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  • Writer's pictureKrista the Explorer

What To See During a Day Trip to Sintra, Portugal

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

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Sintra is one of the best day trips from Lisbon you can go on, especially if it’s your first time visiting Portugal. Driving to Sintra isn’t recommended as it’s difficult to park, but it’s very easy to get to Sintra by train. It costs around €6 for a return ticket from Lisbon and takes only 1 hour, with trains departing several times per hour. Taking the train is the most popular mode of transportation since it drops you off almost in the centre of the town of Sintra, and gives you easy access to the buses that will take you to the various attractions. Known as the romantic village of Portugal thanks to its beautiful buildings, winding streets, and oftentimes foggy weather, there’s a lot to unpack during a day trip to Sintra.

Sintra has many attractions to explore, from Gothic palaces to hidden gardens to the quaint town of Sintra itself. Some of the Sintra points of interest are more popular than others, so it’s important that you give yourself enough time to see the ones you want. To get the most out of your day in Sintra, I would recommend catching a very early train so you arrive before the tour groups and can enter one of the attractions when it opens. Getting around Sintra is very easy, as there are plenty of buses running constantly, including the hop-on-hop-off Sintra bus which is a popular option. We packed too much into our Sintra day trip itinerary, so we ended up using Uber a lot more than we anticipated to get us between the main attractions in Sintra quicker. Here’s a look at what to see during a day trip to Sintra, which could also be used as a guide for a weekend in Sintra too.

Pena Palace

The top thing to see in Sintra is Pena Palace. This fairytale palace is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and sits within an expansive park area that visitors can explore on foot. It’s the most visited castle in Portugal, and one of the most popular historical attractions in Portugal as well. The site where Pena Palace stands was once used as a church and then a monastery, and it wasn’t until the 19th century that King Ferdinand II ordered the construction of the palace. Visitors can marvel at the exterior as well as the interior of the palace, but there’s timed entry to get inside so make sure you don’t miss your slot on your ticket!

I would highly recommend arriving at Pena Palace first, as soon as the gates open. As you can imagine, being one of the top things to see in Sintra means that thousands of people visit the palace daily. And it gets extremely busy. The park opens at 9:00am, but first entry to the interior of the palace isn’t until 9:30am. What that means is that you can make your way up to the palace and explore the exterior of it for 30 minutes before most people start to arrive. It’s the best (and only) way to get photos without hundreds of people photobombing you. The interior is interesting, but you’re not really allowed to stop to take photos and have to follow a certain route, so if you’re short on time it’s not a big deal if you don’t go inside. For peace of mind, we pre-booked Park and Pena Palace Tickets with Tiqets for €14.00 so we could skip the ticket buying process at the gate and head straight in.

Estimated time to explore: 2-4 hours (depending if you want to walk around the park or not)

Moorish Castle

After Pena Palace, the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) should be next on your list. It’s the only attraction you can actually get to without taking a bus or taxi, and takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the start of the complex. The castle dates back to the 8th century and was once used to defend the region from attackers, as it has perfect views of the landscape and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. By the 12th century the castle was taken over by the first King of Portugal, and was heavily used until the 15th century.

Following a short walk through the forest, you’ll find the castle walls. Once you pass through the castle walls you’ll be asked to show your ticket. Again, we pre-booked with Tiqets for €8 to save time and skip the queue. Most of what remains of this medieval castle are the walls and towers, so it doesn’t take a lot of time to explore. What does take time is getting to the top of the towers though - especially if it’s hot outside! The Moorish Castle is one of Sintra’s top attractions and definitely needs to be added to any tour of the area.

Estimated time to explore: 1-2 hours

National Palace of Sintra

Following our morning visit to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle, we decided to take an Uber back down the hill into the town of Sintra to get something to eat and to quickly visit the often overlooked National Palace of Sintra. Boasting over 1000 years of Portuguese history, the National Palace of Sintra is actually the oldest palace in the country, and was once a favourite of many monarchs thanks to its close proximity to Lisbon, as well as the fact that it’s surrounded by lush greenery and hunting areas. The palace has many unique rooms to explore, most notably the Coat of Arms room which is the most popular in the palace. You’ll probably find that the palace is not very busy as most tourists favour going to Pena Palace, especially if it’s their first time in Sintra. The skip the queue tickets with Tiqets cost us €10 each, and we walked straight in.

Estimated time to explore: 1-1.5 hours

Quinta da Regaleira

Apart from Pena Palace, one of the best things to do in Sintra is to get lost in the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira. No day trip to Sintra is complete without walking down the world-famous Initiation Well - a spiral staircase built into the ground leading to a complex of tunnels. The gardens at Quinta da Regaleira are full of secretive locations, based on the tales of the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, who the owner was fascinated with. The palace is equally worth visiting though, with its 19th century Gothic architecture proudly protruding out of the greenery surrounding it. You could easily spend half a day here exploring the gardens, but if you only have one day in Sintra I would recommend seeing the palace and the Initiation Well first and then seeing how much extra time you have to spare. We added this to our itinerary at the last minute and bought our tickets at the entry gates for €10.

Estimated time to explore: 1.5-4 hours

Monserrate Palace

Monserrate Palace is unfortunately at the end of the Sintra attractions bus route, so many people either don’t realize it’s there or don’t have time to visit it. It’s open a bit later than some of the other attractions, so I would recommend visiting it at the end of the day. The history of the palace dates back to the 16th century, when it was once a hermitage. Since then it has been used as a hospital, a residence for British traders, and a place for famous writers such as Lord Byron to write. It’s one of the most important Romanticism-inspired landscapes in Portugal, and is stunning both inside and out. It may be small, but it’s worth adding to any itinerary during a day trip to Sintra.

It might be worth noting that there’s a small path to walk down to get to the palace, which can be a bit steep on the way back up. We did notice that there was a small shuttle bus, although I’m not sure how often it runs. There’s also toilets and a cafeteria at the base of the hill for visitors to use. If you’re in a rush like we were, make sure you pre-book with Tiqets for €8!

Estimated time to explore: 1-1.5 hours

Don't forget to eat Queijada!

Queijada Portuguese milk pastry served on a white plate.

There are two types of traditional must-try pastries in Sintra: queijada and travesseiro. After our train arrived, we stopped at Ca.fé Coffee House for a quick bite to eat and tried a delicious selection of freshly made sweet and savoury pastries. The queijada was amazing, but sadly they hadn’t finished making the travesseiro yet. It’s a very nice local place to eat in Sintra and is budget friendly too.

There are a lot of other unique attractions in Sintra to visit, but if it’s your first time visiting the area then these five options will more than keep you busy. You may not be able to see them all unless you rush around like we did! Whether you’re interested in the castles of Sintra, want to do some hiking in Sintra, or can’t wait to explore the streets of the town itself, any day trip to Sintra is worth adding to your Portugal itinerary. There’s nowhere quite like Sintra anywhere else in Europe, and if you’re already visiting Lisbon you may as well as come here too!

Have you been to Sintra before? We’d like to return and spend more time here, visiting the lesser known attractions in Sintra, so I would love to hear if you have any other recommendations about what to see or even where to eat in Sintra. Feel free to drop me a comment below, or get in touch on Instagram and follow my travels as well and learn more about our Lisbon trip.


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