Just good half an hour from Lisbon lies a destination that sparks the imagination more than any other Portuguese must-see: Sintra. This little town, located high up in the mountains, is home to a cultural landscape so unique that it was awarded with UNESCO World Heritage status. The whimsical Sintra palaces, castles and villas dotting the pine-covered hills look like they came straight out of a fairy tale. Intriguing gardens and sweeping views over the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park completes this magical setting. Visitors flock to this irresistible Portuguese site on a daily basis, keen to see these architectural gems up close. If your Portugal itinerary includes your own Sintra adventure then you better come prepared. That’s exactly where this Sintra itinerary comes in.
Find out how to organize your Lisbon to Sintra day trip, learn about the best way to visit Sintra and get some valuable tips to make the most of your Sintra visit. All this in chronicle order with suggested time schedule. Let’s dive in.
Book your tickets in advance
In order to take the stress out of your Lisbon to Sintra day trip, it’s highly recommended to book your tickets in advance. The time you’ll save doing so will allow for a more comfortable visit to the palaces and gardens.
– Recommended transportation option: Sintra by train
The bad news is that you can’t buy your Lisbon to Sintra train tickets online. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll need to queue. Be wise and buy your Sintra train ticket in advance. Here’s how:
Buy and charge your zapping ticket:
Buy a Viva Viagem (green / white) card when you arrive in Lisbon. It costs €0.50 and you can get it at any train or metro station. You need one card per person. At the ticket machine, select the I don’t have a card option then press Zapping. Charge the card for any amount between €3 an €40 and use it to pay as you go on Lisbon’s bus, train, tram, ferry, funicular and metro net. To do so, validate it by swiping it at the entrance barriers and the journey cost will get debited.
The return zapping ticket, priced at €3.80, is even cheaper than a regular return train ticket to Sintra, which costs €4.50.
But there’s a catch: Once you’ve chosen a mode of transport (bus, ferry, metro or train), you’ll need to use the credit for that fare before you’re able to change to another fare type.
So, make sure that it’s charged for the return train fare the day before you take your Lisbon to Sintra day trip or do so the morning of your trip at a metro station. But make sure to arrive at Rossio station with a charged card to avoid the queues.
Alternatively, buy your ticket through the app:
Another option is to book your tickets from the Comboios de Portugal app, although the reviews do point out that it’s not user-friendly.
– Alternative transportation option: Sintra by express bus (only from April to September)
The Sintra Express bus, operated by Vimeca, is less popular then the train. If you can get there early on the day of your Sintra visit, then there’s no need to buy your ticket in advance. The ticketing office opens early enough, at 8 a.m.
The downside that comes with the bus option, is that you won’t make it to Sintra early enough to beat the crowds. So basically, our advice is to take the train.
– Attraction tickets
Order your fast track entry tickets for the palaces in advance. This Sintra travel itinerary focuses on the most popular sights:
Park and National Palace of Pena:
Tickets for the Palácio Nacional da Pena can be booked via the Parques de Sintra website for either park only access (€7.50 p.p.) or park + palace access (€14 p.p.). A combined ticket with the Moorish Castle includes a 5% discount. Family tickets for 2 adults and 2 kids are available too but unfortunately not bookable online.
Tickets can be freely used, specified days or time slots don’t apply. The website indicates that combined tickets are available for 30 days but our tickets actually mentioned a 7-month validity.
Another option is to buy your skip-the-line tickets for the Pena Palace on GetYourGuide.
Tickets for the Castelo dos Mouros can be booked via the same Parques de Sintra website (€8 p.p.). The same conditions apply as for the Pena Palace tickets.
Another option is to buy your skip-the-line ticket for the Moorish Castle on GetYourGuide.
Quinta da Regaleira:
This is the only Sintra must-see for which you can’t buy tickets via Parques de Sintra. There’s usually no queuing involved when buying your tickets at the entrance.
