If you’re visiting Portugal, you should plan to spend at least one day in Sintra. While two days in Sintra would be even better, I’ve got plenty of information to help you plan an itinerary for either one day or two days.
I’ve listed tips and practicalities for things to do in Sintra- especially visiting the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle, where to eat in Sintra, and how to avoid the crowds.
Sintra, a town full of historical estates and castles, surrounded by forest covered hills, is often viewed as a great day trip from Lisbon. While this is true, and somewhat doable, I wouldn’t recommend it. We always love a day trip from a metropolitan area to a smaller village. However, Sintra is often filled with day trippers, making is somewhat miserable if you’re one of them.
Instead, I’d recommend a one or two night stay, so you can enjoy all of the palaces and surrounding areas of Sintra. David and I chose to stay two nights during our road trip through Portugal. This was our one trip for the year without the kids, so we made sure to cram in as much as possible on our trip, with Sintra as our first stop.
For a look at more of our parents’ getaways, make sure to check out this trip to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.
Sintra Geography…The Old Town and New Town
Sintra town is divided into two separate areas….the new and old town. Both areas are small and very walkable.
The old town centers around the National Palace of Sintra and the original village. The few streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and bakeries. This area of town is easily explored in about an hour tops.
The new town, to the east, is connected to the old town via a road and wide sidewalks. This is where many of the inns and AirBnB type properties are located, along with the train station.
Don’t bother driving from the new town to the old; just park the car in the first spot you see and walk to the old town. Parking spots are extremely limited! The beautiful, leisurely walk only takes about seven to ten minutes. Along the walk is a small park you can stop at, Parque dos Castanheiros, with a few benches and picnic tables.
Where to Stay in Sintra
Chalet Saudade is one of the most highly ranked accommodations in Sintra, and for good reason. The location is excellent, just ten minutes’ walk into the old town. The staff is friendly and helpful. A delicious breakfast is included at the nearby Cafe Saudade, which is located just one street over. The value here is honestly amazing!
Due to high occupancy, we ended up staying in the superior suite. It was the only room still available, so we booked it before it was gone. It was way more space than we needed, but we definitely enjoyed having the extra room to move around. Plus, the price was still so reasonable that it was a no-brainer.
The superior suite at Chalet Saudade has two bedrooms and a bath, along with a living area and a large balcony, where we sat every night watching the sunset over Sintra. This room would be perfect for families. If traveling with kids, I wouldn’t hesitate to book it. It doesn’t have a tub in this room, so be aware with very young kids bathing may be a bit more challenging.
Chalet Saudade does not have on-site parking, but they do offer a parking tag that will allow you to park on the street for eight euro per day. This ends up being much cheaper than the price of the meter.
Where to Eat in Sintra
While Sintra isn’t really known for having a plethora of local options, you can still find some great places to eat. Sintra was probably the priciest of towns, as far as meals are concerned, during our trip through Portugal. However, the value was still pretty good for a tourist town in Europe.
With an amazing choice of pastries, yogurts, coffees, paninis and salads, you won’t leave here hungry. This is a great place for breakfast or a light lunch.
While I didn’t see a kids menu, there were plenty of options that children would like. Make sure to try the Café Saudade if you like sweeter coffee drinks. It is a decadent mixture of coffee and condensed milk. I’m pretty sure the ratio was 50:50, but hey, it’s vacation, right?? We decided to try a few different things including a travessiero, a scone (that was huge by the way), and a yogurt parfait.
A full breakfast here is included if you stay at Chalet Saudade. However, we didn’t realize until we got ready to leave that they have a separate breakfast for guests staying at the Chalet Saudade. The full breakfast included croissants, hard boiled egg, cheeses, and yogurt, along with coffee or tea. It wasn’t a big deal, we had it the next day. Either way, both meals were fantastic.
