Including a day trip to Sintra, Portugal in your Portuguese adventures itinerary? It is one of the top things to do while visiting Portugal!
Before I started my Instagram account a few years back, I had never had Portugal on my radar. And by never – I literally mean never.
I knew it was this tiny long country next to Spain and that was pretty much it.
And then I saw a photo of Pena Palace.
And blue tiles on buildings in Porto.
So I dug deeper and very quickly put visiting Portugal at the top of my bucket list.
See? There are some positives to the otherwise questionable world of social media ;).
When you Google what to do in Lisbon, Portugal – every single article you find will mention Sintra. And most specifically the National Palace of Pena ;).
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An Epic Day Trip to Sintra
How to Get There
Our base for the first four nights of our 11 day trip to Portugal was Lisbon.
And quite honestly – I imagine most people make the day trip to Sintra from Lisbon so that is going to be where I will be guiding you from. You can read my travel guide for three days in Lisbon here too!
You do not have to buy train tickets before getting to the train station in Lisbon for fear of this train booking up. It is a local train and has multiple departures from the Lisbon-Rossio station throughout the day for you to choose from.
As this was our third full day of our vacation – our energy level was slowing down and sleep had become a priority.
We also had a major rain storm as the expected weather for our Sintra day trip day. And EVERYONE told us we will see absolutely nothing if it is raining in Sintra for our visit.
I am soooo glad that even though we woke up to it pouring down rain in Lisbon, we still decided to get on that Sintra train and head over anyway.
Because we had no rain for the whole day in Sintra! The downpour came after all the palaces and museums had closed and we were sitting down to dinner in Old Town Sintra.
So no matter what the forecast is for your day – go anyway! Seems the Iphone weather app is not all that accurate 🤪.
Plus on this supposed to be rainy day in April – we had very few people joining us in Sintra (no crowds is always a good thing to me!).
All this to say – we got on the 12:40pm train out of Lisbon-Rossio train station and arrived at Sintra train station at 1:10pm. You can see the timetable and buy tickets ahead of time if you want on their website here.
In April 2022, our round trip train ticket cost each of us less than 6 Euro.
This train is a local train (Urbano) that makes A LOT of stops but our phones kept us entertained and it went fast!
For our return to Lisbon, since we had purchased a round trip ticket in Lisbon earlier in the day – we could get on any train heading back to Lisbon later in the day.
We hopped on the 7:41pm train back to Lisbon and arrived at the Lisbon-Rossio train station at 8:20pm.
All the palaces and museums in Sintra close around 5-5:30pm in off season (which is what April still is). So we were only able to see two of the Sintra highlights but honestly we both felt that was plenty for us.
And since I had Pena Palace on my list for years – that was all I was really focusing on anyway!!
What to Do
Pena Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal.
Originally a monastery that was destroyed by lightning and an earthquake in the mid 1750’s, the palace as we see it now was finished in 1854.
The last queen of Portugal spent her last night before leaving the country in exile here.
I hadn’t done my research before heading to this Palace that I had been so excited to see for years. So basically I was extremely lucky that on this rainy Friday in mid-April very few others were planning to see it as well.
Tips for visiting this palace that is literally on every single what to do in Portugal list:
- Buy your timed ticket online ahead of time which obviously would have required us knowing what time we were planning to wake up on our 3rd full day in the country. This was my reason for not committing us to a set time for our arrival/entrance. But boy was I lucky that there were zero crowds because I would have been SERIOUSLY bummed if I got all the way to Sintra and it was sold out… all this to say – buy your timed tickets in advance here.
- DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT WALKING UP THE HILL TO PENA PALACE. My husband and I have a HUGE tendency to think we can walk everywhere when we travel. As in – hey let’s walk 40k steps a day for two weeks and see if our 50+ year old feet will be happy with us at the end. But thank God – we saw in a random blog post the night before in capital letters – DO NOT DO THIS. So basically I am just paying it forward to those of you that are kinda crazy like us… the walk would be a waste of precious time that should actually be spent on the incredibly beautiful palace grounds.
- That said – buy a round trip Sintra bus ticket to get you up and down that steep hill. You can also buy this bus pass with your train pass back in Lisbon which I would highly recommend. You will really only need to use Sintra line 434 to get to the palace and back to town but having that all day bus pass could be handy if you are in a rush.
- If you don’t buy the combined train/bus pass in Lisbon – you can pay cash on the bus with small bills/coins. You can also buy your bus pass at the Sintra bus station. Palace/bus ticket combos are also available but since you are buying your palace entrance ticket online in advance as I instructed you to do above – you likely will not need this combo!
