The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
The beautiful Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros stand high above the historic centre of Sintra and the train station.
For your day trip to Sintra, the best way to reach them is by catching the 434-tourist bus service, which departs from the train station and a return costs €11.50. Unfortunately, this bus route can get very busy, while tuk-tuks and taxis up the hill are very expensive.
An alternative option is to follow the Caminho de Santa Maria footpath, which leads uphill from the historic centre of Sintra to the Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace. Be warned, this is a very steep hill and a demanding 55-minute hike, which can be very tiring in the heat of summer.
While the Caminho de Santa Maria is a challenging footpath to walk, it is also an extremely scenic route, passing through the forests of the Sintra region and offering many great viewpoints.
This article will detail the Caminho de Santa Maria and the hike from Sintra town up to the Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena.
Insight: This guide has been written for hiking up the hill, but it is a very enjoyable downhill route, which takes 30 minutes.
Related articles: Sintra introduction - The Palácio da Pena
It's a long walk from the centre of Sintra up to the Castelo dos Mouros, which can be just seen on the top of the hill
The first section of the route follows footpaths along the edge of roads, with the second section (the Caminho de Santa Maria) following a paved footpath through the Sintra forests. This forested section has many steps and steep inclines, but the path is well maintained.
There are no cafes or shops along the entire route, so make sure you have enough water before starting. At the top, the only cafes are inside the attractions and can only be accessed after paying the entrance fees.
Insight: There is a secondary route up to the Castelo dos Mouros via the Vila Sassetti gardens or the Parque das Merendas, but unfortunately this route has been poorly maintained and deemed unsafe to walk. As of writing this guide, the path was locked at Vila Sassetti gardens and blocked off at the top. Hopefully the path will be repaired soon, but it is doubtful.
The Caminho de Santa Maria footpath is the shortest and most scenic route up to the Palácio da Pena and Castelo dos Mouros. Never follow the main road, known as the Estrada da Pena. This a one-directional road that leads from the western side of Sintra and is much longer than the Caminho de Santa Maria. During the peak season, the Estrada da Pena often has dangerous levels of traffic, with tourist buses, taxis and tuk-tuks heading up to the Palácio da Pena.
The Estrada da Pena in front of the Pena Palace – the ancient road was never designed for the high levels of tourist traffic.
The interactive map below displays the Caminho de Santa Maria and the walking route from the historic centre of Sintra or the train station up to the Palácio da Pena (green). Also on the map is the Estrada da Pena (blue) and the closed Vila Sassetti route is marked (orange).
Key: 1) Castelo dos Mouros 2) Entrance to the Palácio da Pena 3) Palácio da Pena 4) The historic centre of Sintra 5) Train station
Insight: This article details the hiking route from the historic centre of Sintra up to the Castelo dos Mouros and Pena Palace which is the green line.
This section details the entire Caminho de Santa Maria route from the centre of Sintra up to the Palácio da Pena.
The walking route begins from the base of the Rua Visconde de Monserrate, which lies to the eastern side of Sintra. The shops and cafes at the start of the road are the last locations where you can purchase any drinks or food.
The base of the Rua Visconde de Monserrate is a popular pick-up point for tuk-tuk tours
The Rua Visconde de Monserrate has a gentle incline and passes the Sintra Boutique Hotel and the rear of the Palácio Valenças, currently used by Câmara Municipal de Sintra (Sintra Council).
The Palácio Valenças
Towards the top of the Rua Visconde de Monserrate, the path widens and is lined with trees and benches.
Note: If at the end of this first hill you have found it quite tiring, it is best to stop now as it will only get more demanding.
If you are beginning the walk from the train station, there is a pleasant shortcut through the Parque da Liberdade, which cuts out the first section of the Rua Visconde de Monserrate.
The entrance to the Parque da Liberdade
Once in the park, head uphill to the southern exit, which opens out onto the Rua Visconde de Monserrate.
The upper exit of Parque da Liberdade as it joins the Rua Visconde de Monserrate
Both routes continue up the Rua Visconde de Monserrate - turn left if you've just exited from the Parque da Liberdade.
At the top of the Rua Visconde de Monserrate, is a small set of steps on the right called the Escadinhas dos Clérigos.
And these steps go on…
At the top of the Escadinhas dos Clérigos, turn left onto the Calçada dos Clérigos.
