This past year I did an amazing trip around the Western Mediterranean. I started in Rome and ended in Lisbon where I just HAD to extend my trip. One of the highlights was a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra. If you ever get the opportunity to visit this amazing region, get to Sintra. Here is how to do it!
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Why go to Sintra from Lisbon?
Ever since I was a kid I have been enthralled by fantasy books and films. I spent my childhood imagining that I was living among the hobbits in the shire, practicing witchcraft and wizardry within the castle of Hogwarts or even that I could walk through a wardrobe into my own fantastical land. Sintra feels like something right out of a story book. This resort town resting in the foothills of Portugal’s Mountains is home to vibrant palaces, exotic gardens, and a medieval castle. It is no surprise that this magical town was a favorite place for artists, musicians, and writers. In 1989, art Historian Vítor Serrão wrote, “Sintra is no ordinary town. Sintra is a parallel universe that we only know from dreams, but which exists very near us.”
The romanticism of Sintra is something that must be explored for yourself and if you are spending three or more days in Lisbon than Sintra is a must-do. It’s only a forty-minute train ride from Lisbon but this town will feel other worldly. Trains from Lisbon to Sintra come every 30 minutes from Lisbon’s city centre Rossio station and costs €4.30 round trip. It is about a 15-minute walk from the Sintra Train station to the historic city centre.
There are also full and half-day day trips to Sintra from Lisbon available on GetYourGuide. They include hotel transfers and entrance to the palace and castles.
Sintra City Center
The historic centre of Sintra is home to cobblestone streets and traditional Portuguese pastel painted buildings filled with cafes and unique shops. Make sure to give yourself some time to enjoy the beauty of the city centre and grab yourself something to eat at one of the many scenic restaurants starting your journey to the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle. Before we start climbing into the hills here are some other things to check out on your day trip around the historic centre of Sintra. I would recommend choosing one of these two attractions to hit in addition to The Moorish Castle and Pena Palace.
The Palacio Nacional de Sintra
The palace of Sintra is located right in the city centre, you won’t be able to miss it! It is the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal and a present-day historic house museum. Portugal’s ruling nobility resided in this palace from the 15th to the late 19th century making it Portugal’s most lived in royal palace. The palace has a minimalist gothic exterior with an interior of decorative state rooms. This is highly recommended while visiting Sintra and I would recommend visiting the Palacio Nacional de Sintra over the Quinta da Regaleira if you have an excitement for Medieval architecture and enjoy touring museums and history.
The Quinta da Regaleira
This is a site that I missed and honestly wish that I had saved time to explore. The Quinta da Regaleira is a 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most exuberant gardens Sintra has to offer. The grounds feature lakes, grottos, wells, benches, fountains, and an extensive system of tunnels that connect two spiraling wells intended for ceremonial purposes. The Quinta da Regaleira is right off the page of a story book! The visit to the Quinta da Regaleira will take about two hours, a majority of which will be spent in the surrounding gardens, and cost is €6.00. I would recommend visiting the Quinta da Regaleira over the Palacio Nacional de Sintra if you are more drawn towards the natural wonders of Sintra and desire to explore the gardens.
Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio de Pena
Now for the bread and butter of your day trip to Sintra, the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio de Pena. These are two can’t miss sites when taking a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra. The best part about these must-see attractions are that they are in route of one another and easy to get to! I personally loved the uphill hike through the woods to the Castle of the Moors and the Pena Palace. It made me feel like I was truly living in the fantasy world I’d always imagined. If you have the time and ability to enjoy this hike into the hills of Sintra I highly recommend it.
However, if you’d prefer there is easy public transportation that will connect you right from the Sintra train station to the Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio de Nacional da Pena. The 434-bus route passes right through the historic town centre providing you with beautiful scenic views on your way to these top two highlights of a day in Sintra. As a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra the 434-bus can be essential to fitting in an additional tour before the end of your day. The cost of a single ticket is €3.90 and the entire loop as a Hop-on-Hop-off ticket costs €6.90. Both of these can be purchased from the bus driver.
Castelo dos Mouros
The Moorish Castle was one of my favorite attractions I’d explored in Sintra. Some of the Mediterranean palaces can lose their “wow” factor after a while however, the Moorish Castle was like nothing I’d explored before. I felt like I was standing on the remains of Winterfell. To top the entire experience off the views from the castle are absolutely breathtaking. The castle can be toured in about an hour and the entrance tickets are €8.00.
Pena Palace is only a short walk from the Moorish Castle to Pena Palace. However, if you prefer you can always hop back onto the 434-bus to reach my top tourist attraction in Sintra.
Tip: For the same price, you can also get fast track tickets in advance to ensure you get inside – CLICK HERE to purchase.
Palácio de Nacional da Pena
The palace sits upon the highest peak of Sintra in the Sintra Mountains and the views are absolutely breathtaking. You can tour the palace’s terraces and chapel with only a ticket to the Pena Park, the vast forested area surrounding the Palace for €7.50 or you can pay €14.00 for access to the palace and gardens. The Palace is a Romanticist castle with vibrant colors unlike any castle I’d ever seen and is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. The staterooms combine interesting architecture with 19th century furnishings and are definitely worth visiting outside of peak tourist hours (10:30am – 3:00pm). It takes approximately an hour to tour the palace itself.
Tip: For that price, you can also purchase skip-the-line tickets through GetYourGuide HERE. It will guarantee you get tickets AND you can walk right in PLUS you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance for no cancellation fee. It’s crucial to have advance tickets in the summer months and on weekends.
Parque da Pena
Sintra day trip tip: I recommend walking around the palace and taking in the amazing views before spending a few hours getting lost in the large gardens that surround it. Personally, we paid for just the tickets to the park and spent a few hours roaming around the gardens. I don’t think we even covered half of the Parque da Pena, you could truly spend an entire day here. This luscious forest and the exotic gardens made me feel like I was in another world. Close to the palace you will find the beautiful duck lakes, the Warrior Statue, and the Queen’s fern garden which are all connected by shaded trails. If you have time, the most fascinating construction in the Park is the Chalet of the Countess of Elda, also known as the House of Indulgence, located in the Western end of the park.
Maximizing Your Day Trip to Sintra
It is hard to do Sintra all in one day, but this guide should help you plan your trip from Lisbon to Sintra with a little more ease.
Book a tour in advance - they sell out
To make the most of your day make sure you check out GetYourGuide for advance tickets and avoid the lines.
The best part of using GYG is that you can hold a spot and cancel up to 24 hours before your tour begins with ZERO cancellation fee. It means you can travel with more flexibility and you get a great tour with the same level of service you can expect from any private tour company. It’s smart to hold your spot, especially in the summer months and weekends year round.
Stay over in Sintra
Sintra is so beautiful – why not make it more than just a day trip from Lisbon? I could have stayed at least two nights and done some more sightseeing. Now that I think about it, I could have stayed for a few months and enjoyed the scene and boho vibes.