- We used an Uber to get us from Old Town Sintra up the hill to Pena Palace. Uber is ridiculously cheap everywhere in Portugal so we figured easy peasy. NOT SO EASY TO GET BACK DOWN!! Once we left the palace grounds, we had no cell coverage and could not call an Uber!! And like I said – there were very few people visiting with us that day so it was a long time before someone else arrived in a taxi that we could take back down. All this to say – buying the bus ticket would have been much easier. But make sure you have some cash on hand if you taxi up and want to take the bus back down…
- Upon our arrival at the top of the hill – we walked right up to the ticket booth and got tickets to enter the palace thirty minutes from then.
- At first I was like what the heck are we going to do up here for 30 minutes but what I did not know was it was going to take us twenty minutes to walk the steep hill from the ticket booth to the entrance of the palace anyway.
- This gave us a good ten minutes to walk around the exterior of the palace and take photos before seeing the inside of the building ;).
Now on to the inspiring parts of our Pena Palace visit…
It was very windy and cold for our day in Sintra – so a sweater and raincoat was important. And to be honest – when I saw this young lady in her tiny skirt that day – all I could think was man oh man – she must be cold!!
I love walking through historic buildings that are still decorated for the period so once again Pena Palace was a hit with what I love to do when I travel to a new place.
There is a cafe at the end of the self guided tour that is the perfect place to grab a drink and snack. We had to get hot chocolate because we were pretty cold due to the storm that was rolling in pretty fast finally.
Funny story though – my husband was still working on this vacation and had a Zoom meeting at the exact time we finished touring the inside of the palace. So while he took his call at the cafe, I was able to take a bunch of photos on the patio ;).
Here is a cheesy photo of me seeing where I would want a photo once my husband was done with his call (but we never did take that photo together anyway!!).
Since we slept in that morning, we did not have a large amount of time in Sintra. Upon googling top things to do here – we knew this was the only other place in town we should and could see with our limited time left after the palace.
Once again – we were very lucky that no one was hanging out in Sintra on the day we chose to go so not buying a ticket in advance for this Sintra highlight was not a problem for us. We literally walked right up to the ticket booth again and got right in.
However- I would suggest buying your ticket online here.
You can enter at any time that works for you with this pre purchased ticket and you avoid any potential lines to buy an entrance ticket.
And FYI – the queue ropes that we saw at the ticket booth were pretty dang long so I imagine they are well prepared for super long lines to buy tickets…
Other than that – we did not spend more than an hour on the grounds of this property but did not actually see the entirety of it (this was again based on the timing of our arrival).
We both felt like we saw the coolest parts of it though and our attention spans might not have allowed for too much longer anyway 🤪.
The highlight of your self-guided tour on this property is going to be the 88 foot deep Initiation Well.
The descent into the Initiation Well is how we entered the underground labyrinth that is also part of the draw to this top Sintra attraction. There is a grotto and waterfall at the bottom as well.
All of the structures at Quinta de Regaleira are filled with many symbols that are linked to masonry, alchemy, the Knights Templar and Tarot mysticism at the request of the original owner/builder who was a Freemason.
The Initiation Well has a striking spiral staircase supported by carved columns, that lead down to the bottom of the well through its nine landings. It is believed that the spacing of these landings, as well as the number of steps in between, are linked to Tarot mysticism and Masonic principles.
At the bottom of the Initiation Well is a compass over a Knights Templar cross, which is said to have been the coat of arms of Carvalho Monteiro, pointing to his association with Rosicrucianism.
The mansion itself does not allow for very many rooms to be toured and is not set up with period furniture the same way Pena Palace is.
The majority of your time on these grounds will be spent outside wandering the gardens and tunnels.
Other Places to Visit in Sintra
While we only spent our time at the above two sights and then headed in to Old Town to eat, I know there are quite a few other attractions worth looking in to if you have more time than we did:
Where to Eat
We did a little bit of wandering in Old Town Sintra to try to find a place to eat that appealed to us visually and menu wise ;).
Then after some googling for best places to eat in town – we ended up at the restaurant below and were very pleased with the service and our food. And the fact that they were open before 7pm (which is the normal dinner opening time for almost all the restaurants in Portugal) was a huge plus for us at 5:45pm!!
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
I hope you found this post helpful to you to plan an epic day trip to Sintra, Portugal. It honestly was a huge highlight of my trip for me!
This destination offers a slower pace than city life in Lisbon, beautiful scenery, and of course some major history lessons for life in Portugal 100’s of years ago.
While we had an amazing day trip to Sintra, Portugal – I am not sure if spending an overnight here would be worth it. Unless you need some down time in nature and plan to get some hiking in in their parks (which actually would be 100% worth it for that!).
The Old Town is extremely small and can be walked in less than 20 minutes so a day trip here – even if you arrive after 1pm like we did – is ideal.
If you are looking for more details about our Portugal adventures – be sure to read my posts on Lisbon and Porto as well!
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).