The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
Sintra is a delightful Portuguese town that has an abundance of wonderful tourist attractions, which range from ancient castles through to sumptuous palaces.
The town is famed for its Romanticism style of architecture and there are numerous fine examples of this elaborate and decorative construction type, found throughout the forested hills of the Serra da Sintra national park.
Sintra is often visited as a day trip from Lisbon but more than one day is needed to fully discover this fascinating region. This guide will detail the best and most popular attractions of Sintra and the Serra da Sintra region.
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The following table provides a quick overview of the major sights of Sintra and a suggested order to visit them.
The exquisite Palacio da Pena is regarded as one of the finest tourist attractions of Portugal and will be a highlight of any visit to Sintra. The vividly painted palace was commissioned in 1842 by King Ferdinand II who championed the arts, literature and music. The King wished the palace to mirror a scene from an opera and so the extravagant Pena Palace was constructed.
The Pena Palace is a delightful amalgamation of different design styles and influences, which range from North African to medieval gothic. The interior is equally interesting being restored to how it was in 1910 when Queen Amélia spent her last night there before she fled to Brazil, during the revolution.
The forests that surround the palace continue the Romanticism ideals with hidden pathways, ornate features and great viewpoints.
The Pena Palace is a wonderful tourist attraction, but its popularity means it can get very crowded during the summer. When visiting either, plan to arrive early or late in the day to avoid the mid-morning/mid-afternoon coach tours. To travel to the Pena Palace catch the 434-tourist bus, as the walk from the town is very difficult and up a steep hill.
The Pena Palace is opposite the Castle of the Moors so both monuments are often visited together. Expect to spend 3 hours in the palace and grounds, an adult ticket is €14.
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The Quinta da Regaleira is an extravagant 19th century gothic mansion that is surrounded by the most elaborate of Sintra’s gardens.
The gardens are a joy to explore as they are filled with decorative fortifications, mystic religious symbols and a series of secret passages and caves. The central feature of the gardens is the ‘initiation’ well, a well that was drained, expanded and possibly used for cult ceremonies.
The Quinta da Regaleira takes about 2 hours to visit and most of the time will be spent exploring the amazing gardens. An adult ticket costs €6 and is a 5-minute walk from the centre of historic Sintra.
The Quinta da Regaleira is a popular tourist attraction but not as popular as the Pena Palace or Palácio Nacional and never feels overcrowded as most visitors are spread throughout the gardens.
How about a small group tour?
An organised tour is the hassle-free way to explore Sintra, and the only sensible option to see both Sintra and Cascais in a single day. We have worked with Getyourguide for the previous 6 years, and some of their highest rated tours of Sintra include:
The Convento dos Capuchos is the humble Franciscan monastery that balances the excess and opulence of Sintra and is therefore one of the most atmospheric buildings of the region.
Capuchos was constructed to have minimal impact on the natural surroundings and the monastery buildings are blended with the ancient forest and massive granite boulders. The only material used for decoration is cork and this was to insulate the ceilings of the small cells where the monks slept.
The monks of Convento dos Capuchos followed a simplistic and reflective lifestyle and this peaceful atmosphere continues to this day, as few tourists make the effort to travel to Capuchos. The monastery is 7km from the centre of Sintra so a rental car (or electric bike/car) is required to travel there but the tranquil setting is worth the effort. The adult entrance fee is €7.00 and typical visits last 1-1.5hours.
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The gothic styled Palácio Nacional de Sintra is situated in the heart of Sintra and was the most lived in royal residence, being in continual use from the 15th century up until the fall of the monarchy in 1910. This is the palace where King Afonso VI (1650s) was imprisoned during his later life, as he was deemed, by his brother, too unstable to rule the country.
The minimalistic gothic exterior is dominated by the two huge chimneys that rise out from the kitchens, while the interior includes decoratively painted rooms that reflect the extensive history of the palace. The most famous of these rooms is the magpie room, which has paintings of magpies representing the gossiping and scheming of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting.
As the National Palace is in the centre of town it is usually combined with exploring the historic centre of Sintra with its numerous cafes, restaurants and shops. The entrance fee is €10.00 and it can get busy during the middle of the day.
The Castelo dos Mouros was constructed by the Moors in the 9th century as a fortified observatory, with views over the sea and region. After the invasion of central Portugal by the Christian Crusaders in the 12th century the importance of this viewpoint waned, and the castle fell into disrepair.
The castle deteriorated further after fire (from lighting) and earthquakes during the 17th and 18th centuries. The all but forgotten castle was restored during the 19th century to be a major feature in the grounds of the Pena Palace.
The castle is set amidst dense forests and from the battlements or towers there are spectacular panoramic views over Sintra. The Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace are often visited together but the more historically important Pena Palace should be visited first (unless the queues are too long). The adult entrance fee is €8.00.
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The Palacio de Monserrate is a 19th century mansion that contains the finest example of Islamic inspired architecture in Sintra.
The Palace prides itself on its beautiful small details; from the intricate geometrical patterns on the lattices, to the finly carved stone detail on the exterior and the stunning Indian inspired stone inlaying.
The palace’s fine detail is to such perfection that it could only be funded by England’s richest man, Sir Francis Cook, a merchant who amassed a fortune exporting textiles and wool.The gardens are quiet and peaceful and contain exotic plants from Francis Cook’s personal collection.
Monserrate is 4km from the historic centre of Sintra and is served by the 435-bus route, which connects the train station, historic town, Palácio de Seteais and Palacio de Monserrate. Because it is the furthest palace from Sintra it is always much quieter than the other historical buildings. The adult entrance fee is €8.00.
The main attraction of the remote Santuario da Peninha is the stunning view. This small mansion and chapel stand atop a massive rocky outcrop which provides panoramic views across the entire Sintra coastline. There is no entrance fee to Peninha.
The Pena Park covers over 200 hectares of forested hills that surround the Pena Palace and contained in the park are numerous pleasant short walks. The maze of forested paths leads to an assortment of Romanticism inspired features including a statue of King Ferdinand, decorative battlements and bridges and hidden lakes. T
he Cruz Alta, the highest summit in the Serra de Sintra, is an enjoyable 20-minute walk from the Palace and this location provides a wonderful view of the Pena Palace.
The Cabo da Roca is a headland of massive cliffs and powerful seas, and the most westerly point of mainland Europe. This is a wonderful location to watch the sunset.
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