Sintra is a magical fairytale town, just 45 minutes by train from Lisbon, making it the perfect day trip. It was a holiday destination for Portuguese royalty back in the day due to its cooler climate and proximity to the mountains and water – kings over the years built colorful castles and beautiful gardens here, giving Sintra a dreamlike Disney atmosphere.
Some people stay in Sintra for more than a day, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that. Unless you want to visit each castle, historical building and garden (which all look the same after a certain point), you can hit the main spots in a day and get back to Lisbon by dinner time. Even if you prefer spending your time in a more relaxed town, there isn’t much to do here beyond seeing the castles, so it could get boring.
Here’s a quick snapshot of my day in Sintra and tips to help you plan your trip! Expect to see colorful doors and walls like this:
Getting to Sintra:
Lisbon has daily trains to Sintra that operate every 30-60 minutes. Just check the schedule beforehand so you can plan your day, but you can buy tickets at the Lisbon Rossio station itself – no need to book in advance! Tickets are €4.30 round trip so there’s really no reason not to take advantage of this day trip :)
What to eat:
Once you get off at the Sintra train station, walk to the main town square – this is the only spot that has shops, restaurants and cafés so pick up everything you need for the day before getting onto the buses! It’s hard to find good vegetarian food (or any veggie food at all, for that matter) – we managed to find a small café that served ham sandwiches; the hostess graciously agreed to create a veggie version for us that we packed in our bags for lunch.
How to get around:
Sintra is a very hilly town, and everything is quite spread out, so it’s almost impossible to get everywhere by foot. The best (and cheapest) way to get around is to use the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing bus. You’ve got loads of options, and bus operators will throw pamphlets at you as soon as you get off the train – honestly, all of them are equally good so you can’t go wrong. Make sure you plan out your route at the start of the day, because the buses return to each spot only after 45 minutes-1 hour, so if you miss it, you’ll have to wait another hour for the next bus – this can really throw your schedule out the window.
I got to Sintra at 10am, and because buses were operating on a winter schedule (it was November when I visited), the last Hop On Hop Off bus was at 5pm – you would think 10am to 5pm is enough time to cover everything, but with travel times between sights, waiting for the next bus, figuring out lunch, and spending at least an hour at every spot, I just about finished by 5pm. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to get between sights – my travel buddy and I were literally running at 4pm to try and squeeze in our last spot :( That’s not the most fun way to travel, especially if you want to see everything and still take it easy!
What to see:
The map you get from your sightseeing bus will mark out all the spots that Sintra offers. You certainly can’t cover everything in a day, and it’s probably not the best use of your time. I would recommend checking out:
- Pena Palace: a bright red and yellow colored castle, that looks like it’s right out of a Disney movie. This is probably the palace on all the photos you’ve seen of Sintra. There’s a small café here serving some drinks and a quick snack (not vegetarian, and certainly not enough for lunch).
- Quinta de Regaleira: an absolutely magical garden with a gothic castle, large, lush fields, and quiet ponds. This is the best of all the gardens in Sintra! It’s blissfully peaceful here, so you might want to spend a little more time enjoying the silence :)
- Cabo da Roca: the westernmost point of continental Europe!! How cool is that? I agree, this will be one of those bucket list items that’s really just a photo op more than anything else. But I think it’s still pretty cool to post that picture and say “Hey! I’m at the westernmost point of continental Europe!” In all honesty, it’s a beautiful cliffside overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, so bucket list aside, you should check it out anyway! This is a 30-minute bus ride from the Sintra town center, so just traveling to and from here takes about an hour – plan ahead!
I think these 3 spots will give you a good mix of sights – there are other things to see in Sintra like the national museum, the museum of modern art, the national palace, and a few other gardens. But none of them compare to the Pena Palace, Quinta de Regaleira, and Cabo da Roca!
Sintra is a great escape from the city, a quick and easy day trip, and a beautiful photo op (let’s be real – isn’t that why we all travel ;) ) It’s definitely attracting a lot of tourists as a result of that, but it’s spread out enough that you won’t feel like you’re at the real Disneyworld ;)
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