The best guide to Sintra
Sintra and the Serra de Sintra is a diverse and fascinating region containing many outstanding tourist attractions. Unfortunately, most visitors simply follow the same crowded routes and miss out on many of the hidden gems of the region.
If you are willing to be a little intrepid, you will be rewarded with stunning viewpoints, deserted monuments and a completely different perspective of Sintra.
The monuments detailed in this article may be less famous, but they are no less intriguing, and are free from the crowds that plague the common tourist attractions.
The interactive map below shows the location of these hidden gems and lesser-known sights of the Sintra region.
The sights are: 1) Convento dos Capuchos 2) Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha 3) Praia da Ursa beach 4) Sintra tram 5) Cabo da Roca at sunset 6) Vila Sassetti 7) Chalet da Condessa D'Edla 8) Seteais to Vila Sassetti hiking route 9) Praia da Adraga Beach 10) Cruz Alta or The Unnamed Viewpoint in Parque da Pena
The austere Convento dos Capuchos is in extreme contrast to the grandeur and excessiveness found throughout Sintra, and is the most atmospheric attraction in the region.
This simplistic 17th-century convent exemplifies the Franciscan belief that humans should not impact the earth, and the entire complex is in harmony with its natural surroundings.
Ancient forests are intertwined with the basic stone buildings, while the main chapel is hidden in a cave formed by the region’s massive boulders. The only compromise for the monk’s reflective and devout lives, was the use of cork as a natural insulation against the harsh winter conditions.
Today, the Capuchos Convent has been completely taken over by the forests, and this humble convent is one of the most fascinating attractions of Sintra, along with being one of the quietest!
Related articles: Convento dos Capuchos
Ask a local where the best viewpoint of Sintra is, and they will confidently tell you the Sanctuary of Peninha.
An apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared to local farmers in the 16th century and a century later the small Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha was constructed on the site.
Later, in the 19th century, a villa was built on the headland in the Romanticism architecture style of the Pena Palace (Peninha translates to Small Pena), but the savage weather conditions meant it was soon abandoned.
Related articles: Peninha guide
In a region of such excessive tourism, it is astonishing that one of the most beautiful beaches has absolutely no tourist development, and is barely known by foreign visitors.
The quaint Sintra tram connects the historic centre of Sintra with the pretty beach resort town of Praia das Maçãs, 12km to the west.
The Cabo da Roca headland is hardly an undiscovered tourist attraction, and the endless stream of coach tours will attest this, but the secret is to visit at sunset.
It is here that the Romans believed the sun was extinguished at the end of every day, and there is still a magical quality to the sunsets at the Cabo da Roca, when the final golden rays of the sun illuminate the immense ocean.
The Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point of mainland Europe, and this feature draws in the coach tours, along with being a convenient attraction when travelling between Sintra to Cascais. During the peak hours, there will be hordes of tourists around the monument and the surrounding cliffs.
It is very easy to escape the tourist masses by simply following one of the hiking paths to the north or south.
The north is the recommended route as after 1.3km it leads to the picturesque Praia da Ursa beach.
Related articles: Cabo da Roca guide
The grounds of the Vila Sassetti Mansion meander uphill from central Sintra to the cliffs at the base of the Castelo dos Mouros. These quiet paths and gardens pass through cooling forests and refreshing water features.
The Chalet da Condessa D'Edla is a fascinating house designed by Elise Hensler, the second wife of King Fernando II (who constructed the Pena Palace). This delightful building reflects an alpine cottage, but also incorporates decorative work in cork, inspired by the Convento dos Capuchos.
Sintra is frequently crowded with tourists rushing from one historic monument to another, but few have time to explore the areas in between. This includes the scenic hiking trails of the region.
The Parque da Pena provides many fantastic opportunities to view (and photograph) the colourful palace and the Cruz Alta is widely regarded as being the best viewpoints. This is the highest point of the Serra de Sintra (528m), but the surrounding forests do limit the view of the palace and there can be many other tourist trying to get the perfect photo….
For a much more peaceful setting and an uninterrupted view, climb the hill 300m to the west of Cruz Alta (right on the guide maps). There is a small footpath which winds around the giant boulders and reaches the summit. This viewpoint is so unknown it doesn’t even have a name!
Advice: The best photos of the Pena Palace from either of these viewpoints are taken before midday, when the sun is to the east/south and behind you.
Related articles: Pena Palace guide
Always start as early in the day as possible, the main attractions open at 9am and the first tourist bus is around 9am while the first train from Lisbon is at 6am.
The busiest times of the day are at 10:30-12:00 and 14:00-16:00, and it best to avoid the main tourist attractions and visit one of the lesser crowded sights in this guide.
All entrance tickets can be purchased online beforehand, and this removes the need to stand in long ticket queues. There are sufficient sights in Sintra for 2-3 days, so do consider spending a couple of nights here.