In many ways, exploring Sintra, Portugal feels like stepping foot into a colorful fairytale. Between the dreamy castles, delicious foot and breathtaking gardens, there’s no shortage of epic things to do in Sintra.
Sintra is a mountainous town with breathtaking views and equally beautiful castles. It won’t take long to notice that Sintra is a testament to Portugal’s wealth during the Age of Discovery. The entire town feels like a playground for the wealthy!
I’ve visited Sintra more times than I can count and wanted to write up a quick post on my personal list of the best things to do in Sintra. This is the list I share with family and friends whenever they as for tips.
I’m not one for small talk, so let’s get to the good stuff!
Can you see Sintra in one day?
Certainly! The experience will feel rushed but it’s completely doable. If your schedule allows, I’d suggest spending one evening in Sintra so that you can take in a magical evening and slow morning while visiting the glorious castles.
But, at the end of the day, the first time we visited Sintra we only spent one day and that was enough to whet our appetite and prompted a return trip.
Tips for visiting Sintra
Wear comfortable shoes: You will be doing a lot of walking during your time in Sintra. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes so you don’t get blisters. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on climbing ancient castles!
Don’t forget sunscreen! I swear by this sunscreen, I discovered it in France and now buy it in bulk. You’ll never catch me without it! Shade is hard to come by while explore the castles in Sintra.
Admission: If you plan to visit most of the attractions covered in this guide, I suggest purchasing a combined ticket at the ticket booth or per-purchasing tickets online (a discount of 5%).
Best Thing to Do Sintra, Portugal
#10. Visit the NewsMuseum
The NewsMuseum is seldom mentioned online but I learned about it from a guidebook and now highly recommend it to anyone asking about the best things to do in Sintra.
I’ll admit that I’m not news-savvy by any stretch of the imagination, but I decided to give this museum a shot and am so glad I did. Plus, admission is a mere €6,50, a phenomenal worth for the money.
Sintra’s NewsMuseum was inspired by the news museum in Washington D.C. The museum focuses on the history of news and puts into context the role the news plays in modern society, alongside ever-evolving technology.
The NewsMuseum has several intriguing rooms worth exploring. The most memorable room, for me personally, was the war room, which studies the relationship between war and journalism especially after journalist were allowed behind fighting lines.
Frankly, the NewsMuseum feels important in a way that is hard to put into words. It was one of the most memorable things we did in Sintra and I can’t recommend it enough.
#9. Explore Sintra’s City Centre
Most visitors speed past Sintra’s City Centre because they’re visiting for the castles along. But hey, can’t blame them!
However, I would argue that anyone looking for the best things to do in Sintra should allocate some time to explore the charming city center. Arrive early to avoid the inevitable crowds of tourists that start arriving shortly after their coffee starts kicking in.
The early morning wake up call is completely worth it. You’ll practically have the cobblestone streets to yourself, save for a few locals.
Pick up a breakfast or coffee at a nearby cafe and start your morning slowly before embarking on your epic tour of Sintra.
#8. Take a hike in Parque de Pena
Like mentioned earlier, most folks visit Sintra for the palaces and overlook many of the gems in between, don’t let that happen to you!
Rather than bus from one spot to the next, try walking so that you can soak in as much of the colorful scenery as possible. That’s actually exactly how we discovered Parque de Pena, a beautiful forested park that surrounds Pena Palace (which I’ll cover shortly).
The Parque de Pena was constructed by Ferdinand II in the 19th century.
Meandering paths take you through the heart of a lush forest that is ripe for exploration. In addition to exotic plants, you’ll see various angles of surrounding castles, statues of notable Portuguese and breathtaking gardens.
#7. Try a local treat
Much like Lisbon’s beloved pastel de nata, Sintra has a few local treats of her own! There were two that stuck out to me:
Travesseiro: Translating to “pillow” in English, this renowned treat from Sintra is known to have folks lining up early in the morning. Made of puff pastry dough, the inside is filled with egg and almond cream.
Queijada: A dense phyllo pastry made with eggs, cheese, sugar and milk. It has a mildly-sweet flavor and rivals the pastel de nata from Lisbon.
#6. See the westernmost point in Europe, Cabo da Roca
When most folks think of Sintra they only imagine the lush hillsides peppered with colorful castles, not realizing that Sintra extends all the way to the coast.
In fact, the westernmost point in Europe, Cabo da Roca, is located within the boundaries of Sintra. It goes without saying that visiting such a cool place is one of the best things to do in Sintra!
Massive rock outcropping rise from the formidable Atlantic Ocean while a lighthouse offers some semblance of protection, while is sits atop 300 foot seaside cliffs.
If you plan to visit Cabo da Roca then you’ll want to dress accordingly. The wind is incredibly strong so you’ll need to bring a warm jacket and leave the hats at home, regardless of the season.
Image courtesy pcdazero
#5. See the Palace of Sintra (Palacio Nacional de Sintra)
Okay, okay so it took me a while to get to the epic castles in Sintra, but can you blame me? There’s so many cool things to do in Sintra that most folks overlook and I wanted you to know about them!
But, without further ado, let’s cover some of the biggest attractions in Sintra, the romantic castles.
The Palace of Sintra is not only the oldest palace in Sintra, but one of the most important as well because it housed the royal family. To this day, it’s one the best preserved castles in Sintra.
