Sintra is a fairy tale town home to colorful palaces, lush forests, and a charming old town. Located only about 20 miles from Lisbon, the town is a very popular day trip destination for travelers. When visiting Sintra, you could either find yourself swept up in its enchanting landscape, or frustrated with its multitude of tourists.
Here are five tips for making the most of your day trip to Sintra, Portugal.
Above: An old duck house in the forest around Sintra’s Pena Palace
1. Get there early (and ditch the car)
When and how you get to Sintra are very important factors in planning your day trip. The town fills up quite quickly as the day progresses — that means longer lines, crowded buses, and more waiting. To enjoy more of your time, get there as early as you can.
Also important, take the train. Sintra is a small town with narrow streets and very limited parking, and you do not want to deal with a car up there for one day. (However, if you are spending several days in Sintra and are staying in a hotel with parking, that is a different story.) To get to Sintra from Lisbon, hop on the train from the Rossio train station. The train departs every 30 minutes or so and takes about 45 minutes to get to Sintra. Once in Sintra, there are tourist buses running in a constant loop through town, so it’s easy to get around.
Above: Pena Palace in Sintra
2. Hit Pena Palace first
The most famous destination in Sintra is the Pena Palace. This multicolored castle was built in the 1800s and sits high atop a hill, overlooking the towns below. Portugal’s famed tiles decorate the interior and ornate rooms offer a glimpse of royal life of the past. The palace isn’t particularly large, so it doesn’t take a long time to get through, but it does get crowded with people.
Plus, as Sintra’s most well-known attraction, Pena Palace fills up extra quickly. So when you get up to town, head to the Pena Palace first. Grab a map from a tourist desk when you arrive at the train station and line up for the tourist bus (you’ll pay as you board). You can get your ticket for the palace once you arrive, then make your way up to the fairy tale palace.
Above: Another old duck house in the forest around Sintra’s Pena Palace
3. Know what you’re looking for in the forest
Another advantage of visiting Pena Palace first is having a bit of time to explore the forest. However, the wooded area around the castle is quite large, and you could spend hours wandering this enchanted forest. As you’ll likely have limited time, first check your map and pick out what you’ll want to see. Most people make their way down toward the lakes, which are a lovely sight. Thankfully, there are plenty of signs in the forest to point you in the right direction, just make sure to have a plan of where you want to go. Afterward, you’ll be free to hop back on the bus and explore the other sites.
Above: Enjoying a glass of Portuguese wine at Cantinho do Lord Byron in Sintra’s old town.
4. Leave time to meander old town
People often spend their whole day in Sintra sightseeing and don’t have much of an opportunity to explore the old town. While it’s great soaking in the history of the castles and wandering the forest, make sure to leave some time to roam around the old town. It’s a lovely area of town full of nice shops, quaint bars, and eateries. Leave yourself some time in the afternoon to meander the cobblestone roads and see what you find.
Above: Old town Sintra
5. Pack your patience (and a snack!)
As one of the most famous places in Portugal, Sintra gets very crowded. If you’re there in the summer, it will be quite hot as well. You will wait in long lines, squish onto crowded buses, and do a lot of walking uphill. It’s a beautiful destination and worth all the trouble, so just remember to be patient with the crowds. And it never hurts to bring along a snack to keep you going! The day will be much better for everyone with a bit of kindness.
To see our full post on Lisbon, click here. Cheers!