The Portuguese are known for their love of desserts, and this is THE spot in town for sweets. It is always packed, so just grab a number and get in line. We decided in the name of research, we needed to try a few options. Our favorites were the Queijada de Sintra and the Travessiero. There is a second location just down the street from the original, which has more seating options and slightly larger space. Just make sure to stop at one of them to get your sugar fix.
A great little corner spot with several tables outside, along with a large dining room inside. This spot was packed at lunch, so we decided to go back later for a few drinks and tapas before dinner.
A great spot for homestyle Portuguese food. Nothing fancy, this large restaurant was recommended by several people in town. We asked the waitress for the local favorites and were pleasantly surprised. I had a simple panfried codfish served with lemons and olives, but David’s pork with clams and potatoes was the favorite.
Romaria de Baco
Tucked away on a side street, this wine bar serves traditional dishes with a modern twist. Everything was delicious and not too overly fancy. We ended up ordering several different tapas to share, along with a great bottle of wine. I did a terrible job of keeping notes from our dinner here, but I do know we tried the roasted peppers, calamari, and some kind of pork….maybe pork belly or cheek? We loved it all. You really can’t go wrong here, though.
A few others which came highly recommend, but we didn’t have time to try: Dom Pipas, Incomum, and A Raposa.
Things to do in Sintra
Sintra is known for its palaces and castles. This mountaintop town boasts cooler temperatures than the surrounding areas, so it has long been an area for the wealthy to spend the hot summers. Thus, the many beautiful estates you can visit.
If you choose to stay in Sintra, you can spend time visiting the palaces, but also enjoy the surrounding beaches. Once the day trippers leave, Sintra becomes a quaint little village again, perfect for a nightly stroll.
Visit Pena Palace
Probably the most famous of all the palaces in Sintra, visiting the Pena Palace will most likely be at the top of your list. The palace’s humble beginnings date back to a simple chapel built in the Middle Ages. In the early 1500s, King Manuel I ordered a monastery be built on the site. The 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake severely damaged the monastery, which sat in ruins for decades. Then, in 1838 King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II acquired the monastery and set out the refurbish it and the surrounding grounds. Over the years, it was frequently used by the Portuguese royal family.
How to Get to Pena Palace
There are essentially two options for getting to Pena Palace: hire a driver or walk. Notice I didn’t say drive. There is very limited parking at the top of the hill near the Pena Palace and traffic is terrible. Remember, essentially everyone in town is trying to visit the Pena Palace on a road that is a one way street. Do not waste your time (or patience) trying to drive up there.
There are plenty of Uber drivers around and tuk-tuk drivers on the street waiting to take you. However, depending on the time of day, this ride that should take about five to ten minutes, could take over thirty minutes due to traffic. So plan appropriately.
The second option for getting Pena Palace is to hike the Villa Sassetti Trail. (There are a few other trails, but this is the most popular.) This allows you to see the beautiful grounds around the castle, and, honestly, is probably quicker than a car ride.
Tips for Visiting Pena Palace
- Go early! I cannot stress this enough. We got there right after the palace opened. We were able to walk around, take a few pictures, then snag a spot in the short line to tour the palace. An hour later, when we finished with the tour, the line was wrapped down and around the to the gated entrance. My guess is that most of those people waited in line for at least 45 minutes or more. This is why staying in Sintra is key! The only way to beat the crowds (and enjoy Sintra) is to stay overnight.
- Consider getting a guided tour if you want to know more. We didn’t do this, but I wish we had. We were in line behind a private tour, and I could tell it was much more interesting for them, as the guide was filling them in on the history behind certain elements in the palace.
- Wear sensible shoes on your visit to Pena Palace (ps- I always hate when people say this, but I didn’t know how else to word it. I mean, what, exactly makes a shoe sensible?). You don’t have to wear athletic shoes, necessarily, but wear something comfortable that easily stays on your feet – ie skip the heels or flip flops. Even once you are at the top or walking around the grounds, there are several small hills or steps to climb, most of which are paved with slick cobblestones.
- Buy your tickets ahead of time. The ticket line wasn’t long when we arrived, but it was when we left. Save yourself the extra twenty minutes and buy ahead.
- Make sure to check out the other areas of the Pena Palace grounds especially the High Cross, which is the highest point in Sintra. You’ll get great views of the castle and surrounding areas. The Valley of the Lakes and duck ponds are also beautiful. You’ll have it mostly to yourselves, as many other tourists and day trippers skip it.
- If you hike, make sure to take plenty of water. Also, make sure to use the restroom before hiking. There is a cafe about halfway up the trail, but it wasn’t open when we passed it (going up or down). So, don’t depend on it being open for a break.
- Plan to spend 2-3 hours.
- There is a cafe at the palace with a few options for a lunch or snack.
- If taking a baby or toddler, I’d consider a baby sling/carrier instead of a stroller. There are lots of hills, steps and cobblestones between the two palaces.
Visit the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle)
Built during the 8th and 9th centuries, the Castelo dos Mouros, served as fortress during the Muslim period in the Iberian Peninsula. Over the centuries, the castle changed hands and was fortified under various rulers. Also damaged by the 1755 earthquake, the Moorish Castle was refurbished during the remodeling of the Pena Palace.
The visit to the Moorish Castle doesn’t take as much time as a visit to Pena Palace. The main attraction here is walking the castle walls and taking in the views. There are a few artifacts that have been found on the grounds. These are located in a small building right after you enter the castle walls.
Getting to the Moorish Castle
The Moorish Castle is located at the top of the hill, just across from the Pena Palace. After leaving the Pena Palace , make the easy walk over to the Moorish Castle. If you ended the Pena Palace at the duck ponds, take a right out of the gate and walk uphill about three minutes. Otherwise, if you leave the Pena Palace from the main entrance, take a left on the main road and walk a few minutes to the Moorish Castle entrance.
Tips for Visiting the Moorish Castle
- Go here AFTER Pena Palace.
- Plan to spend about and hour or two tops.
- This is a great place for a picnic if you want to bring a lunch or some snacks as there are a few benches spread around the grounds. There is also a cafe here with a few options.
- There are no guard rails. So if you are taking kids, be cautious. Better yet, with active toddlers I’d consider using a baby carrier to keep him/her contained. Plus, I think a stroller would be miserable while visiting the castles.
About the Villa Sassetti Trail
The Villa Sassetti Trail is the main hiking trail connecting the Pena Palace and Moorish Castles to the Old Town of Sintra. The mostly shaded hike starts near the top of the old town and winds through beautiful gardens on a cobblestone walking path and past Villa Sassetti (which isn’t yet open to the public).
Tip: If you’re traveling with kids, there is a small park located near the entrance of the Villa Sassetti Trail. It would be a great place for kids to play before or after visiting the Pena Palace and Moorish Castle.
There are several spots where the trail splits, but don’t worry. They all loop back around to the same trail, so you can’t get lost. Usually at the splits, there is the option for a more gradual uphill walk or steps, then it meets back together.
A bit past Villa Sassetti, the path changes to a dirt trail through the woods. Only at the very end did the trail become very steep. Although, it was easily managed by steps. The trail is not technical at all, but you’ll have worked up a good heart spike rate by the end. The trail comes out at the Moorish Castle, then it is just another five minutes or so to the Pena Palace.
Most people estimate the hike to Pena Palace takes about an hour. It only took us about 25 minutes. Granted, we are both in pretty good shape and avid hikers, but know it may be quicker for you also. For the most part, the trail is easy and gradual, but it will definitely close the workout ring on your watch.
Just a note: Most of the guides say the trail opens at 10am, but we found the gate open just shortly after 9am. Right before we got to the trail entrance, we saw a guy handing out maps. At first we thought maybe he was a scam artist. Instead, he worked for the tourism office and was handing out maps. Don’t be alarmed if you see one of them. He was helpful and also answered a few questions we had.
