SINTRA PORTUGAL: WHAT TO SEE IN A DAY AND USEFUL INFO ABOUT HOW YOU CAN ORGANIZE YOUR TRIP
Talking about Sintra is a bit difficult: there’s so much to see that you can’t decide what to do at the moment. I also thought that Sintra had just a fairytale castle to visit and a small village, but when I began to take info, I realized it wasn’t so! Sintra is certainly a small village and you can visit its historical centre in a few time, but what I didn’t know was that it’s a big complex where, besides the fairytale castle, are other interesting palaces and places, not so close to each other!
I want to inform you that if you have just one day, you won’t see everything, but you’ll have to make a choice between the several attractions; if you have otherwise a pair of days, you’ll visit the complex in a more detailed way, dividing the attractions according to your time.
For us Sintra was a day trip excursion during our stay in Lisbon.
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Here a list of the main attractions to see, just to give you an idea:
- Sintra National Palace+ historical centre (* palace only outside)
- Quinta da Regaleira (*)
- Pena Palace + Pena Park (*)
- Moorish Castle
- Monserrate Palace + park
- Chalet of the Countess of Edla (* only outiside)
- Seteais palace (* solo da fuori)
- Convento dos Capuchos
- Queluz Palace+ park
The places signed with (*) are the ones we visited: you’ll find more info with photos below in this post ⇓ Plus we went to Cabo da Roca. If I have to tell you my “must do”, I’d say: Quinta de Regaleira, Pena Palace and Cabo da Roca.
Don’t make the mistake to think “I’ll do everything on foot”: when you’ll reach the hill it could be still midday; you’d waste too much time walking without visiting: remember that attractions aren’t close to each other and the streets are uphill!
♦♦ You can go on foot only:
- from the station (signed on the map as Sintra) to the historical centre of Sintra with National Palace (about 700 mt – 10/15 minutes)
- from the historical centre to the Quinta de Regaleira (other about 700 mt – 15 minutes)
The Moorish Castle, the Pena Palace, the Countess’ chalet, Monserrate Palace and Convento dos Capuchos are all far; the first three even at the top of the hill: I’ve prepared you a map to let you see where they exactly are. So bus or taxi, inevitably!
SINTRA PORTUGAL: HOW TO ARRIVE TO SINTRA AND HOW TO MOVE AROUND THE TOWN
To reach Sintra I highly reccomend you not to use the car because streets are narrow and uphill, while the car parks are just few! This is a trip you can easily do by train from Lisbon, taking about 1 hour to arrive at destination. Cost in 2018 E 4.30 a/r. If you have the car with you, try to leave it outside the centre, and then take only public transports!
To move inside the complex, you have two opportunies: by public or private transports (taxi, bee gig)
For the public transports there’s the bus 434 and 435 of the Scotturb company that from the station lead you to the centre + tour various attractions in Sintra, with different ways to pay:
A) The single ticket costs E. 3,90 with which you can do just one stop; if you want to continue visiting other attractions getting on the bus again, you have to pay one more time; more convenient, if you want to do the complete tour with hop-on and hop-off in the different point of interests, is the E. 6.90 ticket. With this kind of ticket you can catch the bus 434 from the station to reach Parco Liberdade – Sintra National Palace (centre town) – Moorish Castle – Pena Palace (the famous one with the coloured spiers).
B) The bus 435 costs 5 Euro that from the main square of Sintra leads you to: Sintra National Palace – Seteais Palace – Quinta de Regaleira Palace – Monserrate Palace, with hop-on and hop-off.
C) There’s also a third option: a combined ticket [CP train+ Bus Scotturb] (except bus 400 and 401) at the price of E. 15,50 you can buy at the station or at a Scotturb point. This kind of ticket inclueds:
- journey by train a/r to Sintra –
- all touristic buses 434/435 (except 400 and 401) to visit the different attractions –
- bus 403 that leads you to Cabo da Roca (direction Cascais) from the station; it leaves about every 20 minutes. To return from Cabo da Roca there’s a bus that leads you to the station of Sintra. (The cost of the single ticket, if you have the combined, is about 5 Euro).
