The small fairytale town of Sintra, located about 45 minutes west of Lisbon, is the perfect day trip from Lisbon. Not only are there so many different places to explore, the historic Sintra city center itself is worth visiting.
The cobble-stone streets of the historic old town Sintra lead you past quaint cafes, bakeries, restaurants, and medieval architecture dating back to the 15th century. I can guarantee you will walk around asking yourself how this place is real.
However, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies here. Due to it’s proximity to Lisbon, Sintra can get rather crowded with tourists both on the streets and at the main attractions. Having been twice now, and even experiencing unexpected changes since our first visit, I’m going to let you in on the details and my best tips for visiting Sintra.
In this post, I’m going to spill the inside tips on how to plan the best day trip to Sintra, including new Sintra parking rules updated for 2023!
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- Pena Palace (Palacio da Pena)
- Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate)
- Sintra National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
- How to get to Sintra, Portugal
- Getting around Sintra, Portugal
- How to long to spend in Sintra, Portugal
- Where to Stay in Sintra
- Best time to Day Trip to Sintra, Portugal
Pena Palace (Palacio da Pena)
Pena Palace is likely the reason you have a day trip to Sintra on your itinerary. This is the main attraction of Sintra, which is why I suggest that you make this your first stop.
Situated on the top of the second highest peak in the Sintra mountains, this UNESCO World Heritage site can actually be seen from Lisbon on a clear day. The vibrantly contrasting red, yellow, and blue colors of the palace make it unlike any I have ever seen before in Europe. Pena Palace is the perfect example of the Romanticism movement in Portugal, and a must see for anyone visiting Sintra.
Time spent at Pena Palace: 1 – 2 hours, more if you explore the surrounding gardens
Changes to Parking Rules to in Sintra
Parking & Transportation Changes in Sintra: You are no longer allowed to drive and park private vehicles near the Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and other attractions in the Sintra Hills.
Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that you can no longer self-drive and park at the entrance of the Pena Palace in Sintra. When we visited in the summer of 2018, we were able to take our rental car right to the entrance gate of the Pena Palace and park in a designated parking lot nearby.
Nope – not anymore my friends. All good things must come to an end I guess.
When we visited in November 2021, we had the same expectation, as there is no indication online that anything has changed. So we rented a car, secured tickets for the first entrance time to the Pena Palace, and were right on time to be the first in line to enter the gates to Pena Palace.
About 5 minutes from the parking lot, we were turned away by a police officer saying you are not allowed to drive to Pena Palace. He would not allow us to turn around and go back the way we came, so returning to town took us an additional 45 minutes.
Now we had to find parking in town, it was already approaching 10am so people were pouring into Sintra which made finding parking tough. Then we had to figure out a new way to get back up to the Pena Palace.
So if you want to learn from all our misfortune, next I will explain the best way to get to Pena Palace now!
How to get to Pena Palace before the crowds in 2023
So now you’re wondering what is the best way to get to the Pena Palace before the crowds. Here are my top tips on getting to the Pena Palace in Sintra before the crowds:
- First you need to buy your tickets for Pena Palace in advance here! This means you will avoid spending time in line at the ticket booth at the entrance. By the time we left the lines to buy tickets and enter the palace was out of hand. You don’t want this to be you!
- There is some conflicting information out there that I’m hoping to clear up for you here. The Pena Park gates (located at the entrance by the ticket booths) open at 9:00am. At 9:00am you will be able enter the Pena palace grounds, terraces, and parks, but not the interior of the Pena Palace. The entrance to the interior of the Pena Palace opens at 9:30am. You will want to arrive at the gates before 9:00am as a line at the gates to enter may form, especially during the peak travel months.
- In order to arrive at the gates before 9:00am, I suggest you either:
- Drive from Lisbon, park in a parking garage or parking lot in town, and take a taxi from historic Sintra center to the park entrance gates
- Take the 40-minute train from Lisbon (Rossio Station to Sintra), and take a taxi from historic Sintra center to the park entrance gate
Pro Tip: the tourist bus 434 around Sintra does not begin service until 9:15am and is very slow waiting for everyone to buy tickets and board. Therefore, I have not included it as an option above to beat the crowds. If you are interested in using the tourist bus to get around Sintra, I have included those details below!
If you can’t get to Pena Palace before the crowds
Don’t fret! All of the photos at Pena Palace where I am wearing a red/orange dress were taken after our driving fiasco at about 11am, 2 hours after the gates opened. With a lot of patience, you will be able to find spots and angles to take great photos without masses of people.
These two spots pictured below are extremely easy to photograph even during the later afternoon (and the lighting is good too!)
