Sintra

A Trip to Sintra That Is a (Non-Grimm) Fairytale

Sintra, heavily forested and generously sprinkled with castles, palaces and mansions, evokes images of childhood fairytales. With its  steep mountains and sky high trees, it is hard to believe that it is only 15 miles outside of Lisbon. The difference in climate and atmosphere make it feel a world away. Unfortunately, the enchanted feeling Sintra provides results in a crush of tourism every day of the week from April to September. And thus a day spent in Sintra can feel as if you are at Disney World, on a Saturday, in the middle of summer. However, it is possible to experience Sintra as it ought to be experienced – walking in peaceful gardens, wandering through vacant mansions, taking in the views that stretch across the Parque Natural de Sintra-Caiscais to the Atlantic Ocean – with a little advance planning.

After two trips and many conversations with residents of Sintra, I believe I can help future visitors avoid the horror of the crowds, the lines, and the general unpleasantness of  being in a top tourist destination in peak tourist season.  The itinerary I recommend is located at the bottom of this post.

Transportation to Sintra

From Lisbon

Sintra is an easy 40 minute train ride from Lisbon out of  the centrally-located Rossio Station. Trains run several times an hour, cost €2.20 per person one way and you can use the Zapping card if you have purchased it (discussed in my previous post here) – just scan the card to enter the platform. The train time table can be found here.

From Cascais/Estoril

If you plan to visit Sintra from Cascais or Estoril, you can take a direct bus rather than catching a train from Lisbon. Scott URB operates buses from Cascais (No. 417) and Estoril (No. 418) to Sintra station. They run about once an hour during day time hours and the times can be found here. These buses cost  €4.15 per person one way and each ride takes about a half hour.

Note on Driving

It might be tempting to drive to Sintra to avoid public transportation or save money traveling between the various sights. This is a bad, bad idea. The roads are narrow, many are one way and there is a ton of traffic from taxis, buses, tuk tuks and pedestrians. Plus, there is no where to park at the various sights. If you do drive, you will probably have to park far from anywhere you want to visit and still have to take other transportation to get there, so you should save yourself the trouble in the first place.

Transportation within Sintra

There a 4 ways to get around Sintra: on foot or via bus, taxi and tuk-tuk.

  • Walking

    Walking is great. I walk all the time, far distances, no problem. It is free and a great way to explore a new area. Having said that, do. not. walk. up to Palácio da Pena  or the Castelo dos Mouros. It is very high up and the route is made longer by treacherous winding roads. Roads that are narrow with no side walks and crowded with speeding buses, taxis and tuk tuks. If you feel like walking, walk down after using some sort of vehicle to go up. However, it is entirely feasible to walk to Palácio Nacional de Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira, Palácio de Seteais or even a few miles further to Palácio de Monserrate.

  • Bus

    The Scott URB bus is the cheapest way, other than walking, to reach all the sights.  There are two main routes.
    The Pena Circuit (No. 434) runs from the train station to the town (the location of Palácio Nacional de Sintra), then the Palácio  de Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros and runs a few times an hour, 9:00am-7:00pm. The cost is €5.50 per person.
    The Villa Express 4 Palaces (No. 435) runs from the train station to the town (the location of Palácio Nacional de Sintra), then to the Quinta da Regaleira, Palácio de Seteais and Palácio de Monserrate and runs a few times an hour, 9:00am-6:00pm. The cost is €2.50 per person.
    The timetables for both routes and a map can be found here.

  • Taxi

    Taxis are metered and thus can be more expensive when sitting in traffic, which is likely in Sintra. Without traffic, it should cost around  €5 total to get from the train station to Quinta da Regaleira. It may cost €10 or more total to get to Palácio de Pena or the Palácio de Monserrate.

  • Tuk Tuk

    I think tuk tuks are the funnest and most agile way to get around, although also likely the most expensive. A ride from the train station to Palácio de Pena or Quinta da Regaleira should be around €5 per person. A ride to Palácio de Monserrate will likely be more. The tuk tuks move quickly, the ride is bumpy and your hair will fly everywhere. Wear your seatbelt or you may go flying when the driver makes a sharp turn.

If your group is larger than two people, take a taxi or a tuk tuk between sights.  It might be marginally more expensive than using the bus service, but it is worth the savings in time and effort.

