SINTRA, PORTUGAL: THE COMPLETE DAY TRIP GUIDE TO FAIRYTALE CASTLES AND MORE
Sintra, Portugal is an easy and must-do day trip destination for anyone visiting Lisbon. Just 40 minutes from Lisbon, Sintra feels like a world of its own with its fairytale castles and intricate palaces. With 19th-century Romantic architecture, cobblestone streets and lush green forests, it's easy to see how one would fall completely in love with this magical city.
With so much to see and do, here’s a complete guide of places you cannot miss when you visit.
HOW TO GET TO SINTRA
Train & Bus: There is a regular 40-minute train from Lisbon’s Rossio station to Sintra station and once you arrive in Sintra, there are several tourist buses that run between the train station and Sintra’s main sights.
Rent a car: Sintra is only a 35-40 minute drive from central Lisbon, so renting a car and making the journey on your own is a popular option! Keep in mind, navigating the one-way streets and finding parking can be challenging.
Hire a private driver: I opted for this, because of sheer luck with a friendly driver the day before I planned to visit.
VISITING THE CASTLES
We started the day at this majestic palace and it was definitely my favorite of the four. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Pena Palace is made up of colorfully painted terraces, decorative statues, ornate details and hidden pathways waiting to be discovered. This is by far the most fairytale-like palace I’ve ever seen, and - on a clear day - there are so many scenic look out points. If you want to steer clear of the crazy crowds, I highly recommend arriving before 9:30am, purchasing your tickets ahead of time and skipping the exhibition to go straight to the balcony for beautiful views (unless you’re a history buff, in which case you should absolutely explore the interior rooms).
Castle of the Moors (Moorish Castle)
We walked from Pena Palace to Castle of the Moors and it was sooo worth the 10 minute trek! Along the way, we found ourselves getting lost in the lush green forests of Sintra, which made for some pretty amazing photos!
Once you get to the Castle of the Moors, this hilltop medieval castle is known to have some incredible panoramic views. Unfortunately, the day we went to Sintra, the fog descended upon the castles and we didn’t have much in terms of a view. Nonetheless, the trip to see this historic castle was still pretty epic! Enjoy getting lost and roaming the grounds of this castle dating all the way back to the 9th century.
Monserrate Palace (Palacio de Monserrate)
Many people overlook Monserrate Palace, since it’s a little ways from the historic city center, but this hidden gem is certainly worth paying a visit for anyone who appreciates exotic architecture and beautifully landscaped gardens. Monserrate Palace seamlessly combines Arabic, Gothic and Indian architectural styles and intricately displays them throughout the palace walls, arched doorways and corridors. Since Monserrate Palace is smaller and more compact than many of the other palaces in Sintra, we were able to see it relatively quickly compared to the others. Though, you could easily spend a couple hours wandering the grounds and snapping photos of the beautiful architecture.
National Palace of Sintra
This medieval royal palace sits right in the heart of Sintra and can easily be spotted by its white, minimalistic gothic exterior and two large chimneys that rise out of the palace. Though I didn’t spend too much time here (I’m not a history buff, and most of the palace was indoor without any scenic look out points), the interior of this palace was quite intricate and unique. The main highlight for me was the dazzling Coats of Arms Room - this majestic octagonal hall had me mesmerized with its tall domed ceiling and deep blue tiles.
Where to Eat: Tascantiga
If fairytale castles and magical forests aren't enough to convince you to visit Sintra, maybe this tapas restaurant will do the trick! Everything we ordered at Tascantiga was delicious. The staff was friendly and the location of this quaint Portuguese spot provided a nice reprieve from the crowds in Sintra. Grab a seat outdoor at the front of the restaurant, ask for a glass of their sangria (it was the best I've ever had) and order several small plates to share.
Visit The Westernmost Point in Europe: Cabo Da Roca
If you've made it all the way to Sintra, don't miss a visit to Cabo da Roca. Located halfway between Sintra and Cascais, Cabo da Roca is a cape that forms the westernmost extent of mainland Portugal and continental Europe. The cliffs rise 144 meters above the cape and the views from here are absolutely stunning! It will most definitely be windy, so be careful not to get too close to the edge and take a light jacket to stay warm.
TIPS FOR YOUR DAY TRIP TO SINTRA
Visit during the week and arrive as early in the day as possible to avoid the crowds
Purchase your tickets for all castles / palaces ahead beforehand to cut down on wait time + skip the ticket lines (we purchased our tickets on our phones between each place)
Wear comfortable shoes, as you will encounter steep and narrow cobblestone streets all over Sintra
Make Pena Palace your first stop, as all the other castles and palaces have a pretty open layout
Bring a camera to capture the beautiful architecture and breathtaking views
Even if the weather gods aren’t on your side and Sintra happens to be foggy, go! The cloud cover made for some really dreamy photos.