How to spend a day in Sintra, Portugal
With the famous Pena Palace as it’s home, Sintra is a beautiful town you should visit if you’re staying in Lisbon, Estoril or Cascais. Read on as I tell you how you can spend a day in Sintra, Portugal.
A bit of planning
There are a few ways to get to Sintra depending on where you’re departing from. If you’re staying in Estoril as I did, you can take the 418 bus. You can get it from right outside Estoril station which is opposite Casino Estoril.
If nearby town Cascais is your base, you can take the 417 or 403 bus from the main bus station. However, if you’re staying in Lisbon, you can take the train. Notice I never mentioned taking a train from Estoril or Cascais. That’s because it’s pretty pointless. There’s no direct train from either so you’d end up getting two trains – one to Lisbon then another from there to Sintra.
Before you head to Sintra, its an idea to figure out exactly how you’ll get around since everything’s quite spread out. Walking between attractions is of course possible but it’ll be long and mostly uphill. The area can also become congested, so driving could be tricky. You can opt for taxis or Tuk Tuks to get around, but if you’re travelling solo, this can get expensive. The best option is to make use the bus network in and around Sintra.
How – getting to Sintra
- If you decide to use buses, think about purchasing a 24-hour pass. When I was there it was €15 which isn’t cheap but if you’re visiting more than two attractions and using the bus to get to and from Sintra, it’ll be more cost effective.
- Buying a bus pass allows you to hop on and off any of the ScottURB network of buses in and around Sintra, Estoril, Cascais. Tickets can be purchased on the bus or at the little tickets booths where they’ll load it onto a Vivagem card (for an additional €0.50) if you don’t have one.
- If you’re travelling from Lisbon, you can catch the train from Rossio station or Estação do Oriente. It can take anywhere between 40-50 minutes depending on which station you leave from. You’ll need to use the buses when you get to Sintra, so you can buy singles or get the day pass.
1. Pena Palace
Inspired by Bavaria palaces, Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena in Portuguese) is a beautiful Romanticist castle nestled on a hill in Sintra Mountains. The palace was originally a chapel, but after it was destroyed by lighting and then an earthquake, King Ferdinand II acquired the land. He commissioned the build of what is now an architectural wonder – Pena Palace.
You can wander around its terraces and moats or grab a bite to eat in the restaurant. If you want to go inside the palace, you’ll have to join a queue which despite it being very long, moved quite quickly.
Walking around the palace when you get in is very structured – you have to move throughout the different rooms and areas in a line.
How – Sintra station to Pena Palace
- If you take the bus to Sintra you’ll get dropped off at a stop near its station. Not too far from there is where you can pick up the 434 bus. You may hear people refer to it as the Pena circuit bus (Circuito da Pena). It does a loop starting at Sintra station, then the historical centre, The Moorish Castle, and onto Pena Palace. It then goes back to the centre and station.
- If you travel by train from Lisbon, you’ll need to purchase your bus ticket from the inspector beforehand or as you board.
2. Moorish castle
Overlooking Sintra, the Moorish Castle (known as Castelo dos Mouros in Portuguese) was originally used as a watchtower to help protect Lisbon and the surrounding area. It dates back to when there was an Islamic presence in the region.
Entering the castle felt somewhat mystical. It was like you were about to go on a walk through a maze. As you make your way up, you’ll start to see views across Sintra.
However, it’s when you finally reach the highest point that you have the most stunning views of Pena Palace in the distance.
How – Pena Palace to the Moorish Castle
- Once you’ve finished at Pena Palace, you’ll need to make the walk (or take the shuttle bus) back down to the main entrance. You’ll catch the 434 bus again from around the corner. Be aware that as it’s a circuit you may go to the centre first before it loops back toward the castle.
- Take the bus to the next stop – the Moorish Castle.
3. Sintra National Palace
Noticeable by its two cone shaped chimneys, the National Palace is on Republic Square in Sintra’s historical centre.
Standing proud in the town, the white-cream National Palace – Palácio Nacional de Sintra in Portuguese – was home to the Portuguese Royal family and is now the only surviving royal palace from the middle-ages.
How – Moorish Castle to the National Palace
- After you’ve wandered around the numerous paths of the Moorish Castle, catch the 434-circuit bus once again.
- The bus will take you to the historical centre. Keep a look out or ask the driver to let you know where to get off.
- The stop you need isn’t too far – it’s literally a short walk to reach the beautiful cream and gold-brown structure of Sinatra National Palace.
4. Sintra Town
You can’t visit Sintra and not spend a bit of time in its historical centre. It’s the perfect place to stop, grab a bite to eat in one of the restaurants or an ice cream at a gelato bar.
If you’re looking for a gift, it also has many souvenir shops in some the narrow side streets. Since the centre is right where the National Palace is located, you just can’t say no.
While you’re there, stop by Cantinho gourmet and try some of the famous Ginjinha and chocolate – a Portuguese liqueur made from Morello Cherry berries. It was originally made by monks from the Monastery of Alcobaça.
You’ll find it up one of the little side streets opposite the National Palace. After a spot of lunch, a drop of cherry liqueur and a look around town, start the final part of your day. Next stop Cabo da Roca.
How – National Palace to Sintra historical centre (town)
- The National Palace is in the historical centre and opposite the majority of the cafés, restaurants and shops a few minutes walk away.
5. Cabo da Roca
If you have time, I’d suggest visiting the westernmost point of mainland Europe – Cabo da Roca. Luís de Camões, a famous Portuguese poet, described it as the place where the “land ends and the sea begins.”
I understood what he meant when I arrived there – it’s literally like being at the edge of the earth! The area lies within Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais. You’ll find a lighthouse which is still used for navigation and you can also visit it too – just make sure you check the times beforehand.
If you enjoy landscapes and raw beauty, then you’ll adore Cabo da Roca. The views are amazing – never ending. Watching the sea below sweep up against the sharp contours of the edge of the cliff is quite pleasing.
If you’re not into landscapes or prefer somewhere with more to do, perhaps Cabo da Roca isn’t for you. Instead you could swap a visit here with Quinta da Regaleira’s gardens, a mysterious place with a well that you’re able to go down. Next time I visit Sintra, I’m going to go there!
This gives you an idea of what you can see while in Sintra in a day. Personally, I found it easier to do it this way. Pena Palace is so quirky that you can easily spend a few hours here. You then know what time you have for everything else, rather than rush your time at Pena.
- Start out early! If you want to see even two or three attractions in Sintra, it’s likely to take more than half a day.
- If you’re going to take the bus in and around Sintra, you should download the ScottURB app. It provides real-time access to timetables and bus connections and is very useful on the go.It’s available for iOS and Android.
- Purchase your tickets for as many attractions as possible in advance from the Sintra Park website. You don’t have to print anything as you can show your ticket on your mobile phone.
- If you buy the 24-hour bus pass it’ll be loaded onto a Vivagem card. If you don’t have one a new card is 0.50 Euro cents (Price at Sept 2018).
- There are two stations in Sintra. Some buses stop at Sintra’s other station, Portela de Sintra Estação Sul – don’t get off unless you want to.
- Wear trainers, pumps or a sandal with a strap. The paths to Pena Palace, inside the Castle, and in the town are all cobbled, so can be slippery.
This is just one way to spend a day in Sintra. There’s a lot to see and do and as I found out, one day just wasn’t enough!
Hope this is helpful.
Let me know how your journey went to beautiful Sintra!