4 Sintra Castles You Must Visit on a Day Trip from Lisbon
Nestled in the hills between the busy city of Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean sits the town of Sintra: a picturesque city filled with castles, palaces and extravagant villas.
It’s the most popular day trip from Lisbon, and for good reason. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, you could literally spend days, if not a full week, exploring all of Sintra’s historical treasures.
But if you’re visiting from Lisbon, you probably won’t have that much time. So I’ve put together the perfect self-guided Sintra itinerary for visiting 4 of our favorite castles and palaces of Sintra, all in just one day from Lisbon.
Read on for 4 castles you must visit on your Sintra, Portugal day trip:
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Getting to Sintra from Lisbon
Located 30-40 minutes northwest of Lisbon by train, Sintra has long attracted royals and the wealthy upperclass with its cool coastal climate and beautiful landscape. Boasting one of the highest qualities of life in all of Portugal, Sintra was and is the place for the wealthy to own opulent villas and summer homes, now of which many are on display to visitors.
If you’re doing Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, the simplest way to get there is by train, which departs from Lisbon’s central Rossio station every 30 minutes.
The cheapest way to get to Sintra is by using the Viva Viagem card (if you’re spending time in Lisbon, you’ll want one of these for public transportation anyway). Simply purchase the card at any ticket kiosk (the card itself costs €.50) and top it off with pay-as-you-go “zapping” credit.
Then simply scan your card as you enter the train platform and the one-way cost of the trip (currently €1.90) with be deducted from your zapping credit.
Buying Tickets for the Sintra Castles
Sintra is a busy place and the lines are long, so I highly recommend buying your castle and palace tickets in advance so you can skip any and all extra queues.
You can buy your tickets online from the official Parques de Sintra website. The website is a little finicky, so take your time and make your selections carefully, as you won’t be able to edit your selections after their added to your card. (yes, I did have to start over twice).
The other bonus of booking through Parques de Sintra is you’ll receive a 5% discount for pre-booking your tickets online. Since you don’t have to select a specific date or entry time for any of the castles, you can keep your schedule flexible without too much commitment.
Tip: Once exception to this is Quinta da Regaliera, which does not currently have an online ticket purchase option. You’ll have to purchase your tickets in person when you arrive, and keep in mind, if you’re traveling with small children, you’ll be able to skip any lines.
Getting to the Castles from the Sintra Train Station
Once you reach Sintra’s train station, it can be confusing to know where to go next! Especially since two of the most popular Sintra castles, Castle of the Moors and Pena Palace, are located high on a hilltop above town. You most definitely don’t want to walk this, so you’ll need another plan.
The best way to reach these castles is by bus. Sure, you could also take a taxi or tuk-tuk, but it’ll end up being equally, if not more, expensive.
At the time of our trip, a single ticket on the Scotturb tourist bus cost €3.90, while an entire loop hop-on hop-off ticket cost €6.90. Keep in mind this hop-on-hop-off ticket can only be used for one loop.
For unlimited use of all Scotturb buses in Sintra, you can also purchase a daily ticket for €15. Click here to see the most current ticket prices.
The two Scotturb bus routes are:
- 434 Route – Circuito da Pena: Sintra Station > Historic Center / Palácio Nacional de Sintra > Castelo dos Mouros > Palácio Nacional da Pena > Historic Center / Palácio Nacional de Sintra > Sintra Station
- 435 Route – Villa Express 4 Palacios: Sintra Station > Historic Center / Palácio Nacional de Sintra > Quinta da Regaliera > Palacio de Seteais > Palacio de Montserrate > Sintra Station
For this itinerary, you’ll really only need to use the 434 route for one loop, so the €6.90 hop-on-hop-off ticket will suffice.
Sintra Day Trip: The Perfect Itinerary
There’s no getting around it, Sintra is a busy place. Tourists flock here and by mid-afternoon the town and castles are bustling with people. It does take a bit away from the experience, but try to go with the flow and not become too impatient or annoyed.
Keeping all this in mind, I recommend doing your tour a little bit backwards: starting at the most popular Pena Palace, then working back to Castle of the Moors, and finally finishing in the historic center with Quinta da Regaleira and the National Palace of Sintra.
And even though the historic center of Sintra is relatively small, getting around to all the castles and palaces can take a bit of time. Therefore, try to start your day as early as possible, shooting for an arrival time in Sintra at 9:00 am (the first Scotturb bus goes up the hillside at 9:15).
Stop 1: Pena Palace
Sintra’s most popular “castle” is Pena Palace, or Palacio Nacional da Pena, a brightly colored palace that sits perched high on the hilltop.
