ULTIMATE Sintra Day Trip: Discovering the Fairy Tale Town
Europe offers an endless list of fascinating cities and towns, but perhaps nothing feels more fairytale-esque than the town of Sintra. Sintra is a picturesque town nestled in the hills in the Greater Lisbon area in Portugal. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for enchanting palaces and lush gardens. The romantic poet Lord Byron described it as a “glorious Eden.”
Sintra is just a short drive away from Lisbon, making it a popular day trip. In this guide, we’ll show you how to enjoy the perfect Sintra day trip!
How to get to Sintra
Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon because of how easy it is to get there. This town sits within the beautiful Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais, about 30 kilometers northwest of Lisbon.
Here are ways to get from Lisbon to Sintra.
It takes about 30 minutes to get from Lisbon to Sintra with your own car.
Head to Rossio Train Station in Baxia and ride a train to Sintra. Trains depart every 30 minutes, and the journey takes approximately 40 minutes.
You can book single or round-trip tickets at the kiosks or self-service machines. The earliest trip is around 8AM, but this may vary depending on the season. The last trip from Sintra to Lisbon is around midnight, but you don’t have to worry because you won’t be staying that late in Sintra.
There is no need to book your train tickets in advance. Also, make sure to get a ticket to “Sintra,” and not “Portela de Sintra” because these are two different destinations and the latter is further away from the sights.
How to get around
The most convenient way to get around Sintra is through the 434 local bus service, which connects the town center with major attractions including the Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and Sintra Old Town. The bus runs regularly throughout the day every 5-10 minutes.
However, it can get extremely busy during peak times — particularly around midday and early afternoon — and you could easily end up waiting for an hour. If you do arrive early, the local bus is a great option to get to your morning destination.
Aside from the tourist bus, Ubers, taxis, and tuk-tuks are also available.
If you’re bringing your own car, we recommend parking it on the outskirts of town and then walking or using public transport to get around. The roads at Sintra are not ideal for driving since they are narrow and are prone to heavy traffic. Moreover, the parking lots at the palaces also fill up quickly and can be expensive.
The best parking lots are Sintra Parking — a central parking closest to the historic center, Parque de Estacionamento Estacao de Sintra — which is located opposite the train station, and Parque Estacionamento P3 Portela Sintra — which is a farther than others but also one of the cheapest parking options available in Sintra.
For this Sintra day trip itinerary, we recommend that you start at Pena Palace which is located atop a hill and then walk downhill to see the other attractions. To get to the Pena Palace, you can take a laborious 45-minute walk from the local train station or ride the tourist bus and get off at the main entrance to the National Palace of Pena or at the “Entrance of the Lakes,” which is one of the entrances to the Pena Park. From the park entrance, you can walk for 15 minutes or ride a transfer vehicle to the palace.
Sintra Day Trip Itinerary
This Sintra day trip itinerary covers the best attractions in Sintra: The Pena Palace and Pena Park, Moorish Castle (optional), Quinta da Regaleira, and the Sintra National Palace
It’s a common saying to save the best for last, but in this Sintra day trip itinerary we’ll start at Pena Palace — undeniably the best attraction in town! Pena Palace is a beautiful 19th-century castle sitting majestically on top of a hill.
Located within the Pena Park, Pena Palace (also known as Palacio Nacional da Pena) features a fairy-tale architecture with its towers, domes, and turrets and vibrant hues of yellow, red, and purple. It is a recognized World Heritage Site, and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.
The history of Pena Palace dates back to the Middle Ages. Before the palace was constructed, the area where it now stands was used by Portuguese kings as a hunting ground. In the 18th century, a monastery dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the site, but it was abandoned after the liberal revolution of 1834. In 1838, King Ferdinand II acquired the land and began constructing the palace and park.
The creation of the park was an essential part of the palace’s design, with the king envisioning a romantic landscape with an array of trees, plants, and sculptures. Over the years, the park has undergone changes, including the addition of new structures and the expansion of its gardens.
The palace grounds opens at 9AM while the palace itself at 9:30AM.
Start your tour by exploring the Park of Pena Palace, which covers 200 hectares of rolling hills and forests. The park is so huge that you can easily spend 1-2 hours exploring it.
You don’t have to worry about getting lost. Pena Park has walking trails that lead to various points of interest. Take a stroll and explore its romantic gardens including the Fern Valley, hidden lakes and grottoes, and statues and sculptures including the Triton Lake, which features a statue of Triton, the Greek god of the sea.
Head up to Cruz Alta (High Cross), a magnificent monument located at the highest point of the area ffering panoramic views of Sintra and its surroundings.
You can also do a short trek to visit the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, which was built by King Ferdinand II for his second wife. The chalet is now open to the public as a museum and takes around half an hour to tour inside.
A lot of tourists visit only to explore the outdoors and take photos of the picturesque Pena Palace, but we recommend visiting the palace itself too!
The interior of Pena Palace is just as impressive as its exterior, with an array of rooms decorated in different styles. The palace features a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Moorish, and Renaissance.
Explore several rooms, including the Arab Room, the Queen’s Throne Room, and the Clock Room. There is also a chapel inside the palace, which is decorated with beautiful stained glass windows.
Aside from these, the palace terraces are also a must-visit for their panoramic views of the town, the Moorish Castle, and the distant coastline.
Moorish Castle (also called Castle of the Moors or Castelo dos Mouros) is located just 15 minutes away from the Pena Palace. It is one of the lesser-visited spots in Sintra, but it’s well worth the time and you’ll see why!
The castle was built by the Moors during the 9th century when they occupied the Iberian Peninsula. Built on a rocky outcrop, it offered a vantage viewpoint of the surrounding lands and coastline. It was strategically used to defend the entire region.
