The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
Sintra is a picturesque town that boasts extravagant palaces, ancient castles and stunning scenery.
Situated only 25km from Lisbon, Sintra is easily reached via a regular train service, making the town an ideal choice for a day trip.
The most popular day trip route takes in the Palácio da Pena, the Castelo dos Mouros (optional), the historic centre and the Quinta da Regaleira. All of these sights are connected by the 434 tourist bus route (€11.50), with highlights of the day being the Palácio da Pena and the mystical gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira.
This article details this highly recommended day trip to Sintra, helping you to get the most from your time here.
Warning: Sintra can get very crowded during the summer months, so it is advisable to start your day trip as early as possible.
Related articles: Sights of Sintra – Lisbon day trips – How many days in Sintra?
The Palácio da Pena – One of the world’s most stunning palace, with its elaborately decorated exterior, magnificent staterooms and forested gardens (guide here).
The Quinta da Regaleira – A 19th century neo-gothic mansion with fascinating gardens that conceals a cave system, hidden pathways and mystical symbolism (guide here).
Castelo dos Mouros – A Moorish castle that stands high above Sintra and offers wonderous views from its battlements (guide here).
Our suggested day trip to Sintra is:
• Take the train from Lisbon to Sintra (50min)
• Catch the 434 bus from the station up to the Palácio da Pena (20min)
• Visit the Palácio da Pena's terraces (30min) and staterooms (40min)
• Explore the Parque da Pena (optional, 1-2 hours)
• Walk from Palácio da Pena to Castelo dos Mouros (400m)
• Visit the Castelo dos Mouros (optional, 1 hour)
• Ride the 434 bus to the historic centre of Sintra (15min)
• Have lunch in the centre of Sintra
• Explore the historic centre of Sintra (30min)
• Visit the Quinta da Regaleira (85min)
• Visit the Palácio Nacional de Sintra (optional, 45min)
• Return train to Lisbon (50min)
Note: Entrance to the Palácio da Pena is via a time slot ticket, and it is advisable to purchase these before your day trip to secure the best time. These timed tickets can be purchased from GetYourGuide for €14 - link here.
The suggested itinerary above is a very long day, but it is definitely possible to visit the three main sights – the Palácio da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros and Quinta da Regaleira (or Palácio Nacional de Sintra) – in one day. If this seems too much, reduce the day trip to just two sights. The Palácio da Pena and Quinta da Regaleira are the recommended sights for a shorter-day trip.
The Palácio Nacional de Sintra is an enjoyable alternative to the Quinta da Regaleira if you are interested in Portuguese history
The Sintra day trip is suggested in this order as it follows the route of the 434 bus, which connects the train station to the top of the hill where the Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros are situated. The bus only stops in the historic centre of Sintra after the Palácio da Pena.
As the Palácio da Pena will be the highlight of your day trip, as well as being the most famous sight, it makes sense to visit it earlier in the day. Getting to the palace early (before 10am) will also help you to avoid some of the major queues and give you a chance to buy a time slot ticket, if you haven't pre-purchased one.
It is always best to plan to have lunch in the historic centre of Sintra, as there are limited food options near the Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros.
Alternatives for a day trip to Sintra are detailed later in this guide, which may be useful during the extremely busy peak season.
Below is an interactive map for the suggested day trip to Sintra. The yellow markers are the sights of the day trip, while the blue line and markers show the route of the 434 bus.
Sights of the day trip: 1) Palácio da Pena 2) Castelo dos Mouros 3) historic centre of Sintra 4) Quinta da Regaleira 5) Palácio Nacional de Sintra 6) train station
The 434 bus route (blue): 7) Train station 8) Castelo dos Mouros bus stop 9) Palácio da Pena bus stop 10) Sintra Vila bus stop 7) Train station
Sintra has a pretty town centre
Sintra is a popular tourist destination and the elevated costs reflect this, so visiting everything can make for an expensive day out. The above day trip for one adult works out at about €74, based on current prices:
• Return train fare €4.50 (2x€2.30)
• 434 tourist bus €11.50 (unlimited use)
• Palácio da Pena timed ticket €14
• Palácio da Pena grounds only €7.50 (not recommended)
• Castelo dos Mouros €8
• Lunch in a restaurant €17- €25
• Quinta da Regaleira €12
• Palácio Nacional de Sintra €10
• Snacks, drinks and ice creams €5-€10
• Taxi from train station to Palácio da Pena €12
A day trip to Sintra can cost a lot less, especially if you're happy to walk and focus on exploring the historic centre, instead of the major sights. For a guide to the free sights of Sintra and a budget-friendly day trip please, read this guide.
