One of the best excursions from the Portuguese capital is, without a doubt, the one that takes you to the town of Sintra. Although there is a lot to see and do in Lisbon, if you can find the time to visit this city I assure you that you will not regret it. To convince you I have prepared a short list of its main attractions.
Sintra, just 25 kilometers from Lisbon, is part of the list of World Heritage Cities by Unesco. Although its most famous monument is the spectacular Palacio da Pena, you will also find other impressive buildings, nearby beaches and fabulous views of the Atlantic Ocean.
1. Pena Palace, one of the wonders of Portugal
If you have decided to book an excursion to Sintra or you have gone on your own, you probably already know that its most famous monument is the Pena Palace. In fact, the complex of which it is part has been declared by Portugal as one of its Seven Wonders and its visit is absolutely essential if you are in the Lisbon area.
There are several ways to see the palace, depending on whether you prefer to go with a guide or on your own. In the article How to visit the Pena Palace you will find all the information you need to decide the way you want to see it.
This palace was born in the 15th century as a simple monastery, but it was destroyed by several natural disasters. After that, in the 19th century, King Ferdinand II bought the land and ordered to build the palace that today you can visit to spend the summers with his family.
The Pena Palace is located on the top of a hill overlooking the city. In its construction various architectural styles were mixed, from Renaissance to Moorish, and its exterior was painted in very bright colors.
In addition to admiring its exterior, it is also worth entering the palace to discover the various rooms, all furnished with furniture from the time when the kings came to spend their summer rest.
The visit to the palace does not end here, as the building is surrounded by a huge park full of ponds, lakes and gazebos.
- How to get there: the most convenient way is to book an excursion from Lisbon that includes a visit to the palace, either with or without the entrance fee. If you go by train, when you arrive at Sintra station you must take bus 434 to reach the historic center. You can also walk this route, but it is 3 kilometers uphill.
- Tickets: some of the excursions from Lisbon include tickets to the Pena Palace. Another option is to enter the official website of the Sintra parks to select the type of ticket you want. There are different prices for children, adults, retirees and young people, as well as if you want a joint ticket for the palace and the park.
- Hours: the palace opens at 09:30 and closes at 18:30, although admission is only allowed until 18:00. The park can be visited between 9:00 and 19:00. In any case, it is always advisable to check on the website if there are any changes in these schedules.
2. Delve into the mystery of Quinta da Regaleira
Although it is less known than the Pena Palace, if you are in Sintra you cannot miss for anything in the world a visit to the Quinta da Regaleira. It is possibly less striking than the palace, but the whole complex that makes up the Quinta exudes magic and mystery, with secret passages, hidden waterfalls, grottoes and multiple references to the Templars and Freemasonry.
The visit should begin in the garden. During your walk you will be able to see, with luck, several exotic species, but the most striking is yet to come: the so-called Initiatory Well. It is a large stone well with a spiral staircase and a cross of the Order of the Temple on one of its walls.
One of the theories about its origin states that it was the place where the Masons performed their initiation rites. The well is also surrounded by several tunnels and caves that are worth visiting.
Continuing with the visit we arrive at the chapel of the Holy Trinity and, finally, at the Regaleira Palace. Inside the palace there are rooms such as the alchemical laboratory located in an octagonal tower (typical of the order of the Temple), the Hunting room and the library (although it cannot be compared to the one you can find if you go to Oporto from Lisbon).
- Entrance: some of the excursions to Sintra include the entrance to the Quinta. For those who go on their own or on an excursion without entrance fee, you should know that it costs between 10 and 15 € and the visit can be guided or free. Children under 5 years old and adults over 80 do not have to pay, although they do have to present the ticket. In addition, young people between 6 and 17 years old and adults between 65 and 79 years old pay half price.
- Visiting hours: daily from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm from April to September, the rest of the months from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. Do not forget to check the schedules in case there are changes.
Joaquín's Traveller Tip:
If you want to better explore the caves and tunnels of the Quinta I recommend you to bring a flashlight. If you don't have one, you will have to rely on the light of your cell phone.
