Sintra is a fairytale-like place — and one you definitely shouldn’t miss on your Portugal trip. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed area includes many resplendent palaces, whimsically landscaped gardens, a scenic historical town as well as lush natural forests.

I love to visit Sintra and, thanks to living in nearby Lisbon, I’ve done so often. I’ve seen the sights, hiked the forests, and explored the coast — leaving no stone unturned. I’ve visited Sintra on daytrips, but also twice stayed overnight. In this guide, I’ll share with you my best tips.

The old town below the Moorish castle

Planning a trip to Sintra? Then there are 3 important things to know:

  1. A day trip is barely enough to see the highlights. I think the Quinta da Regaleira is a must-see, as well as the Pena Palace and/or Moorish Castle, but you may not have time to do all three. If you have only one day, consider an early start.
  2. The best times to visit are spring or autumn. Some parts can get very crowded in summer (try to avoid summer weekends). Luckily, the crowds don’t need to stop you; more on this later.
  3. There are steep hills and the sites are quite spread out. Even if you use transportation, expect to walk a lot, so wear some comfy shoes.

Why visit Sintra?

Portugal’s royalty first set up in Sintra during Medieval times, constructing the Sintra National Palace. Ever since, it’s been a prominent place for the rich and famous.

(This is still true to this day. In 2017, Madonna bought a palace in Sintra for a cool 7.5 million euros.)

The town of Sintra is shielded by the Sintra Mountains, which trap clouds creating a microclimate. Because Sintra is a bit cooler than Lisbon, it served as a perfect summer sanctuary for generations.

In and around Sintra you’ll find several beautiful palaces, not to mention an impressive Moorish castle watching over the small town from atop the verdant Sintra Mountains. The Regaleira gardens are another key sight, known for its secret tunnels and other unique features.

Sintra inspired many writers over the years, including famed poet Lord Byron, Gothic-novel writer William Beckford, and Hans Christian Andersen. No doubt, you’ll be spellbound as well by this fantasy-like place.

Lisbon to Sintra by train

Sintra is just 40 minutes by train from Lisbon. Direct trains depart from Oriente Station (via Areeiro, Entrecampos, and Sete Rios) and Rossio Station.

If you’re a tourist staying in central Lisbon, you are most likely closest to Rossio Station [map location].

It’s easy to use the ticket machines at the station. You’ll see about 8 options on the screen, one of which is ‘Sintra return’ (Sintra ida e volta if you didn’t select English). The round trip costs €5.00 and you can use cash or card.

Missed the direct train? Then you can also take the train to Mira Sintra-Melecas but get off at the 3rd stop, Sta Cruz – Damaia. Switch here for the train to Sintra. It should be the next train on the adjacent platform, arriving within 5 minutes or so.

Staying longer in Sintra

Most people see Sintra on a day trip, but you can have a much more complete experience by staying in town.

If you’ve got the time, I recommend it!

Sintra empties of day-trippers at night, becoming a lot more intimate and relaxed. By starting your day in the town, you’ll also get a headstart over everyone who’s coming in from Lisbon.

Sintra can be a wonderful base for a longer stay, such as 2 or 3 days, as it gives you easy access to forest hikes, the coast, and the city of Lisbon.

There are two accommodations I highly recommend:

Nice Way Sintra

Budget-friendly

I highly recommend Nice Way Sintra Hostel. I loved its atmosphere, which feels like part backpacker hostel, part boutique hotel. The garden with fairy lights and BBQ helps you chill after a long day’s sightseeing. The hostel is located on a quiet road just a short walk from the town center.

I stayed at Nice Way as a solo backpacker. If you’re looking for a homely feel and budget-friendly rates, I can’t recommend it enough!

Hotel Jardim Sintra

Want to stay in a beautiful and romantic quinta turned into a hotel? Then you will love staying at Hotel Jardim Sintra. It’s about 500m from the historical center of Sintra, giving you gorgeous terrace views of the green Sintra mountains with the Moorish castle on top.

I stayed at Hotel Jardim with my girlfriend for her birthday and it was the perfect spot to relax and feel like we’re on our own little estate.

How to get around Sintra

Upon arrival in Sintra, you will no doubt be greeted by many tuk-tuk drivers offering to take you around on a private tour. This is a fun and easy way to get around.

But it should be said you’re not in Thailand though and the tuk-tuks will be quite expensive! I was once quoted a private tuk-tuk tour at 70€ per hour. Whether that’s worth it is up to you. If you just want a one-way ride to Pena Palace, you’ll probably be quoted a more reasonable €15 to €20.

There are also two buses that cover all places you might want to go to. Buses 434 and 435 depart from the center of town (map location) and both follow a circular route. Single tickets are €3.90, while a hop-on-hop-off ticket costs €6.90.

Bus 434: for the Moorish Castle or Pena Palace
Bus 435: for the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate

Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Bolt are also active in Sintra and much cheaper than the tourist transportation.

You can also get everywhere by foot, but it takes at least a 45-minute uphill hike to reach the castle or the Pena Palace. Since you’ll already do a lot of walking at the sights, I recommend taking a ride up if you’re on a daytrip.

