sintra, portugal

Sintra is one of those places where all you gotta do is look it up on Google Images to be completely sold. 

I mean, look. Just look. at. this. 

Grand enough to attract even color-averse me to take a little trek around town.

For the uninitiated, Sintra is a resort town up in the hills of the Serra de Sintra, where the wealthy and royal built mansions and palaces overlooking the Atlantic beyond.

Today, it’s probably the most popular day trip from Lisbon. And it’s easy to see why. It has all the important elements of a good day trip:

  1. far enough from the city to feel like you’re someplace new (it helps that you’re high in the hills)
  2. easy to get to by public transportation (just a 40 minute train ride away)
  3. has its specialty and sells it well (in Sintra’s case, a Disneyland of beautiful palaces)
  4. good views, good dose of nature (while Lisbon faces the Tagus, Sintra has a bird’s eye view of the Atlantic)
  5. enough sights to fill a weekend, but also not too overwhelming to pick a single day itinerary
Sintra captures the charm of a small down with the grandeur of a wealthy past. Each palace has a unique personality, and they do a good job of making it organized and accessible for visitors. With an influx in tour groups, it can get pretty infuriatingly crowded, but it’s all about ducking away from the main path to a quieter spot, and soaking in the views from a less popular perspective. 


I visited Sintra on a day trip from Lisbon back in May. We left early in the. morning and visited three (and a half) sites, heading back to Lisbon in the mid/late afternoon. 

Palácio Nacional da Pena

(the colorful one)

This is the crown jewel of Sintra. Perched high up on a hill of Serra de Sintra, the colorful palace looks straight out of a fairytale. There’s something about the way they restored the colors that makes it look like an oil painting come to life. Tbh, I am not one to appreciate tours of palaces. After a while, all royal bedrooms start to look the same to me. A bed is a bed. And none of them look comfortable. The kitchen on the other hand, I loved. Something about those perfectly lined up copper. 

look at all those pots & pans

The bold reds and yellows are cool and all but I’m a sucker for Moorish architecture, and the lighting in that courtyard is 👌🏼. Hate to even take it here, but the Romanticism architecture kind of makes me feel like I’m at a Vegas hotel. An amalgamation of exotic styles and elaborate embellishments, cut and pasted together into a pastiche palace. You almost expect to see a casino inside. Jk. I apologize to Portugal for even thinking this.

And then there’s the palace grounds. We didn’t have time to walk through, but we did take a little side trip to Chalet of the Countess of Edla, aka Snow White’s cottage, apparently.

Castelo dos Mouros

(the one with all the stairs)

These are the famed ruins of Sintra. Ancient walls twisting through lush forest. Considering the number of kids visiting, alarmingly low barriers by the narrow stairs. Though not quite as high as Pena, you get an incredible panoramic view of the town below.

<< this view though 


also is it just me or does this mini mansion look like it’s made out of legos?


Quinta da Regaleira

(the one with the caves)

This gothic-looking mansion and surrounding gardens was literally designed to be mysterious. There are caves and tunnels, lakes and fountains, and an “initiation well” that will truly test your knees and night vision as you descend.

What can I say? The wealthy are into some strange things sometimes.

Palácio Nacional

(the one in the center of town)

So I didn’t actually go into this one, but it’s right in the center of town, as soon as you walk up from the train station, you’ll see it. And can I just say how good it looks in morning light? 


It seems like most people tend to follow the itinerary dictated by the 434 tourist bus, but in hopes to avoid the masses, we decided to go our own way, opting to Uber from one place to the next. Although, this was when Uber was relatively new there, and traffic up in the hills are pretty insane, so it still took a long time to get place to place. There are also tours you can book, but we opted to buy tickets individually for each of the palaces and have a more flexible schedule. 

  • 07:41 – Early Train from Lisbon to Sintra (from Rossio Station)
  • 08:21 – Arrival in Sintra, walk to town center
  • 08:30 – Walk around the super quaint town before it wakes up, and taking pictures at the various viewpoints
  • 09:00 – Breakfast of local pastries at Piriquita
  • 09:30 – Uber to Pena, explore the palace and park (also took their park bus to the chalet)
  • 12:00 – Walk to Castelo de Mouros (it’s pretty close), and explore the ruins
  • 13:00 – Walk or Uber back into town for lunch at a local restaurant (it’s a lot of stairs, but the Uber took forever, so might recommend walking…)
  • 14:30 – Walk to Regaleira, and explore the house and grounds.
  • 16:30 – We had initially planned to also go to Monserrate, but I was feeling ill so we ended up going home. It would have been a bit of a squeeze, and a really long day, but I think doable if you’re smart about timing.

As for tickets, we purchased the Pena and Mouros tickets online (€13,30 and €7,60 respectively) and bought the Regaleira tickets (€6) at the ticketing office on site. Train tickets costed €4,50, which we bought day of at the station. 

NOTE: Even visiting in May was extremely crowded, and apparently it gets worse as summer goes on. So highly recommend not visiting during the summer. I overheard a tour guide say that during high season they don’t allow photography inside the palace because it slows it down. 

getting here

Super easy to get to Sintra from Lisbon, both from Rossio station and Oriente. It takes about 40 minutes from Rossio, and costs €4,50 roundtrip. Once you arrive, you can follow the signs to walk over to the town, about a 15 minute walk. 

& some helpful links

[ Last Edited: January 2020 | Last Visited: May 2019 ]

see also

the cutest breakfast in lisbon
snapshots from lisbon