Sintra is no ordinary town. This wonderful destination has attractions that you can’t possibly see it all in one day. That said, don’t only take a day trip to Sintra while you are in Lisbon. Instead, stay there for one night or two if you can. We stayed for two nights which I highly recommend. Being based in Sintra not only put us ahead of the game in the mornings but also allowed us to enjoy a laid-back atmosphere once all of the day-trippers and coach tours had left.
Situated within the hills of the Serra de Sintra, all of its sites are a testimony to nearly all periods in Portuguese history from the Roman and Moorish occupations to its 9th-century Romanticist architecture. In addition, villas, gardens, royal palaces, and castles, including the medieval Castle of the Moors and the romanticist Pena National Palace, gave the city the classification of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our day trip to Sintra kicks-off
Our day trip to Sintra commenced mid-afternoon when our plane descended into Lisbon. We hopped in an Uber and rode for 30 minutes straight to Sintra. After getting settled, we walked to Tivoli Palacio de Seteais to stretch our legs and get a small bite. According to the hotel receptionist, we wouldn’t need a reservation, the food was good, and we would have outstanding views. She was absolutely right.
From Tivoli Palacio de Seteais we had the first glimpse of the colorful Pena Palace standing far above us on a rocky peak. Likewise, from the bar (we couldn’t sit in the main room because we wore shorts), we appreciated the superb scenery of Sintra surroundings while we nibbled the best pastel de bacalhau (codfish croquette) in town.
When we walked back, the streets were quiet. The day-trip travelers had left, and the town was almost noiseless with few tourists wandering on the charming, cobble-stone streets lined with restaurants, shops, and small hotels. It felt like life had slowed down.
A day trip to Sintra – what not to miss
Palácio Nacional de Pena
The next day we started early. Obviously, we wanted to beat the crowd to Palácio Nacional de Pena, so we called an Uber and drove towards our destination.
Built to be a summer getaway for the royal family, Pena Palace is the star of the show. Undoubtedly, it is the most visited site in Sintra. Appointed as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, this colorful, fairy-tale castle sits on the wooded grounds of Pena Park. So, we visited both the Palace and the Park. The interior of the palace is fascinating, but if your time is tight, just wander around the park. Definitely, photo opportunities will be endless.
- Hours: from 9:30 am to 7 pm.
- Don’t miss Portão dos Lagos, a beautiful pathway with gardens, lakes, duck houses, mystical ornaments, and stunning vistas that connects Palácio Pena to Castelo dos Mouros.
- Time recommended: about two hours, including the stretch through Portão dos Lagos.
- Bus 434 will stop by the entrance.
The Moors Castle
Included in our day trip to Sintra was Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors), which is a medieval castle built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Islamic Moors. Located on the top of the mountains, it served as a fort until the end of Moorish rule. The monarchs of Portugal used the castle continuously into the 15th century, when they abandoned it. Following its disuse and decay, the 1755 earthquake caused significant damage.
Even though the castle doesn’t exhibit the same extravagance as Pena Palace, it was worth a visit. Beyond its fascinating history, the view of the surrounding landscape and the fairytale town of Sintra, beneath the fortress, is now among my fondest memories.
- Hours: from 9:30 am to 8 pm (summer season) or 10 am to 6 pm (winter season).
- Time recommended: about 90 minutes (not taking into consideration the travel time).
- We hired a tuk tuk (motorized, three-wheeled rickshaw) from the Moors Castle to the city center. It was lunchtime.
- Bus 434 will take you there.
Quinta da Regaleira
It was imperative during our day trip to Sintra that we visit Quinta de Regaleira. Built at the end of the 19th century, this enigmatic residence includes a palace and fascinating gardens that hold a chapel, tunnels, towers, fountains, water wall, grottos, and more. Although the palace itself displays an extraordinary gothic façade and holds an interesting history, the real appeal is the gardens. One of the most puzzling attractions in the property is an 88-foot-deep well (inverted tower) which was built for secret ceremonial purposes. We walked down the spiral staircase around the edge of it until we reached the underground labyrinth that has numerous entrances constructed in different styles. A must-do in your day trip to Sintra.
