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If you want to feel like you’re walking through a fairy tale, head to Sintra, Portugal. With whimsical castles, gardens, and hiking trails, it’s easy to see why Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon and a must-see destination in Portugal.
The cultural landscape of Sintra has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you can see several landmarks all within a stone’s throw of the historic city center.
These are six of the most famous palaces and castles of Sintra:
- Pena Palace and Park (Palácio da Pena)
- Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)
- Palace of Monserrate (Palácio de Monserrate)
- National Palace of Sintra (Palácio Nacional de Sintra)
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Vila Sassetti
Since moving to Portugal last year, Sintra is practically in my backyard and my goal is to visit all six attractions. I’ve seen five so far and I plan to check number six (the Moorish Castle) off my list soon.
In this guide, we’ll dive into all six palaces and castles of Sintra. I’ll also cover tips for visiting and potential itineraries you can follow to see these memorable sites for yourself.
Before You Visit the Castles in Sintra
Here are a few things to know before you travel to Sintra:
Getting to Sintra: Sintra is located about 30km west of Lisbon in the Sintra Cascais Natural Park. You can get there by car, with a guided tour, or by train from Rossio station in Lisbon. (If you can, I recommend taking the train because parking can be a nightmare.)
Once you arrive in Sintra, there are two bus routes (434 and 435) that take you to all the main attractions. You can also hike, take a tuk-tuk, or use rideshare options like Uber and Bolt.
Related Post: How to plan the perfect Lisbon to Sintra day trip
The Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and Vila Sassetti aren’t accessible by private car: While you can drive to the other three attractions in this post, Vila Sassetti is only accessible by walking trail and the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle can be reached by bus or on foot. If you choose to walk, prepare for a steep hike lasting about an hour.
Buy tickets online to avoid long lines: Waiting in line to buy tickets at each attraction can take hours. Instead, buy tickets online before you arrive.
You’ll need to reserve a specific day and time for the Pena Palace, but the other attractions aren’t time sensitive and can be booked any time, even minutes before you arrive. Also, in some cases, ticket prices are slightly less expensive when booked online.
Bring water and wear good walking shoes: Exploring Sintra involves a lot of walking. Because many of these castles are on a hill, you can expect some steep, albeit beautiful, strolls during your visit. Wear shoes you comfortably walk in all day and bring a water bottle, especially if you’re visiting during the toasty summer months.
6 Amazing Palaces and Castles of Sintra
#1 Pena Palace and Park
In the 1100s, the site was home to a chapel and monastery. It fell to ruin, but it was revitalized in the 1800s by King Ferdinand II. He turned it into a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family that celebrated art, Romanticism, and architecture. The property became a national monument in 1910 and today it’s considered one of the seven wonders of Portugal.
After passing through the entrance gates, you’ll walk uphill through the gardens for about twenty minutes to the palace. There’s also a shuttle service available for a small extra fee. At the top, you can explore the palace grounds, admire the courtyard of arches, and my personal favorite, the Sentry Walk – a narrow pathway that runs along the castle wall.
Inside, you can see the bedrooms, living spaces, and ornate entertaining areas of the royals. I liked seeing the ginormous kitchen, lavish billiards room, and tiled outdoor Manueline Cloister. There’s also a cafe on one of the terraces at the palace, the perfect place to grab a coffee and enjoy the view.
The palace itself takes about an hour to an hour and a half to see, but you could easily lose a day in the gardens and grounds. On the Pena Palace property, you’ll find gardens with plant species from around the world as well as treasures like the Queens Fern Valley, the Grotto of the Monk and St. Catherine’s Heights, and the Chalet of the Countess of Elda.
Pena Palace Sintra Tickets: You can book a ticket for the Pena Palace and gardens on the official Sintra website. For visiting Pena, you need to choose a day and time for your reservation.
- Adult (18-64): €14
- Youth (6-17): €12.50
- Senior (65+): €12.50
- Kids under 6: Free
Pena Palace Opening Hours:
- Park: 9:00am – 7:00pm
- Palace: 9:30am – 6:30pm
How to get to the Pena Palace:
You can get to Pena Palace by bus or on foot. You can’t drive your own car up the mountain because the roads are tiny. To take the bus, head to the bus stop outside of the Sintra train station. Bus 434 takes you up the mountain and also stops at the Moorish Castle.
