If you’re keen on exploring mountaintop medieval fortifications, vibrant fairytale castles, lush forests, and eccentric labyrinthine gardens all in one location, then Sintra is the place for you. Located about 40 minutes by train from Lisbon, Sintra is a UNESCO Cultural Landscape. Throughout history, Celts, Moors, and Portuguese nobility inhabited the area. Most of these civilizations also left their mark with a structure or two, which present day visitors can enter.
Without a doubt, Sintra enchants its visitors. Some may wonder if it’s the spectacular landscape that hypnotizes everyone? Or is it the fact that one is able to traverse so many magnificent structures from so many different centuries all within a few kilometers? It certainly makes one feel like time travel is possible. Or better yet – can we say that the Quinta da Regaleira is responsible for Sintra’s magical atmosphere? Is there a real spell at work there? The estate IS FILLED with symbols connected to alchemy… Or maybe the “magic” is even older and deeper? The Celts called Sintra the Mountain of the Moon God, so maybe it’s ancient power can still be felt?
Regardless of the exact source of the area’s mystical atmosphere, Sintra should definitely not escape your Portugal “Must Visit” list.
Well, if breathtaking views and a rich history are not enough, Sintra will give you the opportunity to believe in magic again.
This post will provide you with some travel tips for making the most out of your visit to Sintra. It will also share some of my favourite sites and attractions in the area, which are guaranteed to make you feel like the stuff of fiction can really become fact.
When to Go
If you’d like to visit Sintra on warm day, I recommend visiting the area in late April, May, October, or early November when temperatures won’t make you feel like you’ve been tossed onto a sizzling frying pan. I visited Sintra at the very, very end of October, and summer clothing was still the only appropriate form of clothing for the weather. As well, crowds will be thinner during these months!
June to September is peak travel season in Portugal for both national and international travellers. Temperatures often get quite high (around 30 C) during the summer months, so doing some serious exploring in Sintra during this time is less than ideal. The village and surrounding sites and attractions will be quite crowded, and if you choose to hike around the area, it isn’t always as enjoyable in the heat.
BUDGET TIP: Admission fees for the Sintra’s major sites and attractions are lower during off-season. It’s still possible to experience some dazzling sunny days during the “winter” months. This year, 2017, off-season will begin on October 29th.
Nevertheless, if summer happens to be the only time you have the chance to go, the Pink Caddy Travelogue has an AMAZING guide all about beating the crowds in Sintra!
The simplest way to reach Sintra from Lisbon is by train. Currently, a train heading to Sintra departs every 20 minutes. Pay close attention to the train you take because every third train isn’t direct and requires a change.
Overall, the journey, regardless of the train, takes around 40 minutes. Trains heading to Sintra only leave from Lisbon’s downtown Rossio Train Station, which is about a 10-minute walk away from the famous Praça do Comércio Square. Lisbon has many train stations, so it’s important that you go to the right one.
Despite the abundance of trains heading to Sintra from Rossio, if you plan on buying your train tickets at the station, arrive at the station at least 45 minutes before the train you’ve selected is scheduled to depart. The queues to the ticket office and ticket machines can be monstrously long. We visited Sintra during off-season, and we still had to wait in line for nearly half an hour in order to purchase our tickets. On a positive note, a round-trip train ticket from Lisbon to Sintra costs less than 5 Euros. Waiting in line is #worthit.
Of course, it is possible to drive from Lisbon to Sintra. However, if you’re not an experienced driver, please, please, please don’t do it. Safe driving practices, such as signaling, following speed limits, and keeping a sufficient distance between vehicles, seem to be mere suggestions rather than enforced driving rules in Lisbon.
Getting Around Sintra
Once in Sintra, there are 4 ways you can get around the town and the surrounding area: on foot, by bus, by electric mini-car rental, or by taxi.
I highly recommend exploring Sintra and the village’s nearby sites and attractions on foot. Nothing compares to getting off the paved road and immersing yourself in the lush gardens and forests on the mountainside up to the castles. Of course, all trails up to the two attractions are carefully marked and maintained. Walking (especially uphill) will obviously take a bit longer than catching the bus or a taxi, but fortunately, using the hiking trails in the area is ABSOLUTELY FREE.