Get from Lisbon to Sintra
– Recommended option: Lisbon to Sintra by train
Arrive at Lisbon’s Rossio station around 7.30 a.m. (summer) or 8.15 a.m. (winter):
You’ll be going from Lisbon to Sintra by train. Leave your Lisbon hotel early enough so you can get to Rossio station well before the crowds. Depending on where you’re staying, you might need to catch a metro on the green line to reach Rossio station.
Tip: If you’re not a morning person, ask your Lisbon hotel for a breakfast box so you can enjoy it on the go. And pack plenty of water and some food too to make the most of your time in Sintra.
Take the train from Rossio Station in Lisbon to Sintra:
The train journey takes 40 minutes. Trains run every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. You can find the schedule here.
Plan to arrive in Sintra station around 8.30 a.m. (summer schedule) or 9.15 a.m. (winter schedule).
– Alternative option: Lisbon to Sintra by bus (Sintra Express – only from April to September)
Go to Praça Marquês de Pombal around 8 a.m.:
The Sintra Express terminal is located a bit away from the main Lisbon tourist attractions, which is the main reason why it’s not as popular as the train. Then again, you can easily get there on either the blue or yellow metro line.
Buy your ticket:
The office, located right at the bus stop, opens at 8 a.m. The return ticket is priced at €15. But there’s a more interesting option: the round-trip ticket that includes the local Sintra hop on hop off transportation, priced at €20. Check it out here.
Take the first Sintra Express bus at 9 a.m.:
The first bus leaves at 9 a.m. and the transfer takes about 30 minutes. This means that you won’t arrive in Sintra in time to take the first hop on hop off bus. So, you’ll most likely end up queueing.
– Even more ways to get from Lisbon to Sintra
There are other options but neither are a match for the train service:
- Driving to Sintra can be a nightmare during rush hours. Plus, parking is extremely limited and the roads incredible small and winding. So, ditch the car and take the train instead.
- The only other comfortable option is taking an organized Sintra tour, such as this small group tour. The only downside is that you won’t be in control of your Sintra itinerary. Most excursions only include one or two castles but that’s not necessarily a bad things since some do take you to picturesque Cascais.
Get from Sintra station to the first monument
Walking is not an option, unfortunately. It’s an incredibly steep hike along winding roads lacking a pedestrian zone. Cars, buses and pedicabs whiz by, trying to get to the top first. It’s unsafe and exhausting. Trust us, you’ll need your energy to do the climbs on-site the different palace grounds.
– Recommended option: Get an Uber or a taxi
This is by far the quickest option to get reach the first stop on your Sintra itinerary. You’ll reach Pena Palace in about 20 minutes, arriving around 9 a.m. (summer) or 9.45 a.m. winter). That means you’ll be there before the Sintra attraction opens.
Agreed, you might have to wait a bit before the gates open but trust us, waiting here is nothing compared to queueing for tickets, trains or hop on hop off busses. Especially in summer, things get pretty crazy.
– Alternative option: Take the 434 bus at 9.15 a.m.
The best option to start your Sintra itinerary is the Sintra bus 434 for route Circuito da Pena, operating a hop on hop off circular loop between the following stops:
- Sintra station
- Sintra historic centre (Sintra Vila)
- Moorish Castle
- Pena Palace
- Sintra historic centre (Sintra Vila)
- Sintra Station
The stop can be found about 100 m from Sintra train station. There are 4 departures per hour. And there’s no escape, you’ll most probably be facing some queues. The best advice we can give you is to arrive early enough – say, around 9 a.m. – to catch the first bus at 9.15 a.m. (summer schedule) or 9.30 a.m. (winter schedule).
The bus company offering the hop on hop off service is called Scotturb. The €6.90 fare can be paid to the driver and the schedule can be found here. Or you can use a second charged Viva Viagem (green / white) card card. The one you used on the Lisbon-Sintra train won’t work since it’s charged for a train fare, not for a bus fare.
Important: Most visitors will hop off at the Moorish Castle. Don’t. Stay on the bus and hop off at Pena Palace instead.
– Even more ways to get around Sintra
At the station, you’ll see plenty of tuk tuk and taxi drivers offering to take you to the Sintra sights. It might be an option if the bus line is way too long but otherwise, you’ll be much cheaper off by taking the bus.