If you prefer to hike, there are steep but well-maintained trails from the city center. One starts behind the Santa Maria Church, and the other starts just off Estrada de Pena and is marked by signs for Pena, Moorish Castle, and Vila Sassetti. The hike takes about an hour to an hour and a half.
#2 Moorish Castle
Located high in the Sintra mountains, the Moorish Castle was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. In the 10th century, Afonso Henriques took control of the medieval castle. Much later, King Ferdinand II restored the structure and modern-day archaeological projects are constantly revealing more information about these ancient grounds.
When you visit the castle of the Moors today, you can see the remains of castle walls, storage silos, and ongoing excavation sites. The high vantage point offers panoramic views of the Pena palace, Sintra Nature Park, and the Atlantic Ocean if you’re there on a clear day.
Moorish Castle Sintra Tickets: You can buy tickets for the Moorish Castle here.
- Adult (18-64): €8
- Youth (6-17): €6.50
- Senior (65+): €6.50
- Kids under 6: Free
Moorish Castle Hours:
- 9:30am – 6:30pm
How to get to the Moorish Castle:
Like the Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle is only accessible by walking or riding the bus. No private cars are allowed up the mountain, so you’ll either need to catch bus 434 from the train station or walk up the hiking trails near the Santa Maria Church or Vila Sassetti.
#3 Palace of Monserrate
The Palace of Monserrate is one of my favorite places to visit in Sintra because of its peacefulness. When I arrived at Monserrate, the first thing I noticed was how quiet it was. A bit outside the hustle and bustle of downtown Sintra, Monserrate is rarely crowded.
You’ll enter through the gate and stroll along a cobbled garden path for about 300 to 500 meters to get to the palace. Monserrate’s story begins in the 1500s when the property served as a hermitage.
The palace as it stands today was dreamt up by art collector Sir Francis Cook in the 19th century. His vision for the space was influenced by cultures around the world, and he also curated the gorgeous gardens that make the grounds feel like an oasis.
Inside, you’ll see unique architectural designs spanning the hallways and ceilings. If you go upstairs, you can watch a short documentary playing in one of the rooms. It’s an interview with a man who lived on the property when we was a child and he talks about what it was like.
Outside, you can follow meandering nature trails to find the rose garden, fern valley, and chapel ruins. There’s also a rolling lawn where you can bring a picnic and a book to relax. I wished I had brought a blanket and book when I visited because the shade trees looked so inviting after a long day of exploring.
Monserrate Palace Tickets: You can buy tickets online here.
- Adult (18-64): €8
- Youth (6-17): €6.50
- Senior (65+): €6.50
- Kids under 6: Free
Monserrate Palace Hours:
- Park: 9:00am -7:00pm
- Palace: 9:30am – 6:30pm
How to get to the Monserrate Palace:
The Monserrate Palace is very easy to get to because there’s a parking lot and bus stop (bus 435 from the Sintra train station) directly outside the front gate. You can also take an Uber or Bolt which should cost around €3 to €5 from town. I wouldn’t recommend walking here from Sintra town since the roads are narrow and there isn’t a sidewalk.
#4 National Palace of Sintra
The National Palace of Sintra is one of the most well-documented palaces in Sintra from a historical perspective and there’s been a residence on these grounds since the 1100s. Multiple kings and queens spent time here, and each left their own stamp on the palace. Several rooms as well as the iconic cone-shaped chimneys are attributed to King John I who did renovations in the 1400s.
Today, the Sintra national palace is open to the public and visitors can see ornate tilework, furniture that belonged to royals, and terraces with views of the city. There are grand halls, throne rooms, the swan room, a chapel, and even a large room adorned with azulejos (blue painted tiles).
One of the most fascinating parts was the kitchen, where you can see how food would have been made for the elites hundreds of years ago and look straight up into those giant chimneys.
The gardens of the Sintra Palace are open to the public. If you don’t have time to tour the whole building, you can still take a quick lap through the grounds and the entrance is on the left side of the main gates.
