Sintra is a town located west of the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, due to its many important (and beautiful!) structures and buildings. But more importantly, Sintra is home to a shocking number of palaces that beg to be explored!
While Sintra is one of Lisbon’s most popular daytrips (see below), it should be said that there is so much to do here you could easily spend more than a day. There are a grand total of 6 palaces in Sintra, and of course there is more to see in town than just the palaces! Here are my top 5 tips for making a palace daytrip to Sintra:
1. Come prepared: bring lots of water + sturdy shoes
Sintra is situated within the Sintra Mountains, and is spread all over the surrounding hills. While this often gives it a mysterious edge when the place is covered in mist, the hills are STEEP. Be prepared for lots of hard walking (especially if you choose to walk up to some of the higher-elevated palaces) by wearing sturdy shoes and bringing lots of water.
2. There will be other tourists
Sintra is probably Lisbon’s most popular daytrip. Lots of other people who visit Lisbon will also be visiting Sintra with you, so expect big crowds (especially at the main palaces) and be patient. You may have to wait for buses or in queues for tickets. Also, be forewarned that I encountered some pretty pricey pasteis de nata (the famous and delicious Portuguese custard pastry)—instead of the standard 1€ per pastry, my pastel de nata was 1.50€. The entry fee to the most popular palaces will be over 10€, and they don’t offer a student discount.
3. Buy a transport pass
It was actually quite easy to navigate Sintra by bus, mainly since the city has two bus routes running to and from the palaces. Route 434 circles in a loop from the train station, the historic center (including the Sintra National Palace), the Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace. Route 435 goes in a there-and-back route from the train station to the historic center, then to the Quinta da Regaleira on its way to Seteais Palace and Monserrate Palace. A hop-on, hop-off pass for the buses is 12€ for the day, but well worth it as you can save serious time from walking uphill. The buses also run fairly frequently, so you’re never waiting too long for a bus.
If you’re coming from Lisbon (and especially if you want to take bus 403 to see Cabo da Roca, the western-most tip of continental Europe), you can buy a day pass for all buses and trains (including trains to/from Lisbon) for 15€. This was ideal and very convenient for me, as I traveled from Lisbon to Sintra, then to Cabo da Roca, then to Cascais and back to Lisbon.
4. Pick and choose your palaces…
There are an overwhelming number of palaces in Sintra. The Sintra National Palace is one of the best preserved medieval royal residences in Portugal (dating from the 15th-century), and is characterized by its huge, white, cone-shaped chimneys. The Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) is a former military fortress high above the town, offering phenomenal views. The Pena Palace is also on a hill (again with great views of the surrounding area)—although much of the medieval castle is gone, the brightly colored palace of today dates from the 1800s. In addition to these three popular palaces, there are also the Quinta da Regaleira, the Seteais Palace, and the Monserrate Palace.
My advice would be to research all of them and pick only a handful that you really want to see, instead of rushing through everything and trying to do them all. I really wish I had been in Sintra for more than one day to see more!
5. …But don’t miss Quinta da Regaleira!
Although all of the palaces would be worth a visit in their own way, my absolute favorite was Quina da Regaleira. If there’s just one palace you see in Sintra, this should be it! Besides the fact that it was one of the cheapest of the palaces (4€ for students), it was all around like walking into a dream. The gardens are massive, with hidden paths, lakes, grottoes, and towers you can climb, as well as a beautiful chapel. You can also walk in the caves! Of course the real show-stopper is the house itself, an ornate work by the Italian architect Luigi Manini. I felt like I was in a fairytale the whole time I was here!
While there’s definitely more to do in Sintra than you can squeeze into a day, you can definitely visit at least a handful of the palaces on offer as a daytrip. If you have more time, I recommend exploring and hiking in the Sintra-Cascais National Park and visiting Cabo da Roca!
Have you ever been to Sintra and visited the palaces? Which was your favorite?