Sintra west of Lisbon is a land of romantic castles, princess palaces and quintas. It makes a nice day out when in Lisbon, driving from the Portuguese capital only takes half an hour. Or why not take the train and explore the palaces of Sintra by bus? I will tell you how.
The Sintra Hills is where the Portuguese kings built their summer palaces. Wealthy Lisbon families followed and built their quintas, country domains.
Today Portugal is a republic. The kings are gone but their palaces still stand there. In 1995 UNESCO took Sintra on their World Heritage List in cultural landscape category.
Tourists in a Sintra palace
But Sintra has more than the palaces. The region itself is beautiful: the old villages, the green wooded hills, the Atlantic praias. And Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of continental Europe:
Cabo da Roca, Sintra
Sintra, Town or Region?
Sintra is a region – and a town with the same name in its center. 400 000 people live here and a part of them work in Lisbon which is 32 km away.
The hilly slopes of Sintra draw a lot of tourists, 4 million visitors a year. Sintra is an essential part of Portugal’s history and all Portuguese want to visit. And each year more and more international visitors are finding this hidden place which means huge crowds in the summer.
Vila Velha, the old town of Sintra
Yet Sintra is an ideal round the year destination. Winters in this part of Europe are warmer and sunnier than elsewhere and flight connections to Lisbon are good all year round.
So what about a Sintra weekend getaway? Or why not include the palaces in a business trip? We did that and had some great November days, exploring the palaces of Sintra by bus.
The Palaces of Sintra
So Sintra has palaces, quintas and villas. So many that you can’t see them all in one trip.
But no worries, I will show you the four main palaces you should visit in Sintra. These:
The four palaces you should visit in Sintra
These are the four famous Sintra palaces and all of them are easy to reach by bus. Any of these palaces alone would be a reason to visit Sintra. But the more the better.
I will soon show you the palaces in detail. But where in Sintra are they – and where is Sintra, Portugal?
The Palaces of Sintra on the Map
The map shows where in Sintra the four palaces are. My Sintra map also gives you the bus routes between the palaces which are the same routes you would take by car.
Zoom out the map to see where in Portugal Sintra is located.
How to Get from Lisbon to Sintra
Sintra train station
It’s very easy to get from Lisbon to Sintra. Just take a train from Lisbon main train station Rossio. Sintra trains run frequently and the journey takes forty minutes. And the cost is about 2 euros one way.
Rossio, the train station of Lisbon
Or, if you arrive by air, take a train directly from Estacao do Oriente (Oriente train station) which is close to Lisbon airport.
Oriente to Sintra takes forty to fifty minutes by train and the price is the same 2 euros.
Both trains take you to Sintra station that is perfect for the palaces. Check out Lisbon to Sintra train schedules here: Lisbon to Sintra train timetables
How to Get to the Palaces of Sintra by Bus
Visiting the palaces of Sintra by bus
In most places I go to I’m having a hard time understanding local buses and that’s why I rent a car. Since I’m traveling for pleasure and not looking for any extra trouble.
But Sintra is different. The local bus company Scotturb makes travel in Sintra easy for tourists.
Local buses from Sintra station take you to the sights. Buses leave just outside the train station and you can pay the bus driver. Or you can buy a 15 euro day ticket at the counter across the street. That’s a day pass for all buses.
They are showing all bus routes and Sintra sights on a tourist friendly map. This one:
Sintra bus map, source: Scotturb. Click on the map to show it in a bigger size.
Buses are frequent so you don’t need any timetables. But in case you need the Scotturb website has them:
Click on Schedules and you will get a list of buses. Then look for the bus numbers on my map. Those are the buses you will need.
They also have red hop on hop off minibuses for 25 euros a day. And Sintra also has a tram:
The Sintra Tram
Sintra tourist tram to Praia das Macas
The Sintra tourist tram is an old one. It doesn’t take you to palaces but to the beaches. You can make a day trip by tram to Praia das Macas in west.
The tram leaves north of Sintra train station and in Praia das Macas you can just stay on the beach or walk along the ocean shore. Walk 3 km north to the pretty village Azenhas do Mar, then walk back or return by bus and take the tourist tram back to Sintra.
The Sintra Atlantico tram from 1904
They originally built the tram line to take wealthy Sintra families to Atlantic beaches. Today all families have their cars and tourists use the tram.
Sintra Atlantico tram line
You can find Sintra tram timetables here: Sintra tram timetable, Camara de Municipal de Sintra
Now, Ready for the Sintra Palaces!
