There is no denying it, Sintra is busy all year round, it is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the old part of town is a hub of activity with good reason. There are so many beautiful things to look at you don’t know where to start.
You can visit any number of fabulous palaces, castles and lookout points all within a stone’s throw of each other. But if you only have one day in Sintra, then you need to prioritise! You can also do one of the many Sintra full-day tours that guide you through all the highlights.
Getting To Sintra
One of the best ways to visit Sintra is by taking a day trip from Lisbon on the train. You can get the train from Santa Apolonia station, and the journey will take you an hour, giving you plenty of time in Sintra to explore. If you stay in the centre of Lisbon you can take the train from Rossio Station and the journey is about 45 minutes.
If you hike or bus up to the palaces or take the tram down to the beach, you will avoid much of the tourist traffic that clogs the roads. In a one day trip to Sintra, visit the Palacio Pena and its grounds, the Moorish Castle, and the Quinta da Regaleira. Depending on your preferences and the time of year, you may wish to swap out one of the castles or palaces for a side trip to a gorgeous beach on a vintage tram.
One Day Sintra Itinerary – Places To Visit In 1 Day
Start your day in Sintra with Palácio Pena. This photogenic castle is at the top of the hill above Sintra, so it’s best to start here and walk down into the town centre. If you decide to get a cab from the station, be sure to ask it to drop you at the main entrance, not the garden entrance. If you prefer the bus, you can catch the number 434 Circuito da Pena bus, which follows this route to all the main attractions:
• Sintra train station
• Historic centre (and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
• Castelo dos Mouros
• Palácio Nacional da Pena
• Sintra train station
The bus is hop-on-hop-off, and a ticket for the loop ticket costs €6.90. During the summer season, the bus leaves from in front of the train station every 15 minutes.
The 435 bus links the train station to some of the other main attractions. It also does a HOHO ticket which costs €5.00. It goes from the station to the Palácio de Monserrate, through the historic centre, then to Quinta da Regaleira and the Seteais Palace hotel.
Pena Palace is a colourful and picturesque building modeled on a Moorish style castle. You can get two types of tickets, one for the inside of the building and any permanent or temporary exhibitions, or one for the exterior and gardens only. If you are pushed for time, the outside is the most striking.
It is only a short walk from the Palácio Nacional da Pena lower entrance to the Castelo dos, Mouros, so don’t get back on the bus. Walk the 400 metres and save yourself some time in the bus line.
Take A Scenic Walk To The Palaces And Other City Sights
You definitely need to get your tickets in advance or brave the self-service ticket machines in the summertime. The popular attractions get very busy, and you don’t want to waste time queueing. If you want to get as much out of your visit to Sintra in one day, you have to arrive early and plan to enjoy the sights until they close for the evening.
You can build in a little time away from the crowds if you’re fit and willing to hike. When the roads up the hill to Palacio da Pena have been choc a block with tour buses and tuk-tuks, I have done these walks and not encountered a soul, even in the height of summer. Enjoy a little peace and quiet, and really take the time to soak up the atmosphere of the place.
Hike up the shady forest path from Seteais Palace to the Castelo dos Mouros via the Pena Palace and back into town for a 1.5hr walk on the wild side in Sintra. The Seteais Trail needs you to be fit and in good shape for walking as part of the route is pretty steep, and the footpath can be a little rugged. It follows a hiking trail along a hillside road that winds up to the palaces above the historic centre of Sintra, then takes off on a woodland track. Take a water bottle and a picnic or at the very least, put a pastry in your backpack and plan to take a breather on your way through the trees to look over the fantastic view.
An alternative walk for those who prefer something a little more comfortable and more relaxed is the Santa Maria Trail(details on same link as Seteais Trail), which starts from the Casa Info Parques de Sintra close to the historic centre. The walk is graded ‘easy,’ and it will take around an hour to walk the mainly paved paths past the Moorish Castle and up to the grounds of Pena Palace.
Whichever trail you take up to Pena Palace, an excellent way to descend to the town centre without using the bus is the Lapa Trail. This trail leads from the main entrance of the grounds of Pena Palace back down into town. It is a mainly forested path and is comfortable, although it does have a few short steep downhill sloping areas.
You can drop into the Sintra Parks Service building to pick up a map, ensure that the trails are open, and let them know that you’re heading into the woods. When you have the first palaces under your belt, whether you’ve walked to the centre or hopped on the bus, you’ll need a little something to keep you going.
Traditional Pastries In Sintra
Try one of the travesseiros pastries, puff pastry filled with almond custard that Sintra is famous for. Baked daily at the landmark Piriquita bakery tucked away in the old part of town since 1862, they are delicious with a coffee.
