Magical is the best word to describe Sintra, Portugal, which was developed as an escape from the crowded city of Lisbon for Portuguese royalty. From the 8th century stone Castle of the Moors to the pastel explosion of Pena Palace, beauty abounds in this fairytale land. At only a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon, Sintra is a must-add day trip to your Portugal itinerary.
Logistics: The Sintra train departs Lisbon at least once an hour in the summer months out of Rossio Square station. You can buy tickets from machines or tellers at the station. The machines are confusing and slow, so make time to go to the teller if you don’t speak Portuguese.
Once you arrive in Sintra, there are a few ways you can get around: walking, which I don’t recommend, as you’ll walk a lot within the individual sites and almost everything is up a huge hill; bus 434, which I recommend; bike taxis; and private car hires. The bus is the fastest and most economical way to get from site to site, but I will admit that we splurged on a harrowing bike taxi ride(Sintra is all hills) back to the train station after seeing our last site. The bike taxi cost €15 compared to the €5 we paid for the bus ticket.
After you leave Sintra’s main town area, there’s almost nowhere to get food or water, so bring bottled water and snacks and map out the day to plan to get back to town for lunch. Try Sintra Terrace Tapas Bar for the spectacular view over town.
- Where to stay: My Story Hotel Ouro in Lisbon (Sintra is a day trip from Lisbon)
- Flight details: Fly into Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS), then take the train to Sintra (40 minutes)
- Time of year visited: Summer
- Time in Sintra: 1 day
- Portugal itinerary: Day trips to Sintra and Belém, 3 days in Lagos and Lisbon, 2 days in Porto, a road trip through the Douro Valley (2 weeks off of work!)
Save this map to use on your trip:
- Click the star to the right of the map title
- Open the Google Maps app on your smartphone
- Click on the three lines in the upper left corner and select “Your Places”
- Select “Maps” and the map will be saved there for you to use on your trip. Have fun!
Pena National Palace
Pastel and perched on top of a hill, Pena National Palace can be seen from Lisbon on a clear day. An expression of 19th-century Romanticism, the palace is as lavish as they come. It hasn’t been lived in since the establishment of the Portuguese republic in the early 1900s, but the curators have thoughtfully retained many of the rooms to display original items from its past royal inhabitants.
Don’t Miss: While visiting Pena National Palace, remember to look up and out. The best things about this palace are the intricately carved ceilings and the sweeping views over the hills all the way out to the ocean.
Logistics: All of the rooms have clearly marked details in English and other languages, so you can get a lot of information without a guided tour. As always, buy tickets online in advance to avoid the enormous lines.
There’s a mini bus that will take you up to the palace for a small fee or you can walk uphill (approx. 10-15 minutes). Take the bus up and walk down through the national park for a chance to meander through the lush grounds.
Castle of the Moors
A hilltop medieval castle built in the 8th and 9th centuries, the Castle of the Moors sits atop a hill directly opposite the Pena National Palace, each offering a spectacular view of the other. The castle gets its name from the North African Moors, who built it to guard the town of Sintra, but it went into disuse after the Christians took over Portugal. Now its sprawling stone walls make it perfect for taking in the sweeping hillside views (lucky us!).
Don’t Miss: Take the time to walk up all of the stairs to explore every inch of the castle walls. The views are out of this world! Just watch your step, as these stone paths are 1,200 years old.
Logistics: The 434 bus route starts off at the train station and runs in a one-way loop, with the first stop being Palácio Nacional de Sintra. Most of the crowds will get off at that first stop, but I recommend staying on and visiting the Castle of the Moors first, followed by Pena National Palace, which is the next stop. You can then take the bus back into town (which is the end of the line) to eat, and finally walk from town to Quinta da Regaleira, which is not on the 434 bus route. You can easily run out of time in a day trip, so make sure to prioritize which sites you want to see most.
Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira is like something out of a dream. Built by an enigmatic millionaire who wanted his own palace to rival the royals, these playful grounds full of tunnels, towers, and hidden gems will have you gawking in wonder.
Don’t Miss: Take the tunnel at the Lake of the Waterfall to the bottom of the Initiation Well (make sure to use your smartphone’s flashlight and watch your step—it’s dark and damp!). Look up at the Initiation Well to see the winding, snail shell-like climb up to the top. Once you get to the top gaze back down and imagine what kind of mind could have come up with such an Alice in Wonderland-esque structure.
Logistics: Make sure to get a map when you enter since the grounds are large and the sites are mostly spaced out. Don’t neglect to visit the rooms of the main house (“Regaleira Palace”) to see how its creator lived.