Complete Planning Guide For A Day In Beautiful Sintra

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Sintra is a picturesque town, known for its stunning landscapes, historic architecture, and vibrant cultural heritage. The quaint town and historic palaces are surrounded by lush greenery, dense forests, and dramatic hilltops. Its microclimate ensures cooler weather and mist-covered hills that contribute to its allure. 

Sintra is the most popular day trip from Lisbon. It’s less than an hour outside of town and is easily reached by car, train or organized tour. Even though the crowds were fierce, Sintra was one of my favorite towns I visited during my month in Portugal (along with Obidos). I would have loved to stay longer to really take in the sites but I am so glad I had a full day and ½ to enjoy the town. 

There are a lot of things to see and do in Sintra, all of which can not be seen in a day. Even a few days will leave you struggling to see it all, but seeing how popular Sintra is as a day trip, this post will cover everything you need to know to help plan the best day trip possible. 

With that said, if you have the time, I recommend two nights in Sintra to have at least one full day to explore the best of Sintra-because it really takes that long!

What to See in Sintra

There are many museums, palaces, castles, parks and landmarks to visit in Sintra. Some of the most well known and instagram famous attractions are listed below. 

Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena)- a unique 19th century red and yellow palace (rebuilt in 1838) combining Gothic, Renaissance, and Moorish architectural styles. It sits atop a hill surrounded by gardens, providing panoramic views to the town below.

Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) Perched high up on a hill, this ancient fortress built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors, offers panoramic vistas and a network of walls,  battlements and defensive towers visitors can walk along.

Quinta da Regaleira- Only a 10-15 min downhill walk to the town center, known for its gothic buildings, mystical gardens, and Initiation Well with stone tunnels. 

Monserrate Palace (Palácio de Monserrate)An enchanting landmark in Sintra with acres of gardens and unique architecture with Gothic, Moorish, and Indian influences.

Sintra National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)-a historical and architectural landmark that dates back to the Moorish period, with the earliest sections of the palace constructed during the 10th or 11th centuries.

The Pena Palace, and Quinta da Regaleira are the most popular tourist attractions in Sintra. You could spend a half day walking around each of their properties but plan at least an hour each for the bare minimum visit (not including transportation to and from).

If you want a jammed packed day, all five of these attractions can be visited in a day if you get an early start, and use Ubers or Tuk-Tuks to get around. 

Best Time to Visit Sintra

The best times to visit Sintra are during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to October). The weather is mild, and the tourist crowds are smaller, but still present. The busiest times are typically during the summer months (June to August) and during major holidays.

Summer can be crowded and hot, while winter is quieter but can be rainy.

I visited in April and May and there were still crowds and unpredictable weather but overall I think it was a good time to visit.

Arrive first thing in the morning by 8:30 a.m to be one of the firsts at whatever landmark you choose to visit. 

Getting to Sintra

Sintra is about 30 kilometers from Lisbon and is easily accessible by train. Trains run frequently from Lisbon’s Rossio Station to Sintra, taking about 30-40 minutes. Early mornign trains can be very busy but you will want to take an early train to have a better experience in Sintra.

You can also drive to Sintra, but parking can be challenging and there is no public parking at the sites. You will need to arrive by 8:30 a.m at the latest to find paid street parking in town on a day trip.

I only recommend self driving if you are spending the night and your accommodation has reserved parking. I drove to Sintra because my visit was apart of a longer Portugal road trip.

The only benefit of having your own car in Sintra is if you want to go to the beaches or another area outside of town.

Uber is also an option to get to Sintra. If you can’t get an early train to Sintra, taking an Uber is a good idea to get there early, avoid crowds, be on your own time and not worry about parking.

Interior of Monserrate Palace

Getting Around Sintra

Whether you take the train or self drive to Sintra, you will have to use public transportation to get from one attraction to another. Although the major sites are all located on the same single lane street, they are not close together, some with over an hour walk between them on an uphill single lane road. Plus there is no public parking at the sites. The main road becomes closed to personal vehicles during opening times so it is impossible to visit the landmarks with your own car.  If you chose to walk you would run out of time to see all the sites since last entry is usually around 6 ish at most sites.