Another fun option are the electric carts by Go Sintra. The pre-programmed vehicle will take you to various sights, depending on your preference. Just to give you an idea about the rates: a 6-hour tour will set you back €70. We haven’t tried these ourselves since we were traveling with kids but we might have if it had been just the two of us.
Start your Sintra itinerary
Now that you made your way to this charming little town and up the mountain hill, it’s time to start your Sintra itinerary. Most visitors take the bus and therefore get off at the first attraction, the Moorish Castle. That’s why we recommend to go against the flow and start at the Pena Palace.
– Pena Palace
The highlight of any Sintra itinerary is the Pena Palace, located atop the hill. This colorful architectural masterpiece is the one that you’ll find on many postcards. It’s located amidst the most enchanting gardens.
King Ferdinand II acquired the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena, named after the huge boulders or penha that can be found on the hill, in 1836. He decided to have this old Manueline building restored and refined with opulent rooms and vaulted ceilings. To expand this so-called Old Palace, which had been painted in pink, King Ferdinand II commissioned Baron von Eschwege to add another, ochre-coloured, wing known as the New Palace. An eye-catching structure with drawbridge, tunnel and watchtowers complete the enchanting picture. The 19th century Pena Palace breathes German romanticism, inspired by the idyllic Rhine castles.
Visiting the Pena Palace
From the entrance gate, it’s a steep walk uphill to reach the Pena Palace. Depending on your preference for this Sintra itinerary, you either opt to visit just the gardens and admire the palace from the outside or to visit both.
If it’s your intention to visit Pena Palace as well as the gardens, then we’d strongly recommend getting to the palace’s entrance as soon as you can. You’ll have to wait in line there too. If you can start queueing early enough, then you might get in pretty quickly. If you’re there by 10 a.m. or later, then chances are that you might only get in after an hour or more.
We wouldn’t advise visiting the Palace with kids unless you arrive really early.
Should you decide to skip the palace visit, then you can still get to the courtyard where you can admire the impressive gate and several other intricate details of this amazing building.
The opening times for the Pena Palace can be found here. A visit to the Pena Palace will take about 45 minutes plus the 10-minute uphill climb. This doesn’t including waiting times.
Visiting the Pena Gardens
Follow the meandering path and explore the romantic garden, which is dotted with benches and frivolous pavilions. Hundreds of species of trees provide plenty of shade. Every angle of the park offers a glimpse of colorful Pena Palace, standing proudly atop the hill.
We explored the park with a map yet wandered off the path on several occasions, simply because the maze of winding footways made it hard to stay on track. This also means that we spent more time in the park than we had intended. To us, the final part of the park was the most enchanting with the stables and the Vale dos Lagos or Valley of the Lakes as our personal highlights.
If you brought your own picnic, then the Pena Gardens make for the perfect spot to enjoy a light lunch.
The opening times for the Pena Gardens can be found here. A visit to the Pena Gardens will take about 1 to 1.5 hour.
– Castle of the Moors
From Pena Park’s Vale dos Lagos exit, it’s just a 15-minute walk to the entrance of the Castle of the Moors.
While for most visitors the Pena Palace is the highlight of their Sintra itinerary, we actually preferred the Moorish Castle. We just love how the architecture follows the ridges and the front-row view over the Pena Palace are nothing short of spectacular. It’s also the most physically challenging, with hundreds of slippery and uneven steps on your way to the top.
One of the oldest monuments in the Sintra mountains is the Moorish Castle. It was built by the Moors around the 9th or 10th century, following the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. It’s easy to see why the Moors chose this peak to be their vantage point to watch over the region.
Visiting the Castelo dos Mouros
As you make your way to the striking walls, you’ll come across several archeological finds. When you pass through the gate, you get a first glimpse of the spectacular sets of stairs that follow the steep cliffs to the mountain peaks. You can climb either side and your efforts are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views in all of Portugal. The vistas include the main sights of the Sintra area, including the colorful Pena Palace, and reach all the way to the Atlantic.
