Of all the day trips I’ve done from any major city, Sintra has been my favorite so far. So much so that I have now visited the town twice. The town of Sintra is located at the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, about an hour northwest of Lisbon. This region is dotted with hilly forested slops, fairytale palaces (including my 3rd favorite castle in the world!) and villas. The ease of getting from Lisbon to Sintra and the plethora of amazing things to do once you get there makes Sintra one of the best day trips ever! This post covers how to do a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon and everything you need to know about having a great day!
When to Visit Sintra
As I mentioned above, I have been to Sintra twice. Once in the winter and once in the height of summer. There really is no bad time to visit Sintra. That being said, summer of course will naturally draw more crowds to the town and especially to the main attraction. However, it’s nothing a bit of advanced planning can’t help!
For whatever it’s worth, I’ve heard that Tuesday through Friday are better days to visit than the weekend and Mondays.
How to Get to Sintra
The best and easiest way to get to Sintra from Lisbon is by train. It’s a super straight forward train ride. Simply buy tickets from Rossio station in Lisbon and in 40 minutes you are in Sintra. Stay on the train until it makes a complete stop in Sintra and don’t get off at the station prior (Portela de Sintra)
While Sintra is only about 28 kilometers away from Lisbon and you can drive to Sintra, I highly recommend that you don’t. Parking is almost impossible in Sintra and the roads are hilly and narrow and can be backed up quite a bit. Most of the time, you will be sharing the road with buses, taxis, tuk tuks, bicycles and lots of people. It’s honestly not worth wasting time trying to find parking when there’s so much to do in Sintra!
How to Get Around Sintra
There are 2 bus routes in Sintra and each one makes a one way loop on its respective route. Look at the timetable at the bus stop or take a picture before you get on the bus. This way you can time getting to the bus stops. One thing to note however is that the timing, especially as the day progresses can be a bit off. This is because the buses have to navigate through all the traffic along the hilly and narrow roads of Sintra.
Your bus ticket allows you to hop on and off, so hold on to it.
- Route 434 – Goes to 3 of the 4 main attractions I have listed below. They are Pena Palace, Moorish Castle and Sintra National Palace
- Route 435 – Goes to Quinta da Regaleira
Tuk tuks of three wheelers are a great way to get around Sintra. They can be a bit expensive if you are traveling by yourself but unlike the South Asian tuk-tuks (i.e., India, Sri Lanka), these are quite spacious so you can share it with someone going your same direction. In fact, sharing is encouraged by tuk tuk drivers (they obviously make more this way)
There are some regular taxis in town that you can take you around Sintra if needed. You will find most of these by the train station.
You can walk between some sites (I call them out below), but not others. Sintra is extremely hilly and you are going to spend a lot of time and energy just walking so I recommend you only do it between the sites that make sense.
What to Do in Sintra
There are 4 main attractions in Sintra. They are:
- Pena Palace
- Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle)
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Sintra National Palace
How Many Sites Can you See in One Day?
I have done all 4 above between my 2 trips. However, practically, I think 3 is what you may be able to see without feeling rushed. There’s also a great side trip from Sintra that I mention below that you may want to consider. If you opt to do the side trip as well, then I think 3 is probably your best bet.
Which ones you pick is totally up to you. Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle are closer together and then Sintra National Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are closer together.
My Priority List
This is the order of my personal must see attraction list on this day trip to Sintra from Lisbon and my rationale. But, like I said it’s totally up to you (maybe the pictures on this post can help you decide!)
- Pena Palace – Pena is my 3rd favorite castle ever! (and I’ve been to my fair share all over Europe!). The exterior is totally unique and nothing like I have seen before
- Moorish Castle – It’s really cool to walk the walls and see commanding views of the town down below. It’s the most unique of the 4 because it’s a ruin verses a functioning building
- Quinta da Regaleira – Gothic styled mansion with extensive gardens. This is a good spot if you have kids and want them to just run around
- Sintra National Palace – I put this for last not because I didn’t like it but because if you go to Pena and have seen other palaces before, then I think you can afford to skip this one
My suggested itinerary for this day trip to Sintra from Lisbon tries to optimize your time in Sintra as much as possible and includes the best transport to take.
Buy a ticket to Pena Palace online and in advance for 10 AM.
Leave Lisbon around 8:30 AM. Check train schedules on Google the night before. This should get you to Sintra before 9:30 AM
Once in Sintra, go to the bus stop on the right of the train station and buy a day pass and hop on bus #434.
I highly recommend going to Pena Palace first. Why? 1. It’s the most popular site and therefore the most crowded 2. Your ticket is timed.
After touring Pena Palace, walk to the Moorish Castle. This is a mostly downhill walk and relatively short and easy to do. Your Moorish castle ticket is not timed but I highly recommend buying it along with the Pena Palace ticket (there’s a combination option).