Bus routes 434 and 435 are the best for tourists but capitalize on the popularity of Sintra and charge almost 5€ per ride. There is a 15€ day pass that may suit you better, however, waiting on the bus can take time especially during the height of summer when crowds are heaviest and the single lane road gets very backed up. 

Buses run every 15 minutes, but sometimes (especially in the afternoon) the bus line is so long that you will have to wait for an available bus, meaning it could take up to 30 mins or more to get on a bus. 

The bus will make stops between landmarks, in the main town and finally at the train station.

In addition to buses there are taxis, Ubers and tuk-tuks available for transportation.

Tik-tuks and taxis were more expensive (almost double) than the price of an Uber and most drivers wanted to take multiple people for a 2-5 hour tour. This could be a great option for some but as a solo traveler, Uber (or Bolt) was the most convenient and well priced for me. 

Some taxis and Tuk-Tuks only take cash so make sure you have some on you if you choose this method of transportation. 

Because of their convenience (and automatic payment in the app), I took Ubers more than anything. Each ride cost me between 5-10€ depending on the route. So sometimes it was just as expensive as the bus but way faster. If you are traveling in a small group, Ubers may be the cheapest option if you split the cost per ride among you. 

Planning Your Day Trip to Sintra

Here are all the things I learned about Sintra that would have helped me have a better experience. 

Sintra has become a major tourist destination welcoming over 3 million visitors each year who mostly all visit the same 2-3 attractions, creating thick crowds, long lines and traffic woes, especially during summer. 

It is recommended you buy tickets in advance for all of the attractions you want to visit to avoid long lines at the onsite ticket office. Some sites have electronic self-serve ticket booths that serve as a backup if you are not sure what you want (or have time) to see in a day.

Some tickets are valid for an extended period of time while others, like Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are same day tickets only (Pena Palace has a day and time of entry system in place for touring the inside of the palace).

This is the direct website to buy tickets from. There are other websites that come up when searching the internet for tickets but many of those are 3rd party sites charge additional fees.

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Specifics for Pena Palace

Pena palace is the most recognizable and busiest attraction in Sintra. Timed tickets get sold out weeks (if not more) in advance to see the inside of the palace. Alternatively, you can forgo the inside of the palace and purchase a garden ticket only to walk around the outside of the palace and gardens without a specific entry time, it is day specific though.

With a timed ticket, you will only be allowed to enter the palace at the specified time on your ticket. There is usually a long line of people for entry, maybe over 200 people for each 30 minute increment. 

The inside of Pena palace was my least favorite part of Sintra, the single file line and congestion walking inside the courtyard and palace rooms ruined the experience. Plus the rooms did not blow me away. A few had ornate ceilings and one had a really cool painted wallpaper but it was not worth the wait or the extra money if you asked me. 

From the Pena public transportation drop off area, you will need to show a ticket to get through the gate. This gate opens at 9:00 a.m. (people start lining up at 8:30 a.m) and allows you to enter the Pena complex with 400 hectares of gardens. Pena Palace is located at the top of the hill within the complex. It is a 10-15 minute walk up to the palace from the primary entry gate at the transportation drop off area. 

You can either walk or take the shuttle bus (additional fee) up the hill to the palace. 

For a timed ticket for Pena Palace you have to be at the palace (on top of the hill) at your entry time. They have a 30 minute grace period. They would not let anyone in early (even 3 minutes early) but there were people arriving almost an hour after their entry time that were permitted in. Regardless, arrive on time to make sure you are not denied entry.

From the entry point at the bottom of the hill into the complex, it is a 10-15 minute easy, uphill walk to the palace. Everything you read says it is 30 minutes and they try to sell you on a shuttle ride but it is much quicker to walk up and down yourself (if you can) than wait in a line for the jammed packed shuttle bus.

