Portugal’s old playground for the royalty and the rich and one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see, Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon, but make it two days with an overnight stay. Castles galore, and a lovely walk through the woods await you at this UNESCO World Heritage site. This is one of my very favorite travel memories. Everything you need to plan your trip!

Beautiful Sintra

Sintra, Portugal, less than an hour from Lisbon by train, is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited and my most enthusiastic recommendation for an excursion. I still sigh when I think of of my magical two days in Sintra.

Historically a retreat for Portuguese royalty and the very wealthy, Sintra offers a playground of castles, mansions and wooded hills, all surrounding a charming little village. While the Castelo dos Mouros dates back centuries (it was used by the Moors, but dates back earlier), much of famous Sintra was built up after the devastating 1755 earthquake that leveled Lisbon. It’s a romantic vision.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

UNESCO recognizes Sintra for its cultural landscape.

Sintra is a pioneer work of European romanticism, bringing together its incredible botanical richness and a diversity of monuments and buildings from a long period of history.

UNESCO

Make your trip to Sintra an overnight

There’s so much to explore in lovely Sintra, and while you can make a day trip of it if you’re willing to really edit your plans, Sintra is best experienced as an overnight. Even with the overnight, you’ll likely not see it all (I didn’t), and nor should you try.

An overnight in Sintra is surprisingly affordable. You can expect to spend around €110-€120 for transportation, lodging, and entrance fees, plus whatever you choose to spend on food and drink (very affordable options available). Considering everything you’re getting, this is a bargain at twice the price.

Take your time in Sintra

Sintra is best experienced as a leisurely wander, in order to take in the exquisite blend of architecture and landscape, making this a solo traveler’s paradise. Give yourself time to explore each site, as any one of these sties would be worth your trip to Sintra.

Quinta da Regaleria, Sintra

Wonder & Sundry’s Sintra Overnight

See below for an itinerary and details to help your plan your trip, but we’re exploring the following sites in Sintra (click on a link to skip to the site).

Sintra Day One

Sintra Day Two

Let’s go wandering!

First Glimpse of Sintra

Sintra Day One

Take the train

Oh goodness, did this make me feel a bit foolish. You know how sometimes, you follow a map, and then you just don’t find what you’re looking for? I had THE WORST time finding the train station, and I’m not really sure why. The Rossio train station is an obvious building (though it is different from the Rossio metro station), but sometimes these things happen. I’ve posted a photo of it (the building is beautiful) so you won’t have the same frustration.

It meant that I missed one of the earlier Sintra trains, but they run every thirty minutes, so I didn’t miss much. The train ride itself is interesting, as you see more of the outskirts of Lisbon before arriving in Sintra.

Gallery: Taking the train and the first glimpses of Sintra

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Arriving in Sintra

The train stops at an absolutely darling little neighborhood just outside of the main area. You can take a bus into town or take a taxi, but I walked. Do note that if you have a lot of luggage with you (perhaps you’re stopping in Sintra on your way to Porto), you’ll probably have to catch your breath at the top of the stairs. It’s not very often that I pass people walking up hill, but I did with a couple and their suitcases.

Gallery: Settling in

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Hotel check-in and lunch

After checking into Casa da Pendôa, with a modest room, but with a balcony that looked up at a the 10th century Castelo dos Mouros, I followed the advice of the woman at the front desk and went to a tiny family-run establishment (sadly, it’s since closed—the elderly owners may have retired). I had the grilled sardhinas, a Portuguese specialty. Delicious.

I recommend both Casa da Pendôa and following the advice of locals when deciding on restaurants. Like all tourist towns, Sintra has a lot of mediocre food.

And now time to explore!

Gallery: Walking to Quinta da Regaleira

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Walk to Quinta da Regaleira

It’s about a fifteen-minute walk to our first destination, Quinta da Regaleria. While you could get the bus or take a tuk tuk, I highly recommend walking, because it’s utterly pleasant.

You’ll pass a staircase named after Lord Byron (he spent time in Sintra being mad and bad, and he wrote about it in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage).

Savor your first glimpse of the quinta as you round a bend, and maybe even see an artist sketching (he’d likely be happy to sell you something).

Initiation well, sintra

Quinta da Regaleria

Quinta da Regaleria dates back to the 19th century and was the vision of António Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro, as realized by Luigi Manini. It’s famous for the Initiation Well, which descends 88 feet down and is meant to symbolize rebirth. The estate mixes many styles and exudes mysticism. The landscape has been allowed to grow wild around it, making it seem like something out of time itself. 

In addition to the well, visitors can tour a series of tunnels and wander through a lake that looks to be out of a dream, as well as tour the first floor of the palace.

While not ancient, Quinta da Regaleria is indeed awe inspiriting and well worth your time while in Sintra. I personally found being the base of the well incredibly moving. 

Gallery: Quinta da Regaleria

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Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Palácio Nacional de Sintra

After walking back from Quinta da Regaleria, it’s time to check out a real palace.

