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How to Spend One Day in Sintra Portugal

Jordan stands overlooking the back of Pena Palace in Sintra Portugal

Picture this: fairytale castles perched atop hills, ancient palaces peeking out from lush greenery, and cobblestone streets winding through a colorful medley of buildings. That’s the enchanting vibe of Sintra. But with only one day to spare, how do you make the most of it? I recently spent a day getting lost (in the best way possible) in Sintra, and I’m sharing my secrets for conquering this magical place in just one day. So, grab your comfy shoes and get ready to dive into a whirlwind Sintra adventure!

P.S. There’s more to Sintra than just castles (like delicious Portuguese tapas and port wine!)

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Rossio train station in Lisbon

How to get to Sintra from Lisbon

The easiest way to get to Sintra is by taking the train from Lisbon, specifically Rossio Station. In true European fashion, the building is gorgeous and much nicer than any train station you’ll find in the US.

Rossio Station is conveniently located near some of the most popular areas of Lisbon, like Alfama and Baixa. Trains depart regularly from early morning to late at night, with tickets costing 2.40€ each way. You can check train times here by entering the following: From Lisboa-Rossio To: Sintra (not Portela de Sintra.) Tickets are available online, although it seemed overly complicated, so we bought them at the station upon arrival.

The ride takes around 40 minutes, and I recommend going as early as possible. I know getting up early on vacation is no fun, but it’s a must in this case. Sintra stays busy year-round, plus you’ll want plenty of time to explore! Buses in Sintra start running around 9:15, so I’d aim to be there for that time. Grab some breakfast before leaving Lisbon or bring snacks for the train ride rather than getting food in Sintra first thing.

Warning: If you’re thinking of renting a car and driving to Sintra-DON’T. There’s basically no parking available (the historic center is closed to traffic completely) and during peak season the upper sections of the road to Pena Palace are closed to traffic as well. The train is 100% your best option!

General tips for visiting Sintra

  • Temperatures were significantly cooler in Sintra than in Lisbon, especially early morning & evening. Make sure to check the forecast before you go and dress accordingly. (I visited in late September and could’ve used a light jacket in Sintra, whereas in Lisbon I didn’t need one.) It’s also very windy there, so I don’t recommend wearing a dress unless you’re in the mood to flash some strangers πŸ™ƒ
  • Bring a small purse instead of a backpack, otherwise, they’ll make you wear it in front when touring the palaces.
  • You’ll be doing A LOT of walking, so make sure to wear a pair of comfortable shoes.
  • You can take photographs, but they don’t allow flash inside the palaces. Tripods and drones aren’t allowed.
  • I strongly encourage buying tickets for the palaces/castles you want to see in advance, especially if it’s high season. This will save you time by not having to wait in line, and if you purchase them at least 3 days in advance you also get a 15% discount. You can find tickets to all of Sintra’s palaces here, except for Quinta da Regaleira which I’ve linked below.

Getting around Sintra

Once you arrive in Sintra, you’ll want to exit the station to the right and head straight for the 434 bus which will take you to Pena Palace. You’ll see lots of taxi & tuk-tuk drivers selling tours when you get off the train, but they’re overpriced so I’d skip these. Ubers are difficult to come by, and even if you get one you’ll probably pay surge prices.

I recommend buying the Pena Circuit Round Trip ticket for 8.40€ rather than the 24-hour hop-on hop-off ticket since you really don’t need it unless you plan on taking other bus routes. You can check out all the fare options here.

Tickets can be purchased at the ticket office (opposite the train station) or upon boarding the bus. Purchasing your ticket with cash is much faster than a card, so I’d recommend having some with you.

Warning: If you’re looking at a map, Pena Palace doesn’t appear to be very far from the train station so you might think “Why not walk?” and the answer is that it’s a very steep 45-minute hike along a winding road. While on our bus ride up I saw a few poor souls making the journey who obviously regretted their decision πŸ˜† Not to mention it takes time out of your day that should be spent exploring castles!

a shot of Pena Palace in Sintra Portugal

Pena Palace

Tickets: 20€/adult and 18€/kids
Hours: 9:30AM – 6:30PM (Last entry at 6pm)
Recommended duration: 2 hours

I HIGHLY recommend visiting Pena Palace first thing in the morning during your one day in Sintra. This is easily the most popular spot, so getting there early is key if you want to avoid insane crowds. I visited in late September during one of the first time slots and it was packed, so I can only imagine what it’s like during high season.

Tickets include entry to both the palace & park, but I would skip going into the palace itself. I waited in line to go inside but quickly realized upon entering the palace that the line barely moved due to the crowds. I’m talking about shuffling a few steps forward and then standing around, so I decided to skip it and I’m so glad I did! Exploring outside the palace and the park was a much better use of time. *It takes around 30 minutes to get from the entrance of the grounds up to the palace itself, so take that into account if you plan to go inside.

The architecture at Pena Palace is an eclectic mix of European Baroque and Middle Eastern styles with a (big) splash of colors that somehow work together. The views are amazing on every side of the palace, so make sure to explore all over before you head off to the next castle!

Next, it’s time to head to Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros.) You can walk there from Pena Palace, which takes around 15-20 minutes. The walk is pleasant and takes you along a winding path downhill. You can also hop back on bus 434, however, if there’s a line I’d recommend walking to save time.

overlooking the Moorish Castle in Sintra Portugal

Moorish Castle

Tickets: 12€/adult and 10€/kids
Hours: 9:30am – 6:00pm (Last Entry at 5:30pm)
Recommended duration: 1.5 hours

This castle’s main flex is the amazing views you get overlooking Sintra. It was originally built in the 8th century(!!) to ensure Sintra remained protected, but it fell into disrepair when the focus shifted to Lisbon. Eventually, King Ferdinand II ordered it to be reconstructed, and now visitors can step back in time while walking the castle walls. It reminded me of (a much smaller version of) the Great Wall of China.

