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Sintra Portugal Guide - Fully Updated for 2019!
Sintra is a delightful Portuguese town that is situated within the hills of the Serra de Sintra. Hidden within these pine covered hills are extravagant palaces, opulent mansions and the ruins of an ancient castle.
The variety of fascinating historic buildings and enthralling attractions, combine to form a fantastic tourist destination. Sintra is regarded as the best day trip from Lisbon, and a visit to this wonderful town must be included in your holiday plans.
This article will provide an introduction to Sintra, by answering some of the common tourist questions, and offering links to further in-depth guides.
What are the highlights of Sintra?
Related articles: Sights and tourist attractions of Sintra
1 day in Sintra
The majority of tourists visit Sintra as a day trip, either from Lisbon or the resort towns of Cascais and Estoril. Sintra is an enjoyable day trip, which has a lot to offer visitors, and is suitable for all ages.
Travel to Sintra is hassle-free, with a regular train service between Lisbon and Sintra, or a direct bus service from Cascais and Estoril (travel details are found later in this article).
Most day trippers to Sintra follow the same order, as this is the route of the 434 tourist bus. The 434 bus service connects Sintra train station to the historic centre and then climbs the steep hills to the Pena Palace and the Moorish castle before returning to the train station.
Related articles: A day trip to Sintra – Lisbon to Sintra – 434 tourist bus - A cheap day trip to Sintra
Advice: Generally, we recommend Sintra as the first-day trip if you are based in Lisbon, or as the second day trip if your holiday is to Cascais or Estoril (the first day trip would be to Lisbon).
Two or three days in Sintra
Sintra is often visited as a day trip from Lisbon, but there are sufficient attractions to easily fill two or three days. Suggested itinerates for two or three days in Sintra, which follow on from the 1-day trip include:
Related articles: A second day in Sintra – A third day in Sintra (Sintra’s secret sights)
Why spend a night in Sintra?
Most tourists simply visit Sintra as a day trip, but if you plan two or three days exploring Sintra, it is worthwhile staying within the town. The main advantage of being based within Sintra is that the town can be explored at a leisurely pace, once all of the day trippers and coach tours have left.
The key national monuments of Sintra have extending opening hours, and this allows visiting before or after the daytime rush. Sintra has a fantastic range of hotels, with many are in keeping with the style and charm of the region.
Why are there so many palaces and historic building in Sintra?
Sintra has the highest concentration of palaces and mansions of any region of Portugal. This is due to the slightly cooler climate that the hills of the Serra de Sintra provides, which enticed the nobility Portugal to constructed summer residences within the region. During the 19th century, Sintra was popular with the elite and wealthy artisans of Europe, and this was when many of the grand mansions were constructed.
Travel to Sintra
There are two regular and inexpensive train services that connect Lisbon to Sintra. The first service departs from Rossio station in central Lisbon, while the second departs from the Estação do Oriente. The train journey takes 40min (Rossio) or 47min (Oriente), and a return costs €4.50. The train service starts early in the morning and continues late into the night, and there are generally three departures per hour.
Warning: Never drive to Sintra, the narrow hill roads were never designed for today's heavy traffic, and there is very limited car parking. In the summer there is an almost constant traffic jam as frustrated drivers search for car parking spots.
There are two direct bus services from the resort towns of Cascais, the faster 417 route or the scenic 403 (which passes the Cabo da Roca cliffs). The 417 route takes 30 minutes and a single fare costs €4.25. From Estoril, the bus service is the number 418 route.
Related articles: Lisbon to Sintra – Cascais to Sintra – Estoril to Sintra
Sintra as part of an organised tour
There are a lot of benefits of visiting Sintra as a part of a small group tour. Sintra is a destination where the main tourist sights are spread across a wide region of steep hills, and a tour eliminates the hassle of catching buses and train.
Portuguese tour guides tend to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the tours cater for more worldly and clued-up visitors. For tourists with limited time, the Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais tours provide a great introduction to the region. Our favourite organised tours of Sintra include:
Does Sintra Portugal get crowded with day trippers?
Unfortunately, Sintra can get very crowded in summer as coach loads of tourists are bused around the main sights of the town. At the weekends, there can be long waits for the tourist buses, queueing for admission tickets or even waiting in line for train tickets. Our advice is to start a visit to Sintra early in the day or leave it to later in the afternoon. Another tip to avoid the crowds is to visit the Pena Palace in the morning, as most visitors arrive in the afternoon following the route of the 434-tourist bus.
