Sintra is a charming town 40 minutes from Lisbon and is a popular destination for day-trippers from the capital. The town is famous for its many castles and romantic architecture, and used to be the home of Portugal’s monarchs. Today, Sintra is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is favored by tourists. Sintra is located in the mountains, so the nature is also a reason why people go here.
Sintra Historic Center
The historic center of Sintra is a great place to start your visit to the city. When the trains from Lisbon arrive, the bus and taxi lines at the train station get very long, and walking the 10-15 minutes into the center might be a good idea to avoid the crowds. The historic center itself is very charming. The colorful houses surrounded by green hills are quite a sight. Just walking around through the many cobbled streets was a delight as there was something to see everywhere. There are also many outdoor cafes, restaurants and shops in the center.
In addition to the streets and the special architecture, the historic center houses The National Palace, which is one of the famous palaces in Sintra. We did not visit the gothic-styled palace, but enjoyed it from the outside, as it is quite beautiful and magical with its chimneys.
The city of palaces
Pena Palace is the most famous attraction in Sintra and was definitely the highlight of my trip to the town. If you have a look at the pictures of the palace, you understand why Sintra is called a fairy tale town. The palace kind of gives me a Disney feeling, because it is so artistic, colorful and crazy. Pena Palace is also surrounded by lush gardens and recreation areas, which are perfect to relax in on a hot day.
From Pena Palace, you have a panoramic view. Green hills are surrounding the palace and from one side you can see medieval Castle of the Moors. This is the ruin of a castle built in the 9th century. Because of lack of time and hordes of tourists, we did not have time to visit Castle of the Moors – but it seems like a cool place! The walk from Pena Palace to Castle of the Moors is absolutely manageable, so a visit to the two attractions may be combined.
In addition to Pena Palace, The National Palace and Castle of the Moors, there is a fourth big attraction in Sintra; Quinta da Regaleira. I did not go there as I will go back in September, but it looks like such a spectacular place with its mysterious caves, grottos and tunnels.
How to make your trip to Sintra smooth:
I found it really hard to get the information I wanted when doing research before going to Sintra, so here is my experience regarding the practical part. The biggest challenge was that it was way too many tourists in Sintra compared to the small size of the town when I went there. Note that I went during Easter, so that might be why it was so crowded, but one of our drivers actually told us that this amount of tourists was normal during weekends and holidays.
♥ How to get to Sintra from Lisbon: We took the train from Rossio Station in central Lisbon to Sintra. The train leaves several times an hour and the journey takes 40 minutes. A return ticket costs approx. 5€.
♥Tickets to the attractions: First of all, buy your tickets online! It might save you 5%, but the main reason to do it is that you will avoid spending hours in the ticket lines. It might be hard to know which attractions you will have time to visit, so you may do as we did – buy the tickets online just before you enter on your phone. Pena Palace has two types of tickets; 14€ for the whole palace and 7,5€ for just the outside areas (we chose the latter one, which was enough I think). When you enter Pena Palace, a shuttle up to the palace (which is located on a hill) is offered at 3€; the walk up is not hard at all and I would not recommend taking the shuttle, as the price is a rip-off!
♥ How to get around in Sintra: This is the tricky part when visiting Sintra, but there are a few options. It all depends on how much time you have and how many attractions you want to see.
– By bus: Bus number 434 goes in a single loop passing several of the big attraction. The ticket costs 5€. Our plan was to take this bus, but when we saw the more than 200 meters long line by the train station, we realized that the bus was a no go. We arrived at 11 in the morning – I guess it is easier to get a seat on the bus if you arrive earlier.
– By taxi/Uber/tuktuk: At the train station, no taxis wanted to take us to Pena Castle because of the hordes of tourists visiting this day, so we got an Uber. The driver told us that the drive to Pena Palace usually takes about 15 minutes – we used more like 1 hour and 15 minutes because of the terrible traffic (the price came at 13€, I guess without the traffic it would have been about 6€) On our way down we gave up getting a car, so while we were walking down a tuktuk randomly picked us up and we paid 5€ each to get down to the city center.
– On foot: It is possible to reach all the attractions by walking, but the hills are very steep – I would recommend driving up to Pena Palace/Castle of the Moors and then walking down.
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