It took me a long time to finally visit Sintra. Not sure why. Every time I spoke with a Portuguese person, they’d reply in shock when they learned how many times I had been to Lisbon without visiting Sintra. When I finally relocated here, I decided that I must go. Should you go to Sintra? Yup. This UNESCO world heritage site is gorgeous, but you need to be smart about it. Today, I’m going to share my tips on how to visit Sintra so that you can learn to deal with the crowds, risparmiare, and not get robbed.
Why You Should Visit Sintra
First, let’s discuss why you will love Sintra. It’s gorgeous. Seriously. During Portugal’s heyday, Portugal’s elite – its royalty and its rich and famous – made Sintra their getaway. Imagine a beautiful combination of nature and architecture. Sintra is a small town surrounded by lush mountains that are dotted with some incredible “homes” that are more aptly called palaces. This is Sintra.
The castles that make the hills of Sintra home are done in the 19th-century Romantic style of architecture. They are all different and recall other architectural styles. My favorite is Monserrate, but you’ll have to decide which one you love best.
It all started when King Ferdinand II converted a dilapidated monastery into a castle that incorporated Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance elements. Poi, he took the surrounding area and created a lush, exotic garden. Others followed suit. Now, we get to enjoy their residences and make believe we too are royalty for at least a few minutes of our day.
It’s so close to Lisbon
Sintra is merely 15 minutes from Lisbon by car, e 30-45 minutes by train. Sintra is considered part of the Portuguese Riviera (which also includes Cascais and Estoril) and sits right in the middle of the Sintra-Cascais natural park.
Driving to Sintra is not bad. Portugal’s highways are pretty new and easy to navigate. The tolls aren’t too pricey either.
What You Need to Know Before You Visit Sintra
Detto, driving in Sintra is a nightmare. It’s not just that it is one of the most popular places in Portugal and that it is overrun by tourists. It is not that there are taxis, tuk-tuks, buses, and Portuguese drivers (who I am sorry to say – are way too aggressive, don’t like to use turn signals, and love to cut you off with barely any safety space). This is the least of your worries. If you can manage to handle all this while driving stick (automatic car rentals are rare and expensive), you’ll have to deal with the roads on the hills.
The roads on Sintra’s hills are narrow…no, they are barely enough for one car to drive on…yet they are two ways and you are expected to drive alongside tourists buses. The roads on Sintra’s hills are hilly…no – seriously – they’re so steep my heart rate is rising as I write this. I do not recommend driving to the castles in Sintra unless you are an experienced stick driver on Portuguese roads.
There is one more hazard you will face when you visit Sintra. Many of the palaces do not have private parking lots. This means you will be make-shift parking lots that have no attendants. The chances that your car will be broken into are quite high. The police in Sintra are nice, but there’s really not much they can do.
DON’T DRIVE – Take the Train from Lisbon To Sintra
Lisbon to Sintra Train
Il mio consiglio, don’t drive to Sintra. Take the train. It’s easy, cheap, convenient and will save you tons of hassle. Here’s how to take the train from Lisbon to Sintra and what to do when you get there to check out the palaces:
The train from Lisbon to Sintra departs from multiple stations. I find the easiest one to take is from Rossio/Restauradores. This train is direct with no transfers. If you are in the quartiere di New Avenues, you can hop on at the Sete Rios station but you have to check the schedules. The trains that go to Sintra are part of the Comboios de Portugal network. You can also take the train from Oriente, but I find Rossio much simpler.
When you arrive at the station you must buy a train card & ticket. If you already have a metro card, you can use this for your trip.
PRO TIP: If you head to Sintra on a weekend, make sure to eat before you wait. This train line is not like that of France of Italy. Think of this more as the metro north from NYC to Long Island. It’s fine, but there is no bar car and the vending machines where you wait for the train have really crappy choices.
I recommend that you arrive early and take a seat. If you wait until the last minute you may have to stand during your trip, not a big deal, but it is a 45-minute train ride, so you should be comfy while you wait to get to Sintra.
Cost of To Visit Sintra from Lisbon by Train
It’s cheap. Seriously. One way to Sintra costs €2.20 for adults and €1.10 for kids. Round trip costs double.
Il Via Viagem card (which is your train card) will cost you €.050. These cards cannot be shared by users, so you will need one for each passenger. You must swipe yourself in and out at each train station.
The train station at Sintra does not accept American credit cards, so make sure you have cash on you.
The Train Ride from Lisbon to Sintra
Take the train in Lisbon from Rossio to Sintra non-stop. The train ride is pleasant, but not amazing. There’s no gorgeous view as there is when you go from Genoa to Marseille. Your view will be of suburbs and graffiti. It’s fine.
When you get closer, you’re getting off at the last stop – there are two Sintra stops, so make sure you get out at the second one.
Once You Arrive in Sintra
Be patient as everyone tries to get out of the station. Swipe your card to get out. The town is cute, so walk around if you want to discover.
If you want to get to the Palaces early, you have a few options:
- Taxis: You know I hate taxis in Portugal. They will cheat you of money – which is not a big deal because they will cheat you of a couple of bucks, but this just bothers me in principle. Skip these guys.
- Tuk-Tuk: Overpriced and IMHO dangerous, Io non sono un fan, but the drivers are at least entertaining.
- Uber: Technically not legal in Portugal, but still going. If you are going to take an Uber, walk down the hill from the train station to the next street over and grab your Uber there. ***This is my choice.
- Bus: Il 434 Bus is a good option. It costs €5, and the ticket is good all day. Detto, the lines are long and the train usually runs one per hour. It stops at the train station, Castelo dos Mouros, Palácio da Pena and Sintra’s downtown.
- Walking: I don’t recommend it. I love walking and I love hills…and I still don’t recommend it. It’s fine if you’re walking to the city, but definitely, find a different way to get to the palaces.
Things to See in the Town of Sintra
The town is super cute. Check out all the tiny houses, beautiful gorge, the main palace and all the art that resides in the city. There are a few things I highly recommend you do:
- Get Sweets at Casa Piriquita: Casa Piriquita is a pastry shop that has been in Sintra for over 150 years. There is usually a line, but it is worth the wait. When you walk in, make sure to take a ticket for the counter. Things to try there are the travesseiro, e queijadas. RUA PADARIAS, 1.
- Check out the National Palace of Sintra: I’m not including this one with the rest of the palaces because this one is right in town, so it is super easy to visit.
The Palaces of Sintra
The Moorish Castle
More Tips for Visiting Sintra
Wear Comfortable Shoes: You will be doing plenty of walking and most of the terrain in Sintra is uneven. You want comfortable, non-slip shoes that offer ankle support.
The Best View: The best view is found at the Moorish castle.
Food in Sintra: Either eat before hitting the palaces OR bring a snack with you. Not all the palaces have a spot to grab a meal and you will need to replenish calories.
Summer Visits are the Pits: It’s hot, it’s crowded, and it’s not a pleasant experience…so if you can, try to visit Sintra during another season.
Wear Sunscreen: This is a tip no matter where you go and all year round. I’m a HUGE fan of Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence, it’s simply wonderful. I can put it on with no moisturizer and put coverup right over it and go. Best investment you can make for your face.
Bring Cash & Get a Sintra Discount Ticket: And lots of it. Sintra and its Palaces are not cheap. The prices at the palaces vary depending on the season, your age, and whether you are a Portuguese resident or not. For example, Pena palace costs €14 per person. These prices add up. Budget ahead by checking prices on the Sintra Park Site. If you pre-purchase your tickets online, you also get a 5% discount on some of the palaces.