A palace “that spans the history of Portugal”

While much of Sintra dates to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the first buildings of the Palácio Nacional de Sintra date back to the 10th or 11th centuries and the time of the Moors. Portuguese royalty decamped to Sintra for hunting and to escape heat and plague, while adding to the palace’s grandeur over time. The distinctive cones are chimneys for the cooking fires—I can get behind something designed around cooking.

Gallery: Palácio Nacional de Sintra

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Wander through the palace

Today, we look out the windows to the beautiful hillsides and wander through the rooms admiring the tilework and gardens. While it doesn’t elicit the same sighs of contentment as Quinta da Regaleria, the palace also inspires awe. Wander through as you will, and then admire from the outside before freshening up for dinner.

Sintra village for dinner (and port!)

Sintra’s charming village is a warren of little streets that you could get lost in if there weren’t so few of them and they weren’t so full of tourists. It’s definitely a show put on for visitors, but you’ll have fun. My evening was a bit of a small-world experience that you sometimes have while traveling.

I toured through a few souvenir shops and tried Ginjinha, the famous Portuguese cherry liquer at one shop (including some in chocolate—that’s tasty).

Small world

As I was meandering about, looking for a spot for dinner, I ran into a woman I’d met in Lisbon, who, like me, was a solo traveler from Boston. She hailed me over to the terrace she was sitting on, and introduced me to another woman she’d met, a human rights lawyer from New Zealand who was loads of fun. They’d already ordered but made room for me on the terrace.

A lively dinner

While the charcuterie platter was less than stellar, the wine was good, and the conversation among three solo female travelers lively. We snacked and chatted until the restaurant closed (head’s up—Sintra buttons up for the night early, being very much a day-trip town).

My fellow Bostonian was headed to her hotel in the opposite direction from me and the lawyer was headed out on a Tinder date (fun fact—I’m pretty sure she married that guy. We were Instagram friends for a while, and she had a baby and a husband about nine months later. I never asked, but math).

A port in Sintra

Me, I headed back down and ducked into Bar Do Binho, a port shop and bar I’d spied earlier. While they mainly specialize in flights, the server was more than happy to recommend a glass for me (a flight of port after wine with dinner didn’t sound smart). Like other places in Sintra, things had pretty much wound down for the evening, but her husband was there, and they told me all about port and the bar’s history—it had been in the same family since the 1920s.

In addition to the lessons on port, she also told me about a restaurant that I’m recommending that you go to for dinner before heading back to Lisbon on your second day. Most of the food in Sintra was mediocre at best, she confided (though she liked the place where I’d had my sardine lunch—trust local people!).

Back to Casa da Pendôa

While it was early still, with Sintra largely gone to bed, I decided to do the same. I headed back to Casa da Pendôa, pleased that I was able to find it without checking Google maps. I sat out on my balcony for an hour, reflecting on my day and thinking about what I would do the next one. I was so happy not to be leaving for Lisbon, feeling as though I’d missed out on Sintra.

You’ll be glad you did the same.

Palácio Nacional da Pena Sintra

Sintra Day Two

 

Take a tuk tuk!

After you have breakfast (preferably on a balcony overlooking a castle) and an extra coffee at a café in town, it’s time to take to the hills. Castles await. If you can, leave any luggage you have at the desk of your hotel (I only had a backpack, but this day has a lot of walking).

Hire a tuk tuk in the square to drive you up to Parque e Palácio Nacional da Pena. Take a little care in doing this to make sure that you know the price (think less than €10) and also make sure that you didn’t inadvertently sign up for a tour. And then have fun bombing up the hillside along the narrow road. It’s a load of fun and a fairly quick trip.

From the tuk tuk drop off area, you’ll need to walk through the forest to get up to the palace. There was a camera obscura that I stopped in to snap a photo. The sheer magnitude of the palace becomes apparent as you approach it.

Palácio Nacional da Pena

Parque e Palácio Nacional da Pena

Talk about a study in contrasts—Palácio Nacional da Pena is one of the most bananas structures you will ever see and the Parque da Pena is one of the most serene strolls through the forest you will ever take.  Make sure to get the ticket for the palace and the park (€14)

Gallery: Palácio Nacional da Pena 

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Palácio Nacional da Pena

Perched atop a hill high above Sintra and built on the ruins of a 12th century monastery destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, Palácio Nacional da Pena was commissioned by Ferdinand II, the King-Consort of Portugal. Ferdinand II valued the arts, and the building combines medieval and Moorish influences.

To me, it looks like Gaudi and Lewis Carol had a lovechild. It’s yellow and red and tile and there’s a clock tower and parapets and towers, balanced precariously on top of a hill in the middle of the forest. Oh, and there’s even a drawbridge. It’s the most delightfully weird thing, and you’ll love touring it.

Head’s up: Apparently, you’re not supposed to take photos inside the palace. I did not know this, so the few snaps from inside were apparently a bit illicit (oops).

