The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
The Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions in Portugal, and an outstanding example of the 19th-century Romanticism style of architecture. The palace offers an enchanting mix of vividly painted terraces, decorative battlements and mythological statues, all of which stand in stark contrast to the lush green surroundings of the Parque de Pena forest.
The interior of the Pena Palace is equally fascinating, having been restored to how it would have appeared in 1910 when the Portuguese nobility fled to Brazil to escape the revolution. Surrounding the Palacio da Pena are forested grounds, which also showcase the design ideals of Romanticism, with hidden pathways, mystical ornaments and stunning vistas.
The Palácio da Pena is always the highlight of any trip to Sintra
The Palácio da Pena is one of the world's most magnificent palaces, which is why millions of tourists flock to Sintra each year. With the Pena Palace now being one of the most recognisable tourist attractions of Portugal, expect it to be incredibly busy during your visit, especially during the peak season.
This article will provide a tourist guide to the Palacio da Pena, helping you to get the most from your visit.
The ornate exterior of the Palacio da Pena, with its whimsical stone carved features, vivid colours and entrance guarded by a gargoyle statue.
The lush forests of the Parque de Pena that surround the palace. These fascinating grounds include cooling fern gardens, rocky outcrops with amazing view points, a farm and the delightful Chalet da Condessa d'Edla
The sumptuous staterooms, including the Sala de Visitas, Salão Nobre and the King's personal chambers.
For visitor experience and safety, the number of tourists allowed into the palace and onto the terraces is limited.
The only way to enter the palace is via a ‘time slot ticket’, which provides a 30-minute window for you to enter the palace building.
These tickets cost €14 and can be purchased at the ticket office on the day of your trip, or from GetYourGuide.com (Click here) prior to your visit.
Insight: The ‘time slot tickets’ are the only way to visit the terraces in front of the palace. It is no longer possible to visit the terraces with the cheaper ‘park tickets’ (€7.50).
In the peak season, the most popular time slots do sell out – sold in bulk to tour guides or to coach tours operated by the cruise companies. If you turn up on the day and purchase a ticket from the entrance, you may have to wait up to three hours for your time slot.
The entrance to the Palacio da Pena is always busy, and there can be traffic jams and long queues for the ticket machines
Insight: You are free to spend as long as you want in the grounds of Pena Palace, but you will have to wait to enter the palace and terraces.
It is strongly advised to book your tickets at least the day before your trip, so that you can enter at the time you want.
Tickets can be purchased from GetYourGuide.com and cost €14, which is the same price you will pay if you purchase tickets from the machines at the entrance to the palace.
We cannot stress how important it is to book these tickets at least a day in advance. Without them, you may not be able to see the beautiful terraces and interior of the Pena Palace.
Insight: Only 400 people are allowed to enter per 30-minute time slot. This is a very small number considering 1,976,367 tourists visited the Palacio da Pena in 2018, before restrictions had to be implemented for safety.
A statue of Triton guards the entrance into the palace
If you miss your time slot, you will be refused entry to the palace and terraces. This is strictly enforced, as the palace can legally only accommodate so many visitors.
When booking a time slot, you must ensure you will be able to make it. Factor in how long it will take you to travel to Sintra, as well as how you will travel from the train station or town centre up to the palace. It takes at least 20 minutes if catching the 434 bus from the train station.
Once through the entrance queue, it is a 15 to 20-minute uphill walk to the palace (official documentation states 30 minutes). At the palace, you will want to be near the front of your timeslot queue to minimise your wait.
Insight: We always recommend being dropped off at the entrance to the Pena Palace one hour before your time slot. This allows time to enter, walk up to the palace and be near the front of your timeslot queue.
The palace and grounds will be very busy during the peak season (Easter through to September). We’d suggest visiting earlier or later in the day to avoid the peak hours of 10:30 to 15:00. The palace has extended opening hours of 09:30 to 19:00, and the last ticket sale is at 18:15.
Insight: For most visitors, there is no real need to pay extra (€3.50), for the bus from the entrance up to the palace. It is a steep 10-15minute walk but is doable unless you have mobility issues. The signs state that this is a 30-minute walk but is just to encourage you to buy the bus ticket.
The magnificent palace perches on the second highest point of the Serra da Sintra hills
The Stag Room was designed as a banquet hall, and a unique circular table wraps around the central pillar.
There are two different entrance fees for the Palacio Nacional da Pena - the ‘palace and park ticket’ and the ‘park ticket’.
The ‘park ticket’ only allows entry to the grounds that surround the palace. There is a lot to see in the grounds, but you will be unable to see the palace up close.