The Castelo dos Mouros with its amazing views over the region
Sintra is a destination where an organised tour can be useful. There are steep hills separating the main attractions and a large portion of the day can be wasted waiting for public transport.
Over the last six years, we have worked with GetYourGuide.com, and a selection of their best tours of Sintra includes:
• 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)
Note: An organised tour is essential if you plan to visit both Sintra and Cascais in one day; this route by public transport leaves almost no time for sightseeing. Only consider combining Cascais and Sintra if you are really limited for time, as both towns deserve a day each.
The Câmara de Municipal Sintra (Sintra town hall)
The following section explains in-depth the 1-day tour of Sintra.
The recommended means of travel to Sintra from Lisbon is by train, and there are two train services:
• Rossio station (Lisbon) to Sintra
• Oriente station (Lisbon) to Sintra
The majority of visitors to Sintra depart from Rossio station as it is close to the popular tourist areas of Baixa and Alfama. The Estação do Oriente station is better if you're travelling from the airport.
Both train routes have similar journey times (40min Rossio, 47min Oriente). A single fare costs €2.30/€1.15 (adult/child), and a return is twice the price at €4.50. There is a departure approximately every 20 minutes during daylight hours, with both services starting early in the day and continuing late into the night.
If you are visiting Sintra from Cascais or Estoril, the bus is the best way to travel. There are regular services from Cascais bus station and Estoril train station.
Related articles: Lisbon to Sintra – Cascais to Sintra
The train to Sintra waiting in Rossio station
Sintra train station is the final stop of the railway, but the historic centre is a further 1.5km to the west. When exiting the train station, it is advisable to know if you want to see the historic centre of Sintra first or want to head up the hill to visit the Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros.
If you want to take in the town centre first, it is best to walk from the train station. This is a scenic route that passes the decorative town hall - the Fonte Mourisca - and is lined with tourist stalls selling gifts.
If you'd prefer to see the Palácio da Pena earlier in the day (which is what we’d recommend), it is advisable to catch the 434-bus service from the train station. The Palácio da Pena cannot be realistically walked to from the train station, as it is a very demanding 50-minute uphill walk and would waste most of your day.
Insight: When exiting the station, it is not very obvious where to go for the town centre or the Palácio da Pena. Amid this confusion, tour guides will pounce in an attempt to convince visitors to join tuk-tuk tours, guided tours or other gimmicky tourist activities.
These tours are very expensive when compared to the 434-bus service. If you are considering a tour, it makes more sense to book a tour that picks you up from your accommodation instead of wasting time catching the train.
The train to Sintra waiting in Rossio station
The 434 bus route connects Sintra train station to the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio da Pena, before returning to the train station via the historic centre of Sintra. A ticket costs €11.50 and provides 24-hour unlimited travel on all of Sintra's buses – but it is unlikely you will use any other bus services during the day trip.
The bus is expensive, but it is cheaper than a return taxi journey or tuk-tuk tour. Additionally, there can be very long waits for Uber/Bolts.
During the peak season there will be many departures per hour, but the sheer number of tourists mean the buses will be packed. The road up to the Palácio da Pena has many twists and turns, so it is always advisable to try and get a seat.
The route of the 434 bus means that to ride the bus from the town centre of Sintra up to the Palácio da Pena, you must go past (and stop) at the train station. It therefore makes sense to ride the bus from the train station to the Palácio da Pena at the start of the day.
Related article: The 434 tourist bus
The 434 tourist bus waiting at Sintra train station
The Palácio Nacional da Pena is regarded as one of the finest palaces in Europe and will be the highlight of your day trip to Sintra.
The colourful palace perches atop a craggy, rocky outcrop and was constructed around an abandoned monastery. The interior of the Palácio da Pena is equally fascinating, having been restored to how it appeared in 1910 when the monarchy was forced to flee Portugal due to revolution.
The colourful terraces of the Palácio da Pena
Due to its popularity, visits to the palace are via a timed ticket, which provides a 30-minute time window to enter the main building of the palace.
The most popular time slots will sell out during the peak season, so it is advisable to book tickets at least the day before. Tickets can be purchased from Getyourguide.com for €14 - click here.