Gallery: Parque da Pena

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Parque da Pena

Don’t miss this, especially if you’re a little peopled out after the crowds. Follow the path to the Chalet of the Countess of Elda, through the forest.  You’ll pass some remnants of the monastery, and you’ll see all kinds of plantings amongst the native foliage. It’s peaceful and quiet, and one of the most magical things I’ve done. Really, don’t miss this.

Follow the path toward the Valley of the Lakes. There is a an exit (with bathrooms!) nearby, where you can start walking toward the Castelo dos Mouros.

Castelo dos Mouros

Castelo Dos Mouros

Now we’re talking. I love the old stuff, and Castelo Dos Mouros is the old stuff. Founded when the Moors ruled the land, the castle has stood above Sintra for at least 1,000 years. Various people have lived here since, and people are buried together. If you’re interested in the history of the Castelo, this video (subtitled) is a nice introduction.

You can walk from the exit at the Valley of Lakes from the Parque da Pena. Follow the signs (and possibly some other people). It’s a peaceful walk, and you’ll start to see the castle. It’s really pretty incredible.

Gallery: Castelo dos Mouros

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What to do at Castelo Dos Mouros

Here, the big activity is climbing along the walls (be careful—it’s not always super sturdy!). You get incredible views of the Palácio Nacional da Pena and Sintra below. Wander through the exhibits, and have yourself a beer and a snack or light lunch at the stand. You’ve earned it.

From there, it’s about a 15-minute walk down the hill back to Sintra.

Sintra

A last look, and dinner

What an adventure! While I was tempted to squeeze in one more site, I did not have anything left in me. And, after the days I’d had, that was OK. I wandered back to Casa da Pendôa to pick up my backpack and then made my way to the train station.

The restaurant recommended to me by the server at Bar Do Binho, Metamorphosis, was located right near the train station. I was a little bit on the early side for dinner, but the restaurant was open.

A singer was practicing for a performance later on that evening, and I got to hear her and her accompanist. I ordered a simple dish of cod and potatoes, and I still think about it. You can’t say that for too many tourist trip meals.

From there, I got on the train and headed back to Lisbon, tired and so very happy.

Gallery: A last look

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Plan Your Trip to Sintra!

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General Considerations

  • Given Sintra’s proximity to Lisbon and its beauty, Sintra is a hugely popular day trip. Sites can get very crowded, as can transport, and even on a midweek visit in shoulder season, expect company.
  • I followed advice and made this an overnight, and I give you the same. There are very affordable accommodations. This also takes the pressure off of trying to get there super early.
  • Don’t try to see everything. There are a lot of sites, and they will all just jumble together. Do a little reading, determine what you want to see, and try to plan your route so that you can see them efficiently.
  • This is a daytrip town, and things mostly quiet down at night. This is nice, because you can just relax and gather your strength for the next day.
  • Don’t miss the grounds of Palacio de Pena. They’re really rather magical.
  • Wear good walking shoes and comfortable (yet stylish—you are in Europe) clothes. Especially at the Moorish castle and Palacio de Pena, you’ll be walking on uneven ground (see below for accessibility).
  • Don’t expect everyone to speak English (it’s never polite to assume anyway), but most people at ticket counters, restaurants, and hotels will likely know at least some phrases.

Budget

If you do this itinerary, expect to spend approximately €110-€120, plus whatever you spend on food.

When to go

  • I did my Lisbon trip a bit late in shoulder season and did my Sintra trip midweek, so I avoided most of the throngs.
  • I would definitely recommend midweek no matter when you go, as this place remains popular.

Getting there and getting away

It doesn’t get much easier than this. Get on the train in Lisbon and forty or so minutes later, get off in Sintra. Walk the ten or so minutes into town. Your first glimpse of the castles is exciting! Honestly, I just followed the crowd, but there are clearly marked signs.

You can’t really buy an advance ticket. As there are no discounts for the return trip, unless you buy a 24-hour ticket, I’d just buy single tickets.

Cost: €2.30, one way, €4.60 round trip

Transportation while in Sintra

For sites near town, especially Quinta da Regaleria, I would just walk. It’s about ten minutes from the center of town, and it’s a pleasant walk.  

Getting up to the castles, however, is a different story. The roads are narrow and windy and you are going to huff and puff your way, and it’s not worth it. I recommend 2 options:

  • Take a tuk tuk up to Palacio da Pena! They’re fun!
    • Make sure you know the fare up front, think around €10.
    • Note that you will have to walk up a trail to get to the palace, but I found this to be part of the fun.
  • Take the 434 bus
    • A single as of this writing is €90, and a hop-on/hop-off ticket that lets you go around the loop once is €6.90, as of this writing.
    • You can find the schedule on the website.

Solo female travel

I had absolutely no qualms about wandering around Sintra. It’s safe. Common sense street smarts apply, and I wouldn’t just leave my purse hanging around unattended, but otherwise, you should be fine. It’s refreshing, honestly.

Accessibility

You can find accessibility information for visiting Sintra from the Parques de Sintra website.

Map: Sites and cost information

Click on a site or use the table for information on the sites.