D) The fourth option is to buy the “Sintra Green Card 1 or 2″ you can purchase only at the station:
- The Green Card 2 includes: trains to Sintra – all touristic tour of the bus 434 – an entry to the Sintra National Palace and to Pena Palace – an entry to a museum of your choice (about 30 Euro).
- The Green Card 3 includes the same things, plus an entry to the Queluz National Palace (about 40 Euro).
FROM THIS YEAR 2019
- There’s a free bus in the complex that links Pena Park to the lake and to the Chalet of the Countess Edla: this last attraction is now free if you buy a ticket for Pena Palace and Park. So inside this circuit you can use the free bus and you can get on and off in the different points I’ve just mentioned, but the bus doesn’t stop at the main entrance: for that stretch you have to pay. )
- There’s then another free bus to Monserrate Palace: this bus leaves from the main entrance towards Monserrate Palace and Park, always with the hop-on and hop-off formula. Free bus also to Queluz Palace and Park.
For private transports there are cabs and bee gigs.
We chose the option of the private transport, that is taxi, because the bee gig was more expensive. This was our way to solve all problems linked to the luck of time and the too much attractions to see.
We personally were fine with Frederico di “Lighthawk Tours”, you also find on Facebook: a localn uide who took us with his jeep for the whole day for only 80 Euro (2018). This was for us the best choice because we didn’t have more than a day to visit Sintra. The advantages are a lot:
- he’ll pick you up at the station and again back to the station at the end of the tour;
- you can move easier without wasting time between one attraction and another because he perfectly knows the town;
- at first he’ll explain to you what to see and than you can choose which attractions deepen according to your tastes;
- gentle, punctual and helpful person;
- if you want he can take you to Cabo da Roca which is 18 km from Sintra;
- you don’t need to do anything but stay comfortable and visiting.
You can contact him on Facebook or via mail firstname.lastname@example.org: you can book the day of your excursion before leaving, then you’ll receive a confirmation mail after booking, but you’ll pay only on site by cash, and you don’t need to leave any deposit.
SINTRA PORTUGAL: WHICH IS THE BEST WAY TO MOVE AROUND?
♣ The bus is quite convenient because it touches the main interesting points and it’s surely cheaper than a taxi or a bee gig, but it’s always crowded, you have to respect its timetable and you could have delays if people are too much: if you finish your visit when the bus has just come, you have to wait until it makes the whole tour. Moreover the bus travels in just one direction, so if you get off in a place and then get on again to see other attractions that maybe are at the stop before, you must do all tour around before reaching your attraction.
♣ Another consideration : with the bus you couldn’t do the circuit 434, 435 and plus go to Cabo da Roca or Cascais with the other line! You have to choose between one of the two circuits and add if you want Cabo da Roca, or you can make a mix of the two circuits of Sintra+ Cabo da Roca (ex: Quinta de Regaleira – Moorish Castle – Pena Palace without gardens, in the end Cabo), using in this case the third option of combined tickets”train&bus”. It’s different if you have two or more days.
♣ Without doubts with the private driver you won’t have the problem of the car park, you won’t waste time between an attraction and another and can reach attractions where the bus doesn’t stop.
SINTRA PORTUGAL: VISITS TO PALACES AND PARKS
For the visits to the palaces and the parks here the “official link” with prices and opening hours: according to the number of sites you want to visit, they make a discount. I remember that our guide told us to buy tickets not in Pena Palace, because there are always long queues, but in Quinta de Regaleira, if I remember well: it’s the same thing and you’ll avoid the crowd. Otherwise ticket online. Besides the different visits, you can also choose to ride a horse or to walk along some paths.