This is Clas going to his meeting. We had an early morning flight to Lisbon and afterwards took our Sintra hotel room. Clas is going to his work and I will go to the palaces.
Just arrived in Sintra, Portugal
Sintra hotels are spread around the area and not all of them are close to trains and buses.
We wanted to make our trip super easy and took a hotel in Sintra town close to restaurants, trains, buses and trams. As it happened to be a lovely one I will show it to you at the end of the post.
So I walked back to the train station, found the bus stop and took the Sintra bus 434 to the Palace of Pena.
Palace of Pena
The Palace of Pena on Czuz Alta, 530 m
It was king Don Fernando II that built the Palace of Pena and building it on the top of Sintra was his dream. He was an artist king and had his artist friends designing his dream home. So the palace became a mixture of building styles.
The Pena Palace is the most famous Sintra palace and the most visited monument in all Portugal, before Mosteiro des Jeronimos in Belem. So be prepared to wait at the gates. Even on a November weekday there was a queue.
What makes the Palace of Pena so loved? See what it looks like and I don’t need to explain:
The Palace of Pena, Sintra. Click on the small photos to open them up in a slideshow.
I spent a long while walking around the Pena Palace. I so much like these pink princess towers and yellow stone walls. Inside the palace I went to every hall and room and checked the smallest detail. I was dreaming I was in a fairy tale.
It almost looked like the royal family and their artist friends were still living here. Yet the palace has been a museum for ages, since 1910 when Portugal’s last king escaped from the country.
Portuguese republicans didn’t like the way the kings wasted money and Portugal became a republic. That was tough times but today we can thank the kings for having these national palaces.
The Pena Palace is like a firework of styles
Like any dream castle the Palace of Pena has tropical gardens around it. I walked in the gardens for a long while – until I had to go on.
For more covering information on the Palace of Pena including opening hours and fees check out the Parques de Sintra website:
Sintra Bus 434 to Palace of Pena and Moorish Castle
So the Sintra bus 434 takes you from Sintra train station to the Palace of Pena. Along a winding mountain road:
Sintra bus 434 to the Pena Palace
The same bus also takes you to the Moorish Castle that comes before the Pena Palace. From the Pena Palace the bus continues back to the village, but it doesn’t take the same route. It makes a loop round the mountain.
Sintra has made their main tourist itineraries one-way roads so there’s no meeting traffic. This makes driving a lot easier but also means that buses have to make loops and return round the hill.
The Moorish Castle on a hilltop, seen from Sintra town
So on the way up to Pena the Sintra bus 434 stops at the Moorish Castle, Castelo de Mouros.
It’s an Arab castle and more than a thousand years old. Some parts of the Moorish Castle are ruins but the long walls look nice and well preserved. You can see the walls on the hill from the village.
If you plan to see both castles I recommend you go and first see the Moorish Castle that comes first and then go to the Pena Palace. Think about that this is a one-way road. You can take the next bus 434 to Pena Palace, or just walk. After the Pena Palace you can return to Sintra.
More information on the Moorish Castle:
Bus 435 to Quinta da Regaleira and Palace of Monserrate
Now, to get to the next palace Regaleira you will have to return by bus to the historic old part of Sintra Vila and then walk a short about 1 km to Quinta da Regaleira. There’s also a bus, 435 that first takes you to Regaleira and then on to the next palace Monserrate.
Palace of Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira Palace and Gardens, Sintra
The Palace of Regaleira was built in the last days of Portuguese monarchy, around 1900. It’s a quinta that belonged to a wealthy family. The family wanted their country house have a magic garden and spiral stairs, long underground tunnels and a well with green water. And they got it all.
And they got many more things in addition. An English tower, a gingerbread abbey, cave fountains and of course a romantic quinta to live in.
Quinta da Regaleira Palace and Gardens. Click on the small photos to open them up in a slideshow.
Portugal begins to look like a magic kingdom. The more you see the more it will surprise you. We just don’t have this kind of surprises in my country. You will only learn by traveling…
I took the spiral stairs down, walked in the dark tunnels using my phone for some light and jumped along stepping stones across the magic green well.
For more information on the Regaleira Palace and Gardens check out the Quinta da Regaleira website.
Quinta da Regaleira: spiral staircase to underground tunnels and green well
After the garden walk I stopped for a quiche in the cafe and got on to the next palace, Monserrate. That was a few kilometers by bus 435, too long to walk.
Palace of Monserrate
Palace of Monserrate, Sintra, Portugal
Sintra has its own micro climate which makes all gardens very different from Lisbon gardens. Exotic plants like to grow in Sintra.
So the Palace of Monserrate has an exceptional garden – and very international. A part of it is jungle, another part a Mexican cactus desert and the riverside is full of New Zealand ferns. And all this was made by an Englishman.
The villa itself doesn’t look English at all, it more looks like an oriental villa. Yet it was built by another Englishman who bought the estate years later.
The inside has long corridors with Moorish arches and lace like carvings and there’s an oriental fountain where the corridors cross. And there is a former library and an acoustic music room that has a Moorish dome:
The Palace of Monseerrate. Click on the small photos to open them up in a slideshow.
And this was the summer home of the family. Winters they spent somewhere else. Until after World War II when the family lost most of their money. After that the Portuguese state bought their villa and made the Palace of Monserrate a museum.
I didn’t know Portugal has so nice museums. After these three palaces I can see how right UNESCO was when they took Sintra on their World Heritage list.
More about Monserrate Palace and Gardens on the Parques de Sintra website:
Palace of Monserrate Moorish music room dome
Buses 434 and 435 to the National Palace of Sintra
From Monserrate take bus 435 again, it makes a loop and takes you back to Sintra Vila where our last Sintra palace the National Palace of Sintra is located.
To get to the National Palace of Sintra from Sintra train station take bus 434 or 435 or just walk. It’s not a long distance at all.
National Palace of Sintra
The National Palace of Sintra chimneys
Palacio National de Sintra is right on the main square of Sintra Vila. What you will first see are two white chimneys. What are they for? No nuclear power existed at the time they built the palace in the 14th century… You will see what they are but first we have to go in.
The National Palace of Sintra has over time had many owners and all of them added what they liked. The Moorish were the first owners and after them came generations of Portuguese kings and queens.
What did all these people add to the Sintra palace? Arched windows, open-air patios, mosaic decorations and azulejo tiles.
The National Palace of Sintra has a lot of azulejos, Portuguese ceramic tiles. They exist in almost every single room and hall. Blue, turquoise, green, brown, all of them like jewels.
I used a half of a rainy day in the National Palace of Sintra and this is samples on what I saw:
The National Palace of Sintra. Click on the small photos to open them up in a slideshow.
What about the chimneys then?
At the end of the tour I came to the king’s kitchen that was a huge one because it had to cater parties and hunting banquets. And a big kitchen needs big chimneys so here are the strange chimneys from the inside:
Sintra National Palace chimneys
The two chimneys are 33 meter high so they don’t fit in any photos. But I almost captured one of them in two photos. So now we know the story of the strange chimneys.
The Parques de Sintra website has more information on the National Palace of Sintra:
Staying in a Sintra Villa
Hotel Nova Sintra close to Sintra train station
As Sintra is dotted with palaces and villas you should try staying in one. That’s what we did. Our conference organizer had booked us into Hotel Nova Sintra in Sintra town. A beautiful traditional villa with yellow walls and an exotic garden, yet close to trains and buses.
Hotel Nova Sintra
Hotel Nova Sintra is a family owned villa that has been run as a hotel by the same family in three generations. The grandparents of the present owner Rui Bernardo bought the business in 1946 and the family has been accommodating guests since then.
The charming villa has ten guestrooms and living and breakfast rooms for the guests. And a sunny garden terrace with hill views.
Hotel Nova Sintra in Sintra town. Click on the small photos to open them up in a slideshow.
We just loved the small villa hotel and everything in it and that’s why I have to mention the place here. Rui and his staff always met us when we came and they really wanted to take care of us. This place made us feel very uncomplicated, just like home.
They were constantly asking us where we were going and gave us a lot of good ideas on what to do and where to eat. They had even made a whole album with up to date travel information which was far better than trying to find it on the web.
I saw that Hotel Nova Sintra has top ratings on booking.com and Tripadvisor and I agree with that.
If you got interested this is the hotel’s own website with more information: Hotel Nova Sintra
A photo from our evening walk from the villa to the old town, the two chimneys of Sintra National Palace:
Palacio Nacional de Sintra in Sintra Vila, Portugal
This was Sintra and my second trip to Portugal.
On my first trip I went to Lisbon, from there to Belem and on to Madeira. My blog contains articles on these Portugal destinations as well:
More on Portugal Travel
If you are going to Portugal check out my other posts on the country:
Bairro Alto, Lisbon, Portugal