Even though it’s easy to navigate around Sintra, if you have only one day it’s not a bad idea to take an organized tour, as this will let you see the most in a time-efficient way. You can find great day-tours for Sintra at GetYourGuide.

 

Things to do in Sintra

Quinta da Regaleira

The gardens of Regaleira are my favorite sight in Sintra. Even if you are not generally one to get excited about gardens, know that this one is quite different. The Regaleira estate is chock-full of interesting structures, secret tunnels, and fountains — not to mention an enchanting gothic palace.

Most famously, the Quinta da Regaleira has an underground tower with a spiral staircase. The purpose of it is unknown — although some have speculated that it may have been the site for mysterious initiation rites. The gardens themselves were styled to represent ancient secret orders such as the Templar Knights and the Freemasons.

You can spend several hours just weaving through the gardens and exploring its enigmatic tunnels. Look closely in the Initiation Well and you may even find an Indiana Jones-esque revolving stone door.

Quinta da Regaleira entry:
€7 for regular ticket
Opening hours:
Summer: 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. (last admission at 7)
Winter: 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (last admission at 5)

Moorish Castle

The Castle of the Moors is the next stop I recommend. You can already see the castle from the bottom of Sintra town, but it’s a bit of a climb to the top of the hill where it’s located (at least 45 minutes). The hike is nice though if you’re up for it.

The castle was built in the 8th century by the Moors from North Africa, who controlled much of Portugal and Spain during this time. While its central courtyard is mostly ruined, most of the outer walls are intact (some were rebuilt during the 19th century by order of King Ferdinand II). The castle will give you great views of the Sintra region as well as Pena Palace.

All there is to do here is to clamber along the fortified walls and stand atop the watchtowers, though you can easily spend an hour doing so. You can also do as some of my friends did and take in a bottle of wine and some snacks from town, and have yourself a little Portuguese lanche (snack time) at the castle with an epic view.

Moorish Castle entry:
€8 for regular ticket (there are combo tickets with Pena)
Opening hours:
Summer: 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. (last admission at 7pm)
Winter: 10:00 a.m.-6 p.m. (last admission at 5pm)

Pena Palace

Pena Palace is the iconic sight in Sintra. Standing atop a hill in the Sintra Mountains, its many red and yellow walls and turrets give this eclectic Romanticist castle almost the appearance of a majestic gingerbread house. For much of the 20th century, the castle was actually completely grey, until the original colors were restored in the 1990’s.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is highly worth visiting, but I should mention the queues can be daunting, especially in summer. Sometimes it can take up to 2 hours to get inside.

If the long line is making you weep, consider just touring the exterior of the palace. It’s a separate (and cheaper) entry ticket. Just walk past the main queue and take the alternative entrance.

Opinions are split on whether the interior entry is actually worth it. Although unique and beautiful, it can be very crowded inside. Personally, I think it’s best done in winter or autumn when things are more relaxed. In summer, walking along the exterior will probably already leave you satisfied.

Don’t miss the park around Pena Palace, a forested area that was designed by King Fernando II to include numerous romantic paths and exotic fauna. Be sure to hike up to Cruz Alto, which is also within the park, for some amazing views.

Pena Palace entry:
Park & palace terrace entry: €7.50 (recommended)
Park + palace interiors: €14
Opening hours:
Summer: 9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. (last admission 6:30)
Winter: 10:00 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Monserrate Palace

Off the beaten path

OK, so you’ve seen the Moorish castle, Pena palace, and the Quinta da Regaleira? Then you’re probably tapped out at this point. I can’t blame you; seeing Sintra does take many hours and a lot of walking.

Because of this, most daytrippers miss out on Monserrate Palace. But it’s a real hidden gem and an absolute must if you’ve got the time.

It’s about 3km further up the road from Quinta da Regaleira. While there are no secret tunnels or initiation wells here, it features a unique Asian-styled mansion and arguably the most beautiful gardens in Sintra. I love Monserrate and keep recommending it because it’s so easily overlooked. Many local Portuguese from Lisbon haven’t been to it either!

Monserrate Palace entry:
€8 for regular ticket (no combos with other palaces or gardens, as Monserrate is managed by another organization)
Opening hours:
Summer: 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. (last admission at 7)
Winter: 10:00 a.m.-5 p.m. (last admission at 5)

Palacio Nacional

The Sintra National Palace can be easily seen as you walk into town from the train station, with its white twin chimneys poking up from behind the town square.

It’s one of the oldest monuments in Sintra, having been constructed in the early 15th century. Though it was already a Moorish castle prior to that, from the 8th century. The building still has many Arabic-like features, blending Gothic with Moorish and Mudéjar styles. A highlight is the 16th-century Sala dos Brasões, a room with a golden wooden dome and beautiful blue tiling.

Since the Palacio Nacional is right on your path as you enter Sintra, you may be tempted to start your sightseeing here. But since it’s the start of so many tours, I recommend skipping it initially, and seeing the first several sights mentioned above. The Palacio Nacional is highly worth visiting, but ideally later in the day, or perhaps on your second day in Sintra if you’re staying longer.