Other useful tips for visiting Pena Palace:
- The Pena Park ticket is 7.50 EUR for a regular adult ticket and includes everything except entrance into the interior rooms of the Pena Palace (purchase official tickets here)
- The Pena Park and Palace ticket is 14.00 EUR for a regular adult ticket which includes the interior rooms and one outdoor terrace that is only accessible through the interior tour, reference the first photo in this post for that terrace (purchase official tickets here)
- Once you get through the main gate, there is about a 15 to 20 min uphill walk to reach the palace. There is also a bus that runs up the hill if you prefer to save your energy.
- I would advise you to explore the terrace first, prior to entering into the interior of the palace. If you did all the work to get there before the crowds, I would use it to your advantage.
Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
The Moorish Castle is only a short walk (3 minutes) from the entrance of the Pena Palace, so it is a good next stop if you are starting your day at Pena Palace.
However while exploring the Moorish Castle walls, be prepared with good walking shoes, because you will get lots of steps in here. The area was 12 thousand square meters, and the length of the walls along the perimeter is about 450 meters.
As you walk along the castle walls, be sure to take in the view over the historic town of Sintra below you. As you ascend the castle walls to the highest point, you will be able to catch a view of the Pena Palace perched atop the hill.
There is really only one way to walk, and not as many nooks and crannies to explore as you will find at Pena Palace, so I don’t expect you will need as much time here.
Plus this stop is entirely sun exposed, so make sure to be prepared with a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
Time spent at the Moorish Castle: 1 hour
Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira is the second most visited spot in Sintra. From the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle, it will require the tourist bus 434 or hire a taxi to reach. See below for additional details about how to get around Sintra.
Quinta da Regaleira is an example of a Gothic style palace, surrounded by a luxurious green park with fairytale lakes, fountains, and grottos.
One of the highlights on the property of Quinta da Regaleira is the Initiation Well, which is a 88-feet deep stone well currently covered in contrasting green moss. As the story goes, it was never intended to be used as a well, but instead for secret ceremonial purposes.
Creepy if you ask me!
Purchase your tickets ahead of time via the official website here.
Time spent at Quinta da Regaleira: 1 – 2 hours
Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate)
A true hidden gem in Sintra, Monserrate Palace, is the least visited spot by tourists in Sintra. It is totally under-rated by visitors in my opinion.
The ornate, Arabian-details of the exterior and interior were absolutely jaw dropping. Almost as much as the surrounding lush English gardens. Don’t miss out on admiring the details here. The beauty is definitely in the details.
The Monserrate Palace is relatively small compared to the previous two locations, but because of this it can be visited in the peak hours with very little crowds. Visiting Monserrate is a welcomed breath of fresh air from the previous spots.
Time spent at Monserrate Palace: 30 minutes, more if you explore the surrounding gardens
Pro Tip: Make sure to spend some time in the music room admiring the ceiling (photo below). It was my favorite after the stunning terraces and gardens!
Sintra National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
Photo by Pedro Santos on Unsplash
The Sintra National Palace is located in the heart of the historic old town Sintra. If you have any energy left, I suggest ending your day here so you won’t have to return back into the hills of Sintra.
Within the National Palace, you will find a total of 17 rooms to explore with intricate tiles and ornate ceilings. If you weren’t tired by now, you surely will be after this stop. If you are looking to cut out a stop from your Sintra itinerary, my honest opinion would be cutting a visiting to the Sintra National Palace.
Time spent at Sintra National Palace: 1 hour
How to get to Sintra, Portugal
2021 Parking & Transportation Changes: You are no longer allowed to drive and park private vehicles near the Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and other attractions in the Sintra Hills.
There are multiple different ways to get to Sintra for a day trip based on what your priorities are. Let’s go through those options here:
The Cheapest Route
The cheapest way to reach Sintra from Lisbon is by train. There is a direct train from Lisbon’s Rossio station that leaves every 30 minutes (Lisbon to Sintra Train Timetable). The travel time is 40 minutes and a round-trip ticket costs 4.50 EUR. Once you reach the Sintra station, exit the main doors and the town will be a 10-minute walk.
The Convenient Route
The most convenient way to reach Sintra from Lisbon is by taxi or uber. This is also the most costly option, as it will run you about 50 EUR each way. However, you will save on not having to rent a car, and pay for parking in Sintra.
The convenience of being able to just grab an uber/taxi from where you are staying in Lisbon, right to where you want to go in Sintra may be worth the $$, especially if you have a group.
Another option for convenience that will be cheaper than hiring a taxi is to book a guided tour from Lisbon. If you book a tour from Lisbon to Sintra, another benefit is that all your transportation around Sintra is included!