The hike up the Sintra Mountains is full of surprises, such as stumbling upon this magnificent stone throne!
The 434 bus is the tourist bus that takes Sintra’s visitors from the train station, through town, and up to the Castle of the Moors and the Pena Palace. If you purchase a round trip ticket (5.50 Euros/5.00 Euros if you already have a Viva Viagem transport card from using the train), you can take the bus back down to the train station after visiting the Pena Palace.
It’s useful to know that the lines for the bus, especially at the Sintra Train Station bus stop, are usually quite long (even in October), so you may not get on the first bus that stops at the station. Therefore, if you plan on using the bus to get around, be prepared to spend some time waiting line. (This is why I recommend walking and hiking).
For more details about the 434 bus route, check out Sintra-Portugal.com’s information page by clicking here.
By Mini-Car or Taxi
Since I’m all about budget travel, I’m not going to devote too many sentences to talking about electric mini-cars or taxis. They’re the two most expensive transportation options in Sintra. Nevertheless, if mini-cars sound intriguing, Sight Sintra rents them out to visitors. Each mini-car includes a pre-programmed GPS that directs you through your chosen tour. You can visit Sight Sintra by clicking here. Taxis can also take you from attraction to attraction.
What About Taking The Car?
Now, since I mentioned taxis, you may be wondering if you can rent your own car and travel around Sintra as you please…
WARNING: Driving a car in the village and surrounding area may not work out in your favour.
First of all, parking spaces are extremely limited. As well, the roads tend to be really narrow, winding, and have some rather steep inclines. We witnessed our fair share of unfortunate engine stalls while walking in and out of town.
Getting Your Tickets
There are a variety of different ways to tickets for most of Sintra’s major attractions. If you want to cut down on your time waiting in line, purchasing your tickets online is the way to go. Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua is the organization that manages many of Sintra’s historic sites. You can purchase your tickets online by clicking here. As an added bonus, you receive a small discount for purchasing them online.
For our Sintra visit, we didn’t buy our tickets online since weren’t actually sure which day we would visit the area until the last minute. Fortunately, we found out that even though we didn’t purchase our entrance tickets ahead of time, we could still cut down the amount of time we spent in lines. Once in Sintra, we were able to purchase tickets for the Castle of the Moors AND the Pena Palace in the main Tourist Information Office downtown. That meant that we wouldn’t have to wait in line in front of the ticket booths for each of those attractions. Out of the three sites we decided to visit that day, We only had to buy the entrance ticket for Quinta da Regaleira on site.
Of course, you can always buy your tickets at each attraction or through a third-party service, such as Viator. However, pay close attention to the tickets you ask for, because certain tickets can give you access to only part of an attraction. For example, the Park of Pena ticket only lets you explore the park surrounding the castle and the castle’s terraces. It will not let you go into the castle.
What To Do In Sintra
Sintra is a popular day trip. However, there are more landmarks, sites and attractions within a 3 km radius of Sintra’s downtown area than can be seen in one day. If you plan on taking a day trip to Sintra, you will have to pick and choose your favourites. You can do your own research, but to make the process easier for you, I’ll share my favourites with you. In addition to the 3 sites and attractions described below, make sure to visit Sintra’s quaint city centre.
That being said: If you manage to see and do it all in a day – you’ll have earned a shot of Ginjinha from me!
Are you ready for the good stuff? After getting through all those technicalities, I really am!
Castle of the Moors
The first site we visited was the Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros). The Moors built the castle over a thousand years ago when they were in control of a significant portion of the Iberian Peninsula.
The fortification sits on top of the Sintra Mountains and offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Today, only ruins of the original structure remain. However, they are still nothing short of exceptional.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan like me, a visit to the Castle of the Moors, without a doubt, will make you feel like you’re Khaleesi on a quest to re-conquer Westeros. Just take a look at the photos below!
View of the castle from the hike up.
