Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the village of Sintra is located high up in a mountain range. The Sintra Castles are spectacular historical landmarks with breathtaking views, making this ancient and romantic town a sure destination for everyone visiting Portugal.
Bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and the south by Cascais, Sintra is located less than 20 miles from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Featuring the typical freshness of the mountain regions and a cozy little city center, Sintra has a lot more to offer than you may think.
The city is famous mainly for its medieval castle and palaces with designs that border on the magical, idealized from the aspirations of the royalty and the elite who spent their days of rest there.
Because of its geographical and natural features, the Sintra area has been recognized as a natural heritage of great value. Also, the more than 900 years of Portugal’s history have left abundant archeological remains in the region.
Traces of human occupation in this region date back to the Neolithic, almost 12,000 years ago. The fertility of the soils and the richness of the region’s fauna and flora have attracted humankind since the 10th century BC.
And how were so many castles built there? Well, between the 18th century and the 20th century, many nobles chose the town of Sintra to build their palaces and castles. During the same period, Sintra was also chosen by artists and writers as a stronghold for their creations.
And of course, it could not be otherwise that Sintra became the most romantic corner of Portugal. The main factors that helped to boost Sintra’s development were its climate and proximity to Lisbon.
The best Sintra Castles to visit
Palácio da Pena
Located inside Parque da Pena and situated on one of the highest peaks in Sintra, Pena Palace is Sintra’s most famous postcard and the most visited Portuguese castle.
Or are you going to say that you never associated Sintra with the image of the playful red and yellow castle? Its fame, history, and beauty made the palace be elected one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal in 2007.
The building was originally a monastery acquired by King Fernando III, who enlarged it from a Moorish construction and transformed it into a summer residence of the Portuguese court.
A leading exponent of 19th century Romanticism, the palace still has all the decoration from the last century, which takes the tourist on a trip back in time.
One of its wings is formed by the old Manueline convent and the second wing was ordered in the 19th century by King Fernando II.
The two wings are surrounded by a third structure where we find a fantasy castle, a drawbridge, watchtowers, and several tunnels.
The surrounding park includes 85 hectares of green paths, fountains, and buildings as surprising as the palace itself. Not to mention that is where you will find the Chalet of the Countess of Edla.
Due to its size, the richness of details and even the number of tourists, you might need around 3 hours to visit it.
However, I personally recommend visiting only the exterior of the palace since the inside can be a bit too crowded and the outside is its true highlight with all the terraces and breathtaking views from different angles.
Entry fee and opening hours
The ticket, which covers both the entrance to the palace and the gardens, costs 14 euros per adult. The palace is open for visitors every day from 9 am to 6 pm. Also, you do not need a guided tour to explore its grounds since there are many explanatory signs.
Castelo dos Mouros
Also high up in Sintra, near the Pena Palace, is the Moorish Castle. This is actually a ruined castle nestled among the lush forests of the Sintra Mountains.
Built during the 9th century by North African Moors, the castle was intended to be a military base to protect the town of Sintra. From the top of its fortresses, it was possible to see enemy troops approaching from miles away.
However, the castle’s importance gradually declined over the centuries, until in the 15th century, its only inhabitants were Jewish settlers. Actually, the authorities never had much interest in the former military base, and when the Jews were expelled from Portugal, the castle was completely abandoned.
However, the history of a castle destined to be forgotten, changed when King Fernando II, obsessed with art, drama, bohemia, and the Middle Ages decided to transform the entire Sintra region by ordering the reconstruction of the castle.
The Moorish Castle is a highly recommended attraction in Sintra and is quite different from the other attractions in town precisely because they are ruins on top of a mountain.
In fact, this was my favorite castle in Sintra, mainly because it offers the most beautiful view of the region, covering the Atlantic Ocean, the town itself, and other Portuguese castles, such as the Pena Palace.
Entry fee and opening hours
Open 9 am to 6:30 pm, the ticket costs 8 euros per adult. And prepare your legs, because there are many stairs to go up and down along the walls of this unique fortress. This is yet another castle that does not require a guided tour to be explored.