3. Discover the beautiful tiles of the National Palace of Sintra
Another great building that you can not miss if you go to Sintra is the National Palace, a true symbol of the city. Its two towers, actually large conical chimneys coming out of the kitchen, are part of the unmistakable landscape of the town and are visible from many of its streets.
The palace was first built in Arabic style, but in the 15th century it was completely renovated in the Manueline style. For its architectural and historical merits, the building was named a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Although it is always worth contemplating its exterior, the best part of the visit takes place inside the palace. In addition to its courtyards and its chapel decorated with mosaics, you cannot miss the rooms filled with beautiful tiles with geometric motifs.
Among its most beautiful rooms are the Sala Moura, the Sala dos Cisnes and the Sala Dos Archeiros, without forgetting the Sala das Pregas with its painted magpies representing the gossip that took place inside the palace.
- Admission: the normal adult ticket costs about 10 €, with small discounts for children and seniors over 65. Likewise, you can also purchase a family ticket (2 adults and two children) for about 33 €.
- Opening hours: although you should always check in advance, visiting hours are from 09:30 to 18:30.
4. Climb up to the remains of Castelo dos Mouros
On a hill overlooking the city, near the entrance to the Pena Palace, is the Castelo dos Mouros, a fortress built by the Arabs in the ninth century in the middle of a forest. Although you will have to face a climb to get there, I recommend you go to this castle to see its remains and, above all, the fantastic views.
Today you can still see the walls with their battlements and towers. One of them, the Royal Tower, has an access that leads to the terrace. Do not hesitate to go up to enjoy a great view of the whole city and the Atlantic.
Another point of interest is the Arab gate with a horseshoe arch that has survived the passage of time. Also, do not miss the old Romanesque chapel and the large cistern built by the Arabs.
- How to get there: from the Pena Palace you must follow a road that leads to the walls. The path you have to take, with such an evocative name as Rampa da Pena, is quite winding, but the effort is not too strenuous.
- Tickets: about 8€ for adults, with a small discount for young people and seniors over 65.
- Hours: 9:00 am to 6:30 pm
5. Put yourself in the place of the monks of Convento dos Capuchos
If you like lesser-known stories, a visit to the Convento dos Capuchoswill delight you.
you will love it. For starters, the place is located in a magical setting, in the middle of a forest about 7 kilometers from the center of Sintra.
This former Franciscan monastery was built in 1560. You can still see the cells carved in stone in which the monks lived to maintain the vow of poverty that characterized the order. If you are going to enter I recommend that you be careful, as all the doors and ceilings are very low.
In addition to these cells, other rooms such as the kitchen are still standing. In addition, you can visit the church, the chapel of Senhor Morto and the chapel of Senhor dos Passos. The latter still preserves interesting remains of tiles with religious scenes.
- How to get there: if you don't have a car, the best way is to use the local tourist bus. As with the tourist buses in Lisbon, with this means of transport you can visit at your own pace some of the most remote corners of the town. Another option is to take a cab or, if you like walking routes, walk to the area.
- Tickets: Admission for adults is around 7 €, while children and seniors over 65 will have to pay 1.5 € less.
- Opening hours: in winter it opens at 09:00 and closes at 18:00, while the closing time in summer is extended until 20:00.
6. Stroll through the old town discovering every nook and cranny
As it happens in Lisbon with the Alfama district and other similar ones, the charm of Sintra goes beyond its monuments. For this reason, I advise you to go to the old town and simply stroll through its streets to enjoy the wonderful buildings that compose them.
You can't miss, for example, taking a look at the magnificent town hall. The facade, in neo-Manueline style, is truly a small architectural jewel. Continuing along the winding cobblestone streets that form the center you will find several interesting churches, as well as other buildings such as those that today house the Museu de História Natural and the Museu Anjos Texeira.