Unlike Pena Palace, you don’t need to choose a time slot when purchasing tickets for the Moorish Castle, just the date you plan to visit. There’s no palace to go inside of here, you’ll just be walking the wall and exploring the grounds. It was especially windy along the wall, so most of my photos looked like the ones below. I hope they give you a good laugh!

Now it’s time to head into town for lunch! You can either walk to the city center which takes around 25 minutes, or hop back on bus 434. If you take the bus from Moorish Castle it will stop at Pena Palace before the city center since the road is a one-way loop.

Lunch in Sintra

There are a fair amount of restaurants in the city center given its size, however, a lot of them have very mixed reviews. I strongly advise you learn from my mistake by making a reservation in advance. It gets very crowded at lunchtime and if you’re with a larger group (there were 5 of us) it can be difficult to find anything.

Luckily we went a little off the beaten path and found Romaria de Baco. This cozy lunch spot serves Portuguese-style tapas (+ wine) and is a great option if you’re with a larger group. Other spots with good reviews are Tacho Real, Piadina’s, Wine & Co., and the sandwiches at Cantinho do Lord Byron.

We ended up stopping at Cantinho do Lord Byron after lunch for a glass of port which I’d recommend! It’s located on a corner in the middle of town with a few tables outside. Inside is small & cozy, and the port we got was great.

Make sure you spend some time wandering around Sintra’s city center after lunch. It’s beautiful at every turn. If you like to collect souvenirs on your travels, Ceramica de Sintra (located at R. Ferraria 11) has beautiful, handmade Portuguese tiles and designs available.

After exploring it’s time to head to Quinta da Regaleira, which is an easy ten-minute walk from the city center. Plug it into Google Maps or follow the N375 until you reach the palace on your left.

a view of Quinta da Regaleira palace in Sintra

Quinta da Regaleira

Tickets: 12€/adult and 7€/kids
Hours: 10:00am – 6:30PM (Last entry at 5:30PM)
Recommended duration: 2-3 hours

I’m a big fan of “saving the best for last” and that’s definitely the case with Quinta da Regaleira. There’s so much to see here, and afternoon is the perfect time to explore the 9 acres of beautiful gardens the palace sits on.

Get tickets in advance here and you’ll be sent an electronic ticket that’s valid within 120 days of purchase. *Note that if you’re going with a group and purchase them together, they will only be sent to the person who buys the tickets.

When you arrive grab a map from the ticket office, then head to one of the main attractions – the Initiation Well. You might have seen videos of this on social media, but it’s even cooler in person! Follow the spiral staircase down to the bottom, then exit into a hidden tunnel. You can explore the tunnels which lead to a grotto at the end. We encountered the most people in this area, but the rest of the grounds were less crowded.

After seeing the Initiation Well, explore the rest of the gardens. You’ll come across towers, fountains, grottoes, and even a Roman Catholic Chapel. During our visit, we stumbled upon a woman playing the harp in a section of the gardens which really added to the ambiance.

We toured the 5 story house last which doesn’t take long to walk through. The inside is pretty, but it doesn’t compare to the exterior in my opinion. The house closes 30 minutes before the park every day, so keep that in mind if you do want to see inside.

Once you’ve finished up at Quinta da Regaleira, walk back into Sintra town to grab some dinner, and of course wine, before heading back to Lisbon.

Dinner & drinks in Sintra

If you take one piece of advice from my post let it be this – go to Binhoteca for charcuterie & wine tasting. Going there was the cherry on top of an amazing day in Sintra and I can’t recommend it enough! We just happened to wander in this little shop and were unsure at first to be honest, but ended up tasting so many great wines & ports while there. The staff was extremely nice and very knowledgeable about the selection of wine & port they had.

We even ended up buying a couple of bottles of port to bring home with us. (After copious amounts of booze we neglected to look at the price tag of said bottles first, then almost missed the train back to Lisbon, but it was worth it πŸ˜†)

Binhoteca isn’t on Google Maps or social media, but it’s easy to find. First, head to Cantinho do Lord Byron which sits on a corner where the street splits. If you’re facing the front, walk down the street on the left. Binhoteca is on the left at ground level, with a balcony sitting above it. The exact address is Rua das Padarias, nΒΊ 16.

If for some reason I haven’t persuaded you to go to Binhoteca, there are restaurants near the train station as well. Incomum, A Raposa, Dom Pipas, & Cafe Saudade all have 4.5+ reviews.

Other palaces to see

I wish I’d had more time in Sintra to explore, so if you can spend 2 days there do it! Missing Monserrate Palace was a bummer because it looks gorgeous, but adding it to our already packed itinerary wasn’t feasible with it being on a different bus route (435 outside central Sintra.) Sintra National Palace is on the 434 bus loop so you could easily see it along with the others if you spread your time out over 2 days.

Guided Tours

I’m not big on tours and prefer to explore at my own pace, but for those of you who don’t want the hassle of planning everything or want to cram more into your one day in Sintra, here are some to check out:

  • This tour is customizable and includes most of the things listed in my guide.
  • Book this tour if you’re looking for a more laid-back trip to Sintra.
  • If you’re down for a jam-packed day, this tour also includes a stop in Cascais.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that spending one day in Sintra is a must while in Portugal! Save this post for later πŸ‘‡

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