Looking out over the kingdom.
View of the surrounding landscape from the Castle of the Moors.
Our second stop after hiking up to the top of the Sintra Mountains was the 19th century Pena Palace. In addition to being a part of a UNESCO Cultural Landscape, the castle is also one of Portugal’s 7 wonders. The castle’s vivid colours and intricate details catch your gaze from afar and draw you in. Once you lay your eyes on the castle, it’s impossible to deny the urge to take a closer look.
Looking up at one side of the palace.
From a distance and up close, the castle looks like it belongs in a fairytale. The question is: which one?
Pena Palace Clocktower.
Again, the Pena Palace is the perfect place to visit for you Game of Thrones fans.
Triton sculpted into the palace’s intricate facade.
When we visited the palace, we purchased the Pena Park ticket. As mentioned earlier, this ticket let us explore the park around the castle and the terraces, but not the interiors. Fortunately, as you can see, there were a lot of terraces to visit.
Quinta da Regaleira
After exploring the Pena Palace and Park, we descended the mountains and headed over to Quinta da Regaleira.
I actually really struggled with putting my experience of Quinta da Regaleira into words. In the next few sentences, I’m going to try to make my description do the actual place justice.
The heart of Sintra’s magic can be found in the Quinta da Regaleira. The estate is an amusement park. There aren’t any “rides”, but the place doesn’t need them. Countless hours of entertainment can be found in the park’s castle-like ruins, waterfalls, lagoons, secret tunnels, underground labyrinths, grottos, and “Initiation Wells.” Each and every corner of the estate leads you to believe that Wonderland was not just a figment of Lewis Carroll’s imagination, and it is, in fact, possible to go down a rabbit hole and come back a couple of hours later. Quinta da Regaleira plays tricks with your mind. The place is full on unsolved mysteries (no one really knows what went on in those wells), and mystical symbols. In Quinta da Regaleira, it feels like a barrier to some alternate realm waivers. You’ll leave the estate questioning what you just experienced.
A waterfall found in the estate gardens. A secret path can take you behind it.
Waterfall from above. Cross those stepping stones only if you dare. Someone did fall in during our visit.
Things are not what they appear. The stepping stones are not surrounded by a solid green surface…it’s just algae covering up the water underneath.
Looking for the entrance to the grotto.
The famous Initiation Well.
One of the “ruins” you can climb and explore.
Going for that “Queen Khaleesi” vibe.
The palace found on the estate.
All in all, Sintra is a place where the stuff of fiction appears and presents itself as fact. When in Lisbon, it’s a day trip you absolutely have to take. It’s as simple as that.
If more attractions than the three described above fascinate you, you can always extend your stay. With more time on your hands, you can visit Cabo da Roca, a magnificent cape on the Portuguese coast, and Praia da Ursa, a picture-perfect beach along the very same coast.
Have you been to Sintra? What did you enjoy the most?
If you haven’t, would you like to go? I want to go back for round 2!
Last but not least, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan:
Wow. Godwilling going to Portugal 🇵🇹 in sept. Definitely will do this trip . Looks fab
This place looks amazing, I can see myself just getting lost in here. I’m looking to go to the Azores later this year I guess I can do a cheeky little stop in Portugal mainland for a few days before heading off to the Islands. This will definitely be on my list. Thank you for bringing this to my attention 😀
I hope you do get the chance to visit! I was fascinated by Sintra. Though the Azores sound equally amazing!
Sintra is a magical place that I never get enough of. BTW, loved your GOT hairdo 🙂
Me neither! I’m already trying to figure out when I can go back. And THANKS! 😀 I miss that silver hair!
Oh wow! Never heard of Sintra until now, looks magical and I LOVE the idea of it being full of medieval alchemy 😉 I love how accessible the trains are, so I can imagine definitely doing a trip here soon!
It’s pretty incredible! And so many guidebooks are pretty persistent with emphasizing all that magic stuff – it’s not just me!
Love this! I am yet to go to Portugal (its on the bucket list), but when I do I’ll definitely have to visit Sintra! By the way you have perfected the khaleesi vibe
I hope you get to go! And thanks! I miss that silver hair!
