The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
The ruins of the Castelo dos Mouros stand high above Sintra, and during the Moorish era (8-12th century) this once mighty castle defended the entire region.
The castle was constructed on an exposed rocky outcrop, and this high vantage point provided the Moors a strategic view along the coastline and surrounding lands. The Christian Crusaders in 1147 stormed the castle, and under their subsequent rule, the was left to become a ruin, taken over by the dense forests that cover the Serra de Sintra hills.
The natural and serene setting of the castle ruins enticed King Ferdinand II (1816-1885) to partially restore the battlements, and to transform it into the "showpiece" in the grounds of his wonderous Pena Palace.
Today, the Castelo dos Mouros still retains the tranquil and peaceful setting that inspired King Ferdinand II, and the castle has a very different ambience to the other tourist-crowded sights of Sintra.
For you as a visitor, there is a lot to see within the castle. There are the ancient battlements to explore, the defensive towers to climb, along with the spectacular views that convinced the Moors to build the castle here.
Related articles: Sintra introduction – Day trip to Sintra – Hidden sights of Sintra
The castle is open between 9:00-18:30, and the last admission is 1 hour before closing time. A typical visit to the Castelo dos Mouros lasts 60-90 minutes, and is a surprisingly large complex.
The peak hours are the early afternoon (12:00-14:00) just after everyone has had their lunch in Sintra town and then head into the hills, where the Pena Palace and Moors castle are situated. The castle does get busy with visitors, but never to such a level that it detracts from the experience.
Insight: During the summer the Pena Palace (and the highlight of Sintra) can get very crowded. If the queues are too long for the Pena Palace, consider visiting the Castelo dos Mouros first, and then returning to the palace when it is later and quieter. The entrance to the Castelo dos Mouros is only 200m from the Pena Palace.
The entrance fee to the Castelo dos Mouros is €8.00/€6.50/€6.50 (adult/child/senior), and skip the queue tickets can be purchased here.
Advice: Outside of the hot summer months, the steep hills of Sintra can be shrouded in fog or low-lying cloud. As one of the main draws of the Castelo dos Mouros are the spectacular views, do consider if it is worth visiting, if there is fog or low cloud.
The Castelo dos Mouros is only 500m from the historic centre of Sintra, but the castle sits on a 450m high summit, and is 210m above the town. There are two very challenging uphill hiking trails to the castle (the Caminho de Santa Maria or the Vila Sassetti path), but they are too long and demanding for most tourists who make the day trip to Sintra.
Warning: For your day trip, never drive within the historic centre of Sintra. The narrow roads are not designed for the heavy tourist traffic, and there is almost no car parking. Also, the at certain peak times the Estrada da Pena (the road up to the castle) is closed to non-locals. For your day trip it is much better to catch the train from Lisbon.
The recommended means of travel up to the castle is to catch the 434 tourist bus. The bus does a one-directional loop from the train station to Sintra town, then up the hill, before returning to the station. The €5 loop ticket (or 3.90 single section) is the best value method to travel up to the hill where the Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros are situated.
A day trip to Sintra can waste a lot of the day waiting for public transport, stood in ticket queues, or simply wandering around lost. Sintra is one of the only real destinations in Portugal where a guided tour can be very useful. We have worked with GetYourGuide.com for the previous six years, and some of their best tours of Sintra include:
The Igreja de São Pedro chapel – This 12th century chapel just within the outer castle walls is the oldest Christian religious building within Sintra. The chapel was converted from a mosque or lesser pray room inside the castle.
The Torre Real at the southern side of the castle provides the best views, and was named the royal tower as it was a favourite location of King Ferdinand. This is an outstanding viewpoint but its 500 steps from the central courtyard!
The castle is a large and sprawling complex, there are 450m or battlements within the inner wall and 13 defensive towers. To survive a siege the castle was constructed with a massive rainwater fed cistern, which was submerged and is close to the castle entrance. This was so well constructed it fed water to Sintra until the 1910s.
Outside of the walls the Moors dug huge silos to store grain, but the early Christians not realising their purpose, used them as rubbish tips.
The position of the Castelo dos Mouros was chosen as it provided unrivalled views of the coastline and the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day, Ericeira and Mafra can be seen to the north and the Serra da Arrabida to the south.
The construction of the Castelo dos Mouros dates from the 8th century and the expansion of the Moors from North Africa.
The position of the Castelo dos Mouros was chosen as it provided unrivalled views of the coastline and Atlantic Ocean. On a clear day Peniche can be seen to the north and the Serra da Arrabida in the south.
Arab chronicles detailed that the Sintra region was very rich in cultivated fields and the Castelo dos Mouros was one of the most important castles in the region, even more important than the castle in Lisbon.
The first Christian Crusade against the Muslim Moors, led by King Alfonso VI of Castile, managed to capture the Castelo dos Mouros in 1093. The small Christian army were driven out of the castle and the Sintra region the following year.
The castle flourished between the first and second Christian crusade (1147) and this was regarded as the high point of the castle's history. During this time the fortifications were greatly strengthened but were not enough to repel the second much larger Christian crusade in 1147. This crusader army was comprised of drunks and thieves, who upon liberating Lisbon promptly sacked the capital.
Early Portuguese kings strengthened the Castelo dos Mouros but the royal court favoured Lisbon, and the castle declined.
By the 15th century Jewish settlers were the only inhabitants, and when the Jews were expelled from Portugal (1497) the castle was completely abandoned.
In 1636 a lightning bolt caused a massive fire that destroyed the central keep, while in 1755 the devastating earthquake levelled much of the walls and battlements. The Castelo dos Mouros in this era was so insignificant that it was not even considered in the plans to rebuild after the earthquake.
The Castelo dos Mouros was destined to be forgotten and be permanently ruined. That was until King Ferdinand II transformed the entire Sintra region. Ferdinand II was a king obsessed by art, drama and the good life - he romanticised the middle ages and ordered the reconstruction of the castle.
The castle was reconstructed so as to be viewed from his beloved Pena Palace, while the grounds were designed for areas for contemplation and relaxation. His vision is what you are able to explore during your visit.
Our most popular guides to Sintra