Sintra is by far the most popular day trip destination from Lisbon, and I have soooo many photos to prove why.
So many, in fact, that while I wrote about our day trip to Sintra in my Lisbon post, I didn’t go into great detail because I had way too many photos to include, and I quickly realised Sintra very much deserves its own post.
Sintra is also so much more than just Pena Palace – something I didn’t realise until I was researching for our day out there. In fact if you simply Google Sintra, 90% of the photos will be of the palace, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much else there.
Most people do visit largely for Pena Palace, and indeed that was our only definite plan – we decided to wing it and see what else the day brought. After all, you can read itineraries about smashing in four different attractions in a day, but why would we want to rush through them all? I even read one post that set out timings to the minute for every visit throughout the day.
While I like to have a rough idea of what we want to see and do, as well as keeping it realistic in terms of timings, it felt like too much reliance on things working out exactly as planned. Let’s face it; how often does that happen, especially when you’re travelling in a foreign country?
The only thing I did know: we wanted to get there early.
Getting to Sintra
The first 434 bus from the train station in Sintra doesn’t leave until 9.30am, so it’s not really a crack-of-dawn job, but even so, I wanted to aim for that first bus.
We headed to Rossio for the 8.41am train, and by the time we rocked up in Sintra 40 minutes later, the queue for the bus up to the palace was already busy. There are lots of people offering taxis and tuk tuks, telling you the buses are rubbish, but just ignore them. It might be worth it if there’s a group of you though!
It’s worth noting that you can no longer get the 6.90€ day ticket for the Sintra bus loop – as of this year, you have to buy a day ticket that encompasses Cascais, Lisbon’s popular beach resort, for 11.50€. I did question this when we were offered it, and she said they no longer sell the cheaper tickets. This does mean it includes the 435 and other tourist buses as well as the 434.
Find the full 434 bus timetable and more info on the website here
It’s around 20 minutes from the train station to the palace, and you first drive through Sintra’s old town before making your way up the steep, winding mountain road to Moorish Castle. A few people got off here, but most people stayed on to Pena Palace.
It’s a one way loop, so if you want to visit the castle, you’d either have to ride the full loop again, or it’s not too far to walk back from the entrance to Pena Palace.
Pena Palace & Park
This is where things got confusing, because we hadn’t bought tickets online, so we joined the queue assuming that we’d be able to buy them from a ticket desk. About half way along, we realised there was a second queue, which explained why there were so many people.
The second, mercifully much shorter queue was for the ticket machines that we hadn’t been able to see from the end of the first queue. Ash made a quick dash for the machines while I held our place in the main queue, but it moved so quickly that I had to hold back and let people past. Smooth. I felt so awkward!!
There are two options for tickets: entrance to the palace, and entrance to the park, which includes the terraces. We weren’t too bothered about going inside the palace, so we only got park tickets, which you can’t seem to get online. So if you’re only there for the terraces, make sure you join the right queue to buy your tickets first!
Eventually, we got into the park, to find it was another ten or so minute walk to the actual palace. There are transfer buses taking people up to the front door, but these were packed and we just walked. It’s a steady uphill climb, but it’s not too bad.
…and then we got to the palace, where there was ANOTHER massive queue. Thankfully, we thought to check, and sure enough the queue was to get inside the palace. So again – if you’re just there for the terraces, go right on up.
I definitely recommend doing it this way – the terraces were very quiet when we arrived and we were able to get a lot of photos. By the time we left, tour groups had arrived and lots of people who had been inside the palace were now scattered all over the terraces. So even if you want to go inside, book a ticket for later on in the morning and check out the terraces first!
The views from the palace are also pretty astounding.
The best view we got of Moorish Castle (or Castle of the Moors) from the palace – it looks a bit like a tiny Great Wall Of China!
I loved the sky in my photos too. Sunny days with wispy cloud are the best!
Also I would love to know the story behind this creepy gargoyle dude.
After about 45 minutes, I’d had my fill of colourful buildings and beautiful views, and as it was starting to get busy, we headed back down into the park.