Travel tip: For a quick snack break, I grabbed a sandwich from one of the cafes across the street and ate it in the gardens. So nice!
Palacio Nacional Sintra Tickets: You can buy tickets for the Sintra Palace here.
- Adult (18-64): €10
- Youth (6-17): €8.50
- Senior (65+): €8.50
- Kids under 6: Free
Sintra National Palace Hours:
- Palace: 9:30am – 6:30pm
- Gardens: 9:30am – 6:30pm
How to get to the Sintra Palace:
Because it’s located right in the historic village of Sintra, the Sintra Palace is very easy to get to. It’s just a short walk from the train station, no mountain hike required.
#5 Quinta da Regaleira
Visiting Quinta da Regaleira feels like stepping into a wonderland, and that’s exactly why it was built. Constructed in the early 1900s by an Italian architect and eccentric owner who had a passion for science, philosophy, and unique architectural styles, Quinta da Regaleira is a dreamy place to spend an afternoon.
On the grounds, you can see the palace as well as towers, underground tunnels, gardens, and mysterious nooks and crannies. One fun site is the Initiation Well, a spiral staircase that plunges deep underground and is rumored to have ties to the initiation rituals of the Knights Templar.
While visiting, there are plenty of places to take a rest in the shade and even a cafe where to grab a bite and enjoy the castle views. The first floor of the palace is also open for self-guided tours if you’d like to take a look inside.
Quinta da Regaleira Tickets: Once again, it’s best to buy tickets for Quinta da Regaleira online before you arrive.
- Adult: €10
- Youth: 6-17: €5
- Seniors: 65-79: €5
- Kids under 5: Free
- Adults over 80: Free
Quinta da Regaleira Hours:
- 10:00am – 6:30pm Jan – March
- 10:00am – 7:30pm April – September
- Last entrance at 5:30 year round
How to get to Quinta da Regaleira:
Quinta da Regaleira is an easy ten-minute walk from town and the Sintra train station. The 435 bus also stops right outside if you’d prefer to travel by public transportation.
#6 Vila Sassetti
Vila Sassetti was built in the late 1800s as a summer home by Sintra local Victor Carlos Sassetti. The gardens were designed to blend the house in with the land, and even though the property changed hands a few times, it was always used as a way to unwind and convene with nature.
The actual home at Vila Sassetti is not open to the public, but it’s free to hike up to this property and explore the grounds. There are fountains, waterfalls, lookout points, and flowers of every color imaginable.
Vila Sassetti Tickets: There is no entrance fee to visit Vila Sassetti.
Vila Sassetti Hours:
- 10:00am – 6:00pm
How to get to Vila Sassetti:
If you walk up the cobbled street Estrada da Pena, you’ll see a gate marked with Vila Sassetti. You’ll walk through beautifully maintained gardens (uphill) to get to the property. If you continue walking up the path past Sassetti, you’ll eventually get to the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace.
How to Visit the Castles and Palaces of Sintra Portugal
To see all the palaces and castles in Sintra, I’d recommend spending at least two days in the area. While you might be able to cram everything into one day if you flew through each destination, it would be exhausting and you wouldn’t have time to see much.
Here’s a two-day Sintra itinerary that covers the best palaces and castles while still giving you time to enjoy each stop.
Two-Day Sintra Itinerary
Day 1: Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and Vila Sassetti
The Pena Palace, Moorish Castle, and Sassetti estate are all located close together on a mountain higher up in the Sintra hills. You can hike to each one or take bus 434.
Hiking: Start in Sintra town and hike to Pena Palace and the Moorish castle through the Parque das Merendas. Head to the road called Estrada de Pena and follow signs for the Vila Sassetti trail. You’ll hike through the gardens, and once you reach the palace you’ll see more signs for Pena Palace and Moorish Castle. The trail is beautifully lined with plants and gardens and the route has some of the best views of Sintra.