Visit the Palacio de Quinta da Regaleira
This mansion, taking over six years to complete, was constructed with nods to mysticism and masonic symbolism. The grounds, covering four hectares, contain the palace with five floors, a chapel, and the famous initiation well. Intrigued with the mystical and secret orders, such as the Knights Templar, the owner had several tunnels and grottos built throughout the property. While beautiful and intriguing, a visit here shouldn’t take more than two hours.
Visit the Convento dos Capuchos
This extremely humble Franciscan monastery is surrounded by forest. A sharp contrast to the opulence of the mansions in town, it is much less visited and will lend to a quiet afternoon. A car is needed to visit this site. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to visit between our other stops and jet lag. I really wish we’d made a stop here though. Make sure to visit this spot if you have two days in Sintra.
Visit the Palacio de Monserrate
Originally built as a summer home by Sir Francis Cook, this palace combines Arabic, Gothic, and Indian architectural elements, reflecting his worldly travels. Located near outside of town near the Convento dos Capuchos, the Monserrate Palace, requires a car to visit. We didn’t have end up stopping here either, but if we return, it will be first on my list. I really regret that I let the jet lag get the best of me, because this palace looks magnificent. If you have two days or more in Sintra, I’d definitely add this to the list.
Make a Quick Stop at The Santuario da Peninha
There isn’t so much to do here, besides take in the stunning views. The Santuario da Peninha is located about 20 minutes outside of Sintra. While the sanctuary is actually closed to the public, the grounds are free to visit. Thirty minutes or so is plenty here. You’re likely to be the only one, save for a few local tourists, so pack a picnic if it fits your schedule. It does get fairly windy, so consider a jacket or sweater.
The Santuario da Peninha is easy to get to, but I’d consider asking a local for advice on getting there. We used google maps and made it fine. However, we ended up putting it into google maps a while after we left Sintra. This took us around to the entrance from the coastal side- the closest to us at that time. The road was pretty bumpy, albeit manageable in our tiny rental car. Then we had about a 15 minute walk. The other access road on the interior side of the site looked like it had a much shorter walk.
Spend an Afternoon at the Beaches Near Sintra
There are a several beaches near Sintra. We visited or drove by several of them, Praia da Ursa being our favorite. This small beach surrounded by cliffs and large rock formations is only accessed by foot on a downhill trail. It takes about 25 minutes to get to the beach from the roadside parking. You’ll see other cars parked along the road that leads to Cabo da Roca. Park here and follow the trail, making sure to wear sneakers or other shoes you can hike in.
Others we would recommend are Praia da Adraga, Azenhas do Mar, or Praia da Aguda.
The beach sizes and facilities vary, so make sure to pick up some information from the tourism office if you need specifics. We tend to prefer the smaller, more secluded beaches, so keep that in mind if you’re following our recommendations.
If you don’t have two days in Sintra, at least make a point to stop at one of the beaches on your way into or out of Sintra.
So what to do with one day in Sintra? How should you prioritize your time? Since many people don’t stay in Sintra for an extended period of time, I’ve included itinerary options for one day or two days in Sintra.
If you have one day in Sintra:
Perhaps you are only staying one night, or you decided to make a day trip from Lisbon, here is how we would spend one day in Sintra. For a one day itinerary, I would suggest the following.
Start your day at Cafe Saudade and fuel up before heading out for a full day of sightseeing.
Hike up to Pena Palace. Spend a few hours touring the palace and the grounds. Then, walk over to the Moorish Castle. Spend some time walking the walls and enjoying the beautiful views over Sintra. Plan to spend a about half day or so between the two castles.
This will put you at lunch time or early afternoon. I would either plan to eat at one of the castle cafes or hike back down into town for a later lunch at Tascantiga. It is located near the end of the trail and will be a welcome oasis after your morning of hiking and touring.
