Ceilings of bird paintings, feeling like Alice and falling in love with palaces covered in sugar icing. This totally sounds like Sintra. If you also love palaces, castles, and mysterious gardens, Sintra is just perfect for you. Read about my personal highlights and get some tips for your own trip.
Sintra is around 25 km (15.5 miles) away from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital and therefore a perfect choice for a day or even a weekend trip. The beautiful town is full of palaces, gardens, parks and castles. I only had a day in Sintra and chose to visit the Portuguese renaissance Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Sintra National Palace), the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira and the romanticist Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace).
💡 Information about Sintra
|Sintra is a small town with a bit less than 30,000 inhabitants (status 2011) and full of colourful palaces, intricate gardens, and ostentatious mansions. It is part of the Greater Lisbon region and is located on the Portuguese Riviera. The town also belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since it is located in the hills and mountains of Serra de Sintra, the weather is more pleasant in summer. This fact determined the nobility of different centuries to build their summer residences in Sintra. But the town was also a popular travel destination for wealthy artists in the 19th century who built expensive villas in the town.
❗️ Tip: How to buy tickets
|Of course, every sight has also its own ticket office. If you visit Sintra in the high season, it can be also worth it to buy your tickets beforehand online or at the ticket machine in front of the tourist information, next to the train station. There are different entrance fees for adults and children plus most attractions also offer an extra family ticket.
Palácio Nacional de Sintra – The royal summer residence
The Sintra National Palace is not only directly located in the historic city centre but also counts as the town’s landmark. Especially prominent are its two white towers. It is the best-preserved medieval residence and was used as a royal summer residence from the early 15th till the late 19th century.
I especially loved the colourful walls with the typical Portuguese tiles (called Azulejos) and wild patterns of animals, as well as the ceilings covered in golden ornaments, decorated with birds such as swans and magpies. The rooms are beautifully arranged and give a nice feeling of the life of the royal families of Portugal. The palace shows a lot of different artistic influences such as Gothic, Renaissance, plus Portuguese tiles as their own artistic styles which were affected by the Mudéjar art, an Islamic artistic influence. The entrance cost me 10 € (10.60 US$).
Quinta da Regaleira – The mysterious garden
Quinta da Regaleira is a big property with a palace, a chapel, and a huge garden around with different wells, fountains, grottoes, small lakes, and towers. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland, exploring the park with its labyrinthine ways which are in between even under the earth. Of course, gardeners take care of the park but it still felt a bit feral (in a positive way) with all of the strong colours of the plants and trees. I absolutely loved it. To me, this place was truly magical. Already the palace or I would maybe call it a villa is a bit extraordinary. It was built in Gothic style and decorated with many ornaments, pinnacles, and gargoyles. Also, the rooms inside are extensively decorated, I especially liked the wooden ceilings.
Another highlight was to see the Initiation well, which is located in the middle of the park. If you go down the stairs you will find a tunnel you can follow to also find the Unfinished well. Both of them never served water sources but were actually used for rites. I paid 10 € (10.60 US$) to visit the whole garden including the palace.
Palácio Nacional da Pena – The colourful palace
Pena National Palace is probably Sintra’s most visited site and part of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, voted by its inhabitants a few years ago. To me, it looked made out of sugar icing with its gaudy and popping colours. The palace itself is influenced by many different styles mainly Romanticism, but also Gothic, Manueline, Islamic, and Renaissance. The palace is surrounded by a huge park which takes some time to explore. Pena Nacional Palace is located in the Serra de Sintra and offers, therefore, a beautiful view over the town and to the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle). I was lucky enough to see a stunning sundown at the castle which brought even a bigger facet of lights.
You can also visit the rooms of the palace which offer as well colourful patterns, and tiles combined with wooden furniture. I paid a 14 € (15 US$) entrance fee including visiting the inside of the palace. If you only buy a ticket for outside it will be almost 50% cheaper, the ticket costs 7.5 € (8 US$).
🚌 How to reach Sintra
|Question number one I asked myself is how to get to Sintra. The easiest way is to take a train from Lisbon. You can eighter way take the train from the station Rossio or Oriente. You can buy the tickets directly on the ticket machine at the station. In 2021, I paid 2.30€ (2.50 US$) one way. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes and the trains usually are going at least twice per hour.
There is also a bus going to Sintra but it takes more time. Going by car is not recommended because the streets of the town are very narrow and there are just a few parking spots in the town itself.
🚌 How to get around Sintra
|Sintra is not too big, you can easily walk from the train station to the centre and even continue from there to the further palaces. There is also a bus, especially for tourists, which is therefore also a bit pricy (in 2021 it cost almost 7€ which equals 7.40 US$). Usually, it is more a question of time and your personal fitness level whether you want to take the bus or do a longer trip on foot. From the train station to the Palácio Nacional da Pena which is one of the furthest of the famous palaces, you will walk around 1-1.5 hours but almost the whole way is uphill since the palace as well as the Castelo dos Mauros (Castle of the Moors) is in the mountains of Serra de Sintra. But at least the Palácio Nacional de Sintra and the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are easily accessible by walking without going up.
My short conclusion: Is it worth it to visit Sintra?
This question is easy to answer: Yes! I loved my day trip to Sintra and was even a bit sad I had not enough time to stay another day. In my opinion, all the sights I visited were worth their money.
Depending on the count of the hours you will spend in Sintra, you should already think beforehand about which sights you want to visit and plan enough time for each. Keep the distances in mind, whether you take the bus or want to walk, some time for lunch, and of course the opening hours. With three sights my day was already completely filled. But you should also ask yourself if you are the kind of traveller who wants to visit palaces for more than one day in a row.
In general, the most common sights to visit are Palácio Nacional da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros, Palácio Nacional de Sintra and of course Quinta da Regaleira. But Sintra and the area around have way more to offer. This can be also nice if you do not like to have too many other tourists around you. You can visit more palaces as the Palácio de Monserrate, Palácio de Seteais or Vila Sassetti. Or if you have a car you can drive to the 7 km (4.35 miles) distant Franciscan monastery Das Convento dos Capuchos. If you plan more time around Palácio Nacional da Pena you can follow the different hiking trails or visit the highest point of Sintra’s mountains Cruz Alta.
You have read the blog post My personal highlights and tips for Sintra on My Travel Journal-Blog.