10 Things to do in Sintra Portugal
The best things to do in Sintra involve colorful palaces, secret gardens, and hidden gems in plain sight. Are you thinking about visiting Sintra and you want to make sure you have an incredible experience on your Portuguese vacation? It’s difficult to plan the perfect day anywhere, but Sintra is the exception to the rule. I realized Sintra was a destination full of secrets when I got a text from a friend. “YOU’RE IN SINTRA?!” “You have to go HERE!”.
Needless to say, when a celebrity chef with a home on Food Network and multiple New York Times selling book tells you to check out a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a random city, you save room in your stomach and get ready to unbutton your pants. I’ll share what secret restaurant that was below so you won’t walk by it 3 times as I did.
What to do in Sintra?
If you’re having doubts about leaving Lisbon for a day or two, Sintra is the answer to all of your Portuguese wishes. Wondering what is Sintra famous for and why is everyone talking about it when they mention Lisbon? Simply put, Sintra is a small town draped in monuments, picturesque views over the glimmering hills, and is adorned with traditional azulejos (tile). What no one mentions about Sintra is that it’s too gorgeous for just a day trip from Lisbon.
It’s true, Lisbon pales in beauty compared to Sintra. Upon arriving in Sintra, I couldn’t believe the magic I came to Portugal for was just sitting here in all of its beauty. As we drove up to the hills, we spotted roadside waterfalls, castles in the distance, lush greenery, and humble religious monuments glorified with tile, flowers, and fountains. It was the first time my eyes lit up during our entire trip to Portugal. The anticipation built as our driver approached closer to Sintra, I couldn’t jump out of the car fast enough.
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How to get to Sintra from Lisbon?
There are two ways to get to Sintra from Lisbon: train or private transportation. Taking an Uber from Lisbon cost about €25 or $28. A great drop-off point is the Sintra Tourism Office as cars cannot drive in the historical part of town.
There are two rail routes between Lisbon and Sintra easily accessible to visitors: Rossio Station and Oriente Station.
A single from Lisbon to Sintra passes through four fare zones and costs €2.25/€1.15 (adult/child) each way. The train fare is charged to the reusable “Viva Viagem” public transport ticket, which is used for Lisbon’s buses, metro, and trams. The initial purchase price for this card is €0.50. The train fare must be charged to an empty “Viva Viagem” card, if there are any unused metro or tram fares still remaining on the card, a new card must be purchased. The Viva Viagem ticket holds the fare for one person, meaning each traveler in a group will need their own card.
How to get from Sintra to Pena Palace?
Most attractions in Sintra including the Pena Palace are accessible by bus or tuk-tuk. The Sintra Tourist Bus #434 picks up in central Sintra nearby the tourism office. You can take Sintra Tourist Bus 434 to visit Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Pena Palace, and Castelo dos Mouros.
The 434 bus service is operated by Scotturb, and the route is primarily designed for tourists. A single bus ticket in 2019 costs €3.90, while the entire loop as a Hop-on Hop-off ticket costs €6.90. The Hop-on Hop-off ticket only allows you to go around the loop once, but it is cheaper than two single tickets. Tickets are purchased from the bus driver.
Sintra’s public transportation is easy to navigate and comfortable. The cliffs and other attractions are accessible by additional local buses running frequently on a loop. The best course of action is to pre-plan your day(s) and head to the tourism office to allow them to give you the best route. It is possible to see Sintra in one day, but it is impossible to see all of its beauty and attractions in one day.
10 Things to Do In Sintra
What to do in Sintra Portugal? Visit Quinta da Regaleira
Known globally as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Quinta da Regaleira is also “Pinterest Famous” for its mossy spiral staircase. While the infamous stairs are a sight to be seen, it’s the romantic grottos, wells, exquisite palace grounds, and elaborate facade that stun visitors.
Don’t miss out the hidden in plain sight Masons, Dark Alchemy, and Knights Templar references. Uncover the historic underground passageways, pass-thru waterfalls, and climb the Regaleira Tower for the striking view you would never expect.
Entrance fee is €6.00/€4.00/€4.00/€18.00 (adult/child/senior/family) and this includes entrance to the house and the grounds.
Hours of Operation: Open between 9:30 – 20:00h (summer season) and 9:30 – 18:00h (winter season), with the last admission 1 hour before closing time.
Best Things to do in Sintra: Tour the Pena Palace.