After seeing the Moorish Castle, take a tuk tuk to Quinta da Regaleira. You can technically bus it but you would have to take both buses. #434 to town and #435 to Quinta da Regaleira.
If you know for certain that you are going to Quinta da Regaleira, I would suggest buying the ticket online. There was no line when I visited on my first trip to Sintra (winter) but there was a line when I went last (summer).
This is where you will have to decide whether you want to add a 4th site, take the optional side trip (see below) or call it a day. If you are visiting in the summer, you may have the time because days are generally longer.
- Option 1 – Visit Sintra National Palace – It’s a relatively easy 10 minutes walk from Quinta da Regaleira. You can either walk back to the train station or catch the bus back
- Option 2 – Optional Side Trip – Take the bus back to town (or take a tuk tuk if you have the cash to spare). If you want to walk, it’s about 20 minutes (not steep). From town, hop on the #403 to reach the destination of the optional side trip
- Option 3 – Call it a day – take the same means of transport back to town/train station as option 2
More on the Sites
I can’t put into words how much I love Pena Palace! Especially its whimsical and colorful exterior. This palace is nothing like I have seen before and this day trip to Sintra from Lisbon would not be complete without a visit here.
The site of this palace used to be a monastery that was built around 1500. However, this monastery was destroyed in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the ruins sat untouched for nearly 100 years, until King Ferdinand II transformed the ruins into a summer palace. This King Ferdinand was a cousin of Bavaria’s King Ludwig who built Neuschwanstein. Building fancy, whimsical castles must run in the family!
The best things to do at Pena Palace is to explore the castle’s terraces and courtyards and to admire its beautiful interior which remains almost untouched from 1910. Another fun thing is to walk it’s exterior walls that look out to some stunning scenery of the nearby hills and the Moorish castle.
Pena Palace also has an extensive garden and park that you can explore.
HERE is the official site to buy tickets. This is the site to buy tickets for the Moorish Castle and the Sintra National Palace as well.
There is an optional shuttle you can pay for that takes you from the Pena Palace ticket entrance to the palace itself. You can buy this online when you buy your ticket or outside the gate. It’s not a bad walk up from the ticket entrance to the palace but it can be steep and/or have steps. If you think you want to take the shuttle, highly recommend buying the ticket for the shuttle online so you don’t waste time at the gate.
This almost 1000 year old ruined castle kind of resembles the Great Wall. Built by the Moors, the castle was taken over by Christians in 1147. The best thing to do at this site is to walk the walls and take in the commanding views it offers. You feel like you are walking on top of the world here.
Buy the ticket along with Pena Palace. Moorish castle is not timed so you can go any time.
Quinta da Regaleira
This mansion was built in 1912 and designed by an Italian opera set designer for a wealthy citizen. The mansion itself is in the Gothic style and has an interesting façade. However, the real star of the show is the extensive and whimsical gardens. With cascading waterfalls, towers, statues and fountains, there’s so much to see here. The highlight of the garden however is the initiation well that descends several feet under.
Quinta da Regaleira is a great place for kids! As I mentioned before, if you know you will be visiting for certain, it probably makes sense to buy the ticket online ahead of time. Alternatively, you can also buy the ticket online when you get there and avoid staying in line if there is one. Since the gardens are extensive, I recommend picking up a map from the counter so you don’t miss all the attractions.
Sintra National Place
Sintra National Palace dates back to Moorish times, but most of what you see today is from the 15th-centuary. This is the oldest surviving royal palace in Portugal and is still used for official receptions. This palace was a living, breathing palace that housed royalty for almost 500 years until it was nationalized in the early 1900s. The palace is well identified from anywhere in Sintra by its two identical cone shaped chimneys. A tour of the palace will take you through beautifully decorated rooms. Don’t miss the Swan Room, Coat of Arms Room and the Magpie Room in particular.
Since I visited in the afternoon, I was able to walk in and buy a ticket over the counter. There was no one ahead of me or behind me!
Tips for a Great Day in Sintra
- Start your day early from Lisbon
- Get into one of the train carriages the furthest away from the platform entrance at Rossio station in Lisbon, so that you will be one of the first to arrive in Sintra
- Make a straight beeline to the bus stop from the train station as you want to try and catch that first bus out. The bus stop is on your right as you exit
- Buy tickets in advance to Pena Palace
- Pena Palace is also called the National Palace of Pena which can sometimes be confusing with Sintra National Palace due to the words National and Palace. Just be aware of this difference
- Buy your return train ticket when you buy your departure ticket in Lisbon to save time and energy on the way back
- Buy tickets together to save money. I got a small discount for buying Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle ticket together
- Bring some cash for tuk tuks
Side Trip from Sintra
If you have time remaining, then I highly recommend visiting Cabo Da Roca from Sintra. It’s about 17 milometers or 25 minutes from Sintra by car. Cabo da Roca is the western most point in continental Europe and a great place to catch a stunning sunset. See HERE for more details on how to get there from Sintra.
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