After your delicious lunch, make your way to the Palacio e Quinta da Regaleira. Spend a couple of hours here, then take a walk around Sintra’s old town, stopping for some pastries at Piriquita.
At this point, you’ll probably want to go back and freshen up for dinner after all of that hiking earlier. Spend your evening at any of the other restaurants we suggested, enjoying the quiet after the crowds have left.
This will be a jam packed day. You’ll probably be exhausted, especially if it is your first stop and jet lag is still plaguing you. However, this will make the most of one day in Sintra, allowing you to see the most popular sights.
If you have two days in Sintra:
If you are fortunate enough to have two days in Sintra, I would suggest the following two day itinerary.
I would spend your fist day as I mentioned above for the one day itinerary. You’ll see all the major sights, leaving day two for some of the lesser traveled areas of Sintra.
For day two, pack your bags with a few essentials for the day- bathing suits, some meat and cheese for a picnic lunch, and perhaps some beer or local wine. There are a few small stores in town, one right across the street from Chalet Saudade. (We always try to pack a small collapsible cooler for this exact reason, if space allows.)
Grab breakfast at Café Saudade. Why mess with a good thing? Then get your car and drive to Convento dos Capuchos and Palacio de Monserrate. Since they’re both located outside of town and in close proximity, this is a great way to start your second day on the outskirts of Sintra.
Make a quick stop at Santuario da Peninha. After soaking up the views and taking a few pics, this should bring you to lunch time or mid afternoon.
You can either have a picnic here or make your way to one of the surrounding beaches for a late lunch and a leisurely day at Praia da Ursa. I’d opt to wait and picnic at the beach, but remember, this requires a bit of a hike. Before leaving the area, make sure to stop at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point on the European mainland.
Instead, if you’re looking for a village with sea views, head to Azenhas do Mar. The whitewashed town is built onto the cliff. You can have lunch at one of the restaurants, then walk down to the bottom of the cliffs to swim in the tide pools.
After a few hours of beach time, drive back into Sintra (expect some traffic getting into town during the afternoon) and freshen up for dinner at one of the many restaurants.
This is how I would spend two days in Sintra if I had to do it over again. While we did much of this, I do wish we’d had time for Monserrate and Convento dos Capuchos. This two day itinerary should give you a good mix of castles, history, beaches, and a few local favorites.
Tips for Visiting Sintra
- Beware of parking tickets. You will get one if you didn’t pay (or accidentally put your receipt upside down like we did). The tickets are cheap…around $10, but still. It is annoying. Several locals informed us that you aren’t actually required to pay the parking tickets. Apparently, the companies aren’t allowed to give you a ticket in the first place. We debated, but ultimately paid it. I’m too much of a rule follower to risk it, especially since the fee was so minimal (and with some reviews of our car rental agency, I didn’t want to chance them charging us some crazy fee).
- Your best bet for parking is to grab the first spot you can find on the street or at one of the lots near the bottom of the new town. Don’t waste time trying to find a better or closer spot. There are several one way streets in and around town, it’ll leave you frustrated. If you stay at Chalet Saudade, you can get a daily tag from them. The fee is 8 euro per day…much cheaper than the meter fee.
- There is at least one free parking lot in town, but it is almost always full. You’ll need extra luck to grab a spot here. Plus, navigating the streets isn’t super easy. If you want to try, the lot is called Parque de Estacionamento Estacao de Sintra.
- While Sintra is fairly warm during the day, the nights can get chilly- even in July. Make sure to take long sleeves or a light jacket just in case.
- Again, stay overnight. Plan to spend at least one day in Sintra, but two days in Sintra is even better. It is the best way to beat the crowds and enjoy the beautiful town.
Are you planning to go to Portugal soon? Make sure to pin this article for later. Be sure to check out our full itinerary for ten days in Portugal here!
If you aren’t thinking of Portugal, you should definitely add it to your list! We’ve got more recaps coming over the next several weeks, so stay tuned.