If Disneyworld is considered the fairytale land of childhood, then Sintra may very well be the adult version. There is something magical about this city in the mountains, which is an easy day trip from Lisbon. There are a lot of fun things to do in Lisbon, though taking at least a day to see Sintra will be a highlight of your trip.
If you need further enticement, Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This organization recognizes places of significance for cultural, historical, scientific, or other reasons. They are always must-see places you should add to your travel list.
Another UNESCO site in an area near Lisbon is Belém. Though technically a neighborhood of Lisbon, it has a very different feel from the other parts of the city. Both are wonderful places to visit if you are staying for a few days in the area.
Sintra is an easy day trip that did not disappoint and it’s a place I’d highly recommend.
How to Get to Sintra
You can rent a car and drive to Sintra in under 30 minutes from Lisbon. However, parking is limited and can be a challenge. Even easier, you can also take a train from Rossio Station in the center of Lisbon to Sintra. It takes just under 45 minutes and the station in Sintra is only around a ten-minute walk to the center of Sintra. The round-trip ticket cost is only a few Euros, making this an easy and economical way to go.
Be sure to leave early in the day to make sure you have a full day in Sintra, and the trains do tend to get a bit crowded after 10 a.m., especially on the weekends. If you do take the train there’s an added bonus: Rossio station is beautiful and worth seeing.
Sintra is nestled in the mountains with a cooler climate than Lisbon, especially appealing during the hot and humid summers in Lisbon. The city center is very quaint and if you look up you can see the magnificent Pena Palace and the ruins of the Moorish Castle (Castelo del Mouros) watching down over you. When I arrived in Sintra, the mountains were cast in fog giving the palaces overlooking the city an almost mystical quality.
There are some great shops to wander through if you have the time and the center is a great place to grab a bite to eat. Puro Sabor is a great little sandwich shop where you can get a tasty bite for only a few Euros. You’ll want to be sure to grab a bite as you have a long day of sightseeing ahead of you!
Then step around the corner to Casa Piriquita, an institution in the area. Here you can try some pastries Sintra is known for including Queijada de Sintra, a lightly-sweet cheese pie that is dusted with cinnamon, and Travesseiro de Sintra, or Sintra’s pillows. It is a dough-based pastry filled with almond cream and secret ingredients that they refuse to reveal to anyone, though you are welcomed to try.
You really can’t go wrong with anything that they have and I recommend trying a couple of pastries while you’re visiting. Portugal does love its pastries and there are many great ones to try in this area. The pastries in Sintra are similar to those in Lisbon with slightly different twists so they are worth a taste (or two). They even have a Sintra version of the pastel de nata (egg custard) that they swear is even better than the Pastéis de Belém (an egg custard not to be confused with the pastel de nata, of course).
Must-See Sites for One Day in Sintra, Portugal
There are a lot of places in Sintra where you may want to visit and if you have two or three days, you can likely see most of them. If you have one day in Sintra Portugal, here is my list of must-see places. So, make sure you grab your pastries as it’s going to be a whirlwind day of adventure.
National Palace of Sintra (Palacio National)
The National Palace is in the center of Sintra and is a quick walk from the train. It is a large white structure featuring two prominent conical chimneys. The building weaves together an interesting mix of Moorish, Manueline, and Gothic styles.
The palace was built in the 10th Century by the Moors. In the 16th Century, a large portion was added to the original structure. It was the only palace in Portugal that was not damaged significantly by earthquakes, especially the major earthquake of 1755 which damaged almost all of the city of Lisbon. Because of this, it is known as the best-preserved medieval royal palace in all of Portugal.
Portugal’s ruling nobility lived in this palace from the 15th to the 19th Centuries so it’s worth visiting. There are some incredibly beautiful rooms inside. They do offer a daily guided tour at 2:30 and during certain peak travel times of the year, a second is offered. The tour cost is in addition to the entrance fee, but if you purchase tickets for multiple sites in the city, you receive admission discounts. The National Palace is open daily from 9:30 to 7 and you can purchase tickets online on in person.
Quinta da Regaleira
Next, you must go to Quinta da Regaleira, which is around a 15-minute walk from Sintra center. This is the one place that I highly recommend you find a guide to take you through as it is fascinating and filled with symbolism from the Masons, Knights Templar, and Rosicrucians that you won’t want to miss.
There is a sizeable and extravagant neo-gothic mansion built by Carvalho Monteiro. He was fascinated by mysticism and filled his 4-acre grounds with symbolic religious icons. The most famous of these is the Initiation Well. You enter at the top and make your way down almost 60 feet of spiral staircases. You pass nine platforms, tightly linked to Dante’s nine gates of hell in the book, Divine Comedy.
There is a large system of tunnels at the bottom. If you continue taking the left branch at each fork you will come to an area where you can walk on water (with the aid of some carefully placed stones) helping you to achieve enlightenment. Who knew it was so easy? I suppose this should be added to the list as another reason to go to Sintra, right?
Plan to spend at least a couple of hours at the Regaleira, and more if you have it. It is open from 9:30 to 7 daily and you can buy tickets online. You may be able to find a guide when you arrive, or you can email the official guides before your visit to confirm availability and schedule at email@example.com.
Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)
The last thing you will not want to miss on your day in Sintra is Pena Palace. This is located near the top of the mountain overlooking Sintra. You can take the 434 bus there, or I recommend hopping on a little tuk-tuk to zip right up the hill on the 45-minute journey. It costs a bit more, but the drivers are quite impressive and the ride is something you won’t want to miss. Just hold on tight! I don’t recommend walking as the journey is very steep and has some tight turns that cars (and tuk-tuks!) go zipping up. You can hike it if you wish and there are some nice trails available.
Pena Palace is all about 19th Century Romanticism. It’s a bit of a climb to the palace from the ticket booth (where you should buy a joint ticket for Pena Park and the palace) and there is a bus available that will take you up close to the palace. Pena Palace started as a convent built in the middle ages but it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. It was rebuilt in the mid-1800s to be a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.
The palace tour walks you through some impressive rooms though it can get quite crowded. Take the time to explore the various patios outside to enjoy amazing views of this stunning building from all angles. The gardens are also worth walking around and they are beautiful. The palace is open from 9:30 to 7 daily and the park until 8.
If you have the time, the Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros) is only a 15-minute walk from Pena Palace. It’s a medieval castle that is partially in ruins now but it’s worth seeing.
Transportation in Sintra
Bus 434 takes you from the train to the center of town and then it goes up the hill to Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros. It’s the most economical option for transportation. Single bus tickets are a few Euros and a hop-on-hop-off ticket is only a few more for the day.
If you’re limited on time, you are best off taking a tuk-tuk. Sure, you can hike up the hills which are impressive, but if you’re short on time, the bus or a tuk-tuk will be a better option for you. Either way, you will still have some steep climbs so I assure you that you will sleep well the night you go.
Sintra is truly a magical place worth seeing and you really shouldn’t go to Lisbon, or to Portugal, for that matter, without visiting. It’s tough to carve out a full day away from Lisbon as there is so much to do there, but you definitely won’t regret it. You may even find you want to add another day to explore further!
Sam Glauser (Samantha)
Sam is a travel-obsessed animal lover with big plans to travel the world with her dog. When she’s not blogging about her travel adventures at My Flying Leap, you can find her volunteering with her pet-therapy cat and dog, on the top of a mountain, or enjoying a glass of bold red wine planning for her next trip.
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