A city full of fairytale castles
I never thought that there was a place in this world that looked exactly like the places described in the stories of the Brothers Grimm.
Dozens of strange palaces and castles erected by power-hungry and wealthy monarchs stand amidst a vast woodland that can best be described as an enchanted forest.
The only thing that really lacks here are some mythical creatures or fairy-tale characters, because otherwise I would’ve immediately believed that I had walked into a fairy-tale world.
The perfect day trip from Lisbon? That must be a visit to the castles of Sintra. Be amazed by the wealth of the Portuguese royals, get a breath of fresh air among all the green of these hilly landscapes and admire the eclectic Portuguese architecture. I guarantee that your visit from Lisbon to Sintra will stay with you for a long time!
Lisbon to Sintra
There is more than enough to do and see in Lisbon to fill a few days, but if you really want to see a unique sight, then I recommend to visit Sintra for (at least) one day too.
From Lisbon there are several possibilities to commute to this hilly fairytale city. I tell you more about all possibilities:
From Lisbon to Sintra by train
I think the easiest way to travel to Sintra is by train.
From Lisbon there are several stations that have a direct train connection with Sintra.
In total, it takes between forty-five minutes and one hour to get to your final destination. And actually you can’t miss, because Sintra is always the last stop.
From the station in Sintra, it’s a short five to ten minute walk to the city center, where you can immediately see some of the most famous castles. Either right in front of your nose (National Palace of Sintra), or highly entrenched on the ridge (Palace of Pena and Castelo dos Mouros).
If you prefer not to hike too much, you can also pay for one of the many transport options to take you to one of the castles.
A train ticket from Lisbon to Sintra costs €2.75 single, or €5 return.
Don’t forget to also validate your ticket before you board the train. This can be done at the small green poles on the platform or just before you step up the stairs to the platform (just scan your ticket until you hear a beep or see a flashing light).
From Lisbon to Sintra with a day trip
If you start stressing out by just thinking of a self-organised day trip, then it might be a better idea to have everything arranged by a tour operator for you.
There are many tourist organizations that offer such day trips from Lisbon. Always check carefully what is offered. Sometimes tickets for the palaces are included in the day trip, sometimes you only pay for the transport between Lisbon and Sintra.
Below are some nice tours and excursions:
From Lisbon to Sintra by car
If you have your own car or a rental car, you can also visit Sintra. However, parking spaces in Sintra are very limited and traffic is often stuck in the city center.
Of course you have the advantage that you can drive everywhere easily and that you can easily visit some of the castles that are located a bit further.
For the cost of a rental car you shouldn’t leave it either, because you can already rent a car in Lisbon (for one day) for less than €30 at Sunnycars. The best thing about this? Full insurance is included in this price. As well as a second driver!
Sightseeing in Sintra: the most beautiful castles
The reason to visit Sintra are of course the phenomenal castles, fortresses and palaces that are scattered around everywhere.
Seeing all in one day is absolutely impossible. To do this you need at least two days, and then still … Don’t forget that these luxurious forts are all located on gigantic domains with hilly landscapes. Or in other words: after one day you’ll definitely feel all that climbing in your muscles.
National Palace of Sintra
In the middle of the picturesque Sintra, you immediately see a strange building. A gigantic rectangular whitewashed block with two protruding spiral towers.
Personally I found this palace the least impressive of all, but still I find it worthwhile to walk around here for an hour. The very special ceilings and the atypical furniture sometimes made me think of the owners. They must’ve been quite eccentric people!
It’s noteworthy that there are a lot of Arabic features in the National Palace of Sintra. The doors and gates, tiles and even gardens are clearly influenced by the Moors.
For me, the absolute reason to visit the National Palace of Sintra is the ‘Sala dos Brasões’ or the ‘Chamber of the Coats of Arms’. This large salon is held together by a beautiful wooden dome, in which 72 coats of arms of the royal family and the Portuguese nobility are carved out. The walls in this room are also beautifully decorated with bright blue azulejos.
Castle of Pena
The most famous castle of Sintra must be the one in yellow and red where all kinds of building styles are joined together. This special palace towers high above all other castles and is without a doubt the most crazy one of them all.