The 434 and 435 tourist buses
There is a convenient tourist bus service (the 434 route) which connects the train station to the historic centre and then climbs into the hills to reach the Moors Castle and Pena Palace. The bus departs from the front of the train station with a departure of every 15 minutes at the height of the summer season. A hop-on-hop-off ticket for the entire route costs €6.90 or a single cost €3.90.
Note: The walk from the historic centre to the Pena Palace is up a very steep hill and is a very challenging walk. The 434-tourist bus removes this walk.
The 435 tourist bus connects the train station to the Palácio de Monserrate, and passes the historic centre, Quinta da Regaleira and Seteais Palace. This bus is ideal for the second day in Sintra. This service operates much smaller buses than the 434 route, and the return ticket only costs €5.00.
Related articles: The 434 tourist bus
Sights of Sintra
The Romanticism style of architecture
The town of Sintra is Europe’s finest example of the whimsical and colourful Romanticism style of architecture. This elaborate 19th century design style was inspired by the love of art and the mysticism of ancient cultures, to create decorative and flamboyant buildings, of which the Palácio da Pena is the greatest example.
Palácio Nacional de Sintra (National Palace of Sintra)
The Gothic styled Palacio Nacional is at the heart of Sintra and was the preferred residence of the Portuguese nobility between the 15th and 19th centuries. The Palace’s most distinctive exterior feature are the two huge chimneys that extend from the kitchens while inside the varied staterooms reflect the extensive history of the palace.
Castelo dos Mouros (The Moors castle)
The Castelo dos Mouros is an idyllic ruined castle that is interwoven with the dense forests that have overgrown the ancient walls. The castle is perched high above Sintra and was originally constructed by the Moors (8-11th century) as an observational stronghold, with panoramic views over the Atlantic Ocean and the Lisbon Estuary. Today from the solid battlements there are stunning views over the Sintra region.
Palácio Nacional da Pena (The Pena Palace)
The colourful Pena Palace is the standout attraction of Sintra and is a beautiful example of the Romanticism style of architecture. The exterior of the palace is painted and tiled with vivid colours, while statues of mythological creatures adorn the walls. The interior of the palace is as equally fascinating, having been restored to how it was left in 1910 when the nobility of Portugal fled the country due to the revolution.
Surrounding the palace are the forested grounds of the Parque da Pena, with its shaded walkways, hidden lakes and stunning viewpoints. A day could be easily spent exploring the entire Pena Palace and the Parque da Pena.
Quinta da Regaleira
The Quinta da Regaleira is a decorative stately mansion, but the main attraction are the elaborate grounds. The gardens are filled with mystic symbolism and hidden features which include secret tunnels, Gothic towers and stone fortified walls. The stately house is close enough to the centre of Sintra that it can be walked to without the need of catching the tourist bus.
Palácio de Seteais (Seteais Palace)
The Seteais Palace is a beautiful neoclassical palace that follows the Romanticism architectural style found throughout Sintra. The palace has been converted into a luxury hotel, but the grounds and terrace are open for visitors to explore.
Palácio de Monserrate (Monserrate Palace)
Monserrate Palace reflects that of an opulent Indian palace and was constructed as a summer retreat by one of the richest English men of the 19th century. This impressive building follows the geometric patterns and symmetry found in Arabic and Mongol architecture while inside there is incredibly fine marble latticework. Monserrate Palace is always much quieter than all of the other national monuments of Sintra and is the place to head to for tranquil gardens and peacefulness during the hecticness of the summer season.
Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais
Sintra is situated within the beautiful natural scenery of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. This national park incorporates the lush forests hills of Sintra and leads down to the rugged and dramatic coastline, 12km to the west. The hills of Sintra are the setting for many activities of the region, include scenic hiking trails, challenging cycle routes and some of the best rock climbing in Portugal.
To the western edge of the Sintra National Park is a wild and rugged coastline formed of huge cliffs and vast beaches, which are pounded by the massive waves that roll in from the Atlantic Ocean. This stunning coastline contains the outstanding surfing beach of Guincho, the picturesque Praia da Adraga beach and the Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe.