If Lisbon is on your bucket list, chances are you already know how the palaces of Sintra look. Pena Palace is surely a memorable one, with its vividly colored walls and fairy tale-like appearance. Even people who only have 4 days to spend in Lisbon set aside one day to go to Sintra and see the lovely red and yellow walls and towers of Pena Palace with their own eyes. They are right to do so, as Sintra is a charming place, indeed.

In this article, we are going to take a closer look at the five palaces of Sintra and the main reasons to visit them. You’ll learn how to get to Sintra from Lisbon and how to find your way around all of parks, castles and beautiful monuments in town.

Palaces of Sintra

Keep in mind that Sintra is not only big but also hilly. For instance, walking from the center or from the train station to Pena palace takes about one hour of rather steep climbing. Rather than wasting this time walking alongside the main asphalt road, with no sidewalks, take the bus, a taxi or a tuk-tuk. Walking through the Pena park is much nicer.

Before everything else, I must say that I enjoyed using tuk-tuk and minivans rather than buses. The drivers were fun, so I thought that was a wonderful opportunity to practise saying thank you in Portuguese and other basic Portuguese phrases for travel. Interacting with local people is part of the whole travel experience, so make sure you do have your share of that.

The Park & National Palace of Pena

The National Palace of Pena sits on the top of a hill, in the middle of a huge park. It is one of the most representative buildings of the Romanticism in Portugal. Even though the Pena Palace is a mix of several architectural styles, it looks very “put together” and polished. I couldn’t tell which part of the palace was Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Renaissance or Neo-Islamic, but I surely loved the overall look and feel of this amazing building. I find Moorish and Manueline influences to be charming.

pena palace sintra

The wonderful Pena Palace, amazing mix of architectural styles, one of the best places to visit in Sintra, Portugal

Anyway, the main idea is that Pena Palace is truly one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve seen so far. I’m not surprised it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Pena Park is also very beautiful.

According to this Wikipedia article, on a clear day the Palace of Pena is easy to see from Lisbon. I didn’t see it, though. Maybe I didn’t know where to look for it.

The construction of the castle took 12 years and it was completed in 1854. King Ferdinand II of Portugal, also known as the King-Artist, wanted this castle to be the summer residence of the Royal family.

pena palace manueline cloister

The Manueline Cloister with white and blue tiles and the stone turtle in the middle

My favorite features from the palace include the Manueline cloister, the dining room and pantry, the chambers of King Carlos, the Smoking Room, and the Stag Room.

Since 2020, the Park and National Palace of Pena belongs to the “European Route of Historic Gardens”, within the “Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe.”

How To Get to Pena Palace

To get to Pena Palace from Lisbon, take the train from Rossio Station to Sintra. From Sintra. The Pena Palace is about 4km away from the Sintra train station. To get to the palace, you can take bus number 434, a mini van or a tuk-tuk. If you drive, you’ll be able to reach Pena Palace by car, as there’s a windy asphalt road leading right to the main entrance.

Even though 4km doesn’t sound like a very big distance, do not attempt to walk to Pena Palace from downtown Sintra. I tried it and it was an epic fail.

palaces of sintra

Pena Palace is right on top of the hill – don’t try to walk to it from Sintra train station

The walk starts with a hiking path that looks promising. However, after a few minutes, this trail disappears, so you need to keep walking on the asphalt road. Many vehicles pass by you, leaving you behind in a cloud of smelly exhaust fumes that irritates your eyes and your airways. The noise irritates your ears. The lovely walk soon becomes an annoying chore you’d give anything to avoid.

How To Buy Tickets for the Park & National Palace of Pena

You can buy your Pena Palace tickets in advance, if you wish. Click here to book Pena Palace & Garden at the price of today [todaysdate].

During high season, Pena Palace is extremely crowded, so you’ll want to buy your ticket online, in order to make sure you don’t spend long hours doing the line at the entrance. I visited Sintra in December and I was fine with buying my ticket at the gate. Nevertheless, there were way more people than I would have expected for the month of December.

Best Way To Visit the Pena Palace & the Park

When you show your Pena Palace ticket to the guardian at the entrance, you’ll be told the exact time slot when you’ll be allowed to enter the castle. Depending on that, you’ll work out how much time you have to visit the gardens. Keep in mind that visiting the gardens requires at least one hour. I’d even save two hours for that, in order to enjoy the lovely landscape to the full.

Chalet of the Countess of Edla – Don’t Miss It

Many people overlook the hidden gems inside the National Pena Park. The chalet of Countess of Edla is one of these gems. Located at the lower edge of the park, this Alpine style chalet is at 20-30 minutes of walking from the palace.

The Chalet of Countess of Edla

The Chalet of Countess of Edla in the Pena Park

The chalet of the Countess of Edla is free to visit with the Pena Palace and Gardens ticket. Make sure you keep your ticket for the entire duration of your visit, as you’ll have to show it to the guardian of the chalet.

I left the chalet for the end of my visit. Then, not wanting to walk back to the main park entrance, I used the nearby exit. That’s not the best thing to do, as you end up on the main road, quite far away from the bus stop and taxi station.

How Long Do You Need To Visit the Pena Palace & the Park?

