It may be less than an hour away from Lisbon but when you visit the enchantingly historical town of Sintra, you’ll see that it’s a world apart.
Nestled in woodland filled with fanciful palaces, romantic gardens, centuries-old castles and convents, both Portuguese and British elites flocked to Sintra in the 18th and 19th centuries, adding to the wealth of magnificent villas and palaces, many of which have been painstakingly restored in recent years. As a result, there are so many thing to do in Sintra that you’ll need to plan ahead to make the most of your visit.
Whether you are planning a one day trip to Sintra or have more time to spare, my insider travel tips will help you get the most out of your visit, whatever your interests.
Read on to discover what to see 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:
- How to plan a trip to Sintra
- Guided tours to Sintra
- Centuries of history at Sintra’s National Palace
- Folly-filled garden and exquisite details at Quinta da Regaleira
- Rugged battlements and views at Castelo dos Mouros
- Fairy tale excess at Pena Palace, Sintra
- Escape the crowds at Chalet da Condessa d’Edla
- Hike the Villa Sassetti Trail
- Simplicity and nature at Convento dos Capuchos
- Monserrate Palace and gardens, Sintra
- Neoclassical features and afternoon tea at Seteias Palace
- Colares wine
- Walks in and around Sintra
- Souvenirs and shopping in Sintra’s historical centre
- Eating and drinking in Sintra
- Places to stay in Sintra
- Getting to and around Sintra
- More information about Sintra sights
How to plan your ideal Sintra itinerary
1. Decide how long to spend in Sintra
Many people come here on a Lisbon to Sintra day trip but I don’t think it’s long enough to see all of it’s highlights.
Ideally, you’ll need two, if not three or four days to fully appreciate its 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, you’ll be like a kid in a sweet shop with so many intriguing sights so it’s wise to plan ahead to create an itinerary that maximises your time.
Start by working out how you’re going to get to there (see practicalities) to establish how long you will have in Sintra itself. Then you can plan the best way to see Sintra within the available time.
2. Choose your preferred sights and pace yourself
Next, read through the following summaries of my favourite Sintra sights to decide which appeal to you most.
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 if you can spare it.
I’ve given an indication of how to get to each sight and how long you should allow. As a slow traveller, 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.
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 up the hill to Pena Palace or the Moorish Castle.
Guided tours to Sintra from Lisbon
If this is all starting to sound like a lot of work, or you have limited time to spend in Sintra, you might want to consider one of the many half or one-day guided tours from Lisbon to Sintra, Cascais and surrounds.
Click to find out more about these other Sintra day trips from Lisbon:
Or try one of these unusual ways of exploring Sintra:
Centuries of history at Sintra National Palace
One of the oldest and certainly the most central of Sintra’s monuments is the National Palace. 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.
Folly-filled garden and exquisite details 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 mantlepiece 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 at least 2 hours at Quinta da Regaleira. Open daily from 9:30 am. €6.
Looking for a tour from Lisbon that includes Quinta da Regaleira? This full day small group tour starts with a tour of the Sintra-Cascais coastline before sharing the secrets of Regaleira with you. You’ll have time to explore the historical centre and see the colourful Pena Palace (entrance not included). Check availability and book online.
If you’d like to add a guided tour of Pena Palace to this experience, go for the premium Sintra tour.
Rugged battlements and views 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 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 the town centre but once there, I’d say you’ll want up to an hour. Open daily from 9:30 am, €8.
Fairy tale excess at Pena Palace, Sintra
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 of Sintra’s palaces, expect to find tourists crawling all over it and long queues.
Tip: You can get a discounted ticket if you visit very early in the morning and you should miss the worst of the hoards. Otherwise, at least try to avoid weekends and preferably come during the winter months.
It was November when I visited and I still felt rushed as I peered into roped-off rooms, conscious of the continuous flow of people behind me. I dread to think what it’s like in the summer.
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 for the visit 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 (€13 for early birds between 9:30 and 10:30 am).
Escape the crowds at Chalet da Condessa d’Edla and Pena Farm
Pena Palace is extremely popular so if you’d rather avoid queues, you could aim straight for this 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 hold 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.
Hike the Villa Sassetti trail
A new hiking trail between Sintra old town and the hilltop monuments of Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle has 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 walk back downhill through Pena Park and then 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 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.
Simplicity and nature at Convento dos Capuchos
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 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 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 tour. Once there, you can easily while away an hour or more.
Monserrate Palace and gardens, Sintra
This 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 about 7 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 in February 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.
Neoclassical features and afternoon tea 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 an afternoon tea buffet of cakes and savouries at 16:30 on Saturdays and Sundays for 20 euros or have 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.
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 guided tour of Queluz, Sintra and Cascais packs in quite a lot, including 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.
If you are interested in doing some walks, plan ahead – this information with route maps on the Sintra Parks website may help. Another option would be to buy a water resistant map of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park.
Alternatively, you could take advantage of the many guided walks of the natural park organised by Sintra Treks.
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.
I can’t remember the name of the eatery but it’s on a corner as you walk out of the town centre towards Quinta da Regaleira and has thick wooden seats. It looks pleasant but is a clear example of a tourist rip off joint.
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 didn’t come across even a small grocery store during our last weekend stay in Sintra so if you haven’t got a car, you might find it tricky to stock up on supplies.
We stayed at Casa da Pendoa and were grateful for the thoughtful welcome basket they provided.
Getting to and around Sintra
It’s an easy, direct train journey from Lisbon’s Rossio station to Sintra, although it’s a fair walk from the station into the historical centre.
You can take the bus into 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.
If you’d rather save your legs, 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 are also taxis, Uber and tuk tuks.
Driving into Sintra itself is something I wouldn’t recommend in high season as the narrow roads quickly get clogged. I got so fed up of the traffic jams when I tried to visit last 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 area and 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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