Lisbon is one of those places where there’s genuinely something for everyone. You could spend a whole day visiting the many jaw dropping view points around the city and taking the free walking tour, another checking out the Belem an Alfama regions, and another among the museums and galleries getting lost in time and history. We’ve found there is never enough time to do everything, and have plans to go back to a lot of places we’ve already been, to see and do some more. But when it comes to Lisbon, whatever your plan, you need to have a day set aside to discover Sintra. It’s the most popular day trip to take from Lisbon, and when you get there, its easy to see why. Sintra is a playground of palaces, villas and castles, some dating back to Roman times. To really discover Sintra for all that it is, you’ll need a whole day, a picnic lunch, lots of water and a good load of energy. Because the attractions are more spread out than a standard city, a good plan will also help to ensure you get the most out of your visit, and we’ve designed a pretty well thought out one just for you guys! Take it and make it your own to fit with what time you have, just don’t miss this UNESCO gem;
Head off nice and early – it’s going to be a big day! You will need to go to Rossio train station to get out to Sintra from Lisbon and you’ll want to get the service going around 08:00am. Grab your tickets from the station window or automatic machines, it will be €0.60 for the travel card (if you don’t have one already) and €4.40 for a return trip (€2.20 each way). It’s only a 40 minute journey to Sintra, so you’ll hardly have time to look out the window before you get there! When you arrive, you’ll want to find the Scotturb store (across the street and about 100 meters to the right) to buy your bus ticket. To go to Cabo Da Roca along with seeing Sintra, we recommend purchasing the €12.00 ticket which gives you unlimited travel on all Scotturb busses for the day. Even if you only use the 403 to get to Cabo da Roca and 434 tourist loop, it is the best value for money. If you want to do more, the ticket includes the villa circuit on the 435 bus and links to Cascais and Estoril. If you’re skipping Cabo da Roca (silly!) then just get the €5.00 434 bus ticket. Walking would save you some coin, but in all honesty, a bus ticket is 100% necessary to avoid the incredibly steep hills and be able to get around the place in just 1 day.
You should be able to get the 9:00am 403 bus out to Cabo da Roca, this will take another 40 minutes. Keep an eye out for the adorable Sintra tram and tracks along the way, and try to count how many amazing villas you can spot. Cabo da Roca is the western most point of Europe and boasts incredible views over the Atlantic Ocean. You can wander along trails by the cliffs and through the shrubbery, and check out the light house on the hill. The best photo spot is down (and then up) the trail going off to the left of the marked point. You want to do this trip out as early in the day as possible, once 10:30am hits, the place is full of tourist busses, taxis and hired motorbikes. If you arrive about 9:45am, you’ll have about 45 minutes to wander, see, and snap your pics before you’ll want to get the heck out of there and catch the bus back to Sintra.
Next, catch the 434 bus, directly across the road from where you bought your ticket. This is by far the most popular bus in Sintra and it will be busy! You might have to wait for 1 or 2 before you get on, but they are very regular and it should still be fairly early at this point. Ride the bus through the historical centre, up into the hills along the narrow, winding roads, past the Moors Castle and to the flamboyantly presented Pena Palace. Here is a good tip; Use the automatic ticket machine outside the main office, because literally no one else does! To get a wee discount, we recommend getting the combined pass which gives you entry to Pena Palace and gardens plus the Moors Castle and costs €20.90. Grab a map from the tourist office and head straight on up to the palace itself.
The colours of the palace are so striking, there is absolutely no mistaking it. The exterior walls are bright yellow and red with signature Portuguese blue and white tile features too. You’ll spend some time marvelling from all angles and furiously snapping pictures of this quirky building before following the signs to ‘walk the walls’. This will take you around the very outer walls where you will have panoramic views over Sintra and beyond – you can see all the way to the coast if the day is clear. Next you will want to follow the interior trail and visit the royal rooms. Decorated floor to ceiling with genuine period furnishings, each room has some information around its purpose and which royals used it (there is an audio tour, but we didn’t feel we needed it). The palace is set on almost 85 acres of gardens which you can also explore. First, climb up to the highest point of Sintra (529m), aptly named ‘the high cross’, because of the cross that marks the point. It is a steep but short trek up, and the view is absolutely worth it. Some will say that this is also the best view over the palace – but it’s not quite! There is an off-the-map spot we discovered that beats the high cross, you’ll find it tucked away directly behind ‘Saint Catherine’s Heights’ which is on your map – but take the trail into the trees behind there, and climb up onto the rocks above for a mind blowing view of the palace and the best pictures! Have a picnic lunch here, with no one else around, you’ll feel like the only person/people in the whole world.
Finish off your palace experience by walking down the hill through the landscaped gardens towards the valley of the lakes. There are lots of interesting things to see on the way down – all marked on the map, so you can pick and choose what you want to see. Exiting the palace through the valley of the lakes is a MUST – you’ll avoid crowds and you’ll know the perfect spot for catching the bus later (we will get to that). A short walk up the hill will get you to the entrance of the Moors Castle which you drove past earlier. Since you’ve already got your combo ticket, head right on through the little arch way towards the castle grounds. This 10th century castle is extremely well preserved and it too, offers stunning views over Sintra. It looks and feels exactly the way you’d expect a medieval castle to. After entering the main walls, we swung a left and went up to the highest view point first – you’ll be able to see Pena Palace from a whole new angle now, follow the walls back down and along to the right side where you’ll find the royal keep, and finish by walking the back walls to look down over the lush greenery that covers the hill. There is a museum and an excavation site you can check out on the way back out, these are small but interesting nonetheless.
If you hadn’t guessed, the 434 bus gets very very busy, especially if you are visiting in the warmer months. So, to make sure you don’t have to wait too long for a spot on a bus, and for the best chance at getting a seat, walk right past the huge line outside the Moors Castle, and back down the hill to the valley of the lakes exit where there is another bus stop. You should be able to squeeze onto the first bus that comes along and you’ll have to stand for about 2 minutes. When the bus gets a little way up the hill, a whole load of people will get off at the castle and you’ll be able to nab a seat before the crowd waiting outside gets on! The line outside Pena Palace is even worse, so if you remember anything from this, make it the valley of the lakes bus stop. Now you can sit comfortably all the way back to the train station, or you can jump off in the historical centre to explore the National Palace and its surroundings. To get back to the station from there, you’ll just get onto the bus at the same stop you alighted.
It’s not the cheapest day out, but as most anyone who has been here will tell you, it is worth every penny. We hope this comes in handy, and can’t wait to hear about your Sintra experiences too. Check out our gallery for more Portugal travel inspiration, and be prepared to fall in love as much as we did