SINTRA PORTUGAL: WHICH ATTRACTIONS IF YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE
It depends on your personal tastes, of course, but I can tell you what we chose, to give you an idea! I want to underline that our choices were made according also to our budget: for us they were quite expensive, that’s why we saw some attractions only from outside, while inside just the ones we were really interested in.
QUINTA DE REGALEIRA
In my opinion an extravagant and a bit threatening villa, realized by the Italian scenographer Manini for a Brazilian mogul Antonio Monteiro, who made his fortune thanks to the mineral deposits. Before him the estate belonged to the Baroness of Regaleira, from whom the name comes. The Quinta presents a mix of styles: Gothic, romantic and classic in a perfect picture of harmony and balance: it’s probably thanks to this stylistic variety that has a place in the list of the Human Heritage.
Inside, with its frescoed walls and precious woods, it’s quite quick to visit, but the strongest point of the villa are without doubts the gardens composed by different structures such as little towers, fountains, underground galleries and little waterfalls.
The most fascinating and full of mistery structure is the initiatory pit, inspired to the circles of hell of the Divine Comedy: divided into 9 levels and 30 mt.deep. The symbolic meaning is that one of Death- Rebirth: through a spiral path you can go down to the bottom of the water well, where you’ll notice the Templars’ cross; you’ll pass through underground galleries, to emerge in an eden of so green gardens, little waterfalls and a dense vegetation. In reality are two water wells, but we don’t know exactly their purpose: they were probably used to do secret rituals. Fascinating, isn’t it?
We passed here only by car and then walking around its perimeter. Very beautiful location but you can see it just outside; today it’s a hotel.
THE COUNTESS EDLA’S CHALET
Seen just from outside: it must be really nice also inside!
Ferdinando II, still creator of Pena Park and its palace, with her wife Elise Hensler, the Countess of Edla, built the chalet and all gardens around between 1864 e il 1869. Thought as a ricreational space fot his wife, complies with the alpine model chalet in vogue at that time: another point of romanticism in Pena Park. Inside the decoration is eclectic, as it was imposed from the taste of that period, while from outside the building has a great scenic impact expressed in a fascinating rural style: totally covered by a mural picture with the use of the cork as a decorative element, evident in some details. In the second half of 1800 Ferdinand II and the Countess of Edla also created a romantic garden from which there’s an amazing view over Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle, the Cruz Alta and the sea. A botanical collection was introduced in the garden: there are more than 200 species between native vegetation and exotic species coming from all over the world (from October 2018 the Chalet is free if you purchase a ticket fro Pena Palace and Park).
It’s nice with beautiful views, but we just walked around for half an hour because it was too cold that day! The park is very wide, so I suggest you not to loose too much time visiting it if you don’t have time: have a quick look and go towards the palace. Pena Park remains however a natural environment of rare beauty and scientific importance: it’s part of a project of the transformation of a hill, sterile at that time, into a botanical garden, which comprehends different historic gardens. It occupies almost 85 ectars.
Everybody defines it a very touristic place, but I believe that it cannot be skipped! It really seems a fascinating fairytale castle with spiers, round domes that remember the Arabian style, laces, towers and the walkways along which you can enjoy an amazing view over the park: it must be such a view to inspire the king Ferdinand II to build such a fortress! Bold, vivid and bright colours give character to the castle with all its whimsical architectural elements.
What I personally wouldn’t do again, is the visit inside the castle: there is always too much queue, that means waste of time just to see two or three rooms with precious furniture. Moreover you can’t take good photos because of the people and the lack of space. The palace is the most beautiful example of the 1800 Portuguese Romanticism, and it’s not a case if it’s in the World Heritage from 1995.