I loved Sintra too, but sadly I only had time to see Moorish Castle and Pena Palace – looks like I missed so much more though! I’d love to go back sometime.
You look like Daenerys surveying her kingdom! 🙂 Sintra looks lovely. Portugal is high on my list of to-go places, but I want to spend like three weeks there. Posts like this just show there’s so much to do! Great info, very helpful for planning a trip.
Thank you so much! I’m happy that you found the post helpful!
The photos look amazing! Ashamed to say I haven’t heard of Sintra until now so thanks for bringing it on my radar! The castles are indeed fairy tale like and I love historical sites!
I have been to Porto and the Algarve region but haven’t yet made it to Lisbon. I will definitely visit Sintra when I am in Lisbon. Pena Palace looks incredible! By the way, great tip about the tickets and also the off-peak season.
I would love to go to Porto and the Algarve region! Must have been stunning!
I loved Sintra it is such a beautiful place to visit. I opted to get the bus up to Pena Palace and walk down as I wanted to make sure I had time to visit everywhere. Such a beautiful part of the country and a must when you visit Lisbon.
Taking the bus is a good way to make sure that you have enough time to fit as many attractions in as you can!
This is STUNNING, and I always try to find the UNESCO sites when we travel. I would love to visit, and I think my camera and I would have a fantastic time. 🙂
Cameras definitely love Sintra 🙂
Wow, those buildings almost don’t look real. Like cartoon cakes with the turrets. Amazing. You’re hair braids are also so stunning! Really enjoyed reading this. Lisbon would never have been on my radar. Thank you!
It still feels surreal looking back at the pictures!
Great port filled with useful information! I will keep this because I really want to get there somewhere in October or November of this year!
OMG I love the photos! I thought you were Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones because of the hair! lol Dying to see Sintra… <3
Thank you! No one believes me when I say that I didn’t consciously plan my outfit + hair!
I don’t know what I love more, your photos or your hair style! The garden estate looks gorgeous – need to bump Portugal up on my bucket list!
Thank you! I definitely miss that hair. Silver is impossible to keep!
I always enjoy reading about new places that I don’t know about and this looks like a real find. I love trains and for me it would certainly be the best way to get there. Once there, I would have to see the castle and the palace since I am a history buff, but the photo looking down from the Initiation Well is amazing.
Thank you so much!! I am actually going to Lisbon in November and will be sure to take a day trip to Sintra. I love all the castles and would love to explore.
I like how your braid matches the Pena Palace. All so GOT 🙂 Or, you ask about the fairytale – perhaps, Rapunzel? I have heard a lot about Sintra from my friend who lives in Lisbon, I hope to see it some day with my own eyes as well 🙂
I can see the how it would be the perfect palace for Rapuzel – super high towers right at the top of a mountain. One would definitely need more than his/her two hands to get up there. Hair would be helpful!
Sintra looks amazing! I visited Lisbon 5 years ago, but didn’t make it to Sintra unfortunately. I think your photos are actually the first ones of seen with the castle looking so colourful! It looks so beautiful. And I love your hair style as well. You look just like Daenerys from behind 🙂
Sintra is an amazing place, especially for one day trip from Lisbon! I also recommend Coimbra, is less touristic and has some nice gems of architecture!
Thank you! Will check that out on my next trip to Portugal 🙂
I got as far as “mountaintop medieval fortifications” before breaking out into a grin being all “I’m gonna like this post!” You’re right this absolutely has to be on my to do list. Waterfalls and castles and secret tunnels… I think this might be the most perfect spot in the world (and that’s really saying something!) Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for your comment! I have to agree – it is one of the most perfect places in the world!
Sintra is so amazing and you covered all the best points! Unfortunately the day I went was one of the very few days a year that the Palace and Castle were closed!!! Jus an excuse to go back though 😀
Definitely a good reason to go back!
Amazing experience going to Sintra. We have been twice and will certainly go again next trip to Lisbon. Loved the Moorish castle on our last visit it was amazing