I believe Sintra is truly the most enchanting place I have ever gone to and possibly ever will go to. I loved it so much that I made the trip out from Lisbon twice in the week I was there. I think you could easily spend a week just in Sintra and still not have seen all its magic because it is so full of treasures to discover. (You can read more about my trip to Lisbon here.)
I first found out about Sintra from Pinterest. I was casually looking up things to do in Portugal (see my board here.) and found a few pins that seemed too amazing to be real places. You know how you always see those places on insta that end up being disapointing when you actually visit them? For me Sintra was not like that at all. Once I was in Lisbon and realized Sintra was just a short train ride away I knew I had to go visit it.
How to get there from Lisbon: Driving to Sintra is discouraged as there is not very much parking there. You can go by bus, however this can take longer and the bus stations are not as convenient. Best way I found is by a train that leaves from Rossio Station (easily accessed from all metro stations.) You can not prebook tickets to this train, however it runs frequently so you don’t have to worry about not getting a seat. Bear in mind that it is a popular destination so the line up to buy tickets at Rossio Station can be quite long.
The return ticket to Sintra is very reasonable at a cost of 4.50 Euros. You must have an empty Viva Viagem card which costs .50 euros. Each passenger must have their own card. This card is reusable, and is used on all Lisbon’s public transit.
Once you are on the train, you can relax and enjoy the sights because Sintra is the last stop on the line. The journey is only about 40 minutes long. There are two stops for Sintra, you will want the second for the historic part of town.
The first day I saw Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros. For opening times, prices and other information to help plan your visit check out this site.
Once you arrive in the village it is quite a strenuous hike up to Pena Palace and the Moorish castle. I don’t recommend doing the hike up because I feel like then you may end up too tired to fully see the grounds and inside the Palace. And the sites are spread out across the mountain so there is quite a distance walk between them. So best way to get up there? You can either catch a tuk-tuk or the 434 tourist bus which leaves from the train station. The historic part of Sintra is a 1.5km walk along a busy road from the station. I normally am all for walking and enjoying the scenery but there is SOOO much to see at each site in Sintra that I think your best option would be to catch this bus. I did not and is the one thing I regret about my visits to Sintra. I wore extremely comfortable shoes and my feet were still ready to fall off by the end of the day.
I walked from the station to the historic part because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to see yet or where things were located. Also I had read about the “strenuous hike” and thought maybe I would tackle it. There is a narrow road with switch backs or a trail that goes straight up. I started to walk to road, but it is very busy between the buses and the cars. Not long into my hike up, a tuk-tuk came by looking for a fare and I was quick to accept. I was happy I did because even in the tuk-tuk it was a long trip up to the gate of Pena Palace. The driver dropped me off here and I got in a long line up to by tickets to get in (you can buy skip the line tickets here). There is an extensive park (85 hectares) surrounding Pena that you can walk or ride horse back through. If I were to go back, I would for sure do this! But for this time I just toured the inside and wandered around the many outside terraces of the Palace. From here you have an amazing view of the town below and of the Castelo dos Mouros.
I had a subpar lunch in the café in the castle, you know that food I mean, the cheap quality but expensive priced food that seems to be available at every tourist attraction. But what do you do when you are hungry and there’s no other options. There are better lunch spots in Sintra itself but nothing that I found up on the hill. Then I headed to the Moorish castle which is about a 15 min walk from Pena.
Castelo dos Mouros is not for the faint of heart, but it is so worth the visit. I felt like a kid playing in the coolest fort ever. There are narrow steep stairways along the outer walls that climb up the side of the mountain with lookout posts at various intervals. I say not for the faint of heart because the stairways are old and uneven, easy for clumsy me to trip on. Also heights are not my favorite thing in the world so I would get a bit of a rush every time I turned around on them if I was not hanging on to the side.
I often get into deep thoughts when I am in Europe about the amount of people who have walked on the streets and how much history has happened there. The Moorish castle really brought this on for me because it is one of the oldest sites I have been to. It was constructed during the 8th and 9th centuries. There are benches in what was once the grounds used for battle practise that are nice to take a break at if you are like me and like to ponder this. There are spectacular views from here as well of the town and Pena palace. I will say there is not a lot to do here other then climb around, but I still think it is worth the visit.
Two days later when I went back to Sintra I went to Quinta de Regaleira. This is where most of the magical pins on my Portugal board seemed to come from. You can tour the inside of this residence as well but I only had interest in exploring the 4 hectare park that is on the hillside. Words can not describe this place, there are endless beautiful statues and fountains as well as an extensive tunnel system and grottos. I feel like you could spend days in this garden and still not see everything. The lower parts of the garden are very manicured while the upper parts are more wild woods. You are given a map when you buy your ticket, but I recommend just walking and letting yourself get lost in this park. At first I was set on finding some of the things I had seen on Pinterest and got frustrated when I couldn’t. Once I gave up on this, I ended up discovering them (plus sooo much more) accidentally.
I recommend taking lots of water on your visit to any of the sites you chose, because they all involve a lot of walking. I went on a cloudy cooler day but it was still quite warm in the middle of September.
Prepare to spend a full day at minimum in Sintra, if you can swing more and stay longer or go out twice like I did you will not regret it. There is so much more to see than is possible in a short visit.