When I saw a photo of Pena Palace floating around, I honestly thought it was photoshopped. Never in my wildest dream did I think there was a golden and firey coral castle rising up out of the hilltops of Sintra with 360-degree views, but there is. Better yet, the pictures are unflattering in comparison.
Riding up to the Pena Palace is not for the faint of heart. I nervously found myself peeking over out the large window of Bus 434 only to give myself a sinking stomach sensation. Heights never bothered me, but apparently large double buses on medieval winding roads trekking up cliffs definitely do. While it was frightening and visions of the bus tumbling over the flimsy barricades did get imprinted into my mind, there really is no other way up to Pena Palace. In exchange for better than photoshop beauty, you have to cash in your badge of courage.
Looking up in awe as you stroll, the colors peek from behind the dense vegetation. All the sudden, the palace is inviting you with its warmth and architecture glow. It was difficult to decide where to start and seeing others explore the palace from your viewpoints fuels your eagerness to keep exploring. We spent 4 hours invading each room of wonders, exploring each corner, and finding every tucked away outlook point.
What is there to do at Pena Palace?
Pena Palace is placed at the top of the Sintra Mountains and guards the cultural town of Sintra. Depending on where you’re soaking up the moment, you can see the Castle of the Moors or vast greenery. On an incredibly clear day, it is said you can see Lisbon.
Areas not to be missed in Pena Palace are the Queen’s Terrace that boasts a Sundial cannon clock, the Arches Yard, and the chapel. While the interiors are exactly what any Queen would wish for, the true beauty lies just outside the palace walls. Pena Palace has a narrow path along its border allowing you to walk around the palace and see it from different angles as well as the sweeping views. In the middle of December, the air was crisp and the mountain was quiet. It was simultaneously beautiful and peaceful.
Pena Palace could wear a crown for its beauty and popularity, but it is loved by children, historians, and visitors alike. You don’t have to be a history buff to have an incredible visit.
The entrance fee to the Parque da Pena is €7.50/€6.50/€6.50/€26.00 (adult/child/senior/family) and this includes the terraces of the Pena Palace. The full ticket to the palace and the gardens costs €14.00. Additionally, there is a shuttle that drives visitors from the entry of Parque Da Pena to Pena Palace for an additional €3.
Hours of Operation: Open 7 days a week. The grounds are open from 9:30-20:00 (Summer season) and 10:00-18:00 (winter season) with the last entrance an hour before closing time.
Off the Beaten Path in Sintra: Convento dos Capuchos
Translated into “Cork Convent”, Convento dos Capuchos is overlooked by day-trippers and tourists. If you’re looking to avoid throngs of selfie sticks, you can escape at Convento dos Capuchos. Unlike most grandeur and larger than life presence of the monuments of Sintra, the Convent is humble and quaintly hidden in the dense forest.
Built-in 1580 for the monks, it is perfectly unified with the forest while maintaining some of its original integrity. The Convent was not adorned with jewels or art, instead, it is subtlely decorated with cork. What makes the Convent particularly interesting is the stark comparison to its sister attractions. Roaming through the grounds gives visitors an “Alice in Wonderland” experience with narrow doorways and hidden omnidirectional trails.
Price: adult/child €7/5.50
Hours of Operation: 9.30am-8pm
Castelo dos Mouros (The Castle of The Moors)
Those who hike up to Castelo dos Mouros are awarded unparalleled views of Sintra and Pena Palace. The Castle of the Moors is the original protector and watchtower of Lisbon. The Castle of the Moors was created with Islamic and African influence in the 9th century. To put it in perspective, that is nearly 700 years before the neighboring palaces were established.
Now considered a ruin despite a 19th century remodel specifically to remain aesthetically pleasing to look at from Pena Palace. The ruined stone walls, the steep stairs climbing to new heights, and battelements are worth spending time in this slice of history. The Castle of the Moors is not extravagant or “Instagrammable” as Pena Palace, but that does not mean that it is not a jewel deserving of your presence.
Price: Adult tickets cost 8 euros, with seniors and “youths” aged 6-17 paying 6.50 euros. Children under that age are free.
Hours Operation: The castle is open seven days a week, between 9:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. in summer, with last entry an hour before closing.
The Castle of the Moors is accessible by riding the 434 bus making Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros possible to enjoy in one day without transfers.