You could easily spend a full morning in the park itself. There are lots of paths to explore with lakes and historical buildings and gardens.
I only really had one place I wanted to go – Alta Cruz, or High Cross.
At the time of our visit, one of the trees had grown over some of the view of the palace, and I had to climb on to a huge rock and hold on in order to take photos of it!
I definitely still think it’s worth the walk though, and it’s a lovely stroll through the forest to get there. It took around twenty minutes, if that, and less time to get back down to the entrance.
From there, we jumped back on the 434 bus down to Sintra’s old town, to grab lunch before deciding what to do with our afternoon.
Sintra Old Town
I was taken aback by how pretty Sintra’s old town is, even though I’d read that it’s lovely and worth spending some time in. I hadn’t got any real feel for it from what I’d read, and most posts talk a lot more about the palaces and attractions, so it was surprising to find somewhere so understatedly beautiful amongst it all.
We grabbed food from a sandwich shop near where we got off the bus, and plonked ourselves outside the National Palace to take it all in.
The National Palace is another popular stop, especially due to its central location, but we weren’t fussed about going in – I was quite happy that we’d got to see it from the outside.
We could easily have spent longer in the town, exploring the shops and enjoying a drink. If you have time, a night here definitely wouldn’t go amiss.
Quinta da Regaleira
The one place I was keen to visit was Quinta da Regaleira. I kept referring to it as a palace, as Sintra is full of palaces and castles, but it’s more of a mansion. A very quirky gothic mansion, to be more descriptive.
Quirky? Gothic? You’ve got my attention right there.
I’d read that you can get to Quinta da Regaleira on the 435 bus, but we discovered it was only a ten minute walk from the old town – and it wasn’t even too hilly. (Actually, that’s a lie, it’s not hilly at all until you get there, and then it’s suddenly a huge hill up to the actual entrance, which feels like it’s taunting you because you have to walk up behind the damn mansion just to come back down into the gardens!)
Quinta da Regaleira is like the antithesis to Pena Palace. Instead of bursting with colour, it’s formidable and grey. Yet instead of a mysterious forest surrounding it, there’s an incredible garden to explore.
The highlight is a giant well.
I told you it was quirky.
Known as the “Initiation Well”, follow signs and you’ll find yourself walking down it!
It’s an AWESOME place to take photos, but it does get busy compared with the rest of the gardens.
Once you’re at the bottom, the only way out is a big underground tunnel system, through some caves! There’s even a waterfall, which we never actually found the outdoor bit opposite once we’d made it out of the caves. It’s really cool!
There are plenty of other things to explore in the gardens – curious structures and water features. It does kind of feel like you’ve been plunged into a different world.
Plus there’s even a great view up to both Moorish Castle AND Pena Palace from here, which puts it all quite nicely into perspective.
Entrance to the house is included, although there are only a couple of rooms to go into. It’s definitely far more worth it for the gardens and the exterior of the house.
I also have a confession to make – I forgot to take a photo of Gulliver at Pena Palace!!!
So I got a photo of him here instead, which is fine as I think he preferred Quinta da Regaleira anyway. Although he didn’t even see Pena Palace, so maybe I’m just projecting.
There are plenty of other things to see in Sintra, but to me these are the definite highlights. A great resource for information on everything there is to do in Sintra, this website proved invaluable during my research.
If we had known that our bus ticket would include Cascais, we would have packed for the beach and headed there to round the day off. I think this would be a perfect day out from Lisbon.
Instead, we took a steady wander back into Sintra, hopped back on the trusty 434 bus down to the train station, and headed back into Lisbon for our final evening in Portugal.
Sintra is a fantastic day trip from Lisbon, and definitely shouldn’t be missed. It was my one regret from my previous visit, not giving myself an extra day to come here. As it turns out – it was 100% worth the wait!
I have a few more posts on Portugal too – check them out!
⭐ Loving Lisbon: A Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
⭐ The Best Of One Day In Porto – Viewpoints, Bookshops & Port
⭐ Exploring the Best Beaches on the Algarve
⭐ Visiting The Algarve: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Faro