The kids found this to be the coolest of things to do in Sintra. Just keep an eye of them on the stairs or better yet, try to keep up with them.
The opening times for the Castelo dos Mouros can be found here. A visit will take about 1 to 1.5 hour. A good physical condition is required to make your way to the top, especially on a hot summer day.
– Have lunch in or near Sintra town
If you’re still up for it, then walk downhill towards the old town center of Sintra. You could of course get an Uber, hold a tuk tuk or taxi or wait for the bus but then you’ll likely be stuck in traffic at this time of day. Here are some lunch options for your Sintra itinerary:
- Look for a table in Sintra town. It’s a charming little place with plenty of eateries and souvenir shops. And yes, it may be quite commercialised but that didn’t really bother us. It’s part of the fun in Sintra. If you’re lucky, you might find an available table on the terrace of a quaint local restaurant. Just don’t count on it, this is one of Portugal’s tourist hotspots after all. The Sintra National Palace is located right in the town center. We loved exploring the narrow streets while checking out the cute little shops after lunch.
- Have lunch in the bar of the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, one of the fanciest hotels in Sintra.
- Just head to your next stop, Quinta da Regaleira and on the courtyard, near the Fountain of Chimeras, you’ll find this amazing terrace with well over a hundred seats and plenty of food options.
– Quinta da Regaleira
From the Sintra town center, you can reach this third palace on foot in just about 15 minutes.
The Quinta da Regaleira was built in the early 20th century. Wealthy and eccentric nobleman António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro hired an Italian architect to shape his dreamy palace and enchanted garden.
Visiting the Quinta da Regaleira Palace:
The Palace, a mix of different building styles such as Neo-Gothic, Manueline and Italian Neo-Renaissance, consists of five floors. You can take a self-guided tour of the different rooms. The detailing in some of the rooms is magnificent.
Visiting the Quinta da Regaleira Garden:
The highlight of the Regaleira estate is the garden. It’s dotted with mystical and interestingly shaped features such as tunnels, water features, caves, gargoyles, grottoes and statues. Exploring the garden is a wonderful experience. It’s packed with surprising elements around every corner and interesting details in every nook and cranny, from pentagrams to masonry references
Highlights of the Quinta da Regaleira garden include the Initiation Wells – inverted towers with nine flights of spiral stairs – and the the Fount of Abundance – adorned with seashells. We had high expectations for the popular Initiation Wells, that seems symbolize the mystic spirit of the gardens with their mossed appearance. But in real life, stripped from their moss, they’re less impressive. Hard to photograph too with visitors on other levels sticking their arms out to take the perfect shot. Then again, other features in the park more than made of for it.
Check for opening times here. A visit to Quinta da Regaleira takes about 1.5 hours. It’s a great place to visit with kids.
Round-up and Sintra map
For your convenience, we’ve created this overview of the suggested time schedule for this Sintra itinerary. It’s based on the recommended transportation options:
- Preparation: Charge your Viva Viagem zapping ticket in any train or metro station and buy your admission tickets for the Sintra monuments online.
- 7.30 a.m.: Take the train in Lisbon’s Rossio station.
- 9 a.m.: Get an Uber from the Sintra train station to Pena Palace.
- 9.30 a.m.: Enter Pena Park and head to the Palace first, then visit the park and have a light lunch.
- 11.30 a.m.: Make your way to the Moorish Castle.
- 1 p.m.: Get an Uber and enjoy lunch in Sintra town.
- 2.30 p.m.: Head to Quinta da Regaleira, the final stop on your Sintra itinerary.
- 4.30 p.m.: Make your way to the Sintra train station to head back to Lisbon or enjoy a summer evening dinner in charming Sintra.
- Preparation: Charge your Viva Viagem zapping ticket in any train or metro station and buy your admission tickets for the Sintra monuments online.
- 8.15 a.m.: Take the train in Lisbon’s Rossio station.
- 9.45 a.m.: Get an Uber from the Sintra train station to Pena Palace.
