Sintra is a beautiful town tucked away in the mountains, approximately a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon. This guide to the perfect day in Sintra includes everything you need to know: how to get there, how to get around, how to beat the crowds, where to eat in town and which sites to see with only 1 day. Whether you’re visiting just as a day trip or staying overnight, Sintra is a fantastic addition to any Portugal itinerary!
How to Get There
Trains to Sintra leave from Rossio and Oriente Stations, with Rossio being the most popular as it is the most central. You don’t need to pre-book a ticket, as there are several trains to Sintra every hour throughout the day. Simply rock up at the station, head to a ticket machine (on the 2nd level of Rossio Station) and purchase your ticket.
You’ll need a Viva Viagem card – if you already have one from using other public transport in Lisbon, you simply need to recharge it. Otherwise it’s just an extra 50 cents to buy one at the ticket machine.
See also: 10 Things You Must Do in Lisbon!
To get to Sintra from Cascais (another popular day trip from Lisbon), it is easier to take the bus as there are no direct train routes. There are two buses to choose from: route 403 and 417. Bus 417 is the quicker route at 30 minutes, while bus 403 is more scenic, but takes around an hour. Both services leave from the Cascais Bus Station.
Sintra: Day Trip or Overnight?
If you want to beat the crowds, it’s best to come to Sintra the afternoon before and stay the night. This way you can be amongst the first to enter the Pena Palace, Sintra’s most popular site. Most tourists start coming around 10-10:30am, so getting started at around 9-9:30am is the way to go. If you’re still visiting at a peak time, such as summer or the weekend, there’ll likely still be a fairly decent crowd earlier in the day – but it just keeps getting busier as the morning goes on!
If you’re visiting outside the summer months or just don’t have much time in Portugal, Sintra can easily be done as a day trip. I’d just recommend getting one of the earlier trains from Lisbon (or buses from Cascais) to make sure you can see as much as possible in the time you have.
Getting Around the Main Sights of Sintra
There are several tourist buses that run in Sintra that take you to the main sites. For this itinerary, you want to take bus 434 which leaves from Sintra station. The bus stop is to the right of where you exit the station, opposite the Palace Cafe. The first bus leaves at 9:15am, but they generally start selling tickets around 9am. If you’re visiting at a peak time, there’ll still be a bit of a crowd here so if you want a seat on the bus (bear in mind it goes up a very steep and windy hill!), you’ll want to come earlier. A round-trip ticket is 5,50 euros, and the last bus leaves from Sintra Station at 7:50pm.
Note: if you are a “priority person” (ie. elderly, pregnant or with a baby) the bus drivers will make sure you get a seat.
You can also take a taxi or tuk-tuk up to the castles. The tuk-tuks are cheaper than taxis, and generally will cost around the same as the bus ticket because the drivers are very eager to do business. There is also the red Sintra Sightseeing Bus (the same company you see in basically every city).
How to Avoid the Crowds
The 434 bus goes in a one-directional loop to:
- Sintra Station
- National Palace of Sintra
- Moorish Castle
- Pena Palace
Because of this, many people start at either the National Palace or Moorish Castle, and then get the bus to the Pena Palace. To help beat some of the crowds, take the bus to Pena Palace first and then walk back to the Moorish Castle. It’s not very far between the entrances to the 2 castle grounds, but you do have to walk a fair bit to reach the actual castle at both. Make sure you have water, walking shoes and snacks!
If you take the first bus from Sintra Station at 9:15am, you’ll arrive at Pena Palace shortly after it opens. I arrived just after 9:30, and while there were still a fair few people, it was much, much busier when I left the castle a little over an hour later. Because of the way I walked around the outside, I actually ended up going in the opposite direction to most people. This meant that for some of the time, I was totally alone! B L I S S F U L.
Stop 1: Pena Palace & Pena Park
The most famous sight in Sintra is the bright & colourful Pena Palace, surrounded by the stunning Pena Park. The Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal – and rightly so! It sights atop one of the hills that surround Sintra, and provides incredible views over the surrounding area, including of the Moorish Castle.
While the Palace’s history dates back to a monastery built in the Middle Ages, it wasn’t until the 19th century that King Ferdinand II wished to create a summer palace for the Portuguese Royal Family. And it is this summer palace that stands over Sintra today! Mixing many architectural styles, including Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance, it really is incredible.
Surrounding the Palace is the Pena Park, which includes over 200 hectares of forest land. You walk through parts of the Park as you enter and exit the Pena Palace complex, however you can take more time to explore more of the park.
Ticket Information – I purchased a combined ticket for Pena Palace & the Moorish Castle once I arrived at the site, which is cheaper than buying 2 separate tickets for each site.
Stop 2: Moorish Castle
Because the 434 bus only travels in a one-directional loop, you’ll need to walk from the Pena Palace to the Moorish Castle via the road. The whole walk from building to building (including the paths through the Pena Park down from the Palace and the short walk from the ticket machines to the actual Castle) should take around 20-30 minutes.
Also tucked up in the hills is the medieval Moorish Castle, built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Castle is classified as a National Monument, and is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While it’s nowhere near as bright and flashy as the Pena Palace, it is great to walk around and explore. Because of its design as a military outpost, walking around the walls provides amazing views over Sintra. You can also look across to see the Pena Palace!
Ticket Information – as I said above, I purchased the cheaper combined ticket for the Pena Palace & Moorish Castle when I arrived at the site.
Stop 3: Lunch in Sintra
After visiting the Moorish Castle, I caught the bus back into Sintra to grab lunch. While both the Pena Palace & Moorish Castle have small cafeterias, it’s nothing substantial (or particularly healthy!). The two food stops I recommend in Sintra are Cafe Saudade and Caldo Entornado.
Cafe Saudade is just around the corner from the train station, and is a very popular place to eat in Sintra. Sandwiches and scones are the main features on the menu, which includes a couple of vegetarian options.
Caldo Entornado is the restaurant attached to the hostel I stayed in, and is open for lunch and dinner. They also have a few vegetarian options here, and generally are a bit more expensive than Cafe Saudade.
Stop 4: Sintra National Palace
The final stop on my Sintra itinerary was the National Palace, which is located in the town of Sintra and not up in the mountains. Approximately a 10 minute walk from the Sintra Train Station, the palace is a preserved royal residence which saw most of its inhabitants between the 15th and 19th centuries. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it still retains much of the same features as it had in the 16th century – the only palace belonging to Portuguese monarchs that can make this claim.
While most people visit Sintra only as a day trip, it is a town that absolutely warrants a longer stay if you have the time. Sintra is surrounded by castles and palaces, so you’ll always find plenty to do!
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