The best guide to Sintra
Sintra is a delightful Portuguese town that has an abundance of wonderful tourist attractions, which range from ancient castles through to sumptuous palaces. The town is famed for its Romanticism style of architecture and there are numerous fine examples of this elaborate and decorative construction type found throughout the forested hills of the Serra da Sintra national park.
Sintra is often visited as a day trip from Lisbon, but more than one day is needed to fully discover this fascinating region. This guide will detail the best and most popular attractions of Sintra and the Serra da Sintra region. The following table provides a quick overview of the major sights of Sintra and a suggested order to visit them.
The exquisite Palacio da Pena is regarded as one of the finest tourist attractions of Portugal and will be a highlight of any visit to Sintra. The vividly painted palace was commissioned in 1842, by King Ferdinand II who championed the arts, literature and music. The king wished the palace to reflect that of a scene from an opera and the extravagant Pena Palace was constructed.
The Pena Palace is a delightful amalgamation of different design styles and influences, which range from North African to medieval gothic. The interior is as equally interesting as it has been restored to how it would have looked in 1910 when Queen Amélia spent her last night in Portugal before fleeing to Brazil due to the revolution. The forests that surround the palace continue the Romanticism ideals with hidden pathways, ornate features and great view points.
The Pena Palace is a wonderful tourist attraction but the popularity means that it can get very crowded during the summer. When visiting either plan to arrive early or late in the day to avoid the mid-morning/mid-afternoon coach tours. To travel to the Pena Palace catch the 434 tourist bus, as the walk from the town is very difficult and up a steep hill. The Pena Palace is opposite the Moors Castle so both monuments are often visited together. Expect to spend 3 hours in the palace and grounds, and an adult ticket is €14.
The Quinta da Regaleira is an extravagant 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded with some of the most elaborate gardens of Sintra. The gardens are a joy to explore as they are filled with decorative fortifications, mystic religious symbols and a series of secrete passages and caves. The central feature of the gardens is the initiation well, a well that was drained, expanded and possibly used for cult ceremonies.
The Quinta da Regaleira takes about 2 hours to visit and the majority of the time will be spent exploring the amazing gardens. An adult ticket costs €6 and the mansion is a 5-minute walk from the centre of historic Sintra. The Quinta da Regaleira is a popular tourist attraction but not as popular as the Pena Palace or Palácio Nacional and never feels over crowded as most visitors are spread throughout the gardens.
The Convento dos Capuchos is the humble Franciscan monastery that balances the excess and opulence of Sintra, and is therefore one of the most atmospheric buildings of the region. Capuchos was constructed to have minimal impact on the natural surroundings and the monastery buildings are blended with the ancient forest and massive granite boulders. The only material used for decoration was cork and this was used to insulate the ceilings of the small cells were the monks would sleep.
The monks of Convento dos Capuchos followed a simplistic and reflective lifestyle and this peaceful atmosphere continues to this day, as few tourists make the effort to travel to Capuchos. The monastery is 7km from the centre of Sintra so a rental car (or electric bike/car) is required to travel there but the tranquil setting is worth the effort. The adult entrance fee is €7.00 and typical visits last 1-1.5hours, for a guide please click here.
The gothic styled Palácio Nacional de Sintra is situated in the heart of Sintra and was the most lived in royal residence, being continual used from the 15th century up until the fall of the monarchy in 1910. This is the palace that king Afonso VI (1650s) was imprisoned during his later life, as he was deemed, by his brother, too unstable to rule the country.
The minimalistic gothic exterior is dominated by the two huge chimneys that rise out from the kitchens while the interior includes decoratively painted rooms that reflect the extensive history of the palace. The most famous of these rooms is the magpie room, which has paintings of magpies representing the gossiping and scheming of the queen’s ladies in-waiting. As the National Palace is in the centre of town it is usually combined with exploring the historic centre of Sintra with its numerous cafes, restaurants and shops. The entrance fee is €10.00 and can get busy during the middle of the day.
The Castelo dos Mouros was constructed by the Moors in the 9th century as a fortified observatory, with views over the sea and region. After the invasion of central Portugal by the Christian Crusaders in the 12th century the importance of this viewpoint waned and the castle fell into disrepair. The castle deteriorated further after fire (from lighting) and earthquakes during the 17th and 18th centuries. The all but forgotten castle was restored during the 19th century so as to be a major feature in the grounds of the Pena Palace.
The castle is set amidst dense forests and from the battlements or towers are spectacular panoramic views over Sintra. The Moors castle and Pena Palace are often visited together but the more historically important Pena Palace should be visited first (unless the queues are too long). The adult entrance fee is €8.00. For more information please click here.
The Palacio de Monserrate is a 19th century mansion that contains the finest example of Islamic inspired architecture in Sintra. The palace prides itself on it’s beautiful small details; from the intricate geometrical patterns on the lattices, to the fine carved stone detail on the exterior and the stunning Indian inspired stone inlaying. The palace’s fine detail is to such perfection that it could only be funded by England’s richest man, Sir Francis Cook, a merchant who amassed a fortune exporting textiles and wool.
The gardens are quiet and peaceful and contain exotic plants from Francis Cook’s personal collection. Monserrate is 4km from the historic centre of Sintra and is served by the 435 bus route, which connects the train station, historic town, Palácio de Seteais and Palacio de Monserrate. Being the furthest palace from Sintra it is always much quieter than the other historical buildings. The adult entrance fee is €8.00.
The main attraction of the remote Santuario da Peninha is the stunning view. This small mansion and chapel stand atop a massive rocky outcrop which provides panoramic views across the entire Sintra coastline. There is no entrance fee to Peninha.
The Pena Park covers over 200 hectares of forested hills that surround the Pena Palace and contained in the park are numerous pleasant short walks. The maze of forested paths leads to an assortment of Romanticism inspired features including a statue of King Ferdinand, decorative battlements and bridges or hidden lakes. The Cruz Alta is the highest summit in the the Serra de Sintra is an enjoyable 20-minute walk from the Palace and this location provides a wonderful view of the Pena Palace.
The Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point of mainland Europe and is a headland of massive cliffs and powerful seas.
Cabo da Roca and lighthouse