The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
Sintra is one of the finest tourist destinations in Portugal, but the costs of entrance fees, transport and food can quickly mount up, making it a very expensive day trip.
A typical day trip to Sintra includes visits to the Quinta da Regaleira (adult entrance fee €8) or the Palácio Nacional de Sintra (€10), before heading into the Sintra hills (€11.50 bus fare) to see the Castelo dos Mouros (€8) and the majestic Palácio Nacional da Pena (€14). With entry fees, food and the return train journey from Lisbon (€4.60), this can all add up to become a very costly day.
However, your trip or holiday to Sintra does not have to wipe out your entire budget. It can be visited inexpensively, and there are many excellent free activities and sights to discover.
This guide will detail the best free and inexpensive things to see in Sintra, along with tips to help you get the most from your budget.
Related articles: Introduction to Sintra - A day trip to Sintra
The Caminho de Santa Maria – The scenic hiking route that leads up from the historic centre of Sintra to the Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena, which passes through tranquil forests and boulder-strewn hills.
The route is a demanding 50-minute uphill walk, but it provides you entrance into part of the Moors castle for free, as well as avoiding the busy 434-tourist bus (€7 fare) or expensive tuk-tuk rides (€20). The downhill return route is much more relaxing and only takes 30 minutes. A guide to the Caminho de Santa Maria.
The shaded and cooing path heading up to the Castelo dos Mouros
The views from the Castelo dos Mouros are worth the €8 entrance fee
The Cabo da Roca – The towering cliffs, raging seas, and windswept headland of the Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point of mainland Europe. This is a magical location from which to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean, or to simply appreciate the raw beauty of nature.
To the north of the Cabo da Roca is the spectacular Praia da Ursa beach, one of the most beautiful beaches of the Lisbon region, which can be reached via a 1.2km coastal footpath. Cabo da Roca is 10km west of Sintra, and is best reached by car or a ride on the 403 bus route that departs from Sintra. A guide to the Cabo da Roca
The powerful lighthouse standing atop the Cabo da Roca cliffs
The Praia da Ursa is a picturesque beach that faces the powerful Atlantic Ocean.
Exploring Sintra town centre – As obvious as it sounds, but exploring the historic centre of Sintra is free. You can see the exterior of the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, the uniquely styled town hall, wander the bustling shopping streets such as the Rua Padarias or visit the peaceful parks of Parque da Liberdade and Parque das Merendas. Even the walk from the train station to the historic centre is pretty, and passes the Fonte Mourisca, a Moorish-inspired water spring.
The Gothic Palácio Nacional de Sintra, with its two distinctive chimneys rising from the kitchens
The Fonte Mourisca - there are many natural springs within Sintra
Vila Sassetti – The only grand villa and gardens in Sintra that are free to visit. This decorative mansion dates from the 1890s and was inspired by classic Mediterranean styles, while the ornamental gardens contain many water features.
The interior of the villa is not open to the public due to (never-ending) restoration works. Vila Sassetti could never be compared to the wonderous buildings of the Pena Palace, the Quinta da Regaleira or the Palácio de Monserrate, but it is free and a peaceful escape from the summertime crowds.
The main villa of Vila Sassetti
Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha – Possibly the finest viewpoint of the Sintra region, this little chapel perches atop a craggy rock outcrop and provides amazing views over the entire coastline. It's a dramatic and magical location, but you will need a car to get here.
The view southwards from Peninha overlooks the Praia do Guincho beach
The Sintra tram to Praia das Maçãs – The delightful tram route that connects Sintra to the pretty beach resort of Praia das Maçãs, with a cheery 1930s tram trundling along the 13km route. A tram ticket only costs €3, and at the end is the fantastic beach at Praia das Maçãs and a charming beach town, along with scenic coastal walking paths.
The tram ride and a trip to Praia das Maçãs is a fantastic, inexpensive activity if you're on holiday to Sintra, and the Praia das Maçãs is the best beach that is easily accessible from Sintra. Guide to Praia das Maçãs
The quaint tram from Sintra to Praia das Maçãs
The Praia das Maçãs is a fantastic beach
Insight: More free and inexpensive activities and sights are detailed at the end of this article.
The interactive map below shows the best free and inexpensive sights and attractions in Sintra and the surrounding region. Note: zoom out to see all of the points
Key: 1) Vila Sassetti 2) Caminho de Santa Maria hiking path 3) Parque da Liberdade 4) Parque das Merendas 5) Penedo da Amizade (rocking climbing cliffs) 6) Historic centre of Sintra 7) Palácio Nacional de Sintra (exterior free to see) 8) Câmara Municipal de Sintra (town hall) 9) Igreja de Sao Martinho 10) Fonte Mourisca 11) Palace of Seteais 12) Queijadas da Sapa (traditional pastries of Sintra) 13) Sintra Tram 14) Praia das Maçãs (beach) 15) Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha 16) Cabo da Roca 17) Praia da Ursa (beach) 18) N247 road (scenic drive)
A day trip to Sintra need not be overly expensive. Here are some tips and advice to make it cheaper for you.