Built in the Romanticist style, it was the former summer residence of the Portugese royal family, and blends a variety of architectural influences, from gothic to moorish, which make it so incredibly striking.
Inside, the staterooms have been restored as they would have been in 1910, when the royal family fled to Brazil during the revolution.
To get to Pena Palace, take the 434 bus past the Moorish Castle and straight to Pena Park for your first stop of the morning. Reason being, by the afternoon queues at Pena Palace are long. Like two hours long. So knock this one out as soon as you can before the tourist buses arrive.
Once you get to the Pena Park entrance, you’ll have the choice to either make the short hike up the hill to the castle, or take a shuttle bus for €3. We opted for the shuttle because we had some tired kids in tow, but the walk is definitely doable. Do note, you will need to buy your shuttle tickets from the ticket office before lining up to board the shuttle.
Waits to get inside Pena Palace are long, but it really is worth it for the spectactular views and fascinating courtyards. Plus you’ll get to admire the architecture from the outside while you wait.
Tip: If traveling with small children, you can skip the line at nearly every tourist attraction in Portugal, including Pena Palace! Just look for an employee who will gladly usher you towards the front.
Stop 2: Castle of the Moors
After having your fill at Pena Palace, head back to the bottom of the hill and make the short walk from Pena Palace to Castelo dos Mouros, or the Castle of the Moors. It’s only about a 5 minute or so walk downhill, but the road is narrow and full of cars and buses, so tread carefully.
Built by the Moors during the 8th and 9th centuries, the castle walls offer panoramic views over the Sintra mountains. Once past the ticket kiosk, follow a short hike through the lush countryside to the actual castle ruins.
From a distance the castle walls might look massive, but they’re actually not too difficult to climb. Even the highest stretch of wall overlooking Pena Palace can be done in 20 minutes or so (I left the kids behind as the hike is a bit strenuous and steep, with lots of rugged steps).
Tip: If you’re needing a break by this point, there is a nice little area inside the castle walls with tables and a snack counter where you can grab sandwiches, chips and other refreshments.
Stop 3: Sintra Historic Center
After visiting Castelo dos Mouros, hop back on the 434 bus down to the historic center of Sintra. By now things will be getting busy, no doubt. Behind the bus station you’ll find an adorable little park, if the kids are needing a break.
If you haven’t already, stop for lunch at Loja do Vinho for charcuterie and cheese, or take sandwiches to go from the little grab-and-go sandwich shop next door.
And of course, stop for travesseiros or queijadas de Sintra, two classic Portuguese pastries found at the famous Piriquita.
Stop 4: Quinta da Regaleira
Stop next at a mysterious palace often overlooked on a Sintra day trip: Quinta da Regaleria. My personal favorite, the historic villa is quite exquisite, but it’s the gardens outside that really steal the show.
On the property you’ll find lakes and grottoes, wells that lead to underground tunnels, and an interesting array of architectural structures.
The former owner was known as “Monteiro the Millionaire”, and it’s clear that he perhaps had a bit too much money to spend. Throughout the gardens and palace are planted symbols of alchemy, the Freemasons, and the Knights Templar.
The most well-known spot within the Quinta da Regaleira is the “Initiation Well”, which really isn’t a well at all, but rather is said to be a place where Tarot rituals were held. After descending to the bottom of the well, you’ll find a dark tunnel leading you to the nearby “Unfinished Well”.
Take time to really discover all the nooks and crannies of the gardens, tour the palace itself, and then head back to the historic center of Sintra.
Tip: You could take the 435 bus up to Quinta de Regaleira, but there’s really no need. You can easily walk the relatively flat road from the historic center in under 15 minutes.
Stop 5: National Palace of Sintra
Finally, back in the historic center, you really can’t miss Palacio Nacional de Sintra with it’s two white cone chimney’s towering over the town.
Built by the Moors around the same time as the Moorish Castle, it was captured and eventually transformed under King João I. Today the palace features stately halls and magnificent tile work that reflects the Arab influences in construction.
It doesn’t take long to explore this palace, so dedicate some time to seeing it while it’s quiet at the end of the day.
By now the sun is surely setting on your fairytale Sintra day trip. Take the bus or make the leisurely walk back along Volta do Duche to the train station for your return trip back to Lisbon.
Which castle or palace of Sintra would you most like to see?
planning a trip to sintra?
Here’s a few final tips…
- Don’t forget to buy your castle tickets in advance for a 5% discount on admission.
- A good pair of walking shoes is a must for this epic day trip.
- Bring a travel umbrella if the weather calls for rain.
- Brush up on the history of Sintra and the experience will be even more rewarding.
- All this sound too overwhelming? Book a small-group tour with Viator and have the logistics taken care of for you!