The Perfect Day Trip from Lisbon
At the beginning of 2018, I went to Portugal with a group of friends and Max, my husband. The trip included some time in Lisbon, Porto, and a day trip to Sintra. I knew from reading other blogs and watching videos before we left that Sintra was a magical looking place. I had no idea how epic this day trip would turn out to be.
Since that trip in January, Max and I spent a month living in Lisbon and Sintra and had the chance to experience even more of what this amazing town has to offer.
If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, I can’t recommend heading to Sintra for the Day enough. Here is my Sintra Guide.
Train from Lisbon to Sintra
We took the train to Sintra from Rossio train station in downtown Lisbon. The fare to get out to Sintra was only a couple of euros and we were able to use our metro cards for the trip. Easy and a bargain! The trip takes about 45 minutes by train and takes you through a lot of the sleeper communities and suburban areas of Lisbon. The train ride is super relaxing and there are expansive apartment complexes and cool little communities to see along the way. Leave early and bring breakfast to eat on the train in order to maximize your day.
The second last stop on the train to Sintra is called "Portela de Sintra". This is NOT your stop if you are going to the major sites and the town centre, though it is walking distance. When we lived in Sintra last year this was our metro stop. I can’t tell you how many times we saw people exit and look confused when they were standing in a residential area. Wait until your train gets to the end of the line, to Sintra train station. This will take you directly to the town’s centre, where you can start the next leg of your journey.
To find out more information about train service to Sintra, click here.
Getting Around in Sintra
Once you arrive you will be accosted by tour companies and people trying to sell you on day trip packages. If this is your cup of tea, then, by all means, hear them out and book a guided tour for the day. There are some building, shops, and restos here by the train station, but the town proper is about a 5-10 minute walk from the train station along a very scenic roadway. You will see the town in the distance as you walk along this winding tree-lined street. (Keep this walk in mind when you are planning your trip home and looking at train times).
I recommend grabbing an Uber on your phone and asking them to take you directly to the site you want to visit. When we went to sites with friends we split an Uber to 2 different sites and then back to town. The prices were reasonable and it was by far the fastest way to move around. When you get where you are going, no need to worry about parking etc. Just hop out and you’re on your way.
If you’re more adventurous, you can rent a scooter. We would highly recommend Magik Green Scooter. We did this for a day when we lived in Sintra and it was so fun! Pick up and drop off was easy and the price was fantastic. We would highly recommend this if you’re a couple or solo traveller looking for the freedom to explore. Driving the hills and roads of Sintra is quite the experience on a little scooter. Unforgettable to say the least.
Cabo de Roca
I read some reviews of Cabo de Roca on TripAdvisor before we went. There were a number of reviews from some clearly overstimulated individuals. They complained that it was “boring” and there was “nothing to do” at this tourist destination.
Right. Nothing to do except behold the Westernmost point of continental Europe, stare down the rugged coastline at the immense cliffs, look at out the seemingly endless ocean and think of what the first explorers to set sail from this landmass must have thought.
Ya, super boring.
This site is absolutely stunning. Do you need to spend hours and hours there? Probably not. Is there a huge amusement-park-like museum waiting to entertain you and your kids? No.
It’s called 'nature'. Just be in it. Take a moment and reflect. Look at the beauty and then be on your way.
We spend about 30-40 minutes at Cabo de Roca. We walked around, gazed at the ocean. Watched tourists pass the large "do not cross" line and walk on onto the loose rocks of the cliff (no thanks). It was beautiful and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Since this is the farthest site from Sintra, I would recommend starting here and then working your way back. Again, buses and other transit are infrequent and time-consuming. Just grab an Uber and then you can come and go as you please.
Castelo dos Mouros
The Castelo dos Mouros or The Castle of the Moors is a truly incredible site. This ancient castle dates back to the 8th and 9th centuries when it was constructed.
Get your Uber to take you right to the main entrance. From there you can pay and grab a map and head in. There is about a 5-minute walk to the actual entrance of the castle along a wooded path. I think we stopped to take 50 photos before we were even the castle. Everything in Sintra feels so lush and green and forested after being in downtown Lisbon for a number of days.
Walking the walls of this castle was one of the highlights of our first trip to Portugal. Look east and you’ll see Lisbon and it’s famous April the 4th bridge in the very distance. Look east and you can see the ocean from atop the walls of this UNESCO heritage site.
We spent a good 1-2 hours walking along the walls of the castle and taking approximate 1,000,000 selfies and photos of Sintra below and the Pena Palace, which you can see across the hills from this height.
A must-see in my opinion as it is very unique from the other sites in Sintra.
Quinta da Regaleira
I’ll say this right up front so I am being totally open, this was my absolute favourite of all of the palaces, gardens, and attractions we visited in Sintra. I absolutely fell in love with it and would go back again and again if I could.
How to describe this place? It’s part gardens, part caves, it has a deep well with a winding staircase around it that is like something straight out of a movie. The whole experience feels like you are on the set of a Lord of the Rings movie. It’s a real-life Hobbiton/Rivendale love child and it’s fantastic (Where my LOTR fans at?).
The expansive grounds take a while to navigate and there is so much to see. We spent a good 3 hours here and were not at all bored or ready to leave. The only thing that drove us outside the garden walls was our empty package of rice cakes and a realization that we had barely eaten all day.
This one takes the cake and I don’t think a day in Sintra would be complete without seeing it.
This multicoloured, fairy tale palace is an amazing experience. The exterior includes turrets and walls you can walk along, expansive courtyards and more. The ground also included massive gardens which we skipped on as we were completely exhausted by the time we left.
The walls of the palace offer amazing views of the ocean, the town below, and of the Portuguese country side. The interior features gorgeous rooms that have been furnished and maintained allowing visitors of today to see its former glory.
The palace interior is the most intricate building I have ever seen. The garden walls, ceilings, and archways are incredible. This site was also much less busy then Pena Palace and we left like we had some room to breathe.
Casa Piriquita for Sintra's Signature Pastries
End your amazing day in Sintra with some traditional pastries from this spectacular town. Casa Piriquita is home of the Travesseiros. Lisbon may have the pastel de nana as it’s piece de resistance, but Sintra has its own tasty treat, that is uniquely Sintra.
Trasservieros are flaky long pasties covered in sugar with a gooey centre. I don’t know how to describe them other than to compare them to a strudel. Light and flaky and perfect. Grab some of these to go on your way out of town, they have been making these since 1862, so they know what they're doing! We bought some and walked back along the winding road to the train station.
To visit their site, click here.
How to Fit It All In
In reality, you will only have time to comfortable see two to three of the sites I have mentioned. Weigh the options and pick a couple that you want to see more than the others. One our first trip for examples, we say the Moorish castle and the Quinta de Reglaria. That was plenty for one day and gave us time to explore downtown Sintra, get pastries, and have a meal.
One another day trip we rented a scooter and did Cabo de Roca, Cais Cais and Pena Palace. There was no time for Montseratte palace that day and we had to do it another time. If you’re after more of the fairytale castle, opt for Pena Palace. It is also more to see indoors, so you can play it by ear weather wise. If you want more nature, magical bridges, gardens, caves, then head to Quinta de Regelaria.
Have you been to Sintra? Share your experience with me! I would love to hear where you went and what you thought of the sites.