Insight: The ‘park ticket’ used to allow entrance to the terraces, but since the introduction of the time slot tickets, this has been stopped.
For a visit to the Pena Palace, you will want the more expensive ‘palace and park ticket’, which is the time slot ticket discussed earlier.
The 2022 entrance fees to the Palacio Nacional da Pena are:
• Palace and Park - €14.00/€12.50/€49.00 (adult/child (6-17)/family)
• Park - €7.50/€6.50/€26.00 (adult/child (6-17)/family)
All tickets include entrance to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, which can be visited while exploring the Parque de Pena.
You may grumble about the high entrance fees, but the non-profit Parques de Sintra organisation reinvests all revenue into the region's monuments. Over the last fifteen years, there has been a notable improvement in facilities, restoration and maintenance, all funded by tourism.
All of the copper utensils in the kitchen have FPP (for Palacio da Pena) stamped on them to prevent theft!
A visit to the Palacio da Pena will take at least two and half hours, and could be much longer.
The staterooms and interior of the palace take 40 minutes to fully appreciate, while the terraces need another 30 minutes. The walk from the entrance to the palace takes around 20 minutes, and there will be at least a 15-minute wait to enter the palace.
Exploring the Parque de Pena could greatly extend a visit to the Palacio da Pena. Close to the palace are the ornamental lakes (Vale dos Lagos), the Warrior Statue and the Feteira da Dondessa (countesses’ fern garden), all connected by shaded footpaths.
Further out is the Cruz Alta peak (603m), the Alto do Cha (Tea Hill - the best viewpoint of the region) and the Chalet da Condessa d'Edla a pretty Alpine inspire chalet.
There are sufficient sights to spend a further half-day in the Parque and Palacio da Pena if you choose.
Related articles: Guide to the Parque de Pena
If you have time, the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is worth a visit
There are huge boulders dotted about the forests of the Parque de Pena
Most visitors have limited time to discover Sintra, and rightly try to fit in as much as possible. The common day trip route combines the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, the historic centre of Sintra, the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palacio da Pena. This is a convenient route, as it follows the 434-tourist bus. Alternatively, the Palácio Nacional de Sintra could be swapped for the Quinta da Regaleira.
Advice: If you wish to follow this sensible route we would suggest starting with the Palacio da Pena, when it is the least crowded.
Related articles: Day trip to Sintra
A day trip to Sintra involves a lot of walking and waiting for public transport. A much more enjoyable approach is to join an organised tour of the region.
Organised tours in Portugal have greatly improved their standard over the last 9 years, and are now designed for worldly and well-travelled tourists. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the previous 5 years and a selection of their best tours of Sintra include:
• Sintra Highlights Full-Day Tour (€65)
• Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais Full-Day Tour from Lisbon (€63)
• Pena Palace and Regaleira Guided Tour from Lisbon (€65)
• Sintra, Cascais and Cabo da Roca Coast Day Tour (€85)
The Palacio Nacional da Pena sits atop a jagged rocky outcrop, on one of the highest hills of the Sintra landscape. The base structure of the palace is formed around an abandoned Hieronymite monastery, and aspects of this original structure can still be seen. The main courtyard is a two-storey Manueline cloister and the Nossa Senhora da Pena chapel has been barely altered since the 16th century.
The chief architect was of German nationality, taking inspiration from the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, his travels through Asia and Africa, and from Portugal. The main tower (though painted rose-red) has many characteristics to the Torre de Belem (Lisbon) and the spikes on the gateway resemble the 16th-century Casa dos Bicos in Alfama (Lisbon).
The red tower and the Torre de Belem look very similar
The central courtyard which was the cloister in the monastery
The Pena Palace is situated at the second highest point of the Serra de Sintra (480m) and it is a very demanding uphill hike from the historic centre of Sintra or the train station, which has an elevation of 190m. Never plan to drive to the Pena Palace, as there is very little car parking. During the summer the town becomes completely gridlocked as frustrated drivers search for car parking spaces.
The recommended means of travel is the 434 tourist bus, which performs a one-directional loop of; train station, historic centre, Mouros castle, Pena Palace, then returns to the train station. A taxi from the train station to Pena costs €6.50, but demand in the summer outstrips supply.
Related articles: 434 bus - Lisbon to Sintra
The brilliant colours of the palace slowly faded since their original painting in mid-19th century, to such an extent that by the 1990s the palace’s appearance was rather drab and dreary. In 1996 Pena Palace underwent an extensive restoration project, and this included repainting the exterior walls the original colours. This vivid colour scheme horrified some of the more conservative residents of Sintra. Fortunately, the work continued to create the magnificent palace you are able to see today.
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