This eclectic structure has a height of 450 meters, and because of this it’s often quite cloudy and cool up here. So take an extra sweater or jacket with you when you visit the Castle of Pena!
This former summer palace of the Portuguese royal family is actually the Portuguese answer to the Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany).
After Portugal became a republic, it didn’t take long before the castle was transformed into a museum where in fact very little was changed up to this day.
Not only the exterior (with blue, pink and yellow, turrets and battlements in all shapes and sizes and beautiful gargoyles) is impressive. The interior of this gigantic castle is also impressive.
Strange and valuable furniture brightens up every room and sometimes you really wonder how rich this royal family was.
My personal favorite room was without doubt the Arab room: a large hallway with beautiful chandeliers, lots of mirrors and obvious Arabic influences.
On the outside, I kept gazing at the Triton gate. A gigantic carved image of some mythological beast, surrounded by thousands of azulejos. Impressive or kitsch? A bit of both in my opinion.
It’s better that you arrive early, because the queues for this imposing palace usually take quite some time before you get in.
Don’t forget to visit the (giant) gardens around the Palace of Pena. A beautiful collection of impressive trees and plants is interspersed with some great monuments and even a few lakes and waterfalls. Actually, you can easily spend a full day on this domain alone, but I propose not to do so. The other castles and palaces are really worth a visit as well!
For me this was one of the nicest, most beautiful and impressive sights in Sintra. If you don’t have much time in this fairytale town, then I recommend to visit this castle first.
Castelo dos Mouros
This castle is completely different from the other luxurious palaces and castles of Sintra. Where the Pena palace is extraordinarily luxurious, it immediately stands out at the Castelo dos Mouros that it is a fort with a strategic and military importance.
The dark-gray stone paths make their way along the steep hill and sometimes even give the impression that they are part of the Chinese wall.
After a short walk from the entrance, where you will see beautiful scenery and beautiful views, you arrive at the courtyard of the Castle of the Moors.
View some archaeological excavations or, much more fun, immediately climb some of the ramparts. You have to do a lot of stairs, but the views are worth it. From here you get the most beautiful panorama of Sintra and the other palaces. From the highest point you also get the most beautiful views of the Palace of Pena.
Quinta da Regalia
Actually the Quinta da Regalia isn’t really a castle or palace, but it certainly looks a lot like one! This UNESCO World Heritage site consists out of a gigantic mansion (or let’s just say a small palace…), but above all there are a lot of strange and detailed decorated monuments, chapels and underground corridors. The lavishness of the Quinta da Regalia also translates itself into the nickname given to the domain: ‘The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire’, where António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro was the most famous owner of this estate.
This fabulous house is undoubtedly a crowd pleaser. The façade of this house has so many details that you could actually stare at it for a whole day, and then you would still overlook things. From the balcony you get beautiful views over the rest of the domain, and the inside (take a look at all the details in the doors!) is equally beautifully decorated.
The owners of the Quinta da Regalia must’ve been a little crazy, I think. Because there are a lot of strange buildings on this domain.
A kind of wishing well that you can descend completely and climb back up, a beautiful lake with a small waterfall where you can walk underneath, lots of underground caves and corridors that lead you through the maze of these gardens, …
For me personally this was one of the best things to do in Sintra. Just like the Palace of Pena, it also looks like you’ve ended up in a real fairytale castle.
How do you get from castle to castle?
The castles are located in one and the same town, but they are often located at fairly great distances from each other. This has a lot to do with the hills on which they lie, making it difficult to hop from castle to another.
Fortunately, there are many possibilities to explore the various palaces of Sintra:
The easiest (and cheapest) way is to buy a hop-on hop-off pass for bus number 343. For €6.90 you can hop on and off as much as you please. This bus takes you from Sintra station to the center of Sintra, to the Castelo dos Mouros, to the Castle of Pena and back.
If you stay one day longer and also want to visit other -more remotely located- castles, you can also buy a similar hop-on hop-off pass for bus number 344.
Around Sintra many other hop-on hop-off buses from private companies drive around. These are often less crowded and for your comfort it’s not bad to also consider these buses. Tickets can be booked online.
If you prefer a somewhat different way to visit Sintra, you can also hire a tuktuk, take a taxi, drive an electric car or even ride a horse and cart to the castles.
