In many ways, exploring Sintra, Portugal feels like stepping foot into a colorful fairytale. Between the dreamy castles, kind locals and regal gardens, there’s no shortage of great 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 night in Sintra. That way you can take in a magical evening and slow morning while visiting the glorious castles.
But, at the end of the day, even though we’ve visited Sintra three times, we’ve only ever done day trips. One day in Sintra is enough to whet the appetite and prompt a return trip.
Sintra Day Trip From Lisbon
Make no mistake, taking a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon should be included in any proper Portugal itinerary. Sintra is magical and offers a rare respite from the busy city living of Lisbon. The air is cleaner, the hills are alive and the castles are breathtaking. The city is impossible to forget.
Luckily, a Sintra day trip from Lisbon, Portugal couldn’t be easier. All it requires is a comfortable 45-minute train ride from the Rossio train station in Lisbon. The best part? Round trip tickets cost €5 per person.
Once in Sintra, I suggest curating your own Sintra day trip. You can most definitely sign up for a tour, but I found it easy to get around the town without much direction. Plus, Ubers are affordable in Portugal, so you can easily catch a ride wherever you need to go.
As such, I recommend writing down the things that stick out to you in the list below and creating your own “one day in Sintra itinerary.” I usually prefer to travel on my own means and if you like that style to, this should work out nicely!
Grab a Sintra-bound train from Lisbon’s Rossio train station. Here’s a helpful link to the timetables where you can also purchase tickets. Tickets are current €2.50 one way for a 40-minute ride.
You May Enjoy Reading: How to Spend 1 Perfect Day in Sintra (Helpful Sintra Itinerary)
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
Opened in 2016, Sintra’s NewsMuseum is seldom mentioned, which is a pity. I first heard about this gem from a guidebook and now 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 Newseum 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 one day in 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.
#5. Tour the National Palace of 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 outside of the castles and I didn’t want that to happen to you.
But, without further ado, let’s cover some of the biggest attractions in Sintra, the romantic castles.
Best known for the two iconic chimneys defining Sintra’s skyline, the National Palace of Sintra (Palacio Nacional de Sintra) is not only the oldest palaces in Sintra, but one of the most important as well.
Portuguese nobility have inhabited this Sintra palace from the 15th century to the 19th century, spanning the entire history of the Portugal. What an incredible thought.
Located in the city center, and will likely be the first one you see as you embark on your epic tour of all the best castles in Sintra.
My husband and I popped in during our third visit in Sintra and were so impressed with exhibits. This is one of the most interesting palaces in Sintra because everything is so well preserved.
The palace itself is a a hodgepodge of buildings constructed during various periods. The original building is hotly debated, but it’s assumed it dates back to the 10th or 11th century when Sintra was under Moorish rule. I though we’d spend an hour max, but ended up touring the palace for 2 hours because we enjoyed it so much.
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. 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.
We toured the interior slowly, so our visit lasted about two hours but you should budget more time if you want to explore the impressive gardens. I highly suggest strolling the gardens because they’re full of exotic species of plants Cook sources from his world travels.
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.
Admission for Monserrate Palace is €8/€6.50/€6.50 (adult/child/senior).
#3. See the views from the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
No list of the best things to do in Sintra would be complete without mentioning the ancient Moorish Castle.
When I first saw photos of Castelo dos Mouros I assumed it was the great wall of China. Getting to climb the ancient castle walls and lookout towers is an unforgettable experience. Which is why no list of the best castles in Sintra is complete without mentioning this gem.
History of Castelo dos Mouros
Originally built in the 8th century, Castelo dos Mouros was positioned at a high vantage point to ensure protection over Sintra. This Sintra castle successfully fought off many invasion attempts before succumbing to the Christian crusade in 1147.
Portuguese Kings hoped to strengthen the defense of Castelo dos Mouros but the royal court favored Lisbon and didn’t want to invest in repairs. As expected, the castle was neglected, destined to eventually yield to the forces of nature and decay.
Fast forward to King Ferdinand II (same guy behind Pena Palace) 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, accepting visitors from all over the world.
Things to do at Castelo dos Mouros
Honestly, just explore the grounds to your heart’s content. We spent an entire hour climbing up and down the endless steps, all the way to the highest point where 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. This is definitely one of the coolest ancient castles in Sintra and you won’t want to miss it.
Admission to the Castelo dos Mouros is €8/€6.50/€6.50 (adult/child/senior).
#2. Visit Quinta da Regaleira
Designed in the late 1800s, Quinta da Regaleira is one of the most incredible castles in Sintra. The whimsical gardens at Quinta da Regaleira mimic ancient secret orders, full of hidden tunnels and concealed symbolism that speak to a time since forgotten.
Getting lost in the maze of rooms is one of the most memorable things to do in Sintra, so don’t miss it.
History of Quinta da Regaleira
This Sintra palace is the passion project of António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric millionaire eager to appease his ideologies and bewildering whims.
With a strong passion for alchemy, Masonry and the Rosicrucianism, Monteiro hired renowned Italian architect Luigi Manini to bring the vision to life.
Focusing on Manueline, Renaissance, Medieval and Classical styles of architecture, both men were known for their eclectic personalities. So it’s only fitting that the end result turned into one of the most beautiful Sintra castles.
The end result was an estate that housed the palace, chapel and park with lakes, grottoes, fountains and wells.
Quinta da Regaleira was designed to fascinate, confuse and delight visitors with secret passages and hidden tunnels. Chief among them are the famous Initiation Wells, which seems to be the biggest draw at this beloved Sintra palace.
What’s with the Initiation Wells at Quinta da Regaleira?
The Initiation Wells are two wells that resemble underground towers (lined with stairs). The wells were used for ceremonial purposes (they were never used for water) that included Tarot initiation rites. The number of steps and the spacing of the landings is linked to Tarot mysticism.
It’s fascinating to imagine the wells being used for that purpose, which is why I consider this one of the coolest palaces in Sintra.
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
Admission for Quinta da Regaleira is €6/€4/€18 (adult/child/family).
#1. Explore Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena)
Arguably the most popular palace in Sintra, Pena Palace needs no introduction. This colorful Sintra castle is an internet sensation, high on the must-see list for anyone visiting Sintra. But the hype is completely warranted.
Built in the 12th century, Pena Palace serves as the crown jewel of the Sintra Hills. Engrossed in a lush forests and beautiful gardens, the palace combines the beauty of nature with the splendor of royal wealth harmoniously.
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.
When King Ferdinand died in 1885 the palace was bequeathed to his second wife, the Countess of Edla. The palace was then sold to King Luis (Ferdinand’s son) who wanted to keep the palace in the royal family.
Not hard to see why! This is one of the most beautiful palaces in Sintra, no wonder the royal family continued to use it until the monarchy fell in 1910. Afterwards, Pena Palace was classified as a National Monument and purchased by the Portuguese State.
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! Anyway you slice it, this is one of the best things to do in Sintra so don’t miss it!
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