Once entering the palace grounds, stay left and take the far left path up the hill. There is a set of stairs on the left side along this pathway that is a shortcut to the palace and I think is easier than walking along the incline pathway. The stairs lead to a picnic area, keep walking straight (sorta behind the red concession stand) to another uphill path that leads to the palace. 

Once you arrive at the palace you can freely walk around the courtyards and towers. If there is a line by the castle gate, it is for the timed entry tickets to the inside of the castle. It can get very long. You do not have to wait in this line if you are just walking around the outside of the palace.

It took me around 45 mins to walk through the interior after being the 1st person in line for my time slot. We were ushered through in a single file line that went slow as molasses. The crowds and behavior of people in the line really made the experience poor. There was just WAY TOO MANY PEOPLE.

To have a better experience with an interior tour, I think you would have to book the first entry ticket at 9:30 a.m. but then line up at the complex entry gate at 8:30 a.m. to be the first in line to enter the complex and then book it up the hill to be the first person in line at the Palace interior gate when that opens at 9:30 a.m. Hopefully beating out the large tour groups that arrive first thing in the morning!

When visiting Pena Palace, make sure to visit the chapel. This area sees less visitors and has a lovely view overlooking the hills and red clock tower. You’ll know the entrance from the Triton figure (photo above), a half man half fish rising out of a shell on top of the archway.

Pena palace is known to have fog in the mornings, however I experienced fog in the late afternoon which made seeing the castle very hard. This is why I went back in the morning on my next day (luckily it was clear) so I could take better photos of the castle and get a few selfies with less people. So while many people say the fog comes in the morning, it can also come in the afternoon. It’s really hard to predict!

Sample Day Itinerary

With one day in Sintra, I propose to visit at least 3 attractions, with a possible 4th & 5th depending on how the day goes. If you have your tickets in advance and do not encounter bad weather or extreme waiting times, you can visit the 5 main attractions in one day, but only with a 9:00 a.m start and using Ubers or Tuk-Tuks, not the bus or walking. 

Make sure to check opening and closing times for each attraction. I planned to see Sintra in the below order taking into account the most popular landmarks, opening times and location of each attraction to town and the other sites.

Below was my initial plan to see Sintra in a day covering the 5 major sights with a break for lunch.

Full Day Sintra Itinerary: The Main 5 Sites

  • Monserrate Palace (arrive at opening time 9:30 a.m)
  • Uber to Quinta da Regaleira (by 11 a.m)
  • Walk to town for lunch (10 minute walk from Quinta da Regaleira)
  • Walk to Sintra National Palace (it is located in town, so it’s very convenient to visit after or before lunch in town).
  • Uber to Pena Palace in the late afternoon (4 p.m will see less crowds, although still crowded, and still give time for the casteleafter)
  • Walk to Moorish Castle (15 minute walk from Pena Palace, make sure to arrive before last entry time.)
  • Bus or Uber back to hotel

Because I decided at the last minute to spend the night, I skipped the National Palace after lunch, thinking I would walk there the next morning from my hotel since it was pretty crowded in the afternoon. This would have worked if the weather had not changed for the worst while I was at Pena Palace. 

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Monserrate Palace

Because I could barely see the towers through the thick fog or take any selfies with my tripod in the intense wind, I opted to return to Pena the next morning right at opening time to take the photos I was not able to take the day before, and I am so glad I did!

I also ran out of time to visit the Moorish castle on my full day because I was waiting so long at Pena for the weather to clear. I knew I would not have enjoyed my visit to the castle if the weather continued (wind, fog, rain) so I decided to wait at Pena Palace in hopes of it clearing before making the trek to the Moorish Castle. The weather never cleared but luckily the next morning was beautiful and I was able to enjoy Pena first thing with sun, blue skies and less crowds.

Itinerary Variations

There are many variations to the above itinerary that one can make depending on your interests.

First of all, if you want to take videos or photos without gobs of people in them, you will need to arrive 30 minutes before opening time so you can stand in line to be the first one in. All of the sites get pretty busy right when they open until close. They all have a single entry gate so you are not able to walk around the property outside of opening times. You will need to plan your day around your desired photography site.

