1900s. The resulting wines have a curious mineral flavour and are something of an acquired taste but worth trying if you get the chance.
There are a few wineries close to Sintra. I visited the small Adega Viúva Gomes, although the larger Adega Regional de Colares is probably easier to visit (closed Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday). Both require vehicle transfers from Sintra so factor in travel time plus and hour or so for the tour and tasting.
This full day small group foodie tour of Sintra and surrounding villages includes a Colares wine tasting.
For other wineries to visit in the Lisbon area, check out this post.
Walks in and around Sintra
As well as the Vila Sassetti trail, you’ll notice lots of markers around town for PR (Pequenas Rotas = Short Routes) walks painted with yellow and red stripes but having tried unsuccessfully to follow a couple, I would not rely solely on these markings.
Within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, you’ll find the GR-11 Atlantic Route which takes you along spectacular coastline and through small villages, including the picturesque Azenhas do Mar.
See this article about hiking in and around Sintra for more details.
If you’re interested in a guided hike, let me know and I will connect you with a suitable tour operator.
Visit Sintra old town for souvenir shopping
The town has cashed in on the never-ending flow of tourists that visit Sintra each day. The narrow cobbled streets leading away from the National Palace are littered with souvenir shops, cafés named after famous poets and port wine tasting outlets.
While some of these shops sell pure tat, there are still gems to be found.
My two favourite shops in Sintra are Arte e Companhia Ilimitada, a treasure trove of gorgeous, quality Portuguese arts and crafts and Olaria S. Pedro, a ceramics shop that I first discovered in the medieval town of Óbidos.
Eating and drinking in Sintra
Some of the bakeries have queues out the door for the famous Sintra queijadas (sweet cheese cakes) and travesseiros (sweet pastry) and a day in Sintra is not quite complete without trying one of these, especially when they’re still warm.
However, if you’re after a more substantial meal, it can be a bit hit and miss.
Mike and I experienced the highs and lows of eating out in Sintra, the low being a plate of slop, sorry bacalhau com natas (cod with cream and potato), something I normally enjoy but resent being overcharged for when it’s way below standard.
Thankfully, the other meal we had was the other end of the spectrum if a little pricey. I had high hopes as the restaurant is called A Raposa (The Fox). It’s small, family run, elegant and in a room with beautiful fresco ceilings.
The food was excellent although don’t go there if you need to eat in a hurry. Dishes are made from scratch and take time to prepare so relax and be prepared to linger over a meal. They also serve interesting-looking sandwiches and teas earlier in the day.
Places to stay in Sintra
Sintra has a wide range of accommodation from luxury palaces to modern design hotels, traditional guest houses and cute, trendy hostels.
If you plan to go self-catering, note that we haven’t come across even a small grocery store during any of our stays in Sintra historical centre so if you haven’t got a car, you might find it tricky to stock up on supplies.
Getting to and around Sintra
Train from Lisbon to Sintra
It’s an easy, direct train journey from Lisbon’s Rossio station to Sintra, although it’s a 20-minute walk from Sintra train station into the historical centre. It’s downhill on the way there but you might want to Uber your way back up after a long day of sightseeing. See train timetables here.
You can take the bus into the old town if you prefer but you’ll miss all the sculptures that line the avenue as well as a Moorish fountain and pretty parks.
There are many ways of getting around Sintra once you’re there.
If you’re fit and have plenty of time, you can walk to the main attractions, including the hilltop Moorish Castle and Pena Palace – see the tips about the Villa Sassetti trail.
Buses around Sintra
If you’d rather save your legs, Scotturb bus 434 will take you to both sites from the train station or town centre. For Monseratte and Seteias palaces plus Quinta da Regaleira, take bus 435. There’s a Scotturb ticket office opposite the train station if you want to buy a pass or you can pay on board for single journeys.
There are also taxis, Uber and plenty of tuk tuks eager to drive you around.
Driving in Sintra
Driving into Sintra itself is something I wouldn’t recommend, especially in high season as the narrow roads quickly get clogged. I got so fed up of the traffic jams when I tried to visit one September, I gave up and drove back to Lisbon.
The local council has now barred all but essential traffic from the historical centre so getting from one side of Sintra to to hilltop monuments involves quite a circuitous one way system, which is at least less scary than having to deal with two-way traffic on narrow roads.
Parking is also a nightmare unless you visit off-peak. There are park and ride facilities at Portela de Sintra and a couple of car parks on the edge of the old town.
Having said that, having a car will give you the freedom to explore the natural park, nearby villages and to head to the coast so if you can visit off-season, it’s worth considering. Try to find a Sintra hotel with parking facilities if you’re staying overnight.
More information about visiting Sintra
The Parques de Sintra website has lots more information about each monument and helpful tools such as travel planners and ticket calculators.
Tip: Save money by purchasing combined passes – the more monuments you visit, the greater the % discount. Discounts apply for youths, families and seniors.
You can also find out about cultural events being held in Sintra’s monuments as well as temporary closures for restoration works.
Quinta da Regaleira is managed by a separate foundation so you’ll need to visit its own website for more information.
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