SINTRA NATIONAL PALACE AND HISTORICAL CENTRE
The beauty of Sintra was already told by Lord Byron, but also nobles and rulers aprreciated the faitytale charme of this old town, enriched by a Romantic architecture underlined by pinnacles, peculiar geometries and majolica tiles. Also the National Palace of Sintra has these features: inside is a labirynth of decorated ceilings, inlaid furniture original of that time; the kitchens are wide and sumptuous, recognizable outside by two wonderful white chimneys. The room of the Swans has e ceiling decorated with 27 swans, used for theatral place or for the dance; then the Room of the Magpie, the king’s bedroom and the Arabian Room that reveals the king’s love for the Moorish style. The palace hosts also a wonderful collection of azulejos and 400 works of contemporary art . Pity that we saw it only through some photos of a friend of mine! If I had known, I would have skipped the visit inside Pena Palace and would have done this one!
The historical centre, Unesco World heritage, is really small and one of the oldest of the country: here is beautiful walking along the streets and the shops, and if you like, can visit the museum “Museo do Brinquedo”, a little historic collection of toys.
CABO DA ROCA
An excursion I highly recommend, the westernmost cape of Europe, wild, with strong wind and amazing panoramic views. About Cabo da Roca I’ll write another post!
It’s a little station, outside rich of colours and inside decorated, like other stations I saw in Portugal! Nice to take some pictures!
OTHER POSSIBLE CHOICES
Moorish Castle: it’s a military fortress built in 1900 by the Moorish from North Africa to protect the town of Sintra, but after the Christian conquest of the Portugal fell into ruin; it wasn’t even spared by the terrible earthquake in 1755. Ferdinand II, lovers of the art and theatre, made it build again subsequently. Today it’s like a great wall and has the charme of an ancient ruin: hits completely walkabke (not suggest iy you suffer from hights) and give wonderful views over the whole Serra of Sintra and over Pena Palace, going up until the highest tower. We skipped this visit because of the heights, but who makes it, says it’s an unmissable stop.
Monserrate Palace: palace built from an English magnate, Francis Cook, as a summer residence for himself and his family. Another very good example of the romatic Portuguese architecture flanked by the Arabian style, with red circle domes and a big circular tower richly decorated. Outside it must be really suggestive and picturesque, such as the park, a lush botanical garden comprehending more than 300 exotic plants among which palms, conifers, eucalyptus trees and weeping willows. Inside is really beautiful even if not furnished, so it was told us by our guide.
Convento dos Capuchos that we skipped because it seemed to us an abandoned place (from images we saw), and that just little was left of the original structure! It’s a very sober building realized in 1560 and active until 1834. The little cells are covered by cork, that’s why the complex is also called “Convent of the Cork”. This place hosted some monks who lived in incredibly narrow cells. NB: no buses stop at the convent, and it’s more than 7 km on foot from the centre of Sintra. Better to visit it if you already have a private driver, like our Frederico, or there are taxi which cost 35/40 Euro a/r.
WHERE TO EAT IN SINTRA
At this point I’ll make you laugh: we didn’t touch any food for the whole day. This because, just arrived in the morning, we were in search of a bar to have breakfast: there’s one just outside the station, but it’s so small that it’s difficult to find a place! So we walked along the downhill road and arrived to a local “Saudade Vida e Arte do Povo Portugues”: there was every good thing! Sweet and salt, typical homemade Portuguese cakes, a real delicacy! The point is that portions are large: we ordered a cappuccino and we had not a cup, but something bigger, and a slice of cake was equivalent to three or four slices together. I remember of that breakfast an incredible abundance of food, and portions that were too much for us; we felt full all day 😀 We spent about 10 Euro for two persons: not much if we consider the quantity and the very good quality of the food!
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Sono stata Lisbona, ma per pochi giorni quindi non ho avuto tempo per Sintra, la prossima volta ci farò un giro. Grazie per i preziosi consigli. Penso che visiterò l'esterno dei palazzi, i giardini e Cabo da Roca.
Grazie Gabriella 😉 Sintra è molto bella ma bisogna scegliere e pianificare bene per non trovarsi a sclerare senza sapere cosa vedere. Il Palazzo Nazionale di Sintre però ti consiglio di vederlo anche all'interno. Buona serata 👋👋👋