Smiling in Sintra - One, Two, or Three Days Itinerary

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*Please keep in mind, the information provided in this blog post is based on my own personal experience in Sintra in March 2019. Cost & opening times may change. PLEASE check out the opening times and cost before your Sintra trip as they may vary from season to season.

Heading to Lisbon? Be sure to add a day trip to Sintra!

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Have you ever seen photos of beautiful colourful castles and thought “that can’t be real?” Well, they were most likely taken in Sintra, and YES they are real.

Sintra is as magical as it looks in the photos. Located just 30 minutes outside of Lisbon, Sintra is a very popular day trip during a stay in Lisbon. With so many spectacular palaces, gardens and castles, its no wonder the beautiful town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The name Sintra originates from ‘Cynthia’ who is the Roman goddess of the moon. Sintra was a place for moon worshiping in the Roman times; hence how the name came to be.

Sintra has quickly become very popular and famous for its 19th-century Romanticist architecture, which is breathtakingly beautiful.

We have just returned from our three day Sintra trip and every moment was incredible.

To be honest, Sintra was never on my travel list, solely for the fact that I was completely unaware of this fascinating city. A friend of mine recently travelled to Sintra, and she was in complete awe of the charm and vibrant colours the city has to offer.

I feel so incredibly lucky to be living SO close to Portugal. We treasure our free time that allows us to drive over and enjoy everything Portugal has to offer.

Sintra is the PERFECT day trip from Lisbon. There is SO much to see and do that you could even spend a week and not see it all.

We decided to stay in Sintra for 3 days. We spent the second day in Lisbon. Still, we were unable to see everything we wanted to see.

In this blog post, I will include everything you need to know for a one, two, or three day trip in magical Sintra and all the most stunning places to visit.

If you are a little tight on time for planning, I HIGHLY recommend one of these organized day trips from Lisbon.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

  • We had 3 days in Sintra and also had our own car. I have done some research to also provide you with options on how to get to Sintra without your own vehicle. I will even break it down into a 1,2, or 3-day itinerary.

  • PLEASE be realistic with your time in Sintra. Many people have told me that during their one day stay in Sintra, they had assumed they could see EVERYTHING and were disappointed when they couldn't. I would say realistically without running around like crazy, you could visit three castles in one day. The busiest times are around 12-3 so I would aim for the morning or later afternoon to hopefully miss some of the crowds. If it is possible to spend more then one day in Sintra I highly recommend you do so.

  • Sintra is full of hills, and the castles and palaces also have many stairs and hills. Wear comfortable shoes… your feet will thank you. I promise you will be doing A LOT of walking while your there.

  • Dress for the weather. Every day we spent in Sintra, the weather would drastically change. Be prepared for all types of weather. I would bring a few layers and also an umbrella just to be safe.

  • Tickets can be purchased at each palace and castle upon arrival. However, if you purchase your tickets beforehand HERE, you will receive a 5% discount (you will also get to skip the lines.) If you are planning on visiting many of the sites in the same day, I would also recommend buying an entrance package for the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace (however, only a few euros saving compared to buying them separately.) These can be purchased upon arrival. For Quinta da Regaleira, you will have to buy your entrance ticket once you arrive.

HOW TO GET TO SINTRA

If you are travelling to Sintra from Lisbon, it is SUPER easy to take the train.

In Lisbon, you will depart from Rossio Train Station (in the historical centre of Lisbon). The train ride is only around 40 minutes long, and a one-way ticket costs €2.25.

This train departs every 30 minutes. You can check out all the train times HERE.

Like I mentioned above, we drove. My boyfriend is Spanish, so he is a pro when it comes to driving in Portugal. If you are unfamiliar with the roads, I do highly recommend taking the train. The streets are very narrow, and parking in Sintra is minimal.

HOW TO GET AROUND SINTRA

At first, when planning our Sintra trip, I did not do much research or read any blogs. When looking at the map, I thought “oh, we can walk up the hill, and we will arrive at the castles.” NO! I could not have been more wrong.

If you are an excellent walker and you love walking (in this case hiking) trust me when I say DO NOT WALK UP THE HILL.

The road to access the castles is incredibly windy, very narrow, and quite steep. Even in our car, it took us almost 10-15 minutes. One day with traffic, it took us nearly 35 minutes driving up the hill to get where we wanted to go.

