The Ultimate Travelist by Lonely Planet states Sintra is “your dream come true” if you’re interested in castles, palaces and fairy tales. And not without reason. Sintra is a wonderful place to explore multiple castles and palaces and can easily be added to your Lisbon adventure. Sintra is located on the West of Lisbon, only 40 minutes by train from the centre of Lisbon.
If you’re interested in palaces, old cultures and colorful places, Sintra is the place to be. I’m going to share the absolute highlights with you.
Palácio da Pena
The most well-known palace to be found in the parks of Sintra is Palácio da Pena. This colorful structure with red and yellow colors will instantly catch your eye. The palace is surrounded by nature, in which you can also find some beautiful buildings.
The palace offers a tour of the interior, where some old furniture is being displayed. Some rooms, however, are somewhat empty and not very interesting. During the high season it is not allowed to take photos inside, to keep the flow of the visitors going (the paths can be very small and crowded).
The outside of Palácio da Pena is very colorful and is a nice environment to take pictures. Since the palace is located on the top of the mountains, you will have a very wide view over Sintra and other villages.
Since this is one of the main attractions, expect your visit to be very crowded with tourists. The best time to visit is at the beginning of the week, in the morning. Try to avoid weekends.
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros is a Moorish castle built in the 10th century and has been preserved very well. Beautifully situated on top of the mountains, which provides you with a wide view of Sintra. The castle walls are in good condition and are beautiful to walk on.
The road to the castle is already a treat for the eyes. If you’ve visited Palácio da Pena first, there is a short walking trail from the exit at the Vale dos Lagos (Lakes) towards the entrance of the castle.
There are two tickets offices at the Moorish castle. The first one is just next to the road and does have a long queue sometimes. However, if you walk through the pathways towards the castle, you’ll find another ticket office that is much less crowded.
Parking at the castle is possible, but again, since it’s very touristic, it can be hard to find a parking spot if you arrive later in the day.
Quinta da Regaleira
Another palace that can be found in the parks of Sintra is the Quinta da Regaleira. In comparison with the Moorish castle this palace is still relatively new since it was only built at the beginning of the 20th century. Even though the palace is quite small, the spectacular garden around the palace makes your visit worth your while.
You are free the visit the gardens by yourself, but it’s also possible to hire a guide who can tell you more about the details of the gardens. Either option you choose, exploring the gardens is an adventure. You can wander around the gardens for hours, looking for hidden paths, caves and tunnels. There are many fountains and ponds that you can cross over using the stones in the pond.
Every level in the garden is connected by underground corridors, which run through a labyrinth of corridors to other hidden places. Make sure to take a flaslight with you because it can be quite dark in these tunnels.
Even though it’s not a botanical garden, the gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are one of the most spectacular gardens that I’ve visited.
Palácio Nacional de Sintra
In the center of the town Sintra there’s another palace located, the Palácio Nacional de Sintra (National Palace of Sintra). My suggestion is to visit this palace at the end of the day and afterwards take place on one of the nice terraces or restaurants in the neighborhood.
The National Palace of Sintra is a big white structure and can actually be seen when standing on the walls of the Moorish castle. The palace can be recognized by the two large chimneys that are located above the kitchen, they are the biggest chimneys in the world (or at least, that’s what our guide told us).
How to get there
Most of the highlights of Sintra are located on top of the mountains. If you are visiting Sintra by public transport, you will probably start your visit at the train station of Sintra. From here it’s a tough climb towards the parks and palaces. If you’re not interested in walking up, you can take a taxi or use the tuk tuk service. Both options can be combined with a guided tour, but it’s also possible to just use the transportation to get to the top of the mountains.
Visiting Sintra by car? There are multiple parking spots at the parks and highlights. However, during the day it can become very crowded so make sure you arrive early in the morning – you’ll probably need a full day to explore Sintra anyways.
Have you visited Sintra already? Which palace did you think was the most beautiful one? Let me know in the comments!