- Hours: from 9:30 am to 8 pm (summer season) and 9:30 am to 6 pm (winter season).
- Time recommended: about two hours, with the majority of the time spent in the gardens.
- Bus 435 covers this route.
Monserrate Palace is a little bit out of the way (over two miles from the historic center), but it doesn’t mean you should take it off your list. We called an Uber to get there.
The mansion is unfurnished, but it is gorgeous. Built as a summer house, this 19th-century construction seamlessly combines Arabic, gothic, and Indian architectural styles that harmoniously extend to the exterior. The exotic gardens were equally impressive with plants from all over the world. After having explored the entire site, we sat on the front lawn and enjoyed the quiet and beauty of the place. We were the last visitors of the day.
Monserrate Palace is smaller and less crowded than the other castles.
- Hours: between 9:30 am/10 am and 5 pm/7 pm for the palace and 6 pm/ 8 pm for the park, depending on the season.
- Time recommended: 90 minutes with the majority of the time spent in the gardens.
- Bus 435 covers this route.
Where to stay
Sintra is small, and hotels book up very fast. Plan in advance if you want to stay in Sintra for a night or two.
Top-notch: Tivoli Palacio de Seteais
This elegant 5-star hotel operates in the 18th-century palace that was once the summer retreat of the Portuguese royal family. The property is a national landmark that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is gorgeous! Its interior holds antique furniture, restored frescos, and tapestries. The building sits among lush gardens in the mountainside of Sintra offering prime views of the Moorish Castle, Pena Palace and beyond. It is within walking distance from Quinta da Regaleira.
Mid-range: Tivoli Sintra Hotel
This fabulous 4-star hotel, located in the heart of the city, has rooms with balconies that offer incredible views of Sintra mountains and beyond. It is within walking distance from Sintra National Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira, as well as restaurants, cafes, and shops. Parking is available at the hotel (a small fee applies.)
Budget: Sintra1012 Boutique Guesthouse
Located on a charming hidden street right in the middle of Sintra, this hotel is next to the tourist center and within walking distance to Quinta da Regaleira. Several restaurants, cafes, and shops are on its doorstep. Accommodations are spacious and comfortable. Breakfast included.
When planning a day trip to Sintra, keep in mind:
- Sintra is less than 20 miles from Lisbon airport.
- Driving in Sintra is not easy. Because several routes are one-way streets, even our Uber driver had trouble getting us to our hotel. He missed one turn and it took about 15 – 20 minutes to drive back around in a huge loop. Parking is limited.
- Sintra is located in the foothills of Sintra mountains, so the climate is cooler even during the summer months. Be sure you have a light sweater for the evening.
- It will require a lot of uphill walking between sites. Alternatively, hop-on-hop-off tour buses (expect long lines) and tuk tuks (negotiate the fare before hopping on) are available.
- Depending on your pace, it is possible to see these four sites in one day if you have an early start. However, to fully enjoy each place, I recommend at least one and a half days.
- Buy your tickets in advance to skip long queues. On Ticket Office you can buy tickets for all attractions in Sintra.
Day trip to Sintra – if you still have time to spare
Palacio Nacional de Sintra
The Palacio Nacional de Sintra, situated right in the heart of Sintra, is commonly referred to as Palacio da Vila. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it inside; but, be sure to visit if you’re interested in the history of the royals and its azulejo-adorned interiors that make up for its simple exteriors.
Hours: every day from 9:30 am until 7 pm.
How to get to Sintra – a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon
In conclusion, getting to Sintra from Lisbon is easy. If you are not driving or taking an Uber, direct rail services run regularly from Rossio Station in Baixa district to Sintra station. The journey takes about 40 minutes.