Sintra, Portugal is a magical place. It’s rich history, castles, cafes and museums are what fairytales are made of. If you find yourself in Portugal, chances are you’ll spend most of your time in the capital city of Lisbon, which should really be on your bucket list if it isnt’ already! One of the many great things about Lisbon is its proximity to other must-see cities like Sintra and the seaside town of Cascais. Both are 45 minutes from Lisbon by train, making them perfect day trip destinations. Below are some tips for planning your day trip to Sintra.
Getting to Sintra from is a breeze. You can catch the Sintra train (that’s the actual name of the route) from Lisbon’s Rossio Station, located near Rossio Square (map it!).
There are kiosks where you can purchase tickets, but I find speaking to a human is always helpful. That way you can ensure you’ve purchased the right ticket and they can guide you to the appropriate platform. A one way ticket for one person is €2,70. Once you have your ticket, just take the Linha de Sintra (Sintra line) to the last stop.
Enjoy the views of Portugal along the 45 minute ride and and in no time you’ll be pulling into the charming city of Sintra! You’ll know you’re there when you spot the castles peeking through the trees along the mountainside
Travel tip: Although it is technically possible to drive to Sintra, I would advise against it. The roads are incredibly narrow and winding and there is limited parking once you arrive. Avoid that headache and just take the train and enjoy the views!
WHAT TO WEAR
Portugal enjoys mild, Mediterranean temperatures that are quite warm well into the fall. Even as late as October, temperatures can reach into the upper 80’s. Sintra tends to be a bit cooler given it’s higher elevation and in the evenings it can get quite chilly. I was fine in shorts and a take top, but on the way back to Lisbon I wished I had a light jacket or sweater with me.
Seeing Sintra also requires a lot of walking. You’ll encounter cobble stone streets, hills and uneven steps while exploring Sintra’s many castles. I wore completely inappropriate sandals and managed just fine, but sneakers or flats would have been a wiser choice!
Sintra is incredibly easy to explore. There is a designated hop-on, hop-off tourist bus that is the best way to see all the city’s main attractions in a day. Head to the right after exiting the train station and you’ll see signs for the bus stop across from the information office. The 434 bus runs every 15 minutes and is €5,50 per person.
The bus makes 3 stops along its one-way route: The National History Museum and National Palace, the Moorish Castle and, for the grand finale, the Pena Palace. You can take as much time as you like at each location. When you’re ready to move on, just hop back on the bus. The last bus pickup is 7:50pm
If you prefer a private tour, there are open air tuk tuk style taxis available for hire as well as individual drivers who offer personalized tours. I didn’t get a quote for these options, but given that the driver waits for you at each stop, you can guess it will be substantially more than the bus option. It all depends on what you prefer.
WHAT TO SEE
The 434 bus makes 3 stops allowing you to explore Sintra’s 4 main sites:
STOP 1: NATIONAL HISTORY MUSEUM & NATIONAL PALACE
The National History Museum, built in 1893, is located in Sintra’s city center. There you’ll find various fossils and artifacts from the region. I didn’t venture inside, but history buffs will want to include this on their itinerary.
The Sintra National Palace, also known as the Town Palace and Royal Palace, is a beautiful white structure in the center of town. Its courtyard offers stunning views of the hillside. Inside, visitors will find relics of the Portuguese royal family that once resided there.
STOP 2: MOORISH CASTLE
Castelo dos Mouros, or Moorish Castle, was constructed during the period of Muslim rule in Sintra and remained under the guard of North African moors until the Christian conquest of Portugal in the 9th century. Although it fell into disrepair over the years, it has been restored and is now preserved as a UNESCO World heritage site.
Admission is €8 for adults and is open 7 days a week to visitors. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore. Fully touring the grounds can take well over an hour. Prepare for a lot of steps and breathtaking views!
STOP 3: PENA PALACE
Sintra’s main attraction is arguably the Pena Palace. Built in 1839 on the ruins of a former monestary, this colorful castle sits atop the hillside, over 1600 feet above sea level. It is surrounded by expansive gardens and offers stunning panoramic views. It is truly what fairy tales are made of. I enjoyed finding a spot to sit and take in all the the intricate architectural details.
Travel tip: There are 2 ticket options to choose from when entering the Pena place – entrance to the gardens €7,50 and entrance to the castle €14,50. The garden ticket gives you access to the palace grounds and the entire exterior of the palace. We went with the garden ticket due to time constraints and were pleasantly surprised that we got to see so much of the castle. The exterior offers the best views and those Insta-worthy backdrops anyways!
OTHER BUS ROUTES: There is another bus route available, the 435, that stops at 3 other locations – the Quinta da Regaleira estate as well as the Seteais and Monserrate palaces. However, the majority of visitors stick to the shorter 434 route. If you only have a day, the 434 route is probably all you’ll have time for to ensure you’re not rushed and still have time to grab a bite and do some shopping in the historical city center.
WHERE TO EAT
Sintra’s historic city center oozes with charm and is full of adorable eateries. Enjoy one of Sintra’s casual cafes like cafe Saudade or Tascantiga. For a more upscale option, try Cafe Paris. Or just grab a quick snack at a pastry shop like Piriquita. There are plenty of places to enjoy an apéritif and a meal after a long day exploring the town.
WHERE TO SHOP
The historic city center is also where you’ll find a majority of the souvenir shops. There are the standard boutiques selling postcards, magnets and trinkets. But there are also some specialty shops where you can find more unique gifts such as art, jewelry and textiles.
If you find yourself in Portugal, setting aside a day to explore Sintra is a must. If your itinerary allows, you may want to consider planning an overnight so you can divide the attractions into 2 days. It doesn’t much matter how long you’re there, so long as you go!
Have you ever visited Sintra? What was your favorite part? Never been, but would like to go? What do you think you would enjoy the most? Share your comments below!