If you ask me to think of the most instagrammable travel locations I´ve ever visited, while not focusing on the natural wonders, I´ll immediately point to Sintra in Portugal. Just one day in this photogenic location will make you fall in love with Sintra forever. Hopefully, my photos and tips will help you to make the most of your visit, while enjoying every minute of this very best day trip from Lisbon.
Where is Sintra?
I´ve been honestly eyeing Sintra for ages. In fact, I finally made it to Lisbon because I´ve seen someone’s pictures of Sintra on Instagram (for the hundredth time, I guess). It seriously felt like it was now or never.
Sintra is a charming little town located only 30 km from Lisbon. But it´s a popular stop on every traveler´s agenda while visiting Portugal. Most people visit Sintra as a day trip from Lisbon, but there are actually enough historical sites for a few days.
History of Sintra
The first notes about the Sintra castles can be found in the works of the Arab geographer Al-Bakri (XI century). The Sintra Palace was a residence of the Moorish rulers till the Reconquista in 1147, when the Christians took over the control of the city. After this Sintra was a safe haven for the Portuguese aristocracy for centuries. Nowadays, it´s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as an ultimate touristic destination in the region.
It is unbelievable, how Sintra´s palaces and gardens still combine both Arab and Christian decoration styles. You walk through the halls of the Palace of Pena and you feel you´re in a mystical castle somewhere in the Middle East. At the same time, there are statues, icons, furniture, and paintings around you, which clearly belonged to the European aristocracy. Therefore, Sintra is like nothing else I´ve seen before.
Let´s check all the details and fall in love with Sintra together.
Hot to get to Sintra from Lisbon
You can visit Sintra by car (1h) or take a train from Lisbon´s Rossio Station (40 min). We didn´t want to have issues with the parking, so we opted for the train. Although our visit to Sintra happened in October, it was still very touristy. If you choose a car – go as early as you can.
Transport in Sintra
All the major sights in Sintra are quite spread out. Therefore, there´s public transportation(buses) in Sintra to transfer people in between its castles. Besides, you have other alternatives as Uber and Tuc tuc.
Now I will completely scare you off by saying – we walked almost everywhere (in the beginning). However, that walk from the Palace of Sintra to the Palace of Pena was more of a match for a hiking trip in Iceland or New Zealand, rather than sightseeing in Portugal.
In my defense, I could say that while there were numerous buses taking tourists up to each castle, there was also quite a waiting line for all of them. There´s nothing I like less than waiting in crowded places. We initially tried to walk and once we realized we were running out of time took Uber.
Nevertheless, you should really evaluate your level of physical preparation before you skip the buses. I´ve checked the distances but underestimated the elevations.
Plus, you´ll not be able to see all of it in one day in case you opt for a walk.
Why will you fall in love with Sintra?
Sintra lies at the edge of different civilizations and cultural influences. Magical castles, unique art pieces, stunning decorations, beautiful Portuguese mosaics -the diversity of shapes and colors in Sintra makes this place a must-stop on every traveler´s European Bucket list.
What to see in Sintra?
Sintra has several top sights to visit: the Palace of Pena, the Sintra Palace, the Monserrate Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and the Moorish Castle. While a Sintra day trip is a must-do for everyone heading to Lisbon, you should really consider leaving a few days for your visit. Especially, if you´re an art lover, want to see it all and also really savor the details and unique decorations. I feel like I would have enjoyed it much more at a slower pace.
1.Palace of Pena
The Palace of Pena is Sintra´s visiting card and also its most popular palace. Instagram people head here first or even narrow down their Sintra visit to this place. We actually visited it after the Sintra Palace, so it was already quite crowded. But waiting (40 min) to get inside was still worth it for me. I wish I could have unlimited web space to share all of the pretty details and decorations with you. The Palace of Pena is like a little splash of colors to brighten up your day.
Our morning in Sintra started at the Sintra Palace. This palace is the closest one to the train station. We were there around 9.30 a.m. So we had enough time to explore everything without huge crowds, which was one of the best parts of it.
Afterwards, we headed all the way up towards the Palace of Pena. And I should say – it was quite a walk. I think the hiking trail connecting the Palace of Sintra with the Palace of Pena is called Ruta de Santa Maria (more or less 2 km). If you decide to walk – it´s the best way, cause walking along the road, where buses and cars drive, is super uncomfortable. Keep in mind that you will walk upwards. So you might want to head to the Pena Palace first to move downwards to the Sintra Palace.
On the plus side, the trail itself was beautiful, full of trees and plants. I´d never expect so much greenery from this area. Besides, people mostly go by bus and it was such a serene moment of peace after all the hype around Sintra´s castles.
P.S If you noticed an outfit change – yes, I´ve switched for the dress after the Sintra Palace. At this point, I still thought we´d have time to see it all and take some nice pictures, but after The Pena Palace, I really couldn´t care less for my Instagram, as I realized we were running out of time.
3. The Moorish Castle
We did not visit the Moorish Castle, only walked by on our way to the Palace of Pena. I knew it would be more about the views, so we skipped it in order to visit the Montserrate Palace and Quinta da Regaileira. We also took an Uber from here on.
I love walking, but time was literally flying and I´ve started to feel a bit desperate. We only had one day to see it all. We also bought two sandwiches and skipped that nice lunch in Sintra we had planned initially. You can´t have it all.
I mean, it was an ambitious plan, but not the first one in my travel history. Besides, I had no idea when we would have another chance to visit Sintra in case we miss out too much.
4.Quinta da Regaileira
This beautiful corner of Sintra is famous for its mystical-old-ruins look, gothic style, and lush gardens. The top sight of Quinta da Regaileira is its Initiatic Well. It often gets pretty crowded, but the whole area is quite spread out. You could easily spend hours wandering around. Seriously, how not to fall in love with Sintra?
The tickets come with a map and you can´t buy them in advance (unlike the tickets for other palaces).
5. Montserrate Palace
You can´t miss this extremely pretty summer villa of the Portuguese court because of its absolutely stunning cultural blend of architectural styles. Montserrate Palace is often the last spot on the list of Sintra´s visitors, so I guess many people just run out of time and never get to this hidden gem.
You remember my Mexico post where I got a gorgeous Chichen Itza photo without a soul around. Everyone was asking me how did I manage to get it – between us, the two guards we already heading my way that day ( as it was 2 minutes before the sight´s closure).
With the Montserrate Palace, it was a bit of a similar story, like I got inside the last wagon of the train while it was already leaving. That´s the price you have to pay if you want to see Sintra in one day. We were the last people to leave this place.
Montserrate Palace was once a chapel, but it was ruined after the earthquake. The property was later bought by Thomas Cook and completely redesigned. But despite all the rush, the pastel hues and delicate ornaments have completely stolen my heart. Visiting Montserrate Palace will make it impossible for you not to fall in love with Sintra. This place will be one of your Sintra highlights!
To sum up
Visiting Sintra in one day is possible, but might be not the easiest travel task. I guess, in the summer months it´s entirely unworkable. We visited in October, but our initial plans were still slowed down by the crowds.
Sintra is a popular travel destination, you can´t expect to have it all for yourself. Yet, it is absolutely worth visiting!
Want more Portugal travel tips, stories, and secret places? – Check my Portugal Travel board on Pinterest.