When you’re done touring the impressive interior, head over to Casa Piriquita for to try some of those famous Sintra treats I mentioned earlier.
#4. Tour Monserrate Palace (Palacio e Parque de Monserrate)
Often overlooked by those eager to get to Pena Palace, Monserrate feels like an underrated gem. But I’ll admit, it’s hard to call it underrated with a straight face when you see the breathtaking and intricate detail of this incredible palace for yourself.
At Monserrate Palace Arabic and Indian architectural styles are seamlessly blended together is a breathtaking sight to behold.
History of Monserrate Palace
Monserrate Palace was imagined by an English millionaire by the name of Sir Francis Cook. Cook had a knack for world travel and his intent was to build a summer home that displayed his passion from the ruins of neo-gothic palace.
As fate would have it, Sintra was that very spot. Wandering the grounds makes visitors feel like they’re exploring different parts of the world – from India to Mexico to Arabia.
Monserrate Palace admission
The entrance fee for Monserrate Palace is €8/€6.50/€6.50 (adult/child/senior).
#3. See the views from the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
Up, up, up we go! Up the steep hillside to the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros). This hike is no walk in the park, but it’s definitely manageable.
If I can do it, you can too! When I first saw photos of Castelo dos Mouros I assumed it was the great wall of China. It’s such a cool place to explore.
History of Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros was originally built in the 8th century and positioned at a high vantage point to provide protection over Sintra. The sturdy castle fought off many would-be invasions, but fell to the Christian crusade in 1147.
Portuguese Kings hoped to strengthen the defense of Castelo dos Mouros but the royal court favored Lisbon and the castle was neglected for a while, destined to be forgotten.
Fast forward to King Ferdinand II who, fueled by a passion for the arts and middle ages, ordered the reconstruction of the castle. To this day, Castelo dos Mouros stands proudly, gates wide open, eager to accept visitors from all over the world.
Things to do at Castelo dos Mouros
Explore the grounds to your heart’s content. We spent an entire hour climbing up and down the stairs, all the way to the highest point when Pena Palace can be seen on full display (if it’s not too foggy).
Castelo dos Mouros is a real treat for those that are interested in medieval castles and fortresses.
Castelo dos Mouros admission
- The entrance fee to the Castelo dos Mouros is €8/€6.50/€6.50 (adult/child/senior).
#2. Visit Quinta da Regaleira
The whimsical gardens at Quinta da Regaleira mimic ancient secret orders, full of hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism.
They were created to fascinate, confuse and delight visitors to this incredible Sintra palace — largely thanks to the whims of the eccentric owner.
Prior to embarking on our tour of the most beautiful castles in Sintra, we did a lot of research. One of the most fascinating things we discovered was the Initiation Well housed at Quinta da Regaleira.
Intrigued, we wanted to see it first thing in the morning so we made that our first stop of the day. Along the way, we passed through the breathtaking gardens and the striking Quinta da Regaleira Tower, which we promptly climbed, of course.
History of Quinta da Regaleira
The land that Quinta da Regaleira sits on was purchased by António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric millionaire eager to appease his ideologies and bewildering whims.
His solution? Build an impressive estate that is large enough for him to collect and display his passions. Most notably his fascination with alchemy, Masonry and the Rosicrucianism.
And sure, money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy a lavish palace where you can keep your nice stuff — which is practically the same thing.
Things to see at Quinta da Regaleira
- Visit the Initiation Well – a mythical well used for initiations and rites of passages.
- Climb to the top of Regaleira Tower
- Explore the breathtaking gardens
- Tour the palace’s interior
Quinta da Regaleira admission
The entrance fee for Quinta da Regaleira is €6/€4/€18 (adult/child/family).
#1. Explore Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)
I hate to admit it, but the hype around Pena Palace is completely worth it. It’s touristy for a reason, my friends.
The palace is so beautiful, if not for the fun colors alone. This is exactly the type of palace most folks imagine when they think about the best palaces and castles in Sintra. Thankfully it does not disappoint!
History of Pena Palace
Pena Palace was originally a monastery that reduced to ruins during the earthquake of 1755. After the earthquake, the monastery was abandoned until King Ferdinand decided to transform it into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family.
After his death, the palace went to his wife until it became the property of the Portuguese government.
Interesting fact: Queen Amelia, Portugal’s last queen, spent her final night at Pena Palace before leaving the country in exile.
Things to see at Pena Palace
Explore the park and visit the cafe on the terrace. Enjoy sweeping views of the lush forest beneath you while sipping an overpriced cafe.
Tour the interior of the palace. Just remember to get there early to avoid unbelievably long lines!
Pena Palace admission
- The entrance fee for the gardens is €7.50/€6.50/€26 (adult/child/family)
- The entrance fee for the palace and park is €14/€12.50/€49 (adult/child/family)
Where to eat in Sintra
- Café Saudade
- Casa Piriquita: Founded in 1862, this is the most famous pastry shop in Lisbon.
- Nau Palatina
Roundup of the best things to do in Sintra, Portugal
- Explore Pena Palace
- Visit Quinta da Regaleira
- Explore the Moorish Castle
- Explore Monserrate Palace
- See the Palace of Sintra
- Check out Cabo da Roca
- Try a local treat
- Take a hike in Parque de Pena
- Explore Sintra’s City Centre
- Visit the NewsMuseum