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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, as there is 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 itineraries 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 to spend 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, 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.
The map below shows the location of hotels and rental rooms in Sintra, and by altering the date to your holiday, the map will display current prices:
Why are there so many palaces and grand mansions in Sintra?
The historical reason, is due to the slightly cooler climate that the hills of the Serra de Sintra provide, this enticed the nobility Portugal to construct their summer residences here. During the 19th century, Sintra was popular a popular destination for Europe’s wealthy artisans and elite, who built elaborate mansions follow the Romanticism style of architecture.
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 (from Rossio) or 47min (from Oriente), and a return costs €4.50. The train service starts early in the morning and continues late into the night, and there are up to 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 direct bus services to Sintra from the resort towns of Cascais and Estoril. The 417 service departs from Cascais bus station, takes 30 minutes and a single is €4.25. From Estoril, the bus service is the number 418 route, which departs from the train station and takes 30 minutes.
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 public transport. Portuguese tour guides are enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the tours cater for more worldly visitors.
An organised tour is the only way to visit both Sintra and Cascais in a single day; this route by public transport does not provide enough time for sightseeing. We have worked with GetYourGuide.com for the previous five years and some of their best Sintra tours include:
Does Sintra Portugal get crowded with day trippers?
Unfortunately, Sintra can get very crowded in the summer. There can be long queues for the admission tickets, the tourist buses run out of space and there can even be long queues in Rossio station.
Our key advice is to start a day trip to Sintra early in the day, or else try to avoid the peak hours of 11:00-15:00. Admission tickets can be purchased beforehand (please see GetYourGuide.com) to avoid some of the queues. Another tip to avoid the crowds is to visit the Palácio Nacional da Pena in the morning, as most visitors arrive in the afternoon when following the route of the 434-tourist bus.
The 434 and 435 tourist buses
The walk from the historic centre to the Palácio Nacional da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros is up a very steep hill and is a very challenging walk. The 434-tourist bus removes this walk, as it connects the train station to the historic centre and then climbs the hill to the Palácio Nacional da Pena (Moors castle), before returning to the train station.
A hop-on-hop-off ticket for the entire route costs €6.90 or a single cost €3.90. The bus departs from the front of the train station with a departure of every 15 minutes at the height of the summer season.
Note: The 434-bus is the cheapest and best method to explore Sintra as a day trip, we use it all the time.
The 435-tourist bus connects the train station to the Palácio de Monserrate, and passes the historic centre, the Quinta da Regaleira and the Seteais Palace. This bus is ideal for the second day in Sintra. The hop-on-hop-off ticket costs €5.00.
Related articles: The 434 tourist bus
Our favourite attractions in Sintra
Our favourite attractions in Sintra are:
1) Palácio Nacional da Pena 2) Quinta da Regaleira 3) Palácio Nacional de Sintra 4) Palácio de Monserrate 5) Castelo dos Mouros 6) Palácio de Seteais 7) Vila Sassetti
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.
Sights of Sintra
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.