The whole area is also full of gift stores in case you feel like buying something. There are also some of the best restaurants in Sintra, but if you don't have time to stop there are other culinary delights that you can't miss and that deserve to be part of the best gastronomic tours in Lisbon.
These are two typical pastries of Sintra: queijadas and traveseiros. Undoubtedly, the best place to try them (or buy some for later) is the pastry shop Casa Piriquita.
7. Come and see the Palace of Monserrate and its wonderful gardens
A few kilometers from the center of Sintra is the Monserrate Palace, a mansion built in the nineteenth century by the British millionaire Sir Francis Cook. If you can come to see it you will have the opportunity to see one of the best examples of Moorish style in Portugal, although Indian, Mudejar and Gothic influences are also noticeable.
My advice is to take advantage of the visit to walk around the park that surrounds the building and houses specimens of exotic plants brought there by the British nobleman.
- How to get there: the palace and gardens are about 4 kilometers from the center of Sintra. If you do not feel like walking that far and do not have a car, it is best to use the bus 435 of the Scotturb company to get there.
- Tickets: the adult ticket costs about 8€ and is valid for both the palace and the park. Children and seniors over 65 have a discount of 1.5 €.
- Opening hours: the park is open from 09:00 to 19:00, while the palace can be visited between 09:30 and 18:30.
8. Chalet of the Countess
Although it is not a must visit, if you go with enough time you can approach the chalet of the Countess d' Edla and its gardens without fear of being disappointed. The house was built in an alpine style very different from the rest of the buildings in Sintra.
It was King Ferdinand II who ordered to build it with the romantic motive of having a place to live his love story with Elise Hensler, the Countess d' Edla and his future wife.
Its walls are painted a striking yellow, while the interior (although empty) is striking for being decorated with stucco, frescoes and cork on the windows and doors.
However, the most interesting part of the visit are the gardens surrounding the house. If you are a botany lover, you will find a large number of exotic plants brought from as far away as New Zealand or Australia.
Practical information about Sintra
- Entrance: included in the Pena Palace entrance fee.
- Hours: from 09:00 to 19:00 to see the gardens and from 09:00 to 18:00 to enter the villa.
9. Get to know the spectacular beaches near Sintra
Most of the time when organizing an excursion to Sintra from Lisbon, the idea is to get to know its monuments and the surrounding nature. However, many Lisboners make the trip to go to some of the best beaches in the country. If you've been to Lisbon in summer or spring, you can join the locals for a dip in the ocean.
The best known beaches are Guincho, Ursa and Maçãs. To reach them you can use the historic Sintra streetcar.
Ursa, in particular, is possibly one of the most spectacular beaches in the whole country. Its sand is surrounded by high cliffs and irregular rocky outcrops that give a unique beauty to the place.
10. Don't miss the view from Cabo da Roca
Although it is somewhat far from Sintra (about 20 kilometers west of the city), Cabo da Roca is a visit that no one should miss if they have the chance. In fact, it is usually included in almost all organized tours departing from Lisbon.
This point is no less than the most westerly point in continental Europe. From its 140-meter high cliffs (crowned by a lighthouse) you can enjoy breathtaking views of the Atlantic and the waves crashing against the rocks.
Practical information about Sintra
- How to get there: if you have not booked an excursion from Lisbon that includes the visit, the best option to get to this point is by car. Those who prefer public transport can also visit the cape with the Scotturb bus company(line 403).
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon
If you want more detailed information you can find it in my article How to get from Lisbon to Sintra. Here I leave you in a very summarized way the ways to travel between both cities:
- Organized excursion: the most comfortable way to get to know Sintra from Lisbon is by hiring an organized excursion. There are several types, from those that include the entrances to the main monuments to those that also take you to Cabo da Pena.
- Train: from Rossio station there are several daily trains that will take you to Sintra. Another option is to take the train line that departs from Oriente station, but check first if you need to change trains.
- Car: although going by car (either your own or rented) has great advantages, there is a good chance that you will encounter serious parking problems in Sintra, especially in high season and on weekends.