Destinations / Portugal • Sintra

How To Maximize A Day Trip To The Castles of Sintra in Portugal


July 3, 2019

A day trip to Sintra is mandatory. It’s the thing to do when you’re in Lisbon and was personally one of my favourite experiences (and the most exhausting) of the entire trip to Portugal. A mere 40-minute train ride from Lisbon’s Rossio station and you’re deeply ensconced in the lush forested terrain of Sintra with historic estates, palatial villas, elaborate gardens and nature parks and pastel-hued castles tucked within the mountains.

Getting To Sintra

Getting from Lisbon to Sintra is super simple and straightforward, even if you are directionally impaired like me. Most of the castles and estates open around 9:30am. To beat the crowds, I’d recommend leaving Rossio Station by at least 7:30/8am (trains start as early as 6am).

🚆 Trains run frequently from Rossio Station in Lisbon to Sintra
⏱️ Travel duration is about 40 minutes
💶 Tickets to Sintra are €2.50 each way
👨‍✈️ Purchase tickets from booths or machines at the station
🎫 You can use also use a Viva Viagem or Green card for admission

Sintra Portugal

My first glimpse on the ornate Monserrate Palace

RELATED READING:

A Curated 10-Day Itinerary of Portugal
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8 Gluttonous Reasons To Squeeze Porto Into Your Travel Itinerary


Getting Around Sintra

The sights are spread across the rolling, expansive landscape of Sintra so what mode of transportation you choose depends on what kind of experience you want. Personally, I wanted to see as many castles as possible, I had a local data plan and a travel buddy so Uber was the best option. If you’re not in a rush and budget-conscious, the bus is your best bet but they’re rammed with tourists.

🚌 Bus 434 Sintra: €6.90 – entire loop, €3.90 – one stop
🚗 Uber: €5-8 euro to Pena (the furthest castle I went to)
🚕 Taxi: Harder to find but an option if you don’t have data
🛵 Tuk Tuk: €20, scenic but hella expensive

Sintra Portugal

Started at Pena Palace and it was still packed! Found a spot no one thought was a good photo-op

PLAN AHEAD

🏰 Logistics: If you’re like me and you want to see as many estates in Sintra as humanly possible, I’ve discovered it’s possible to see 4 and still arrive back to Lisbon in time for dinner. You’ll be tired AF and your time at each place may be abbreviated but it’s manageable. If planning isn’t your jam, booking a private driver and guide to see the Highlights of Sintra is a relaxing option that won’t have you ripping your hair out in frustration.

🏨Overnight: For more time to explore the magical Sintra, stay the night at Chalet Saudade, a quaint and romantic property a mere 10-minute walk from the town centre. Your feet will thank you after a long day of roaming castles.

🗺️ Route: Choose which spots you want to see and plan your route accordingly. I started with Pena Palace – it’s the most popular and was swarming with people by 9am – then mosied up the street to Castle of the Moors, took a break for lunch then continued on to Quinta da Regaleira and capped off our tour with Monserrate Palace. I used Mapster to help me plan (My u/n on there is “teriaki” duh). 

🎟️ Admission: For a discount and to avoid line-ups, purchase your tickets in advance. For flexibility I bought my tickets between stops on my phone. If you know you’re going to hit up 2 or more spots, you can get a discount. The Lisboa Card and Green Card also offers discounts or admission to some of the sights.

👟 Footwear: There’s a lot of walking so make sure whatever you wear is comfortable. Grip is also important as the landscape can be treacherous and you don’t want to risk falling over a wall à la Humpty Dumpty.

🏖️ Nearby: If you’re itching for some beach time, the coastal resort town of Cascais is nearby in this part of Portugal. Get some history in before catching some vitamin D with a tour of both.

