The best things to do in Sintra – where do I begin? Before visiting this delightful part of Portugal, I must confess that the joys of this tropical, fairy-tale like town were something of a mystery to me. I hadn't realized it took just a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon to get to the UNESCO World Heritage site filled with exotic gardens, exquisite palaces, Moorish castles and elegant mansions. There is so much to see and do that it is difficult to cover everything. Below I have included some of our favorites we visit on day two of both the Lisbon & Sintra Short Break and Walking Sintra to Cascais.
Top-tip I recommend booking tickets in advance for most of the below - you don’t want to waste time waiting in queues to buy tickets or miss out entirely.
Quinta de Regaleira
A lavish 20th century palatial estate and former home to Portuguese nobility. This place is like something out of a fairy-tale with enchanting tropical gardens, hidden caves, tunnels and mysterious features such as the “Initiation Well”. I recommend giving yourself at least two hours to cover everything on the site. Explore the Palace building, filled with intricate designs and Venetian mosaic floors. Visit the Chapel containing many symbols of the Knights Templar, and my personal favorite, “The Initiation Well”, an eery 88ft deep well, originally used for ceremonial purposes.
Park and National Palace of Pena
Uphill from Quinta da Regaleira, towards the top of Sintra you’ll find the impressive 19th century Pena Palace, with multi-coloured turrets, dramatic architecture and exotic gardens. Expect this place to be busy as it is one of Portugal’s top tourist attractions. A mix of several architectural styles including Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance, it was built by King Ferdinand of Portugal as a very grand summer residence. As well as the opulent designs of the palace itself, the grounds are filled with lakes, ponds and exotic trees.
Castelo dos Mouros
Located high on the hills of the Serra da Sintra, the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) dates back to the days of the Moorish occupation of Sintra in the 8th century and used to safeguard Sintra before it was re-captured by the Portuguese in the 12th century. The ruins themselves are amazing to explore but part of the appeal of visiting Castelo dos Mouros is the expansive views over Sintra.
Palacio Nacional de Sintra
Situated right in the heart of Sintra town, the Palace is one of the best preserved in Portugal and is therefore hard to miss off your checklist of Sintra! Built in the 14th century, it features iconic twin chimneys, elegantly adorned frescoes and a chapel featuring Islamic mosaic floors.
As you walk from Pena Palace back down to Sintra town, you will come across the elegant 19th century Villa Sassetti. One of Sintra’s lesser-visited spots, it offers a welcome break from the crowds and you can enjoy wandering around its surrounding gardens in relative peace and quiet.
Extra bonus sites!
If you feel like venturing outside Sintra, there are a couple more sights not far from Sintra, which you will also visit on our Walking Sintra to Cascais tour…
In the heart of the Sintra forest and “Moon Hills” (so called because the ancient Celts worshipped their moon god here), Capuchos Convent otherwise known as the “Cork Convent” is a very atmospheric essential add on to any Sintra trip. Founded in 1560, it was home to ascetic monks who lived simple lives of meditation and reflection, who lived in tiny rooms lined with cork (hence the name Cork Convent). It has lain abandoned since the 1830’s but you can still almost feel the peace and tranquillity of this place as you wander around the ruins.
Between Sintra and Azoia, sits Monserrate Palace is another visually striking mansion and summer residence. It blends romantic, gothic and Arabic architecture and has wonderful exotic gardens featuring unique flora.