Make sure to check the official Sintra website for updated opening times (and prices) to plan your day.

The interior of Monserrate Palace was beautiful! The gardens were not as impressive as I expected them to be but regardless, I definitely recommend a visit to Monserrate. Aside from the unique exterior of Pena Palace it was my favorite interior out of everything I saw while in Portugal. Because of its location, I would make this the first stop of the day. Getting there in the afternoon on the one way congested road would take a lot of extra time. It is located the furthest out from town.

With that said, if you do not care about seeing Monserrate Palace, I would choose to go to Pena Palace first thing in the morning (9:00 a.m) only if you are dying for photos with few people in them. Even if you can not get into the palace, the exterior and gardens are worth the early visit to avoid the crowds and get good photos.

Keep in mind, the fog may show up in the a.m. While I had fog in the afternoon, it is more common in the morning. It does provide an eerie effect for photos that you may want. The best chance for no fog is in the afternoon. Crowds will be thickest and the sun bright, but I guess with Pena Palace you can’t have it all.

From Pena Palace, you are in a good position to visit the Moorish castle. It takes about 15 mins to walk along the road from Pena Palace complex gate to the entry gate of the Moorish Castle. You then have to walk another 400 meters to the actual castle walls.

The castle involves more walking and a lot of stairs so it is not for everyone. From here, head into town for a few hours and then go to Quinta da Regaleira later in the day after traffic dies down.

If you do not care about taking photos of Pena without people in them (or about visiting Monserrate Palace) I recommend visiting Quinta da Regaleira first. Arrive by 9:30 a.m to wait in line to enter right at 10 a.m. and head to the Initiation Well so you can be one of the first to visit. You will avoid a long queue and have a better experience not having to wait in a long line that moves slowly with an employee yelling “keep moving” every few seconds. 

You could spend a few hours walking around Quinta da Regaleira, it is big enough with multiple towers, monuments and gardens and a cafe. From here you have an easy walk into town (10-15 minutes downhill walk). You can take your time and enjoy an afternoon in town, shopping, eating, and visiting the National Palace if it is of interest to you. You can walk through the National Palace in 45 minutes or less. 

I would then visit Pena Palace later in the day after traffic and the crowds die down (but it will still be crowded). To get to Pena from town, there is a separate road off of the congested one-way road that allows you to avoid traffic and save some time with transportation. If you plan your visit to Pena around 4 p.m. you’ll have time to visit the Moorish Castle after Pena,  before getting down the hill.

Where to Stay in Sintra

There are numerous hotels, guesthouses, and short-term rental options available to varying preferences and budgets.

If you are driving, picking an accommodation with free parking is a must. Since you do not need a car in Sintra to visit the main sites, you can easily take the train and walk to your accommodation or get public transportation from the train station for your overnight visit.

I recommend two nights in Sintra so you have a full day and do not have to worry about checking out, finding parking, where to leave luggage or being forced to leave valuables in your rental car on the day you want to see the sites.

I ended up staying at Vila Chalet Sintra by Hansi Home, booked through Air B&B.

It was only a 10 minute walk to the train station and came with a parking spot (parking is limited though). The room was small but perfect for a solo traveler. The hosts were lovely and the main house offered a full kitchen with a microwave, a dining and lounge area and cozy garden perfect for sipping wine. There was also a mini fridge and an electric kettle for coffee & tea in the room.

No matter where you stay, just make sure it is in a good location close to Sintra town to make your stay easier! I loved being able to walk into town for dinner after the tourists left. The quaint town was much more enjoyable later in the day.

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Sintra gives off a fairy-tale like ambiance with castles perched on top of hills and ornate palaces nestled into its hilly streets. It’s a great day trip from Lisbon but makes an even better weekend trip. From Sintra, you are close to beaches and scenic overlooks and hiking trails along the sea that would make a great addition to a road trip from Lisbon!

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Sam wearing backpack and hat walking through town.

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