- 10 a.m.: Enter Pena Park and head to the Palace first, then visit the park and have a light lunch.
- Noon: Make your way to the Moorish Castle.
- 1.30 p.m.: Get an Uber and enjoy lunch in Sintra town.
- 3 p.m.: Head to Quinta da Regaleira, the final stop on your Sintra itinerary.
- 5 p.m.: Make your way to the Sintra train station to head back to Lisbon.
Tips for your Sintra visit
Here are some final tips to make the most of your Sintra itinerary:
- Avoid weekends and peak summer season. If you happen to visit during busy times anyway, then just accept that you’ll have to deal with the crowds. There’s no escape.
- Start your day early. Most visitors plan to do so but end up getting there later than planned, so we really can’t stress this enough. Visitors that choose to visit Sintra as part of an excursion, will be arriving in hoards around 10-10.30 a.m. Make sure you beat them to it for a more comfortable experience.
- Bring plenty of water and pack a picnic or at least some snacks. Since Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle are located so close by, it makes no sense to head into town in between both visits. But this means that you’ll be having a late lunch on a day that you started especially early. Prepare for that and pack a light lunch.
- Wear sturdy shoes. You’ll be climbing up and down mountain slopes, over sandy pathways and stone steps. This day involves a lot of physical exercise so come prepared. As you can tell from the photos, I wore ballerinas. Not the best choice, trust me.
- Pack sunscreen. And use it too! The palace parks may offer plenty of shade but there are other places where you’re more exposed to direct sunlight. It’s easy to be mesmerized by these beautiful monuments but don’t get too distracted either.
- Bring a jacket or light sweater. The Sintra mountains offer a cooler setting than Lisbon city or some of the beach towns.
- Visiting Sintra with kids is possible. Our girls were 9 and 7 when we took our Sintra trip. Just make sure they know that there’s a lot of walking involved, pack their favorite snacks, give them some fun challenges along the way, take a break now and then and most of all, keep them involved and excited.
Making it a weekend?
– More Sintra sights
This one day trip itinerary includes the most popular Sintra monuments. But there are even more castles and gardens that are just as enchanting. Our biggest regret is nog visiting Monserrate Palace. Other Sintra monuments include the Convento dos Capuchos, Vila Sassetti and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra (Sintra National Palace).
– Where to stay in Sintra
The Sintra mountains are home to some wonderful boutique hotels and guesthouses. It’s important to make your booking well in advance because of this destination’s popularity. Also, when arriving by car, make sure to look for an accommodation with parking.
Here are some wonderful places to stay in Sintra, most of them within walking distance of the most popular palaces:
- Quinta Velha, a light and bright guesthouse near the Castelo dos Mouros.
- The boutique guesthouse Águamel Sintra near Quinta da Regaleira and Sintra town.
- Classy Biester Charm House located near the center of Sintra.
- The posh Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, located near Quinta da Regaleira.
- Located about 15 minutes from Sintra but highly recommended for families with kids, is Vila Gale Sintra. It’s one of the most child-friendly hotels in Portugal, with its own carousel, red-coloured kids pool with slide, trampoline park and amazing animation (talking about you Dédé). It’s such a spacious hotel that it’s a haven of peace for parents too. We also loved the healthy food options, for kids and adults alike. The pool area looks out over the Sintra mountains, with the Pena Palace as the crown jewel.
– Interesting places nearby
We actually planned to visit Sintra on a day trip from Lisbon, but ended up booking some nights in the wider Sintra area to avoid the busy transfer. The palaces may be the main highlight but the we actually loved venturing beyond: the quaint little town of Colares, the impeccable beaches such as Adraga beach and the stunning views from Cabo da Roca before ending up in picturesque Cascais. You could, of course, visit these places by taking one of the many tours that start from Lisbon. But why make several day trips if you can just as well stay in this wonderful area?
Time to plan your Sintra day trip
You’re all ready to plan your own Sintra day trip from Lisbon. We can’t wait to read all about your adventure so keep us in the loop on your plans. You’re in for a wonderful experience!
Pinning this post would be much appreciated!