Although the castle interior is fascinating, it’s also a bit cramped, with visitors forced to shuffle through it like a long line of ants — at least, during the summer high season.

Palacio Nacional entry:
€10 for regular ticket
Opening hours:
9:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. (last admission 6:30)

Penedo de Amizade

Sintra isn’t just palaces and gardens! The area is also great for many outdoor activities. For example, many rock climbers come to Sintra for the Penedo de Amizade, a huge granite boulder cliff that has paths for both beginner and experienced climbers. This tour on Airbnb Experiences will take you rock climbing up these cliffs, giving you epic views of Sintra at the top.

Hiking in Sintra

I’ve been on many hikes in Sintra. I think it’s secretly one of the best things about the area! If you’re on a day-trip, you probably won’t have enough time to hike all that much, but I highly recommended it for any longer stay.

The natural landscape around Sintra is amazingly diverse, as the royalty once brought exotic fauna to the forests and gardens. You’ll find tranquil pine forests with moss-covered granite boulders, cork oak trees among ferns, and sequoia trees covered in ivy. Several small lakes dot the center of the mountain range and there are some great viewpoints all around.

Hike to castle and Pena Palace

This hike will take you at least 6 hours and combines some of the natural environment of Sintra with some of its best monuments, namely the Moorish Castle and the Pena Palace.

I recommend this hike if you just want to see the highlights of Sintra without using transportation, or if you have more than one day and want to spend the first day exploring by foot.

This walking route may seem counterintuitive as it avoids seeing the town at first, instead going up the hills to the Moorish castle, but the viewpoints along this trail are great and you’ll still visit the town at the end of the walk.

(Add it to your Google Maps by clicking the star icon below.)

Other Sintra hikes

The Serra de Sintra is easily the nicest forested area that’s still close to Lisbon.

Apart from the route shown above, there is a huge area to the west of it that can be hiked. You can find a long list of Sintra hikes on Wikiloc.com. Among the hikes I did is the Lakes of Sintra hike, which is a pretty stiff one, but recommended for hiking fans.

You can also easily improvise a route. At the heart of the park, trails kind of cross-cross everywhere.

View from Sanctuary of Peninha

If you’re looking for some landmarks to target, consider hiking to the Convento dos Capuchos (described above) or to the Sanctuary of Peninha.

The latter is a ruined palace and chapel located at 448m from where you can get amazing panoramic views of the coast including Cascais and Lisbon. The convent building is not publicly accessible but the location makes for a great goal for a long-distance hike. From Sintra town, it’s about 3 hours walking to Sanctuary of Peninha.

When people speak of ‘magical Sintra’, I actually think mostly of the forests now. I once went on a night hike where I found the whole Sintra forest sparkling with the pulsating lights of fireflies. They can usually be seen around June and July.

The Sintra beaches & coast

The town of Sintra is located far inland, but the greater region of Sintra does touch the Portuguese coastline. You can reach a nice beach from Sintra town in about 30 minutes  by bus. If you have your own transportation, you’ll really have your pick.

Here are, in brief, some of the key locations on the coast.

Praia das Maçãs

The Praia das Maçãs (translated: the apples beach) is in a little bay and beside a small town where you can grab some seafood for lunch. Although it’s small and not quite as scenic as other beaches, it’s my recommended pick for a nice beach that’s easy to get to by public transport.

To get there by bus, walk to Avenida DeSao Cambournac (it’s down from the Sintra rail station) and grab the 441. Get off at Praia das Maçãs.

Praia do Guincho

This beach seems to be the default mention in many Sintra travel guides, but I think it’s a bit difficult to reach from Sintra unless you are by car. Nevertheless, Guincho is one of the largest beaches nearby and it’s very scenic.

It’s a favorite among kitesurfers and regular surfers alike, though sun worshippers will also find plenty of space here. The wind whips up a lot of sand so unless you want a free sandblasting (and you’re not here to windsurf), it’s best to go on less windy days.

There is a parking lot and a little shop and restaurant, but apart from this you’re away from any development.

Praia da Ursa

This is my favorite beach on the Sintra coast. It’s a sheltered cove between pointy cliffs, making it one of the most scenic beaches around. Praia da Ursa often features on Lisbonites’ lists of favorite not-as-well-known beaches.

You do need a car to get there and there are few facilities around, so expect a very natural beach. You have to follow a brief walking trail to get there. Although a bit more involved to get to, I think it’s the most rewarding beach.

Cabo da Roca

Finally, there is the Cabo da Roca, which is not a beach but a tall rocky cliff on the Sintra coast. There is a lighthouse and a gift shop and not much else. It’s a popular stop for organized tours, but it may not be worth going out of your way for if you’re traveling independently. You can spend maybe 20 minutes here admiring the views before moving on.

Tip: try the Queijadas!

You may have already heard of the Portuguese treat called the pastel de nata, which is even becoming famous internationally.

But Sintra has its very own special treat, called the queijada, which strangely gets overlooked by many of the foreigners visiting the town.

Be sure to try this delicious cinnamon-y pastry. The most famous bakeries are the Queijadas da Sapa and the Casa das Queijadas de Sintra.


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