Sintra is a picturesque town on the foothills of Serra de Sintra and is known for its medieval palaces and whimsical castles which were homes to Portugal’s monarchs and are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Sintra is a popular destination for day-trippers from Lisbon as its distance is only 25km west of Lisbon. Day-trippers can travel to Lisbon for thirty minutes by car or forty-five minutes by train. While it’s convenient to drive to Sintra, traffic can get heavy due to its narrow streets and limited parking spaces. Bus services to Sintra are available but the journey is longer than by train and the locations of the bus stations are not as convenient as the train stations (Details on how to get to Sintra by train at the end of this post).
There is a lot of hype about Sintra and thankfully, the hype is popular for the right reason. Cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops fill the narrow cobble-stoned streets in the historic part of town. Rising above the forests and gardens are medieval palaces and castles of Portuguese-Romanticism style of architecture with Moorish influences. You will come across conical chimneys, onion domes and Rapunzel-like turrets – a setting that seems almost surreal, straight out of a fairytale storybook.
In addition, the climate in Sintra is relatively less warm due to the surrounding hills and forests, providing respite for locals and foreign tourists to escape the heat in Lisbon particularly during summer.
With that, it is no wonder that people flock to Sintra. However, should you prefer to visit the town without the masses, choose a weekday instead.
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National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
Situated right in the heart of Sintra town is the National Palace of Sintra. Originally built by the Moors in the 11th century, the National Palace was taken over in 1147 by the Portuguese King Afonso Henriques who conquered Lisbon and became the first King of Portugal.
Extensions to the palace were made during the reign of Dom Dinis in the mid-13th century, followed by further enlargements of the palace site by João I in the 15th century which included construction of the kitchens (where the iconic twin conical chimneys are) for hunting banquets. By the 16th century, the palace continued to be refurbished with the Manueline style of architecture and interior design during the reign of King Manuel I.
Due to various royal occupants for over 750 years, eclectic elements of Moorish, Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance influences can be seen in many sections of the Palace – arabesque courtyards, ceramic tiles (azulejos), other glazed tiles with rich geometrical patterns and carved wooden ceilings with latticework.
High season 9:30am – 7.00pm
Low season 9:30am – 6:00pm
€9 (10% discount with Lisboa Card).
*Also Read: Discover Lisbon with Lisboa Card
Palace of Pena (Palácio Nacional da Pena)
Delightfully vivid in colour and to some extent, a little garish, the Palace of Pena is a 19th century palace that has become the icon of Sintra.
Created by Don Fernando II known as the Artist King, the palace was designed featuring harmonious blends of 19th century Portuguese-Romanticism style of architecture and medieval Moorish and Manueline decorative styles. Don Fernando II’s second wife, the Countess of Edla, played an instrumental role in the design of the palace interiors as well.
With artistic inclinations, Don Fernando II created a fairytale castle but what’s most interesting was that he envisaged the castle surrounded by a vast forested area (perhaps the enchanting forest?). Therefore, the Artist King designed the Park of Pena (Parque da Pena) to be a maze of romantic trails to fascinate his visitors. To make the forest grounds romantic and exotic, Don Fernando II brought in an abundance of non-native Portuguese flora species from various parts of the world including those from Australia, New Zealand and South America.
The Palace of Pena and Parque da Pena were designed as one site with the vision that visitors to the royal court would see a blanket of forests surrounding the fairytale castle. The palace and the 200-hectare park constitute the most important part of the cultural landscape of Sintra’s World Heritage site.
High Season: Park – 9.30am to 8.00pm
Palace interior – 9.45am to 7.00pm
Palace exterior – 9.45am to 7.30pm
Low Season: Park – 10.00am to 6.00pm
Palace – 10.00am to 6.00pm
€7.50 entry to the park and the palace exterior
€13.50 full-entry to the park and palace interior
(10% discount with Lisboa Card)
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon by train
There are two rail routes from Lisbon to Sintra:
- Rossio Station to Sintra
- Oriente Station to Sintra
Most tourists use the Rossio service as the Rossio train station is located in the historic centre of Lisbon, closer to the main tourist sights.
There is no need to book the train ticket in advance as the Lisbon to Sintra service is part of the Lisbon’s urban train network. However, it is advisable to purchase your ticket at Rossio Station early in the day due to long queues as Sintra is a popular destination. Moreover, chances are you will be making a day trip to Sintra, therefore it makes sense to start your trip to Sintra as early as possible.
Single ticket to Sintra costs €2.20, a return ticket is €4.40.
Upon arrival at the Sintra train station, you have two options:
Walk from the train station to the town centre.
Although the distance is about 1.5km, you can go for a slow walk taking in the beautiful scenery with views of the National Palace and the countryside. The good news is that there are no steep climbs.
Take the 434-tourist bus
For €5, the 434-tourist bus takes you on a loop from the train station to the town centre and then to Pena Palace and the Park. The Pena Palace and the Park are situated high up in the hills of Sintra, thus it is a challenging hike if you want to forgo the shuttle.
Have you been to Sintra? What did you like about the town and its palaces?