Sintra is well known for its tuk-tuks. You will find them everywhere (especially once you get out of the train station). They are safe and not expensive (but negotiate a set price with the driver before you hop on.)

In Sintra, there are two bus routes that access the castles. A bus ticket will cost you €5.50. For those of you interested in taking the bus, here is what you need to know:

BUS 435: VILLA EXPRESS

  1. Sintra Station

  2. Monserrate Palace

  3. Seteais Palace

  4. Quinta da Regaleira

  5. Sintra National Palace

BUS 434: PENA CIRCUIT

  1. Sintra Station

  2. Pena Palace

  3. Castle of the Moors

  4. Sintra National Palace

ONE DAY SINTRA ITINERARY

If you are making a day trip from Lisbon and only have one day to visit Sintra, I recommend taking the Pena Circuit bus route.

I would have to say the MOST VISITED destinations are Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors.

With only one day, it is realistic to see both Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors and have time for lunch and to explore the Old Town Sintra.

If you are feeling very optimistic and are able to arrive in Sintra right at opening times, you can also visit the Sintra National Palace.

CASTELO DOS MOUROS - THE CASTLE OF THE MOORS

Cost: €7.60 - online discount HERE

When to visit: Time period Opening hours

Apr 1 - Sept 15 9:30am - 8pm

Oct 16 - Mar 31 10am - 6pm

Located on the lush hilltop of the Serra De Sintra, this incredible medieval castle ruin is an astonishing sight to see. Constructed during the 9th century to act as a guard for the town below of Sintra. The castle was restored by King Ferdinand II in the 19th century.

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WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT?

Although the Castle may not be as extravagant as the other sights Sintra has to offer, it is incredibly unique, and the ruins are awe-inspiring. From the highest points, you have a fantastic panoramic view of Sintra and a great view to Pena Palace (which makes for an incredible photo). You can fully explore what is left of the ruins and enjoy all the beautiful views.

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PALÁCIO DA PENA - PENA PALACE

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Cost: €13.30 - online discount HERE

When to visit: Time period Opening hours

Apr 1 - Sept 15 9:45am - 7pm

Oct 16 - Mar 31 10am - 6pm

*Pena Palace is one of Portugal’s MOST visited monuments. If possible, I would aim to arrive early in the day. The busiest times are between 11-12 and 3-4. This is when most of the tour groups come.

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Pena Palace is a MUST SEE. This fairytale Romanticist palace is very unique as it displays many different styles. The exterior is a combination of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Islamic and Neo-Renaissance. The interior is decorated very richly in late Victorian style.

Originally in the Middles Ages, Pena Palace was a monastery. In the Earthquake of 1755, the palace was severely damaged.

Pena Palace was reconstructed by King Ferdinand in the late 19th century as a summer residence.

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WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT?

Pena Palace is a dream fairytale castle. The colours and architecture are unlike anything you will see anywhere else in the world. This palace is incredibly impressive, and you could spend the whole day at Pena Palace alone. The park is massive and surrounding the palace you will find beautiful trails for walking, ponds & fountains, and beautiful exotic Portuguese plants. As I said, Pena Palace is a must-see during your time in Sintra.

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PALÁCIO NACIONAL SINTRA - NATIONAL PALACE OF SINTRA

Cost: €9.50 - online discount HERE

When to visit: 9:30 until 19:00. The last entrance at 18:30.

If you only have one day to explore Sintra, it is very possible to add the National Palace to your list. As it is located right in town, it is very easy to access. The Sintra National Palace is also VERY unique as it also features many different architectural styles including Moorish & Gothic styles. From the 15th to 19th century, the National Palace was home to Portugal's ruling nobility.

WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT?

In a perfect one day Sintra itinerary, you will end up in the town after lunchtime and will be right in the centre with easy access to the palace. Once you enter the National Palace, you are free to explore the gardens and each room.

TIP - For a one-day itinerary I would pack a lunch to bring with you. Ideally, I would plan to arrive in the early morning and check out The Castle of the Moors followed by Pena Palace. Then, make your way back down the hill (with bus #434), enjoy a nice picnic lunch, then visit the National Palace.