Food and drinks in Sintra
A visit to Sintra is on the to-do list of many people, and so you can be certain that there are many restaurants in the vicinity of all these beautiful castles and palaces. The prices for something to eat are comparable to Lisbon, and that means that they still are very affordable.
In Sintra itself there are many cozy and tasty restaurants. A delicious main course starts at €10 per person, but that depends of course on what you order. For a soft drink you pay about two euros or a little less, and a glass of wine costs between three and five euros.
If you don’t have time to visit the village, you can only eat something in the Castle of Pena. For lunch you pay €8.50 and then you can choose between three (not so great) dishes. If you don’t feel like eating anything they offer, you can also buy a sandwich or some chips to satisfy your hunger.
I do actually recommend to stretch out some time for a nice lunch, or dinner, in Sintra itself. The village is very quaint and there are many good restaurants.
If there’s one thing you should definitely try, it is the traditional desserts of Sintra. The “Queijada de Sintra” and the “Travesseiro” are both finger licking good. They’re both very sweet, but once you’ve tried them you’ll definitely want some more!
The best place to try these delicacies is at the cozy pastry shop: “Piriquita”
Tickets and tours to Sintra
Sintra is a very popular (day) trip from Lisbon. As a result, there are also many possibilities to get there.
For example, there are many tour operators who offer transport, guided tours in the castles (and sometimes the village) and lunch.
Such a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra costs between €40 and €80, depending on how long it takes and where you are going.
If you prefer to arrange everything yourself, I still recommend buying tickets in advance for certain palaces or castles. After all, the queues can be very long. For the castle of Pena (€14) and the Castelo Dos Mouros (€10) you can buy your ticket in advance.
A few more tips for your visit to Sintra
- Take an extra sweater or jacket with you. It can cool off quite a bit here! When the sun is shining, it’s nice and warm, but when there are clouds and a breeze it will soon get very cold!
- If you take bus 343 from the Castle of Pena to commute back down, don’t wait at the main entrance to get back on the bus. Instead, take the exit near ‘Vale dos Lagos’ (the gardens of the Palace of Pena). Nobody is waiting for the bus here, so you can easily pick a seating place. Moreover, you can immediately get on the bus from here without losing any time. If you wait at the main entrance, then the bus is almost always filled in no time (and you have to stand the whole journey) and chances are that you have to wait for another bus.
- If you take bus 343 from Sintra to the castles, get on in the city center and not at the train station. The bus is usually packed from here as well, but one stop later everyone seems to get out and then you can find a spot to sit. Because, at the next stop a huge group of tourists gets on and they will need to stand the whole way up to the top!
Other castles near Lisbon
Sintra undoubtedly has the most impressive collection of castles around Lisbon, but if you’re not bored yet with all this splendor, there is still more to see in the vicinity of the Portuguese capital!
Palace of Mafra
This palace is located about 40 minutes from Lisbon.
With an area of more than 40,000 square meters, this is one of the largest palaces in the world. There is so much luxury involved that its construction almost bankrupted Portugal! The domain is so huge that this palace has its own monastery and cathedral, but also more than a thousand rooms (with almost 5000 doors and windows) and 156 stairs!
The library, the luxuriously decorated royal rooms and the beautifully manicured (indoor) gardens also make this a great day trip from Lisbon if you like palaces and castles.
Palace of Ajuda
For me, the National Palace of Ajuda was one of the biggest surprises of my trip to Lisbon. By bus it is a less than ten minutes drive from Belém to this enchanting domain.
This castle is unknown to most tourists and I think that is totally unjustified! You’ll see splendor and luxury here like you’ve never seen before! I dare to even compare this palace with the castle of Versailles, and that does mean something, doesn’t it?
A velvet red carpet shows you the way through the beautiful rooms of the Portuguese royals, all of which are decorated with breathtaking furniture, beautiful sculptures, exceptionally detailed paintings and royal gadgets. The further you progress, the more beautiful the Palace of Ajuda becomes. The ‘normal’ dining room is already beautiful, but when you see the large dining room your mouth really falls open. The throne room is also a place that I couldn’t get enough from. What an amazing sight!
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.