[Update: The Vila Sassetti trail is temporarily closed for maintenance work, so take either the Seteais trail or the Santa Maria trail up the mountain to Pena and the Moorish castle]
Bus: If you don’t want to hike, you can also buy a hop-on hop-off bus ticket and ride route 434 from the Sintra train station. You won’t see the Vila Sassetti this way since it’s only accessible by trail, but you can hike that smaller portion later if you want.
Day 2: Sintra Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and Palace of Monserrate
Spend the morning touring the National Palace of Sintra, then walk to Quinta da Regaleira. After an afternoon at Quinta da Regaleira, you can take the bus or Uber/Bolt to the Palace of Monserrate.
Should I take a guided tour of Sintra or go on my own?
You have the option to visit Sintra on your own or as part of a guided tour. The right option for you will depend on how much time you have, what attractions you want to see, and how much time you hope to spend at each monument.
Pros of going to Sintra on your own: If you go by yourself without an organized tour, you can explore at your own pace. You can grab refreshments when needed and you’re free to stay longer at some stops than others. If you want to deviate from your planned visit because something interesting catches your eye (there’s a lot of that in Sintra), no problem.
I’ve only ever visited Sintra going on my own, and I think this is a good option if you have the whole day and want to keep your itinerary open. Most guided tours only include two or three big attractions (Pena Park and Palace being one of them) so this option is better for seeing as many beautiful Sintra castles as possible.
Pros of taking a guided tour: With a tour, you’ll be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who can share more about the history of each site. Most guided tours also include transportation to and from Lisbon so you won’t have to manage transit on your own.
This option is best if you’re short on time and mainly want to see the highlights of Sintra. Your guide can share local knowledge and in-depth history, and tours can also be a nice way to meet fellow travelers if you’re traveling solo.
If you choose to take a guided tour, here are two highly rated options from Get Your Guide:
- Sintra Highlights Full Day Tour: This tour leaves from Lisbon and you’ll visit the Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and the Palace of Monserrate with a guide. (Note that admission to the palaces isn’t included in the booking fee.)
- Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo da Roca, & Cascais Day trip: In this Sintra tour from Lisbon, you’ll visit the Pena Palace with a guide. Then you’ll have free time in Sintra town where you can visit another palace on your own. Next, you’ll head to Cabo da Roca, an impressive lighthouse on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Last, you’ll explore the coastal town of Cascais.
Where to stay in Sintra
There’s so much to do in Sintra that it would definitely be worth an overnight if you have time in your Portugal itinerary.
Tivoli Palacio de Seteais: If you want to add an extra castle to your list, you can stay in the Seteais Palace! This palace estate was built in the 1700s and now it’s used as a luxury hotel.
Sintra Boutique Hotel: This modern hotel is located in a prime location in central Sintra. It has great reviews for the staff and views of old town.
Casa Azul Hostel: With almost perfect scores for the staff and value for money, Casa Azul Hostel is a budget-friendly option located just a 15-minute walk from the town center. Guests can choose from dorm rooms or private rooms.
Best time to visit Sintra
Shoulder season in the spring and fall is the best time to visit Sintra for fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Summer high season (June-August) will be the most crowded and hottest, but you can avoid some of the crowds by going on weekdays instead of weekends.
You can also visit first thing in the morning to beat the crowds. The last time I visited Sintra, I practically had the town to myself from 9:30am to 10:30am. Things got busier starting around 10:30am or 11:00am, but arriving early will give you a few quiet hours to explore.
Are the Sintra Castles Worth It?
Absolutely! Visiting Sintra is always a highlight and even after several visits, there are always new treasures to discover. If you’re having trouble deciding which Sintra attraction to visit, here are my two favorites:
- National Palace of Pena: Pena is the main attraction of Sintra and very touristy, but for a good reason. The colorful facade is truly spectacular and you could spend hours exploring the grounds and gardens. I’ve been twice and I’d happily go again!
- Palace of Monserrate: Monserrate is a bit off the beaten path and it quickly won my heart. It’s so peaceful and I had a great time exploring the nature trails and learning about the history through the educational video. A gem that’s worth the visit.
Bottom line: Seeing the castles of Sintra is a must when visiting Portugal. Pack your camera and prepare to be swept away.
Have you been to the palaces and castles in Sintra? Which one was your favorite?
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