Below I have included the most highly rated tours of Sintra from Lisbon which also include Cabo do Roca and Cascais as well (I know traveling can be unpredictable – so all experiences recommended can be cancelled 24-hours beforehand for a full refund):
From Lisbon: Sintra and Cascais Private Guided Tour – Best value for a private tour!
The Flexible Route
The most flexible way to reach Sintra from Lisbon is by renting a car. This is because you can leave when you want from Lisbon, and even extend your day trip easily from Sintra to the West coast to see Cabo da Roca and Cascais like we did! You will save time waiting for buses, trains, and coordinating public transportation schedules.
We always rent our cars through Discover Cars because of their competitive pricing and great cancelation policy.
However, this option will require you to find a parking garage or lot in Sintra. We used this paid parking lot, it was safe, easy, and about 1.5 EUR per hour. There are other free lots around town that will fill up quickly, but worth a shot if you are early enough.
Getting around Sintra, Portugal
Now that we know self-driving to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle is no longer permitted, here are a couple different ways to get from the historic town of Sintra to the major sights:
- The fastest and cheapest way we found to get around Sintra is by hiring a taxi. It will cost you about 5 – 6 EUR to get in between each of the major sights.
- In 2021, we also noticed a new trend, the availability of the tuk-tuk. We did not ride a tuk-tuk, but were offered a ride from Pena Palace back to the city center for 5 EUR. We weren’t heading back to the center, so we didn’t take the offer. However, it seems like there is some negotiation room with the price of the tuk-tuk ride.
- You are also able walk / hike along the road to Quinta da Regaleira. It is only a 20 minute walk. The other attractions on this list are possible, but will require at least an hour worth of walking / hiking. But remember, the Moorish Castle is a short walk from the entrance of Pena Palace.
- If you book a tour from Lisbon to Sintra, another benefit is that all your transportation around Sintra is included!
The Tourist Bus 434
Unless you are planning to see 3+ sights, the tourist 434 hop-on hop-off bus isn’t worth it in my opinion. You might also wait about 20 – 30 minutes for the next bus to arrive. I’ve read many reviews and it seems the ticket price also changes often.
We paid 11 EUR per person to board the tourist bus only because we didn’t know that taxis were allowed up the hill. That is 22 EUR just to get to Pena Palace!
Then, full buses kept passing us up when we were ready to go to our next stop. So we gave up and just hailed a taxi that was waiting nearby.
There is more information about the tourist bus here. Hopefully this helps you decide what is best, cheapest, and fastest for your desired itinerary!
How to long to spend in Sintra, Portugal
There is plenty to do in Sintra to fill a half-day, a full-day, or even two full-days if you prefer a slower pace. If you only want to make Sintra a half-day trip I would suggest picking two of the attractions above to explore. If you only have time for two stops in Sintra, my honest picks would be Pena Palace followed by Monserrate.
With a full day trip from Lisbon you can fit in 4+ attractions, or continue out west to the Coast and explore Cabo da Roca or Cascais, Portugal.
Where to Stay in Sintra
If you are planning to spend 1 or 2 nights in Sintra to maximize your time in the Sintra Mountains, I would highly suggest the following hotels for their location to all the major sites in Sintra, architectural charm, and amazing reviews:
Located right by the main train station in Sintra, this property dated back to the 19th century retaining its history but with upgrades and modern touches. This is the perfect place to stay to really experience the history and architecture of this region AND the most convenient location. It’s the best of both worlds!
This is an historic hotel with great character and charm. The rooms are furnished in ‘Country House’ style which makes the hotel especially cozy. I would book this hotel for the pool terrace view alone. With a view over the city center of Sintra, you can watch amazing sunsets right from your hotel room.
Best time to Day Trip to Sintra, Portugal
The best time to visit Sintra is on a clear day, which can be extremely hard to predict! We have been in July on a clear day and November on a clear day as well. The crowds will be heavier in the summer, but we still experienced almost a similar type crowd in November as we did in the summer.
Also, you would think weekends would be more crowded, but being a heavy tourist spot, you will find any day of the week will get crowded.
That being said, if you have flexibility in your itinerary, I would check the weather the week you plan to visit and book tickets 3 – 4 days in advance based on the best weather forecast. The best part about Sintra is the sweeping view over the mountains into town. So on a rainy or foggy day, the views and even parts of the castle will be covered in fog.
I hope you found this post helpful in planning your day trip to Sintra. Armed with the most updated information, you will have the advantage of breezing through the crowds in Sintra!
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What Camera Gear Do I Use?
- Camera Body: Canon EOS 6D Mark ii
- Wide Angle Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom Lens: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
- Super Zoom Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8
- Portrait Lens: Tamron 35mm f/1.4
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