Weather

Sintra is usually cooler than Lisbon due to its climate and trees. Even though you will be doing a lot of walk around, the air can be quite crisp in the mornings and evenings and when zooming around in an open air tuk tuk. I recommend bringing a light jacket, sweater or scarf, even in the summer months.

Avoiding Crowds

Elude the largest crowds by avoiding visits on the weekends and Mondays (on Mondays many things are closed in Lisbon so people often choose to visit Sintra then). Also, Sintra is the one place I have encountered where going early will not allow you to avoid crowds. Tour buses arrive constantly between 9:00am-12:00pm and almost every sight opens at 9:30am so going early is not a good way to avoid the crowds. However, most tours depart mid-afternoon and late afternoon and early evening are great times to visit the most popular sights, which are open until 8:00pm in summer.

Sights

There are a ton of things to see in Sintra. To see all of the castles, palaces and mansions plus their gardens and other sights would take several days. If you have one day, you can visit the most popular sights: Palácio de Pena, Castelo dos Mouros and Quinta da Regaleira. Alternatively, you can follow my recommendation below, visiting the Palácio de Monserrate instead of the Castelo dos Mouros.

Information on all the sights, including hours, prices and locations, can be found here (in English).

  • Castelo dos Mouros 
    9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm, €8 per adult
  • *Convento de São Jerónimo/Palácio de Pena
    Park – 9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm; €7.50 per adult
    Palace – 9:45am-7:00pm, last entry 6:15pm; €14 per adult, includes park
  • Palácio Nacional de Sintra/Palácio da Vila
    9:30am-7:00pm, last entry 6:30pm, €10 per adult
  • *Quinta da Regaleira – run by a foundation – website here
    Park and Mansion – 9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm, €6 per adult
  • *Palácio de Monserrate
    Park – 9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm
    Palace – 9:45am-7:00pm, last entry 6:15pm
    €8 per adult (both park and palace)
  • Palácio de Seteais – a luxury hotel with a restaurant, beautiful gardens and views stretching to the Atlantic Ocean

*My favorites

My Recommendation for a Day in Sintra

If you have one day in Sintra and do not mind a mix of the most popular attractions with some that are quieter, I recommend the following:

Morning – Palácio de Monserrate

Take a bus (€2.50/person)/taxi (~€10 total)/tuk-tuk (€5-10/person) from the train station to Palácio de Monserrate. As the Quinta da Regaleira and Palácio de Pena will both likely be very crowded early in the morning, Monserrate is the furthest from the town and a great, quiet place to start. Visit the palace and the extensive gardens, including the chapel.

Details:
Park – 9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm
Palace – 9:45am-7:00pm, last entry 6:15pm
€8 per adult (both park and palace)

Afternoon – Quinta da Regaleira

From Monserrate, you can walk (2 miles/3.3 km, not recommended), take a taxi (~€5) or tuk tuk (€5/person) to Quinta da Regaleira. There is a ton to see here: the mansion, chapel, extensive gardens, and OH YEAH the moss-covered wells and pitch black caves  (use the flashlight on your phone, seriously there is no light).

Details:
Park – 9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm
Palace – 9:45am-7:00pm, last entry 6:15pm
€8 per adult (both park and palace)

For lunch, I recommend eating at the outdoor cafe located on the Quinta da Regaleira grounds immediately next to the mansion. For a fancier lunch, try the Palácio de Seteais around the corner, which has amazing views all the way to the Atlantic.

You can also walk back to town (<0.5 mi/700m) for more options.

Late Afternoon/Early Evening – Palácio de Pena

Once you have visited Monserrate and Quinta da Regaleira and had lunch, the largest crowds should have cleared out of the Palácio de Pena. I  recommend buying a ticket for the gardens and foregoing a tour of the inside of the palace. A garden ticket allows you to walk around the outside of the Palace, climb the turrets and see the view. The inside of the palace is underwhelming compared to many castles and palaces I have seen. It is also undergoing extensive renovation, so many rooms are closed. Plus, a tour of the inside doubles the cost of the ticket.

Details:
Park – 9:30am-8:00pm, last entry 7:00pm; €7.50 per adult
Palace – 9:45am-7:00pm, last entry 6:15pm; €14 per adult, includes park

If you find this information useful or if you experiences/opinions differ, please let me know!

Photos of Sintra

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