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Sintra Portugal Guide - Fully Updated for 2017!

Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese town that is set amidst the pine-covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. This hilly and slightly cooler climate enticed the nobility and elite of Portugal, who constructed exquisite palaces, extravagant residences and decorative gardens.

The variety of fascinating historic buildings and beautiful scenery has established Sintra as a fantastic tourist destination, and has since become the most popular day trip from Lisbon. This guide will provide an introduction to this wonderful town, by answering some of the common tourist questions and offering links to more in-depth information.

sintra portugal

The pretty town centre of Sintra

Sintra Day Trip Suggestions

Why Visit Sintra?

The town of Sintra is Europe’s greatest 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 Pena Palace is the finest example.

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The colourful Pena Palace, a highlight of any trip to Sintra

For such a relatively small town, Sintra contains an abundance of historic monuments and enthralling tourist attractions. Within the town, there are more than ten national monuments, and these varied buildings range from extravagant palaces and decadent houses through to ancient ruinous castles.

Sintra is situated within the beautiful natural scenery of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. This national park incorporates the steep hills of Sintra and the lush forests that lead down to the dramatic coastline, located 12km to the west. These hills are the basis for many of the activities of the region, which include hiking trails, challenging cycle routes and some of the best rock climbing found in Portugal.

 

The town centre of Sintra is incredibly charming, with pretty cobbled streets that are lined with traditional house, shops and cafes, all centred around the Gothic styled National Palace. Sintra has so much to offer visitors, and it is no wonder that it is the most popular day trip from Lisbon. For a guide to the main sights and activities in Sintra please click here.

This popularity is also Sintra’s major issue: if visiting during the summer, it’s best to carefully plan your visit in order to avoid the hordes of coach tours, the long ticket queues and the endless waiting for the tourist bus.

Sintra as a Day Trip

The majority of tourists to Sintra visit as a day trip, either from Lisbon or from the resort towns of Cascais and Estoril. Sintra makes for an enjoyable day trip for all ages, and it is suggested to include Sintra in your holiday itinerary for holidays or city breaks of more than three days.

Most day tourists to Sintra follow the same route; the Palacio Nacional, the historic town centre, the Castelo dos Mouros and finally the Palacio da Pena. This order is often followed as it is the route of the 434 tourist bus, which connects the train station to the historic centre and then climbs the steep hills to the Pena Palace and the Moors castle. For a guide to visiting Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, please click here.

Sights of the Day Trip to Sintra

The standard day trip route visits the three best national monuments of Sintra; the National Palace, the Moors Castle and the Pena Palace.

Palacio Nacional Sintra

The Gothic style National Palace

The Gothic styled Palacio Nacional is at the heart of Sintra and was the preferred residency 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 sintra

The ancient walls of 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.

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, but sadly it is often the last sight of the day trip.

Palacio Nacional da Pena

The beautiful Pena Palace of Sintra

Visit Sintra independently or join an organised tour?

Sintra is a destination that can be easily visited independently, there is excellent public transport to Sintra and the whole town is designed for tourism. The main advantage of visiting independently is that the peak season crowds can be strategically avoided and it allows flexibility during the day trip.

There is often a stigma against organised tours, but small group tours provide the knowledge of a local guide and removes the hassle of public transport. 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:

How About a Second Day in Sintra?

There are sufficient sights in Sintra for a second full day of sightseeing, and it is suggested to visit the Quinta da Regaleira, Seteais Palace and Monserrate Palace. The enchanting and mystical gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are the standout feature of the second day. These three places are spread across Sintra but are connected by the 435 tourist bus route, which departs from outside the train station.

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. For a guide to a second day in Sintra please click here.

Tourist attractions to visit during a second day in Sintra

Quinta Regaleira Sintra

The decorative Quinta Regaleira of Sintra

The Quinta da Regaleira is a decorative stately home 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 bus.

Seteais Palace Sintra

The front grounds of the Palácio de Seteais

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 Monserrat Sintra

The distinctive Palácio de Monserrate, with its Arabic influences

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 lattice work.

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A third day? The secret and wild sights of Sintra

For a third or fourth day, it is suggested to explore the little visited Parque Natural de Sintra. Highlights of this beautiful national park include the austere Convento dos Capuchos convent, the Cruz Alta viewpoint and the wonderful views from the Peninha Sanctuary. For a more leisurely day ride the ancient tram from Sintra to the pretty resort town of Praia das Maçãs.

Peninha Sanctuary Sintra

The Peninha Sanctuary provides wonderful views

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.

guincho beach Sintra

Guincho is a wild and rugged surfing beach

There is very limited public transport within the Parque Natural de Sintra and it is best explored either by renting a car or cycling (there are electric bikes for hire). Few tourists make the effort to visit this fascinating region, and for our guide to the secret and wild sights of Sintra, please read this guide.

For those tourists wishing a longer holiday in Sintra could use the town as a base to explore the region, as there are regular trains to Lisbon and buses to Cascais, Estoril and the Lisbon coastline.

Our suggested order to visit the sights of Sintra

Our suggested order for visiting the sights and attractions of Sintra are as follows:sights of sintra portugal

Why spend a night in Sintra?

Most tourists simply visit Sintra as a day trip, but we hope we have demonstrated to you via this article that there is much more to Sintra and it is worthy of a stay of at least one or two nights. 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; for a guide to the best hotels of Sintra please click here.

How to get to Sintra from Lisbon

There is a regular and inexpensive train service that connects Lisbon to Sintra. The train journey takes 40 minutes and departs from the Rossio train station in central Lisbon. The train service starts early in the morning and continues late into the night and there are generally 3 departures per hour, with a return ticket costing only €4.30. Never drive to Sintra as there is simply not enough car parking spaces. Public transport in the Lisbon region is excellent and a rental car is often not needed for a holiday. For a full guide on travelling to Sintra from Lisbon please click here.

Sintra train

The train from Lisbon to Sintra in Rossio railway station

The 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. This bus service only travels in one direction loop but is highly recommended for day trip visitors as it is a 1.5km walk from the train station to the historic centre and then a very steep walk up hill to the Pena Palace. The bus departs every 15 minutes and the first bus of the day is 9:15 and an early start is recommended to avoid the crowds. A loop ticket costs €5.00 and for a guide to the tourist bus please click here.

435 and 434 tourist buses in Sintra

The 435 and 434 tourist buses outside the train station

For those visitors only wishing to see the historic centre there is no need to catch the bus as the walk from the train station follows a pleasant route and is lined with artisan and craft stalls. With the growth of the tourist industry in Sintra there are multiple private tour operators (private taxi, tuk-tuk etc) who will be touting for business outside the train station but the 434 bus offers the best value.

For the second day in Sintra it is recommended to catch the 435 tourist bus which connects the Quinta da Regaleira, Seteais Palace and Monserrate Palace to Sintra and the train station. This service operates much smaller buses than the 434 route and the return ticket only costs €2.50.

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. Also, never drive to Sintra as the roads are narrow and there is no car parking.

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