Quinta da Regaleira
Pena Palace may be the most apotheotic, but no attraction in Sintra is more leisurely than Quinta da Regaleira. The enthralling space occupied by Quinta da Regaleira consists of the palace, the gardens, and enigmatic constructions spread over 4 hectares.
When the Portuguese monarchy was breathing its last breaths, more precisely in the period between 1904 and 1910, Quinta da Regaleira was built in a large green area, very close to the center of Sintra.
What you’ll see there is a magical, mystical, and mysterious setting. With genius minds behind the project, the summer estate of the royal family was transformed into a private enchanted forest.
The woods and gardens occupy most of the estate’s grounds and are the areas that most deserve attention during your visit. Scattered (and mostly hidden) throughout the woods you will find Greek divinities, a neo-gothic chapel, towers, gardens, fountains, caves, labyrinths, and underground passages.
With an underground spiral staircase divided into nine levels, the Initiation Well is the highlight at Quinta da Regaleira.
It is actually an underground gallery surrounded by mysteries: it is said to have this name because it was used in initiation rituals for freemasonry.
It is one of the most enchanting places in Sintra and more than in any other attraction in town, the little map offered at the ticket office is fundamental here. If you have time, however, it is best to simply get lost and use the map to find yourself.
Entry fee and opening hours
Quinta da Regaleira is open every day from 10 am to 5:30 pm and the ticket is 10 euros per adult. You can choose between a guided tour, a free tour, or an audio tour.
Also known as the Village Palace, the Sintra National Palace is the most easily accessible attraction since it is located in the town’s central square, overlooking the valley.
The building served as a residence for the Portuguese royal family from the 12th century on and was used as a “summer house”, mainly for hunting purposes. Well preserved, in its interior you will have access to furniture and objects, used by kings and queens who lived there.
Its construction is Arab-inspired and what stands out are the two conical white towers, which are actually chimneys that had an eminently practical function. They were part of a huge kitchen that once served the Portuguese royal family.
All the rooms are furnished and very well preserved. In fact, one of the main reasons to visit the National Palace is because it is the only palace built by the Portuguese monarchs during the Middle Ages that is still practically intact, maintaining the forms from the 16th century. The highlight is the largest collection of Hispano-Mooric tiles that can be seen in Portugal.
Entry fee and opening hours
The Sintra National Palace entrance fee is 10 euros per adult and the gardens are free of charge. Both the palace and the gardens are open from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm and it will take you around 1 hour to explore it.
Palácio de Monserrate
Like the Pena Palace, the Palace of Monserrate is one of the most important examples of Romantic architecture in Portugal.
The Palace was originally built in 1856 to be the summer residence of a wealthy English family, taking advantage of the ruins of a neo-Gothic mansion that already existed there.
State-owned since 1949, the Palace belonged to a few wealthy Englishmen until its latest owner, Sir Francis Cook received the title of Viscount of Monserrate and transformed it into what is now one of Portugal’s most important examples of Romantic architecture.
Combining Gothic, Indian and Moorish influences, the interior is beautiful, with arabesques, sculptures, and jaw-dropping stained glass windows.
The library and music room are equally charming. The gardens received species from all over the world and were organized by areas. From the gate to the house, the visitor passes by ruins, a sarcophagus, waterfalls, and narrow paths.
Although it is a little far from the center of Sintra, it is worth visiting not only because it is beautiful but also because it is not as crowded or as big as some of the other Sintra palaces.
Entry fee and opening hours
At the entrance of the property, there is the possibility to buy the ticket for the transport directly to the palace since it is necessary to cross the gardens to get there.
However, the Palace itself is not large and the building is practically empty inside which makes the gardens one of the main attractions there. It takes between 40 minutes and 1 hour to visit the whole palace and the ticket costs 8 euros per adult.
Palácio de Queluz
Also known as the Versailles of Portugal, Queluz Palace was designed by D. Pedro III in the second half of the 18th century. As a summer residence and marked by French and Italian influence, it became a place of leisure and the stages for royal festivities in the summer.
After mentioning Versailles, you may guess that they must have beautiful gardens and you are not wrong.