Sintra Portugal

Pena Palace

📍 Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra
⏱️ 9:30am – 8pm
💶 €14.00
🖥️ Website

It’s not hard to understand why crowds swarm Pena Palace. The UNESCO World Heritage site – with the distinctly saturated walls, ornate moulding and decorative tile work – is the stuff of Instagram photo-ops fairytales. There’s nothing like your first glimpse of the bright yellow towers, stretching towards the heavens.

Sintra Portugal

If you detests crowds, it’s best to make Pena Palace your first stop as it’s the most recognizable and popular of all the castles and estates in Sintra. Arrive early (think 8:30/9am before it even opens) because it’s a bit of a hike from the entrance.

If you plan on roaming the interior of the palace, get in line right away because it’ll extend past the entrance by 10am. Do your IG thing later.

Sintra Portugal

CASTLE OF THE MOORS

📍 2710-405 Sintra
⏱️ 9:30am – 8pm
💶 €8.00
🖥️ Website

A mere 10-minute stroll from Pena Palace, it’s definitely worth it to squeeze in a quick tour of the impressive Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros).

Tucked amid the lush Serra De Sintra forest and perched atop a hill, the crumbling walls of this medieval fortress offer a panoramic view of Sintra stretching out below. Built in the 8th and 9th century by the Moors, it served as a strategically elevated vantage point during times of conflict.

Sintra Portugal

LUNCHBREAK: A RAPOSA

📍 Rua Conde Ferreira, 29 Sintra
💶 €€€€
🖥️ Website

Probably the best find of the day, A Raposa (“the fox”) was a much needed respite from the swarms of tourists. A tearoom by day and restaurant by night, I was as charmed by ringing a doorbell for admission into the the intimate yet relaxed oasis as I was by the gourmet cuisine.

Sintra Portugal

With idyllic frescoes bedecking the ceiling of the spacious room of this hidden gem, we ravenously tucked into a tender dish of Iberian Pork Jowl with a velvety chestnut purée and a buttery cod with caramelized onions and potatoes.

We capped off the meal with a White Reserve Port from the Rozès vineyard, serving as a restorative to prepare us to face the rest of the day exploring castles.

Sintra Portugal

Quinta da Regaleira

📍 R. Barbosa du Bocage 5, 2710-567 Sintra
⏱️ 9:30am – 7:30pm
💶 €6.00
🖥️ Website

Another World Heritage Site, Quinta da Regaleira is a 4-hectare estate comprised of an ornate, 5-storey gothic mansion and a grand park featuring lakes, grottoes, wells and fountains. Symbolism related to secret orders such as the Knights of Templar and the Masonry were incorporated into many of the enigmatic buildings and hidden pathways on the property.

A fan favourite is the Initiation Wells that resemble underground towers with stairs spiralling down alongside the border. The spacing of the small landings between stairs as well as the number of stairs in the larger of the wells is linked to Tarot mysticism.

Sintra Portugal

Sintra Portugal

Do I look like I own the place?

MONSERRATE PALACE

📍2710-405 Sintra
⏱️ 9:30am – 8pm
💶 €8.00
🖥️ Website

Conceived as a family summer residence by an English textile millionaire, the romantic Monserrate Palace (Palacio de Monserrate) was my favourite estate that we visited in Sintra.

Sintra Portugal

Comprised of 33 hectares of lush landscape and botanical beauty, the palatial villa itself is a dreamy blend of Neo-Gothic and Romanticism influences as well as Arabic, and Indian architecture.

Appreciate the details in the artisan craftsmanship at your leisure before strolling through the manicured gardens and grottoes. A major plus is that Monserrate had a more open layout so it wasn’t as overrun with tourists as the other places.

Sintra Portugal


After experiencing it for myself, Sintra is definitely worth at least a day trip, ideally an overnight stay if you can wing it. You’ll never forget the majestic estates or the enchantment of the castles!

If you’re trying to figure out how to fit a day at Sintra into your trip, check out my curated itinerary of Portugal.

Keep your stalking game strong and follow me @teriaki if you aren’t already!