Royalty, wilderness and whimsy come together in the enchanting Portuguese city of Sintra. A short train ride from Lisbon, the city is bursting with 19th-century Romantic architecture. Often visited by day trippers, I think it’s worth spending two or even three days exploring the area, if time allows. To help plan your trip we put together a family-friendly Sintra travel guide. Between the opulent palaces, castles and breathtaking landscape of the Serra da Sintra National Park, you may just find yourself not wanting to leave!
If you’ve been exploring Lisbon before your trip, a great feature of the Lisboa Card is that it includes the train to Sintra. That’s a nice extra savings for families.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating during our visit. We were advised against visiting the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) as it would be too sloppy, especially with the kids. K was rather disappointed about missing it, but that just gives us another excuse to return!
Sintra Travel: A Family Guide to Sintra Castles and Palaces:
First, we visited the National Palace (Palácio Nacional de Sintra) to admire the incredible Hispanic-Moorish tiles. We particularly enjoyed the Swan Room, aptly named for the Renaissance style painted ceiling. Another beautiful ceiling can be found in the Palatine Chapel. This fifteenth century carved wooden ceiling, with lacework, is one of the oldest in Portugal! The gardens, while small, were pretty but we just took a quick look around before exiting and used the time to explore the historic center.
The Palace is lovely but if you only have one day, I would suggest skipping it and adding in the Moorish Castle. We had initially planned to see three palaces as well as the Moorish Castle during our daytrip, but there isn’t enough time in one day for four visits, lunch and town exploration.
If I had to do it again:
- Historic Center
- Quinta da Regaleira
- Moorish Castle
- Pena Palace
The coolest Palace we saw was Quinta da Regaleira. It’s like I always imagined the landscape surrounding Indonesian temples would look like. Lucy thinks, from the outside, it looked like a haunted mansion and it kind of does! Disney could easily use this look for inspiration on another Haunted Mansion ride. The inside is gorgeous and full of light, even on an overcast day.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds alone and could have easily spent longer if we weren’t trying to keep to a schedule. The kids enjoyed walking down the spiral staircase into the Initiatic Well, then out through the underground walkways. We needed the flashlights on our phones for some of them which made it even more exciting for the kids! Once we finally pulled them from the gardens, we took some time to explore the gothic mansion itself. The Kings Room and Hunting Room were gorgeous, and you can get great views over of the grounds from the terrace. We didn’t spend much time inside the mansion as the upper floors were closed.
We could have easily spent a half-day exploring Quinta da Regaleira Sintra had we toured the entire grounds and had more of the mansion been open.
Our final stop of the day was at the Pena Palace (Palácio da Pena). The colors and tile work are stunning! I wish we could have seen the Palace bathed in sunlight. Instead we experienced it cloaked in the clouds which was still eerily beautiful. This is another Palace we could have spent half the day. We didn’t get a chance to see much of the gardens, as the rain was coming down pretty heavily during our visit.
The vivid colors and conglomeration of different influences and styles makes it stand out as one of the most photogenic palaces in Sintra. I can only imagine the views across the grounds and town of Sintra on a sunny day. Inside was lovely too but there was a lot of shuffling through as the rooms are fairly small. The palace looks like it just popped out from a storybook and should be on your list to visit, despite the crowds.
Save money by purchasing combo tickets. We saved money by purchasing Pena Palace and National Palace tickets together. Quinta da Regaleira wasn’t part of the combo deal, but we were able to purchase tickets at the same time to avoid queues later. The Lisboa Card also offered a very small discount. You could also save time (and get a 5% discount) by purchasing tickets online in advance.
Kids under 5 are free and youth ages 6-17 receive a small discount. There is also a discount for seniors.
Since we only had one day in Sintra, we have a huge list for a return visit!
Where to eat in Sintra? Our pick for the best Sintra restaurant:
Looking for a tasty Sintra restaurant? Bacalhau na Vila came highly recommend and we weren’t disappointed. The food and service were great plus the price was reasonable despite being located on the touristy streets. I hope you like cod if dining here. Cod soup, cod cakes, cod ceviche, mixed octopus and codfish slices, codfish burger…. There are a few vegetarian options for those not in the mood for cod, as well.
How to get from Lisbon to Sintra:
Take the train, Sintra Line, directly from Lisbon’s Rossio station to Sintra. This approximate 45 minute train ride isn’t exactly scenic, but it does provide a look at the outskirts of the city. Trains run every 30 minutes, but ticket machine lines can get long during peak times.
The cost for a single journey is 2.20€ adult and 1.10€ child. There isn’t a return fare discount, so you’ll pay 4.40€ per adult roundtrip. You’ll need the Viva Viagem card which costs 0.50€ as well. If you have the Lisboa Card, the train ride is free and also avoids the ticket machine queue.
I wouldn’t recommend driving to Sintra. We noticed very limited parking and our research shows the hilly roads into the town aren’t suitable for heavy tourist traffic, particularly in the summer.
How to get around Sintra:
Outside of the train station you can pick up the 434 bus which makes a loop between the historic center (where you’ll find the National Palace) to the Moorish Castle then to Pena Palace before making the final stop outside of the train station. The cost is 5€ to make the loop and tickets can be purchased on the bus. Keep your receipt to show the driver each time you board!
We did find long queues to catch the bus even in the Spring, but the hills were a bit too steep for us to attempt walking up to Pena Palace. We took the bus from the train station to the historic center to visit the National Palace then walked from there to Quinta da Regaleira (about 15 minutes). Bus 434 doesn’t go directly to Quinta da Regaleira. If you didn’t want to walk, you’d need a tuk tuk or to purchase a bus 435 ticket. It’s a relatively easy and pretty walk, so this is our recommendation.
After visiting Quinta da Regaleira, we walked down the hill and were able to catch bus 434 to Pena Palace. It passes the Moorish Castle but we didn’t visit due to weather. After our visit, we jumped back on the 434 bus toward the train station. At this point the driver punched our tickets signaling we were completing the loop.
If you only want to visit the historic center and the Quinta da Regaleira, you could just walk and save on bus fare.
Be prepared to be bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers and tour operators at the train station. It can be a bit disorienting upon arrival, so have a map handy.
If possible, leave the stroller (pram) and use a sling for young children. Teens will love visiting and getting plenty of Instagram and SnapChat worthy photos. Sintra has a wonderful balance of nature and grandeur to please the entire family.
No visit to Lisbon is complete with out a day or more of Sintra travel. While you could take a daytrip, I wish we would have been able to spend two or three days touring the region. The magnificent palaces, mansions and castles offer visitors a rare look into the splendor of 19th century romantic architecture.
Don’t miss 10 things to know before visiting Lisbon to learn more tips before visiting Portugal’s capital city.