You’ll need at least one hour to visit Palacio da Pena and maybe another 1.5 hours for the gardens. There are many staterooms inside the palace, featuring amazing adornments and intricate details, as well as terraces and other outdoor spaces worth exploring. All of these require at least one hour of walking. In addition, you’ll wait for at least 15 minutes to enter the palace. In fact, I had to wait for 15-20 minutes in December. I can’t imagine how long you’d need to wait if you visit Sintra during the high season.

sintra pena palace garden gazebo

The octagonal tiled oriental gazebo in the gardens of Pena Palace, Portugal

The park requires more than the palace itself. The footpaths take you to various features such as the Valley of Lakes and Little Birds Fountain, Queen’s Fern Valley, the Camellia Garden, the Waterwheel, the High Cross, the Grotto of the Monk and St’ Catherine’s Heights, and the chalet of the Countess of Edla.

pena palace camelia

Some of the camellias in the Camellias Garden were still in blossom, even in December

There’s a mobile app you can install and use to make your walk through the park even more interesting. The app is free of charge. It will have you find all of those features and monuments, so I consider it as a nice addition to your visit.

The Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)

If you’re in for a scenic walk on a 10th century fortification, you’ll love the Moorish Castle. Click here to visit the official website of Parques de Sintra where you can read more about the history of the Moorish Castle and about the period Moors lived in Sintra.

Unlike the palaces of Sintra, the Moorish Castle is nothing but bare rock, a massive hilltop fortification once meant to defend the people living inside. The Moors occupied it until the first king of Portugal, Alfonso Henriques, conquered it.

Today, the Moorish Castle is a museum, a crumbling ruin that offers magnificent views of surrounding areas.

How To Get to the Moorish Castle

The same bus that goes from Sintra Train Station to Pena Palace stops by the Moorish Castle. This makes it easy for you to visit both castles in one go. I’d start with Pena, though. After Pena, if you still have the energy to walk along the fortification of the Moorish Castle, go for it by all means!

moorish castle sintra

The fortifications of the Moorish Castle are among the best vantage points of Sintra

As most people visit the Moorish Castle before heading over to Pena, I’d do exactly the other way around. I’d take my time to explore the Pena Park and Palace, and then I’d stop by Castelo dos Mouros on my way back to downtown Sintra.

How Long Do You Need To Visit Castelo dos Mouros

The average visitor can expect to spend at least one hour in the Moorish Castle. The panoramic views of Sintra and of the Atlantic Ocean might slow you down, though.

Quinta Da Regaleira

I took the decision to visit Sintra after seeing some photos of the amazing Quinta Da Regaleira gardens. The lakes, the grottos and the spiral staircase inside of a monumental well (the initiation well) make Quinta Da Regaleira one of the most visited palaces of Sintra.

initiation well quinta da regaleira

The Quinta Da Regaleira gardens boast multiple references of the Knights Templar and Ancient Greek Symbols.

quinta da regaleira gardens

How To Get to Quinta Da Regaleira

Quinta Da Regaleira is at 20-30 minutes of walking from Sintra train station. If you don’t want to walk, take bus 425 to get there. From downtown Sintra, you only need 10 minutes to get to Quinta Da Regaleira. As Seteais Palace is just nearby, you can visit the two landmarks in one go, provided that you have enough time on your hands.

The visit to Quinta Da Regaleira requires between 1.5 and 2 hours. Seteais Palace is currently an elegant 5-star hotel and restaurant with stunning views of the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace. You can visit the terrace of Seteais Palace for lunch after your visit to Quinta Da Regaleira.

Should you be willing to spend one night in Sintra, Seteais Palace, also known as Tivoli Palacio de Seteais can be the perfect choice. Click here to see the room rates as of today, [todaysdate].

 

The National Palace of Sintra

Palácio Nacional de Sintra, also called Town Palace (Palácio da Vila), is one of the best-preserved royal residences in Portugal. You’ll recognize it from a distance, thanks to its two pointy towers that look like two giant, white cones.

How To Get to the National Palace of Sintra

Located in the old town Sintra center, the National Palace of Sintra is easy to reach by foot from the train station. While the interior of the palace is fairly quick to visit, the surrounding park is well-worth at least one hour of your time.

national palace of sintra

Monserrate Palace

Monserrate Palace showcases a mix of styles such as Gothic, Indian and Arabic. When you buy your admission ticket for this palace, you’ll get a complimentary map of the park.

monserrate palace sintra

How To Get to Monseratte Palace

To get to Monserrate Palace, take bus 435 from the train station. If you prefer walking from the train station to the palace, brace yourself for about one hour of walk.

My Take on Visiting the Palaces of Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is one of the highlights of my latest trip to Portugal. I didn’t expect so much beauty, so I only spent one day in Sintra. As Madeira is on my bucket list, I intend to break that trip and take a few days in Lisbon, again. One or two of these days are going to be in Sintra.

Here are my recommendations for your visit to Sintra:

  1. Get your Lisbon Card to benefit from discounted admission tickets to the Sintra landmarks, in addition to free public transportation in Lisbon.
  2. Wear comfortable walking shoes
  3. Don’t waste your time walking from the train station to the palaces of Sintra on your bucket list. You can make better use of your time enjoying more palaces and more of those lovely parks and gardens.
  4. Start your day as early as possible
  5. Have a list of priorities to know which of the Sintra palaces you want to visit first. If you add up the time needed to visit all of the above mentioned palaces in Sintra, you’ll see that you’ll need a 30-hour day. Be prepared to give up some of the objectives on your bucket list, but make sure you do visit the high priority ones.

Palaces of Sintra Portugal

Save this guide to the main palaces of Sintra for later

 

Violeta Matei
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