The best independent guide to Sintra
Sintra is the best day trip from Lisbon, but to include all of the main sights in one day, it can quickly becomes a very expensive excursion. With the recent dramatic increase of tourism in Portugal, Sintra has been transformed into a true tourist town, with elevated tourist prices, expensive gimmicky tours and overpriced food. A trip to Sintra need not to blow your entire budget and this guide has been written to maximise your budget and suggest free activities within the town.
One word of warning,if you are planning to visit Sintra on a limited budget, expect to do a lot of walking, and most of it will feel as if it is uphill!
There’s no real need to go inside the Castelo dos Mouros, as it looks better on the outside
• Palácio Nacional de Sintra €10.00
• Palácio da Pena full ticket €14.00
• Palácio da Pena grounds only €7.50
• Castelo dos Mouros €8.00
• Return train fare €4.50 (a guide to the train can be found here)
• Quinta da Regaleira €6.00
• Palácio de Monserrate €8.00
• 434 tourist bus €6.90 (single loop)
The best free sight of Sintra is the Vila Sassetti and the surrounding forested gardens. Sintra is a famed for its Romanticism style of architecture (a whimsical 19th style, which was inspired by the arts) and the grounds of the Vila Sassetti are the finest free example.
The Moorish inspired Vila Sassetti mansion, a collection of towers and turrets
The cooling gardens, are an infusion of giant boulders, bubbling streams and ancient trees, which provide a shaded hike up to the Castelo dos Mouros. Hidden throughout the gardens are viewpoints and clearings, which provide wonderful views over Sintra. The actual mansion was constructed by the owner of the Palácio de Seteais hotel (hence the similar names) but unfortunately is closed to the public.
The Vila Sassetti grounds could be considered as a toned-down version of the Quinta da Regaleira
If you had to choose one attraction to visit while in the Sintra region, we would recommend the Palácio da Pena.
This is the vividly painted palace, which majestically stands atop one of the highest hills of Sintra, and is a flamboyant blend of decorative battlements, ornate stone carvings and quirky details. The interior of the palace has been restored to how it would have appeared in 1910 before the Portuguese nobility fled the country due to the revolution.
There are two sets of tickets to visit the Pena Palace; a grounds ticket (€7.50) and a grounds and stateroom ticket (€14.00). Unless you have a passion for history, the grounds ticket (referred to as a “Parque” ticket) will be sufficient for most visitors. The only downside to visiting the Pena Palace is that the castle is at the top of a steep hill, way above Sintra. It is a very challenging 1-hour hike from the historic centre, or the 434 bus needs to be caught (€3.90 for a single stage)
The beautiful Pena Palace will be the highlight of any day trip to Sintra
If you were to pay for one attraction in the town of Sintra (as opposed to the Sintra region), we would suggest the Quinta da Regaleira. This is an elaborate mansion, but the main draw are the intriguing gardens, with hidden tunnels, false battlements and even an initiation well. The Quinta da Regaleira is a fascinating destination and is ideal for visitors who tire or shy away from stuffy stately homes.
The gothic and creepy Quinta da Regaleira
As tourists depart Sintra train station they are bombarded with tour guides thrusting signs and details of their tours and services. It is very possible to have an enjoyable day in Sintra without the use of a tuk-tuk, jeep or other gimmicky form of transport. There is a 1.5km walk from the train station to the historic centre, but this is a flat and pleasant route that is lined with artisan stalls. To reach the Moors Castle and the Pena Palace its either a one-hour difficult hike or the 434 tourist bus (€3.90 one stage).
There are so many gimmicky modes of transport around Sintra
Sintra is a busy and hectic tourist town, so expect all the restaurants and eateries close to the historic centre to be much more expensive than Lisbon. Some of the best value food is found around the Avenue Heliodoro Salgado, (GPS 38.80170, -9.38291), but this unfortunately on the opposite side of Sintra to where all of the historic monuments are. Close to the Avenue Heliodoro Salgado is a Pingo Doce super market (GPS: 38.80115, -9.37941) where the cheapest food and drinks can be found.
An option for a cheaper lunch, is to head into one of the coffee shops in the backstreets of historic Sintra, and purchase a selection of the delicious savoury (or sweet) pastries and snacks.
A Pastel de Nata and expresso makes for a delicious quick lunch!