The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
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The stunning Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions in Portugal.
This beautiful palace is an outstanding example of the 19th-century Romanticism style of architecture, with its vividly painted terraces, ornamental battlements and statues of mythological creatures.
The interior of the Palacio da Pena 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 palace are the forested grounds of the Parque da Pena which continues the ideals of "Romanticism". There are romantic forest pathways, hidden trails around giant boulders, lush fern gardens and spectacular viewpoints.
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. This sadly means you should expect it to be extremely busy during your visit; there will be awful traffic to the top of the hill, packed public transport and long queues for everything.
To limit the number of visitors to the palace, tickets are sold with a set 30-minute entry time (there are no time restrictions for the Parque da Pena). In the peak season, the best time slots do sell out, so it is strongly recommended that you purchase your tickets before your trip to Sintra.
This article will provide an independent tourist guide to the Palácio da Pena, helping you to get the most from your visit.
The whimsical exterior of the Palacio da Pena, with its ornamental stone carving, vividly painted terraces and entrance guarded by a statue of Triton.
The lush forests of the Parque de Pena that surround the palace. These fascinating and varied grounds include refreshing fern gardens, massive rocky outcrops, wonderful viewpoints and the delightful Chalet da Condessa d'Edla. Click here for a guide to the Parque de Pena
The sumptuous interior of the Palacio da Pena, with its many impressive staterooms styled with fine examples of grand 19th-century furniture. Incorporated into the palace is the monastery that the palace was built around, along with the impressive 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 colourful terraces that surround the palace. It is no longer possible to visit the terraces with the cheaper 'park ticket' (€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 to the palace, you may have to wait up to three hours for your time slot to enter.
Insight: You are free to spend as long as you want in the grounds of Pena Palace (the Parque de Pena), 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 Palacio da Pena.
Insight: Only 400 people are allowed to enter the Palacio da Pena per 30-minute time slot. This is a very small number considering 1,976,367 tourists visited the Palacio da Pena in 2019, before restrictions had to be implemented for safety.
The entrance to the Palacio da Pena is always busy, and there can be traffic jams and long queues for the ticket machines
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 the palace (and Sintra if you are visiting the Palacio da Pena early in the day). It takes at least 20 minutes for the 434 bus to travel from the train station to the Palacio da Pena, and there can be long queues for the bus.
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 early and near the front of your timeslot queue to minimise the wait to enter.
Insight: We always recommend being dropped off at the entrance to the Palacio da Pena 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 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 the extra (€3.50) for the bus from the entrance up to the palace. It is a steep 10 to 15-minute walk, but is doable unless you have mobility issues. The signs state that this is a 30-minute walk, but this 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 is a second entrance ticket to the Palacio da Pena, which provides entrance to the grounds only. The 'Park Ticket' costs €7.50, but surprisingly little of the palace and the terraces can be seen. If it is your first trip to Sintra, you will want to purchase the more expensive (€14) 'Palace and Park' ticket, which was discussed in the previous section.
The 'Park Ticket' is great if you have already visited the palace and want to explore the grounds. There is a lot to see within the forests and half a day can be easily spent exploring all of the sights.
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 in Sintra, all funded by tourism.
All of the copper utensils in the kitchen have PP (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 Rainha (Queen's 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-inspired chalet.
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
You may have limited time to explore Sintra, and rightly try to fit in as much as possible.
The typical day trip route is the Palacio da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros (optional), the historic centre of Sintra and the Quinta da Regaleira or Palácio Nacional de Sintra in the afternoon. This is a convenient route, as it follows the direction of the 434-tourist bus and starts and ends at Sintra train station. For this suggested day trip, lunch would be taken in Sintra town centre after visiting the Palacio da Pena or Castelo dos Mouros.
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 experience is to join an organised tour of the region. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the previous six years, and some 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 da Pena sits atop a jagged rocky outcrop - the second highest peak (480m) of the Serra da Sintra hills.
The site was originally a Hieronymite monastery, which had been long abandoned by the time Fernando II purchased the area in 1838. Sections of the original monastery 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 of the Palacio da Pena (Wilhelm Eschwege) was of German nationality and took inspiration from the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, as well as from his travels through Asia and Africa and from Portugal itself. The rose-red painted tower shares many characteristics with the Torre de Belem in Lisbon, while the spikes on the gateway resemble the 16th-century Casa dos Bicos in the Alfama district of Lisbon.
The red tower and the Torre de Belem have many similarities
The central courtyard of the palace was the cloister in the monastery
The brilliant colours of the palace had slowly faded since being originally painted in the mid-19th century, and by the 1990s the palace's appearance had become rather drab and dreary.
In 1996, Pena Palace underwent an extensive restoration project, which included repainting the exterior walls in their original colours. This vivid colour scheme horrified some of the more conservative residents of Sintra. Fortunately the work to reinvigorate the building continued, creating the opportunity to view this magnificent palace in its original splendour once again.
The Palacio da Pena sits high above Sintra (390m higher than the train station), and it is a very demanding uphill hike along the Caminho de Santa Maria footpath footpath to reach it.
The recommended means of travel from the train station is by the 434 tourist bus, which follows a one-directional loop from the train station to the Castelo dos Mouros, Palacio da Pena and Sintra town centre, before returning to the station. The ticket costs €11.50 and includes 24-hour use of all buses in Sintra.
Never plan to drive to the Palacio da Pena or Sintra, as there is very little car parking. During the summer, the town becomes completely gridlocked as frustrated drivers search for car parking spaces.
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