One of the jewels of the gardens is the Canal des Tiles, where the royal family used to go boating. Yes, they took a boat ride on a canal made of tiles inside the gardens of the palace.
Due to its location between Lisbon and Sintra, the palace ends up being easier to visit by car. But, it is also possible to take a train from the Sintra station to the Monte Abraão station in Queluz. The walk from the station to the palace is 30 minutes long.
Entry fee and opening hours
The palace is open for visitation from 9 am to 5:30 pm. The combined entrance fee for the Palace + Gardens is 10 euros for adults. It is also possible to visit the gardens alone at a reduced rate, but it is best to buy the combined ticket, as the interior of the palace is very interesting.
Chalet e Jardim da Condessa D’Edla
The Chalet of the Countess of Edla is a beautiful surprise in Pena Park. With a magical atmosphere, the chalet was built by D. Fernando II and his second wife, the Countess of Edla, as a place of refuge and recreation for the couple.
Inspired by the chalets in the Alps, the Chalet of the Countess has a unique architecture with walls covered with paintings. On the upper floor, a balcony runs along the entire exterior.
With a magical and cozy atmosphere that seems to be straight out of a fable, one of the most picturesque details of the Chalet’s facade are the cork linings on the door and window frames, which also imitate vines.
Also notice the plaster covering the building, simulating wooden planks. The interior of the Chalet is not very large but is richly decorated, with varying styles.
You can get to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla using the electric hop-on hop-off transportation that circulates through Pena Park (included in the ticket).
Another option is to walk the pleasant 1.2-mile path from the Pena Palace to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla.
The Chalet is open to visitors between 9 am and 7 pm, with the last entrance at 6 pm.
Other things Sintra is famous for
Sintra is not only made of castles and palaces. The historical center of Sintra is one of the activities that cannot be left out of your Sintra itinerary. Also, the Sintra mountain range itself is a separate attraction worth exploring. On the way from one castle to another, pay attention to the natural beauty of several species of plants and animals.
And besides the main palaces in Portugal, check out what to see in Sintra.
Cabo da Roca
Although the town of Sintra is located on the side of a mountain, the town extends to the sea. And it is possible to reach the coast by taking a streetcar ride from the center of Sintra to Praia das Maçãs and Cabo da Roca. Known as the westernmost point of Europe, the Cape is a place of rare beauty with its 500 ft tall cliffs which resemble some of the Algarve beaches.
Parque da Liberdade
For those who like a total connection with nature, Parque da Liberdade is the right place. Located in the center of Sintra, it is well kept, with lots of greenery, flowers, and birds. Open for visitors every day from 9 am to 5 pm, the park offers a perfect space to stroll around and rest between your visits to the Sintra castles.
Palácio dos Seteais
Currently occupied by the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Hotel, the Seteais Palace was built in the late 18th century by the then Dutch Consul in Portugal.
Later renovations slightly modified the neoclassical architecture but kept the beautiful Triumphal Arch and one of the largest Sintra gardens. Non-guests can only visit the gardens and appreciate the palace from the outside. But the bar and restaurant are open to the public.
Portugal is well known for its pastries and delicacies and if you like sweets, you need to visit Café Piriquita! It was in this century-old bakery that the “Travesseiro de Sintra” was created: a sweet pastry, filled with a delicate egg cream.
There are also versions with apple or chocolate filling. Another delicious dessert typical in Sintra is the Queijadinha. Also wrapped in a crispy pastry, it is filled with cheese and cinnamon. Be sure to try both of them! On cooler days, they go well with a cup of tea or coffee between one attraction and another.
Travel tips to Sintra
When is the best time to visit Sintra
Because Sintra is located in the mountains, it has a variable micro-climate. It can be both hot and foggy in a matter of 10 minutes. The climate itself is similar to that of Lisbon: it has a mild, dry summer with cloudless skies and a not-so-cold winter.
Throughout the year, the temperature ranges from 48 °F to 79 °F, rarely rising or falling more than that. That said, the city does not even need a beautiful day to be appreciated. On the contrary: when it is shrouded in the mists of the mountains, it seems even more magical and mysterious.