There is a cheaper ticket (€7) that provides entrance to the gardens and forests that surround the Palácio da Pena, but not the actual palace. Surprisingly very little of the palace can be seen from the grounds, so the cheaper 'Park Only' ticket is not recommended if this is your first visit.
The entrance to the palace is guard by a statue of Triton
The kitchens of the Palácio da Pena
The Parque da Pena is the 200 hectares of forested parkland that surrounds the Palácio da Pena.
There is a surprisingly large amount to see within the Parque da Pena, and a half day could be easily spent exploring it.
On a hot summer's day, you can enjoy the cooling Feteira da Condessa fern gardens, Vale Dos Lagos (Valley of the Lakes) and the shaded forest footpaths of the Jardim Inglês.
The Parque da Pena also includes the highest point of the Serra da Sintra hills, the Cruz Alta (529m), which is a pleasant 20-minute walk from the palace. The best view of the Palácio da Pena is from the seldom-visited Alto do Cha viewpoint, and there is also the mock Alpine Chalet Da Condessa D'edla to visit.
Related articles: The Parque da Pena
The Chalet da Condessa d'Edla
A 16th century cross marks the highest point of the Serra da Sintra
The Castelo dos Mouros is the optional sight for the day, and visiting it really depends on whether you want to include another 90 minutes of sightseeing before lunch.
The castle dates from the Moorish era of Portugal (8th to 11th century) and was constructed as both a stronghold and fortified viewpoint, with its impressive views northwards and over the Atlantic coastline. The castle was extensively reconstructed during the building of the Palácio da Pena to become the major feature of the Parque da Pena gardens.
The rebuilding embellished everything expected from a medieval castle, from the massive battlements traversing the boulder-strewn landscape to the ancient towers providing spectacular views. The Castelo dos Mouros is a magnificent castle, however it is the least impressive attraction of the day trip when compared to the other unique sights of Sintra.
Related articles: Guide to the Castelo dos Mouros
Advice: The Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio da Pena are only separated by a gentle 400m walk, so there is no need to catch the bus.
The impressive views from the battlements of the Castelo dos Mouros
Once finished at the top of the Palácio da Pena hill, catch the 434 bus down to the historic centre of Sintra, which is served by the Sintra Vila bus stop. There is a scenic footpath, the Caminho de Santa Maria, which leads down from the Castelo dos Mouros to the town centre. However, for the day trip there is not normally enough time for this.
Sintra has a delightful centre, with its cobbled streets and traditionally painted buildings filled with family-run cafes and unique shops. Highlights of Sintra include the flamboyant town hall, the busy tourist shopping streets of Rua das Padarias and the pretty church of Igreja de Santa Maria. There is a wide selection of restaurants and cafes in the centre of Sintra, so this makes the ideal location for lunch.
While in one of Sintra's cafes, do try a Queijadas - the traditional sweet pastry of Sintra.
The Rua Padarias and the warren of cobbled streets at the heart of Sintra
For the later part of the day, you could either visit the Quinta da Regaleira or the Palácio Nacional de Sintra. The Quinta da Regaleira has fascinating gardens filled with caves and secret passages, while the gothic Palácio Nacional is rich in Portuguese history, being the most used royal palace in Portugal.
The Quinta da Regaleira is a 19th-century mansion that is famed for its mystical gardens. The gardens feature hidden cave passages, ornamental fortifications and the Poço Iniciático. This well, which is better described as an inverted tower, may have been used for initiation rituals (possibly by Freemasons) and was inspired by the Knights Templar.
The gardens are one of the finest attractions of Sintra, but it is best to visit early or late in the day to avoid the peak hour crowds.
Related articles: The Quinta da Regaleira
The hidden cave network below the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira
The gothic exterior of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra is distinctive due to the two coned chimneys that extend from the palace's kitchens.
This medieval palace was a favourite with the Portuguese nobility, being in continuous use from the 15th century through to the 19th century, making it the most used royal residence of Portugal.
The extensive history is reflected in its varied interior, but many of the rooms follow a simplistic styling of cooling floor tiles, high vaults and beautifully painted ceilings. Highlights include the Magpie Room, the decorative Throne Room and the Swan Room.
Useful links: National Palace tickets.
The Palacio Nacional de Sintra
The Sala dos Brasoes (Coat of Arms Room) in the Palacio Nacional
Our most popular guides to Sintra