The Captivating Palaces of Sintra, Portugal

In Europe, Mini Breaks, Our Journeys, Portugal, Trip-Types, Unesco, World Travelby JanisLeave a Comment

So many to choose from

Strewn amongst the lush hills just around 18 miles from Lisbon, are the enchanted palaces of Sintra. If you are just visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site for the day you will need to make the difficult decision of which palaces to visit, as these stunning retreats can keep you captivated for hours.

Park and National Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

A reasonably priced and easy way of getting to Sintra from Lisbon, is by train from Rossio station.

The journey takes about 45 minutes and a return ticket was €4.90, the trains run every 20 minutes. Passing by the 18th century Águas Livres Aqueduct & Benfica (for those football lovers).

As you'd expect it can get busy!

Sintra does get extremely busy, so if possible avoid weekends.

Palaces of choice

We decided that we wanted to visit Quinta da Regaleira, Palácio Nacional da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros and spend some time strolling around the town….mmm was this a bit optimistic for one day.

The bus route you need to catch varies depending on which palace you are visiting. However, they can all be caught from outside Sintra train station or in the town. Advice we were given was to go to Quinta da Regaleira first, so catch the no. 435 bus.

One view over Sintra, Portugal

Our tip

I would suggest picking up a timetable of the buses for Sintra from a tourist office in Lisbon, this will help with the planning.

The ticket for the 435 route is €2.50 per person return and you can hop on and off all along the route.

It is similar for the 434 route (you can hop on and off); however, this is €5.50 per person return and is a one-way loop.

Our favourite travel reads

Quinta da Regaleira

The wait for the bus wasn’t too bad, it was the torrential weather conditions that we could have done without.
After 2 stops we were at our first palace, Quinta da Regaleira. Entrance fee was €6 each, armed with our map we went off to discover the caves, grottos, underground walkways and the amazing “subterranean towers”.

The Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

The element of enchantment that you encounter whilst wandering these gardens is magical. You really feel like you are on voyage of discovery and constantly being amazed at what you find.

Standing on the Portal of the Guardians, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal
The Portal of the Guardians, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

A reference guide

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide was invaluable to us.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Lisbon mini break, now you can grab the revised copy.

Available in Kindle & Paperback editions (depending on region)


Lake of the Waterfall

Stepping stones across the Lake of the Waterfall, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

Heading into the dark unlit tunnels from the “Cave of the Orient” & through the “Grotto of the East” you weave your way through damp passageways.

A torch is worthwhile if you have one, but there is eventually light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of a waterfall tumbling down an opening in the cave.

The Waterfall, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal
Looking out at the waterfall, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

Initiatic Well

There isn’t any particular path that you should take, the gardens are there to be discovered at your own pace and wonderment.

Heading underground passing the ‘Unfinished Well’ make your way to the base of the ‘Intiatic Well’.

Tunnels through the grotto, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portuga
The Unfinished Well - Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

Viewing it from the bottom and looking up 27 metres through the twisting tower, is astonishing. There is a recessed spiral staircase snaking around the damp tower, that leads you up into the daylight, but all the while you can’t stop looking down at the magnificence below.

Looking down through the Initiatic Well, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal
The base of the Initiatic Well, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

The Bus Routes

Palácio Nacional da Pena is on a different bus route; therefore, you need to catch the no. 435 back into town and change to the no. 434.

Festival of Grottos

The Labyrinthic Grotto is not to be missed, wandering around the pond by the Balnearium Fountain your eyes are drawn to the caves behind. Another intriguing warren of tunnels channelled into the mysterious landscape.

Looking over to the Labyrinthic grotto, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

We were reluctant to leave Quinta da Regaleira, but there was more adventure to be had.

Peaking out of the Labyrinthic grotto, Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

Those busy buses

The buses are very popular so don’t be surprised, if they are too full to jump onto, even though you have a hop on hop off ticket.

Romantic Palace of Pena

Next stop Palácio Nacional da Pena, from the main entrance as you gradually climb up to the enchanted colourful palace, it reveals itself in its true grandeur. Built during the 19th century in the Portuguese Romanticist period, this fortress stands proud within the Sintra Hills towering above the town of Sintra below.

One view of the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

This summer residence was built for the Portuguese royal family on the ruins of a monastery, which were severely damaged by lightning and then by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

Framed - The Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal
Vibrant colours, The Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

The last royal residents here were Don Carlos I and his wife Queen Amélia, from 1889 to 1908 and then briefly Don Manuel II, who reigned between 1908 & 1910.

An alternative way to get around

Tuk tuks are popular in Sintra as well as Lisbon, so you may use this as an option of getting you about.

Fairy-tale castle

Pena Palace became extremely popular with visitors and it is easy see why. With just a park ticket you are given the freedom to wander around the gardens surrounding the palace and also around the main ramparts and courtyards of this fortress.

The detail in the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal
The Belvedere at the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Amazing views of the Castle of the Moors and across the far stretching landscape can be seen from the palace ramparts.

The castle of the Moors from the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portuga

With its colourful turrets and watch towers around every corner you feel like you have walked onto a movie set.

Dominating the skyline, The Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

The Main Façade of the palace is decorated with Moorish tiles and Triton the mythological figure of half-man half-fish.

Triton over the gateway, The Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

Take a wander in

If you have the Park & Palace ticket you can wander around the King & Queen’s private rooms, chapel and also visit the Manueline Cloister from the original 16th century Monastery.

The Manueline Cloisters in the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal
The dining room in the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

With time, not on our side

the old Water-wheel, Garden of Camellias, the Islamic style pavilion and down to the Valley of the Lakes and the Duck Houses.

The Fountain of Small Birds in the gardens of the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal
A duck house in the gardens of the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

By the Valley of the Lakes is another entrance into the palace and also a bus stop, so we hopped on the next no. 434 and headed into Sintra town.

Looking back over the valley of the lakes at the other duck house in the gardens of the Palace of Pena, Sintra, Portugal

We realised by now that the Castle of the Moors would have to wait for another day.

Something to make your travels easier?

Our Tip

Also, the buses get busier late afternoon, if you are catching a bus back to Sintra from Pena, I would suggest walking down through the gardens and picking the bus up by the Duck Pond/Gatekeeper’s House. This stop is prior to The Castle of the Moors & the main entrance to the Palace of Pena stop.

Lord Byron

We strolled around the quaint town of Sintra admired the external National Palace of Sintra and our feet took a well-earned rest at the Cantinho do Lord Byron.

Inside the Cantinho do Lord Byron, Sintra, Portugal

The English Poet Lord Byron spent some time in Sintra and described it as “glorious Eden” in his poem “Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage”.

Excerpt from ‘Childe Harolde’s Pilgrimage’

Poor, paltry slaves! yet born midst noblest scenes—

Why, Nature, waste thy wonders on such men?

Lo! Cintra's glorious Eden intervenes

In variegated maze of mount and glen.

Ah me! what hand can pencil guide, or pen,

To follow half on which the eye dilates

Through views more dazzling unto mortal ken

Than those whereof such things the bard relates,

Who to the awe-struck world unlocked Elysium's gates?

Lord Byron
The Cantinho do Lord Byron, Sintra, Portugal

Have You

Been to Sintra? How many Palaces did you manage to see? Or have you stayed in Sintra? (It might make an interesting destination for a road trip) What's it like after the other visitors leave for the evening?

Something for the Traveller

Inspired to visit Sintra?

It’s only 45 minutes from Lisbon by train, or you can book an excursion, or why not stay in Sintra itself?

Check out the latest deals on Booking.Com

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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