The Calçada dos Clérigos passes the Igreja de Santa Maria church, one of the finest Gothic buildings in Sintra. As with many buildings in the Lisbon region, it was badly damaged by the 1755 earthquake and repaired in a Baroque style.
Just past the church, turn right onto the cobbled Rampa do Castelo, where the sign cheerily reminds you that it is still 1.4km uphill to the Palácio Nacional da Pena.
From this point in the hike, the route is shown by the red and yellow markings, but there is only a single path and it is quite clear where to go.
At the end of the Rampa do Castelo is the Igreja de São Miguel church.
Just past the church are some stone steps, marking the end of the road section and the beginning of the much more scenic Caminho de Santa Maria.
The path soon passes through an outer gateway building. When inside the building, look up to see the unique roof structure.
Insight: Here is the first of the many entrance fee signs for the Castelo dos Mouros. You do not need to pay here and only need to pay if you actually enter the castle. You can walk the entire Caminho de Santa Maria path without paying.
The route now is a series of cobbled paths that climb the side of the steep hill. At the first switch back is a convenient bench and decent viewpoint.
The path now passes the huge boulders that line the hill. This is a very tranquil and peaceful section of the hike.
On the second switch back, you’ll find a clearing through the trees and a view over the suburbs of Mercês and Algueirão–Mem Martins.
The path now passes through the Segunda Cintura de Muralha (The Second Walls). During the Moorish era (9-11th century) this outer wall would have provided protection to the local population and farm animals when under attack.
The ancient Segunda Cintura de Muralha walls and a modern wooden gate
The path follows the inside of the Segunda Cintura de Muralha, passing huge outcrops of boulders.
The path splits on the next eastward section, with a downward path leading to the Casa do Guarda (the guard's house) and a series of steps leading to the castle. The Casa do Guarda is only a minor attraction and can be skipped if you are planning to visit the much better Moors castle.
The exterior walls of the Casa do Guarda, but there's no real point in making your hike longer just to visit it
After two more steep, uphill paths that include some steps, you will pass an abandoned tourist building and finally reach the Igreja de São Pedro de Canaferrim. This church was originally constructed in the 12th century and was the first church built within the Sintra region . Today it is the Moorish Castle Interpretation Centre and displays artefacts found within the castle complex.
The Igreja de São Pedro de Canaferrim
If you wish to visit the Castelo dos Mouros, follow the path past the Igreja de São Pedro de Canaferrim. If you would rather head directly to the Palácio da Pena, take the path to the left. At this stage, the majority of the demanding uphill walking has been completed.
Insight: By now, you may be needing the toilet. There are some in the paid section of the Moors castle, but there are some free ones (which are a good standard) on the road opposite the entrance to the castle, about 300m from the São Pedro church. To reach them, follow the path to the Pena Palace.
We highly recommend visiting the Castelo dos Mouros. It is a fascinating ancient castle and there are amazing views from the top of the castle's battlement (466m high). A typical visit lasts one hour, the entrance fee is €8 and the castle will always be much quieter than the overly busy Palácio da Pena.
The view from the Castelo dos Mouros' battlements over the Sintra region and out to the Atlantic Ocean
To continue on to the Palácio da Pena, take the path to the left of the Igreja de São Pedro de Canaferrim and follow the signs.
The path to the Pena Palace may be 630m, but it is mostly flat now
The path from the Castelo dos Mouros to the main road is flat, but is often packed with tourists in the summer.
The path joins the road at the Castelo dos Mouros ticket office. The toilets are on the opposite side on the road to the ticket office.
To continue the walk to the Pena Palace, turn left at the road. There are two different paths; one follows the road, but is always busy with traffic, while the second passes through the forest. However, this is a surprisingly rough footpath.
The signed footpath from the Castelo dos Mouros to the most visited tourist attraction in Portugal is surprisingly bad
If you take the road route, be wary of the large number of tourist vehicles, many of which need to speed to have enough momentum to get up the steep hill.
When you arrive at the Palácio da Pena, you'll be confronted with the chaos and queues of the ticket machines and drop-off point.
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.
The entrance to the Pena Palace on a quiet October Monday; during the summer it will be much, much busier!
Insight: There is a secondary and much quieter entrance to the Pena Palace, the "Vale dos Lagos" gate. This entrance is 300m downhill from the Castelo dos Mouros ticket office along the main road – when exiting the Castelo dos Mouros turn right instead of left.
There is always less of a queue at the Vale dos Lagos, but once inside it is a longer walk to the Palace
Our most popular guides to Sintra
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