The train is the best and cheapest way to travel from Lisbon to Sintra. There are two services to Sintra, with one departing Lisbon from the Estação do Oriente and the other from the Estação do Rossio. The latter route is more popular with tourists as Rossio train station is in the Baixa district, close to the tourist centre of Lisbon. A return ticket costs €4.60, and a full guide to the train services can be read here.
Insight: Never drive to Sintra. There is limited car parking, and the narrow roads are not designed for the huge amounts of tourist traffic in the summer.
The cheapest way to reach the Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros is to catch the 434-tourist bus. This bus service follows a one-way, circular loop from the train station up to the Palácio da Pena, passing the historic centre of Sintra and the Castelo dos Mouros. A hop-on, hop-off ticket for the route costs €7 and is slightly overpriced, however it is much cheaper than a taxi or tuk-tuk.
Insight: When exiting Sintra train station, you will be pounced on by many tour guides and drivers trying to sell all manner of different trips and tours. Try to ignore them all. It is a scenic (and flat) walk from the station to the historic centre of Sintra. If you want to visit the Pena Palace, take the 434-bus or walk the Caminho de Santa Maria (this is a very demanding walk!)
The 434 tourist bus service waiting outside the train station
The restaurants in the historic centre of Sintra are very expensive (as they are designed for tourists) and are extremely busy in the summer. Much better and cheaper options are found on the Avenida Alfredo da Costa (the road below the train station) and the Avenida Heliodoro Salgado (northeast of the station). The Casa dos Frangos restaurant is a good choice for inexpensive traditional Portuguese food, and is close to the station.
The Cintia snack bar/restaurant, opposite the train station, is a great café where all of the locals and workers go for coffee and quick meals.
Insight: There are no good food options at the top of the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle hill. Before heading up there, make sure you have sufficient water and food. Otherwise, you'll find yourself paying more than €4.50 for some disappointing sandwiches.
If you're on holiday in Sintra, the best value supermarket is Pingo Doce, which is situated in the new town to the east of the train station. However, this is a long walk from the historic centre.
There are almost no good value food locations in the centre of Sintra
The Palácio da Pena is a magnificent palace and the most famous sight of Sintra. 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.
During the peak season, the most popular time slots are booked, and 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, and the cheaper ‘Park Only’ ticket is not recommended if this is your first visit.
Many visitors to the Palácio da Pena head to the palace for their time slot, see the main building and terraces and then leave, but there is actually a lot to see within the grounds. Half a day could be easily spent here, making it a much better value tourist attraction. Highlights of the Pena Park include the Cruz Alta viewpoint, the Alto de Santa Catarina viewpoint, the Chalet e Jardim da Condessa d'Edla and the Lago dos Peixes, along with the many forested footpaths.
The general confusion, queues and traffic at the entrance to the Pena Palace - and this is on a quiet Monday in October!
Fábrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa
Every Portuguese town has its own traditional sweet pastry, and the delicious speciality of Sintra are Queijadas (Queijadas de Sintra). These crispy, pastry tarts are filled with a sweet mix of cheese, eggs, milk and sugar – and are the perfect treat during a long day of sightseeing!
Queijadas have been made in Sintra since the medieval period, but it was Maria Sapa in 1756 who first started to prepare them commercially. Her recipe was passed down through the generations, and the family shop - the Fábrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa - is the best place to try them.
Câmara Municipal de Sintra
The Câmara Municipal de Sintra (Sintra town hall) is one of the finest examples of the whimsical Romanticist style of architecture found in Sintra. The building was completed in 1909 and boasts a decorative Manueline-inspired entrance and a flamboyant clock tower. Sadly, the interior of the building is not open to the public, but the exterior is free to see.
The Palácio de Seteais
The Palácio de Seteais is a magnificent neo-classical palace that dates from 1783. The palace today is a luxurious hotel, but non-guests are able to visit the grounds. The grounds include a terrace garden with amazing views, hedge mazes and an impressive triumphal archway.
The N247 road
If you have a car, the N247 road between Azóia and Cascais provides one of the most spectacular driving routes of the Lisbon region. The road twists and turns through the Serra da Sintra hills and provides fantastic views over the region, before descending down into the pretty town of Cascais.
Related articles: The best driving routes in the Lisbon region
The Igreja de Sao Martinho
The Igreja de Sao Martinho is the main church in Sintra. The gothic church dates from 1283, but it was almost entirely rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake.
The interior of the Sao Martinho church is very similar to many other Portuguese Baroque churches
The Caminho de Vila Sassetti
This was a scenic hiking route from Sintra up to the Palácio da Pena, which passed through the grounds of Vila Sassetti and along the base of the Penedo da Amizade cliffs, providing some of the best views of the Castelo dos Mouros. This route is currently closed, having been deemed unsafe, and the gate from the Vila Sassetti gardens is locked. The path will hopefully be repaired, but this is doubtful.
The Penedo da Amizade cliffs
The Penedo da Amizade cliffs, situated below the Castelo dos Mouros, is Portugal's oldest and most famous rock-climbing locations. These bare rock faces provide challenging climbing routes for experienced climbers, and their ascents can be exhilarating to watch. The cliffs are accessible by the Parque das Merendas.
Our most popular guides to Sintra