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Sintra Portugal Guide - Updated for 2017!
Sintra is a picturesque Portuguese town that is set amidst the pine covered hills of the Serra de Sintra. This 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 top rate tourist destination and is the most popular day trip from Lisbon. This guide will provide an introduction to Sintra, details of the major sights and travel information.
The colourful Pena Palace
Why Visit Sintra?
For such a relatively small town there is a vast amount of historic monuments and interesting tourist attractions. Contained within Sintra there are more than 10 national monuments, which include ornate palaces, ancient ruins and decorative houses. These sights are spread across the hills of the region and for the active visitor there are a series of challenging hiking trails.
The pretty town centre of Sintra
In the historic centre there are pretty cobbled streets lined with traditional shops and cafes, all centred around the Gothic styled National Palace. Sintra has so much to offer visitors – no wonder it is the most popular day trip from Lisbon.
Sintra as a Day Trip
Sintra makes for an enjoyable day trip from Lisbon and the common one route visits the Palacio Nacional, the Castelo dos Mouros and Palacio da Pena. Sintra is suitable for visitors of all ages and is regarded as the best day trip from Lisbon. There is an inexpensive and regular train service between Lisbon and Sintra while there is a tourist bus (the 434 route) which connects the station, town and the three national monuments. For a guide to visiting Sintra, as a day trip from Lisbon, please click here.
The decrotive town hall of Sintra
Sights of the Day Trip to Sintra
The common day trip route of Sintra visits the historic town centre, the National Palace, the Moors Castle and the Pena Palace.
The Gothic styled National Palace was extensively used by the nobility of Portugal between the 15th and 19th centuries and born witness to the growth of the country. The Palace’s most distinctive exterior feature are the two huge chimneys that extend from the kitchens while inside the state rooms reflect the extensive history of the palace.
The Gothic style National Palace of Sintra
The Castelo dos Mouros is perched high above Sintra and is an ancient ruined castle that dates from the Moorish era (8-12th century). The castle was partially restored in the 19th century to become the centre piece for the grounds of the Pena Palace. From the castle walls there are amazing panoramic views over Sintra and the surrounding region.
The ancient walls of the Moors castle
The colourful Pena Palace is the standout monument of Sintra. The vividly painted palace stands at one of the highest points of Sintra and is surrounded by the pine forests of the region. The interior of the palace has been retained to how it appeared in 1910, when the Portuguese nobility fled Portugal due to the revolution.
The beautiful Pena Palace of Sintra
If you are spending more than three days in the Lisbon region it is suggested to include Sintra in your holiday itinerary. There are many great guided tours of the region our favourites are:
How About a Second Day in Sintra?
There are sufficient sights in the Sintra region for a second full day of sightseeing. For the second day in Sintra it is suggested to visit the Quinta da Regaleira, Seteais Palace and Monserrate Palace. For a guide to a second day in Sintra please click here.
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 decorative Quinta Regaleira of Sintra
The Seteais Palace is a beautiful neoclassical palace that follows the Romantic architectural style found throughout Sintra. The place has been converted into a luxury hotel but the grounds and terrace are open for visitors to explore.
The front grounds of the Seteais Palace
The Monserrate Palace’s styling was strongly influenced by the North African and Indian designs and was constructed and owned by three notable Englishmen, who used the house as a summer retreat. The house has wonderful intricate carved details and the high vantage point provides wonderful vistas over the carefully arranged gardens.
All three of these sights are to the west of Sintra and are connected by the 435 bus route, which departs from Sintra train station. Other sights in the Sintra region include the austere Convento dos Capuchos and there are many challenging hiking trails which climb the hills of the Serra da Sintra.
Why spend a night in Sintra?
The advantage of spending a night in Sintra is that the town can be explored at leisure once all of the day trippers and coach tours have left. Sintra does have a range of fantastic hotels which tend to cater to the upper market. For those tourists wishing to spend longer could use Sintra as a base to explore the region, as there are regular trains to Lisbon and buses to Cascais, Estoril and the Lisbon coastline.
What’s the best sight of Sintra?
The beautiful Pena Palace is the best attraction of Sintra. This 19th century palace was designed by a king who was passionate about the arts and wished his royal retreat to reflect that of an opera. The exterior is painted vivid colours, with decorative towers and battlements and statues of mythological creatures.
The Stunning Pena Palace of Sintra
The interior of the palace is as equally fascinating, as it has been restored to how it was left in 1910 when the Portuguese nobility fled from Portugal with the fall of the monarchy. Queen Amelia spent her last night in Portugal in the Pena Palace before leaving in exile. For a guide to all of the sights of Sintra please click here.
What’s the best hidden gem of Sintra?
The view from the Cruz Alta viewpoint, which is in the grounds of the Pena Palace. From this vantage point there are spectacular views of the Pena Palace, which stands above the lush greens of the forest and is the classic photo of the palace. The view point is approximately 20 minutes’ walk south from the palace and passes through forest that are filled with non-native Portuguese plant life. For a guide to the best hidden gems of Sintra please click here.
Hiking trails through the Pena Park
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon
There is a regular and inexpensive train service to Sintra that departs from Rossio train station in central Lisbon. The train journey takes 40 minutes, as it is a slow regional service but a return ticket costs only €4.30. The train service starts early in the morning and continues late into the night and there are generally 3 departures per hour. For a full guide on traveling to Sintra from Lisbon please click here.
The train from Lisbon to Sintra in Rossio railway station
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.
The tourist buses
There is a convenient tourist bus service which connects the train station to the historic town and then climbs into the hills to reach the Moors Castle and Pena Palace. This bus service is highly recommended for visitors with one day in Sintra as it is a 1.5km walk into the town centre and a very steep walk up the hill to the Pena Palace. The walk from the train station to Sintra is pleasant and is lined with artisan stalls.
The 434 Sintra tourist bus
The bus departs every 15 minutes and the first bus of the day is 9:15. An early start is recommended to avoid the crowds as Sintra is a popular tourist destination especially at the weekends and summer months. A loop ticket costs €5.00 and for a guide to the tourist bus please click here. With the growth of the tourist industry in Sintra there are multiple private tour operators who will be touting for business to the train station but the 434 bus offers the best value.
The 435 and 434 tourist buses outside the train station
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 but the return ticket only costs €2.50.
Does Sintra Portugal get crowded with day trippers?
Unfortunately, Sintra can get very crowded with coach loads of visitors especially at the weekends during the hot summer months. This can mean long queues waiting for buses, queueing for tickets or even the 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 as the first attraction, as most visitors leave this to the afternoon. Neve try to drive in Sintra as the roads are narrow and there is no car parking.