While we were in Sintra, we ate non stop. This would not be a complete itinerary without some food recommendations. If you are looking for some AMAZING food in the city centre head over to Cantinho Gourmet. It is a super cute family owned restaurant that serves craft beer (seating is limited). Go for one of the cheese and meat boards with an ice cold Avenida blonde ale craft beer. Trust me... you won't be disappointed.

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TWO DAY SINTRA ITINERARY

For two fabulous days spent in Sintra (you lucky person), of course, visit the 3 destinations mentioned above.

For your second day, I would add these two incredible spots.

PALÁCIO DE MONSERRATE - MONTSERRATE PALACE

Cost: €7.60 - online discount HERE

When to visit:

PARK

09:30 – 20:00, last ticket and last admission 19:00

PALACE

09:30 – 19:00, last ticket 18:15 and last admission 18:30

The Palacio de Monserrate is located around 3.5 km outside of the historical city centre of Sintra. For this exact reason, many visitors skip it. If you have more then one day in Sintra, this palace is a must. This mansion is incredibly visually appealing and perfectly blends together many different architectural styles. With a seamless blend of Indian, Arabic & Gothic influence, this palace is the most unique in the whole Sintra region. This palace was actually created as a summer residence by an Englishman named Sir Francis Cook.

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WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT?

The Palacio de Monserrate is often overlooked by many visitors. This means it is much less crowded than the other castles and palaces. It is an incredible sight and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. I believe this palace is Sintra’s hidden gem and if you have enough time to visit, you will not regret it.

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QUINTA DA REGALEIRA

Cost: €6 - no online discount available

When to visit: 9:30 - 20:00h (summer season) and 9:30 - 18:00h (winter season)

The Quinta da Regaleira is a beautiful 20th-century residence with 5 floors and an incredible gothic façade. My favourite part about this spot is the enchanting surrounding gardens. With many secret doors and hidden passageways, these gardens are full of surprises. The palace was built in 1904 by a wealthy Portuguese businessman. It took around 6 years to construct and was opened to the public in 1998.

In my opinion, the most beautiful part of these gardens is the famous initiation well. It symbolizes the initiation ceremony for the Knights Templar. It descends 27 meters down and is connected to a series of tunnels that run the complete length of the gardens. Each and every corner brings a new surprise.

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WHY SHOULD YOU VISIT?

The gardens are just simply beautiful. You could easily spend hours here. There is a lovely cafe where you can sit and enjoy a drink or some food overlooking the palace.

Quinta da Regaleira can ALSO be accessed by foot from the town. The walk is just under 2 km and with a few small hills should only take you around 15 minutes.

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OUR FAVOURITE DINNER SPOT

If you have the opportunity to have dinner in Sintra, I HIGHLY recommend you head over to Dom Pipas. Super authentic and traditional Portuguese restaurant with the most incredible food. Our meal at Dom Pipas was by far the BEST meal we had during our time in Portugal.

If you like octopus, here is the place to eat it. It blew our minds.

If you like octopus, here is the place to eat it. It blew our minds.

 

THREE DAY SINTRA ITINERARY

If you have three days to enjoy Sintra (as we did), I would go with the flow over the three days and really take your time visiting each Castle and Palace. We decided to break up all the palaces and castles between two days and spent our second day in Lisbon.

If it is available to you (and you have a car), there are many other beautiful sights to see nearby.

Convento dos Capuchos - a beautiful monastery in the forest

Cost: €7.00

When to visit: 9:30 until 20:00 (summer season) 10:00-17:00 (winter)

The National Palace of Queluz - a national palace which severed as the official royal residence during the 18th century. Located between Sintra & Lisbon.

Cost: €10 .00

When to visit: 9:00 until 18:00

Tivoli Palacio de Seteais Sintra Hotel - a beautiful luxury boutique hotel that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the Sintra mountainside with unobstructed views of Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle.

Azenhas do Mar - a beautiful seaside town perched on top of the cliffs with an amazing view of the ocean below. (A 15-minute drive away from Sintra).

The beautiful views at  Azenhas do Mar

The beautiful views at Azenhas do Mar

Sintra is a magical town filled with fascinating surprises. I hope this guide helps you along the planning process.

Alternatively, if you decide you would like to go with a tour instead of winging it yourself, check out my favourite Sintra day trip tours departing from Lisbon here.

Have you had the pleasure of exploring Sintra? What was your favourite part? Let me know in the comments below!

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xo, elaina