Palácio de Monserrate
Most travelers make the journey to Sintra only to see Pena Palace which means they miss out on the best of Sintra. One thing you won’t find here is long queues and crowds. Take the unbeaten path and spend half of a day enjoying the pristine gardens and ceramic details. Step back into the royal era and use the palace as your playground for your vacation. The vastness of the palace gives the impression that you’re the only person around which enhances the experience. The Eastern and Arabic architecture and style is something you won’t easily find in other parts of Portugal.
Price: The price to visit the Park and Palace of Monserrate is €8.00/€6.50/€6.50 (adult/child/senior)
Hours of Operation: The opening hours are between 9.30-10.00 and 17.00-19.00 (for the palace) and 18.00-20.00 (for the park), depending on the season. Monserrate Palace is open 7 days a week (except for a few key holidays), unlike many of Lisbon’s monuments which are closed on Mondays.
The Extreme Offbeaten Path in Sintra: Santuario da Peninha
If you choose to take the path least taken by tourists, you would end up hiking up to Santuario da Peninha. It is estimated that only a few thousand people a year visit Santuario da Peninha! Serenity is just a few miles outside of Sintra. While the doors to the chapel are closed to the public, it is well worth the trek through the lush greenery to see Sintra from an entirely different perspective. Santuario da Peninha is a perfect destination for a picnic lunch and adventure.
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Palacio Nacional de Sintra
Sintra is the kingdom of palaces. While Pena Palace gets all of the glory, Palacio Nacional de Sintra is a must-see on your ride on Bus 434 up to the Pena Palace. Daytrippers tend to skip this stop making this palace another great place to escape the heaping crowds. The Palacio is in the heart of town making it a great start or end to a day in Sintra. Palacio Nacional de Sintra boasts decorative rooms such as the Swan Room, Magpie Room, and Coat of Arms Room.
Price: The entrance fee is €10.00/€8.50/€8.50/€33.00 (adult/child/senior/family).
Hours of Operations: The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is open every day from 9:30 until 19:00 and the last entrance at 18:30.
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Cabo da Roca
A visit to Cabo da Roca means checking off being at the most Western part of Europe on your bucket list. This cape hugs the ocean and gives dramatic viewpoints unlike anywhere else in Portugal. Imagine spending part of your trip to Portugal walking up the coast over the Serra de Sintra. Cabo da Roca is the perfect getaway from the palaces and busyness of Lisbon. Pack a picnic, enjoy the lighthouse, get swept up in the panoramic views, and leave with a certificate that you’ve visited the Westernmost part of Europe.
After a visit to Pena Palace, take the steep hike down and you’ll eventually encounter Vila Sassetti. Many visitors do not know the Vila exists. Most stumble upon the vila by complete accident only to discover the grand tower, granite facades, and naturalist garden. Visit the vila after visiting Pena Palace as the hike up to Pena is extremely difficult.
Hours of Operations: 9 am – 5 pm every day
Praia da Adraga
No trip to Sintra is complete without spending time at Praia da Adraga. Praia da Adraga is perfect for admiring cliffs, working on your tan, cooling down in the pristinely refreshing waters, and enjoying the sunset. What makes this beach special and worth the time is that the tide tends to be low which make the natural rock formations easy to explore. This quiet beach cove is exactly what dreams of European beaches comprise of. If you’re looking to escape to paradise on your day trip to Sintra, Praia da Adraga is it.
Lastly, for the best meal in Sintra, head to Tulhas Bar and Restaurante.
Recommended by a celebrity chef who saw I was in Sintra, Tulhas offered the best food in Portugal. If you don’t believe me, believe the New York Times best-selling cookbook author. Tulhas is owned by a passionate wine lover who is a Sintra native. While walking around trying to find Tulhas, some locals walking their dog stopped to help us find our way. The locals knew the owner by name and sent us with their warm wishes for him. The family-operated restaurant offers farm-fresh fare and authentic local cuisine. The star of the menu is the grilled octopus. Unlike most octopus dishes, Tulhas’s version is tender, smoky, and bright. The dining room feels like a cozy home making the experience intimate.
What to do in Sintra Portugal: Take it slow.
Fairytales are real and Sintra is standing proof of that. While in Portugal, Sintra is a must-see treasure in the mountains just outside of Lisbon. The colorful walls of this town embrace its visitors with warmth, charm, and surprises behind every corner. Expect grand towers, striking views, secret gardens, and decorative features while in Sintra. Give this charming town the amount of town it deserves with adequate enough time to enjoy all of its offerings. The best thing to do in Sintra is to explore at your own pace.
Now the question is, have you ever been to Sintra? What the best thing you did in Sintra? Tell me in the comments below!
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