You should also know that the quirky town has a high number of tourists throughout the whole year. This tourist flow intensifies between April and October.
Read more about the best time to visit Sintra and the rest of Portugal
Avoid this period so that your visit to Sintra is memorable and not an interminable sequence of queues and waits.
Additionally, Sintra is rich in cultural events including concerts, exhibitions, theater, cinema, painting workshops, and many more artistic and cultural activities. If you want to combine your visit to Sintra with one of its events, check the Cultural Agenda of Sintra.
Is Sintra safe
Portugal was voted the 4th safest country in the world by the Global Peace Index 2021. Of course, like anywhere else in the world, more touristy places require a little more attention to your belongings and Sintra is no different. But, in general, there is not much to worry about safety in Portugal since the existing problems are punctual.
How to get to Sintra
From Lisbon, it takes only 40 minutes to get to Sintra. The trains leave from Rossio Station and have Sintra as their final destination.
So, you do not even have to worry about the right time to get off. The tickets are relatively cheap and can be bought at the station just before boarding. In my opinion, there is no better way to get to the city.
Besides the possibility to go to Sintra on an organized tour, there is the option to go by car. However, it is usually quite difficult to find parking spaces in the city, even more so if the idea is to drive between one attraction and another. I did this and I seriously regretted it.
How to move around in Sintra
Getting around Sintra can be simpler than you think. Sintra’s public transportation was designed for tourism to avoid the circulation of cars through the narrow streets of the town.
Whether you go by train or by car, we recommend that you buy a ticket for one of the hop-on-hop-off bus lines. Both lines leave from Sintra Station, and you can buy the ticket directly from the driver.
Line 434 is the so-called “Circuito Pena” route. Its itinerary includes the National Palace, the Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace. Line 435, called “Vila Express”, passes by the National Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, Seteais Palace, and Monserrate Palace.
How Many days do I need to visit Sintra?
Although the best is to stay one night and enjoy two days in Sintra, most people go for a day trip from Lisbon. In this case, try to go as early as possible so you can make the most of it.
Still, in one day, I suggest visiting only the main attractions through Line 434. Visit the Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle, and return to the National Palace. From there, walk for less than ten minutes to Quinta da Regaleira. But, of course, the best is to have 2 days in Sintra to do both circuits.
Those who choose to stay overnight can also visit the palaces of Monserrate, Seteais, and Queluz. Or even choose to visit other attractions in the region such as Cabo da Roca.
A special tip is to buy combos with tickets for more than one attraction. For example, by buying the tickets for Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, National Palace, and Monserrate Palace through the Parques de Sintra website, you won’t waste time at the box office and will get a 5% discount.
You can also get a discount by going to the ticket office of one of those attractions and buying the entrance tickets for all the others – the discount is applied according to the number of palaces you plan to visit.
However, to visit Quinta da Regaleira, the only way is to buy tickets at the entrance of the attraction.
Where to stay in Sintra
The best area to stay in Sintra is in the historical center of the city. Thus, you will be close to bars and restaurants, several sights, and the bus stops that take you to the palaces and castles further away.
Staying near the train station is still a good option and can be very cheap. And also, with the advantage of not being too far from the village center but being able to stay away from the hustle and bustle.
Near the train station, the Villa Lunae Sintra Flats is a great option for those seeking more privacy. Chalet Saudade is an old house with super charming decoration and highly praised breakfast and service. And the simple and fair Espaço Edla is right in front of Sintra Station.
Finally, if you want to enjoy nature with a view of the mountains, it is possible to stay in luxurious and tranquil accommodation in more remote areas, such as the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais and the Penha Longa Resort.
About the author
I’m Camila, an Oceanographer from Brazil which is where my journey began. My studies have taken me to unique places around the world since I was a teenager. I found in my academic career the chance to come across different cultures and languages while working as a scientist. By having lived in several countries I have been able to share my experiences as a travel content writer for the last 4 years and I still have plenty more to tell. I have a great passion for the outdoors and animals, especially dogs and seals (which, let’s be honest, are basically sea dogs!).