Whereas Pena Palace is characterized by its fairytale-like architecture, the Moorish Castle features irregular shapes and strategic defensive elements, such battlements, watchtowers, and arrow slits.
You can walk along the castle walls and enjoy the gorgeous views of the town and the distance ocean. From here it’s also possible to see the nearby Pena Palace. Don’t forget to climb the towers to see to see the castle’s fortification features!
Sintra Old Town
After exploring the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle, you’ve likely worked out an appetite. There are limited restaurants on these places, so time to head to the Sintra Old Town for a bite!
It’s easy to look for restaurants and cafes because the Sintra town center is fairly small and can be explored on foot. For those who want to eat like a local, the best dining options are Romaria de Baco, Tascantiga, Incomum by Luis Santos, and Piriquita.
Don’t forget to try some Sintra-centric pastries, such as queijadas de Sintra (cheesecake) and travesseiro (a cream-filled puff pastry with sprinkled sugar on top).
After eating, you may want to take a short stroll around town to see interesting shops as well.
Quinta da Regaleira
From Sintra Old Town, it’s a short 10-15 minute walk to our next stop for our Sintra day trip itinerary: Quinta da Regaleira.
Whatever you know about Quinta da Regaleira, when you visit it in person it’s sure to blow your mind.
Quinta da Regaleira is recognized as a World Heritage Site within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra.” It is home to a Romantic-style palace, a chapel, and a luxurious park with gardens and underground tunnels.
Similar to other stops in this Sintra itinerary, it has an interesting — and curious — history. It was built in the early 20th century by Carvalho Monteiro, a wealthy Portuguese businessman and Freemason, and designed by the renowned architect Luigi Manini. The estate was constructed to reflect Monteiro’s interests in symbolism, mythology, and mysticism — as seen in the architecture, sculptures, and layout of the gardens.
One of the must-do’s at Quinta da Regaleira is descending into the Initiation Well (or Poco Iniciatico), a deep spiral stairway that leads to a subterranean tunnel. This site was believed to be the location of Templar Knight initiation ceremonies in the past. Walk down the set of stairs and admire its old beauty, continue through the tunnels, and then walk out of a beautiful waterfall.
No matter how old you are, you will feel a sense of mysticism and magic at this place.
Aside from the Initiation Well, you can also explore the main building called Palace of Monteiro dos Milhoes. It features elegant rooms including the King’s Room, Hunting Room, and Octagonal Room which was inspired by the Templar Convent of Tomar. It also houses the chapel, which has beautiful stained-glass windows and intricate woodwork.
Outside the garden, you can see stroll along the God’s Promenade and see mythological statues such as that of Venus, Dionysus, Hermes, and more.
Sintra National Palace
The final stop for this Sintra one day itinerary is the Sintra National Palace. Sintra National Palace (or Palacio Nacional de Sintra) is one of the best-preserved medieval palaces in Portugal. Even though it doesn’t look as grand as other palaces in this area, it has a significant part in history.
The Sintra National Palace was once a Moorish fortress built in the 9th century. Over the years, it went several expansions and renovations. It was then used as royal residence of almost all kings and queens of the country, from the 15th to 19th centuries. Its last royal inhabitant was Queen Maria Pia, the widow of King Luis, who fled into exile following the 1910 revolution.
The palace features an iconic twin conical chimneys, white-washed walls, and decorative tilework. It features a blend of architectural styles including Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline.
There are so many things to do at Sintra National Palace. Explore its magnificent state rooms previously used by the Portuguese royal family — most notably the Magpie Room, Swan Room, the decorative Throne Room, Coats of Arm Room, and Arab Room; enjoy a pleasant walk at the palatial gardens; and visit the Central Patio and Water Grotto.
These are the main highlights of a day trip to Sintra. Don’t forget to stop at a café in town for coffee and much-deserved pastries and sweets before getting the bus back to Lisbon.
Tips to enjoying a day trip to Sintra
Here are some tips to enjoy your Sintra day trip:
Is it possible to explore Sintra in one day? Yes! Of course, it’s still better if you can spend at 2-3 days in this town, but one day is also enough to explore around 3-4 main attractions. If you prefer a more relaxed space, you can opt to limit your visit to the Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and the Sintra National Palace. These are the usual spots to see in a day trip to Sintra.
Here is a timetable so you can keep a good schedule on your day trip:
- Pena Park: 1-2 hours
- Pena Palace: 1.15 hour
- Moorish Castle: 1 hour
- Lunch: 1 hour
- Sintra Old Town: 30 min
- Quinta da Regaleira: 1.15 hour
- Sintra National Palace: 45 min
For longer visits, you can also visit the Park and Palace of Monserrate and Cabo da Roca.
Our best tip is to start early in the day, as the crowd slowly gets larger as the day goes on. If you arrive at the Pena Palace just before it opens, you can enjoy the place practically to yourselves and get amazing photos of the surrounding landscapes.
Wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot. It can also get cold and foggy at Pena Palace in the morning, so bring a light jacket in case. Lastly, don’t forget to bring a reusable travel bottle to keep yourself hydrated during your Sintra walking tour. There really isn’t much you need to bring on a day trip to Sintra, and if you’ve forgotten something you can always make a stop at the town.
Even if you’re only going for a day trip, it’s best to purchase your tickets in advance — or at least a day before. You won’t believe how long the queues can be, with many tourists having to line up for an hour in the palaces. By booking your tickets online, you’re saving precious time and even get discount.
Consider going on an organized tour. Organized tours is an easy and convenient way to explore Sintra in one day and may also come with skip-the-queue privileges.
That concludes our guide for doing a Lisbon to Sintra day trip! Do you have other suggestions that you want people to know? Type it down in the comments section below!
Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).