From the centre of Sintra, you can head on to Quinta da Regaleira to round off your day trip. The Quinta is a fairy tale house and grounds which looks as if it has come straight out of a Brothers Grimm book. Built initially for eccentric millionaire and Brazilian businessman Antonio Caralho Monteiro the house and gardens were designed and built to his specifications and catered to his interests in alchemy, Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, and Christian mythology.
Explore The Initiation Well Of Quinta da Regaleira
The Quinta da Regaleira only a few minutes’ walk from central historic Sintra, and you will be able to explore thoroughly before making your way back to the train station. In the extensive forested gardens, you will find riddles and surprises tucked away around every turn of the 10 acres. You’ll stumble across fairy doors, grottos, towers to climb, and underground tunnels to get lost in. See if you can find the tunnel hidden behind an old fountain and find the tower with the 6 point star candle chandelier.
The most photographed site in the gardens are the initiation wells, so-called because of a supposed connection to the rites of the Knights Templar and Freemasons. The wells are 27 metres deep, and you can descend the entire way via a long spiral staircase divided into nine levels, which are said to mirror the nine circles of Hell of Dante’s Inferno. At the bottom, you will find not only a fascinating Rosicrucian mosaic but also a secret tunnel that leads to a myriad of underground passageways that ramble beneath the gardens.
Although parts of the house itself are open to the public to explore, it is the grounds that are the real attraction of the Quinta, and you will want to take your time exploring them.
Tram to Apple Beach
If you don’t feel like seeing another palace on a hot day, then take a tram trip to Apple Beach from Sintra.
The trams that connect Sintra to Praia das Maçãs or Apple Beach 13km beneath are classic vehicles from the 1930s and take around 40 minutes to wend their way down to Praia das Maçãs. There might be a line outside the tram stop, but the slow, bumpy journey down to the coast is well worth the wait. The landscape changes as you descend the hills to the coast, and it’s a fun way to appreciate the countryside. You will bump along through the trees and at the side of country roads in the red Bell tram, and feel yourself unwinding.
Praia das Maçãs is a bustling little cove with gentle waves and lots of rock pools to explore at low tide. You can take a walk along the clifftop or enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants that line the promenade.
Whatever you decide to do with your day in Sintra, don’t rush around so much that you forget to take in the atmosphere of the place. The area gained its popularity in the nineteenth century because of the cool climate of the Serra de Sintra. The nobility were keen to escape the heat of the city in midsummer and so began to construct their summer homes in the hills around Sintra. You can enjoy the vestiges of Sintra’s grand past as you stroll around and you probably won’t be able to resist planning a return visit.
Travel Tips For Visiting Sintra
- Start your trip early!!! We left Libson on the first or second train of the day. We arrive at Pena Palace about 30mintues before they opened
- When it comes to getting around in Sintra, you can take the bus or taxi from the station to your first stop at Pena Place and then walk around most of the day. When you are ready to head back to Lisbon you can take a tuk tuk from around Sintra and head back to the station.
- The best way to get to Sintra is by train! No need to drive there, if you do, note that parking is scarce and I wouldn’t advise it.
- While any time is a great time to visit Sintra, note that summer is the busiest time in Sintra. My advice is if you have flexibility, the best time to visit is spring or on either side of the summer season. You may have a little less crowds to deal with.
- Buy your tickets in advance as you will lose valuable time queuing up, particularly if you are only visiting for the day.
- I cannot stress this enough! Start with Pena Palace. Get there just before they open. Explore till your heart is content but I would recommend 2 hours max! Pena Palace is built one on the highest points, this way, it makes walking back down to other attractions much easier.
- Have a look at the main attractions in Sintra and choose wisely which ones you don’t want to miss and use a map to work out which ones you definitely don’t want to miss out on. Then work out whether a tour would be best or self-guided.
- Bring comfortable walking shoes or comfortable walking sandals as you will be doing a log of walking from palace to palace.
- Bring some snacks and a bottle of waters. There is a cafe at Pena Palace but not a lot of options on offer there.
- Bring a camera, make sure you have charged up your gadgets, dress for the occassion for pictures but don’t risk your life hanging off ledges like many Instagrammers were doing. Not cool at all!
Love Portugal? Also See:
- Where To Stay In Lisbon
- Pink Street Lisbon – An Instagrammer’s Favourite
- The Best Souvenirs In Lisbon
- Getting Around In Lisbon
- Cool Places In Lisbon For Vintage Shopping
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