Castles in Sintra: Fairytale Palaces, Gardens and Historical Sites

There are some magical castles in Sintra to visit.  Over the years, the hills of Sintra have seen Portuguese royalty, Moorish princes and eccentric millionaires all leave their mark, creating the beautiful castles and palaces in Sintra.  There is so much to see here you can’t possibly see everything in a day trip to Sintra, so I’ve summarised what you need to know about the castles of Sintra to help you decide what to see!

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Castles in Sintra: Know Before You Go

Before travelling to Sintra, make sure you book accommodation and popular attractions ASAP as hotels and tickets can sell out.

🛌 MY FAVOURITE ACCOMMODATION IN SINTRA:

$$$  Villa das Rosas: a swimming pool, and breakfast included

$$ Sintra1012 Boutique Guesthouse: a small bed and breakfast in the centre of Sintra

$ The Five House: great value guest house with dorms and private rooms

⭐ TOP SINTRA ENTRY TICKETS TO BUY IN ADVANCE:

1. Pena Palace and Park Entrance Ticket

2. Castle of the Moors Fast Track Ticket

3. Quinta da Regaleira Skip-the-Line Entry Ticket

4. National Palace of Sintra and Gardens Fast Track Ticket

How Long to Spend in Sintra

Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon, but if you only take a day tour to Sintra, you won’t see everything.  I suggest spending at least one night (or two) in Sintra, so you have plenty of time to explore.  One day just wasn’t enough for me, and I was glad I had an extra day.  

Day Tours to Sintra from Lisbon

If you only have enough time for a day trip there are lots of options for taking a day tour to Sintra from Lisbon.  Decide which parts of Sintra you want to visit and choose an itinerary to best suit you.  A lot of tours also include a trip to Cabo da Roca and Cascais, but this means less time in Sintra so choose your tour carefully. 

These are some of my favourites:

 

 

 

Buy Your Tickets Online

If you go to Sintra without a tour, buying your ticket online for any of the castles in Sintra means you get to skip the queue to buy tickets at the gate.  It guarantees you entry at a specific time, so make sure you plan your trip to give you enough time to get to the entrance on time.  You can buy tickets for Pena Palace here, or any of the other castles on the official website here.

 

 

There may still be a queue to actually get inside the palaces once you have bought your tickets, but if you go early enough (aim to be there before the gates open) you can be one of the first through the door and enjoy a relatively crowd-free visit! 

If you plan to visit several of the castles in Sintra, a combined ticket could be a good option for you, but it is only available from the ticket office, not online.  Combined tickets offer a 5% discount for 2 sites, 6% discount for 3 sites, up to 10% discount for 6 sites.  The combined tickets are valid for 30 days, so if you plan to spend a long time in Lisbon or Sintra they can save you some cash.

Which Sintra Castles to Visit

All of the castles and palaces in Sintra are part of what is known as the “cultural landscape of Sintra” a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.  In this post I’ve included a summary of each of the castles in Sintra so you can choose your favourites to visit, depending on the amount of time you have to spend here. 

I chose to visit three of the palaces and castles in Sintra; Pena Place, the Moorish Castle and La Quinta de Regaleira.  I didn’t have time to visit everywhere I wanted, but I was pleased with my choice. 

Pena Palace is the most famous palace in Sintra, thanks to the colourful yellow and red towers, whereas La Quinta de Regaleira has become much more popular due to Instagram viral photos of the Well of Initiation.  The Moorish Castle was my surprise of the trip though; I nearly didn’t visit as I was exhausted.  However, I popped in after a full day at Pena Palace and was rewarded with a stunning sunset.

Palaces and Castles in Sintra

Pena Palace and Park

Pena Palace - The Most Colourful Castle in Sintra
Pena Palace – The Most Colourful Castle in Sintra

Pena Palace is the most famous castle in Sintra, and the one you’ll see on all the guidebook photos.  The brightly coloured red and yellow towers are visible for miles around, as the castle is high on the hillside and the gardens include the highest point in Sintra. 

The Pena Palace was originally a humble chapel and then a monastery dating back to the Middle Ages. However, in the 19th century, King Ferdinand II transformed it into the stunning palace we see today.

Pena Palace is a unique blend of Romantic, Gothic, and Moorish styles and the exterior of the palace is a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours, with shades of yellow, red, and purple adorning the walls.  The intricate detailing, including turrets, battlements, and decorative tiles, adds to its fairytale-like appearance.

The rooms are beautifully preserved, showcasing a rich collection of art, furniture, and decorative objects. The opulent interiors offer a glimpse into the royal lifestyle of the past.  Key things to look out for inside Pena Palace include the Manueline Cloister, the Royal Dining Room and Pantry, the Queen’s Office and the Chambers of King Carlos.  

You have two options for visiting Pena Palace and Park: you can choose to just enter the park and the outside terraces of the Palace for €7.50, or pay the full price of €14 to go inside the castle and the gardens. The full-price entry ticket also grants you access to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla on the other side of the park. 

>>Buy your tickets for Pena Palace park (not including entrance to the palace) here

Being ever the cash-strapped backpacker, and not particularly bothered about the inside, I chose the cheapest option and spent several hours pottering around and exploring the castle from the outside. 

Although I have seen some beautiful pictures from the inside, it seemed a lot to pay so unless you have a particular interest in historical architecture and furnishings, I would say there is more than enough to see from the outside. 

READ MORE: The Best Views of Pena Palace

With the cheaper ticket, you can visit the castle courtyards and get up close to the red and yellow painted towers.  Don’t miss the walk around the castle walls which has beautiful views over Sintra and the Moorish Castle.

Pena Palace Gardens are wonderful to explore.  If you are just taking a day trip to Sintra, try to make time to explore at least some of the gardens.  The grounds are a mix of lush greenery, winding paths, and picturesque viewpoints. Most tours to Sintra won’t give you time to wander around, but you can find some beautiful views of the castle if you have time.

If you do choose to go for the full-priced option, buy your ticket online here to skip the queue at the ticket office outside Pena Palace.  You may still need to wait in line to enter the palace.

>>>Buy tickets for Pena Palace and Gardens here

The Moorish Castle in Sintra

The Moorish Castle in Sintra
The Moorish Castle in Sintra

El Castelo dos Mouros, or Moorish Castle, is on the hill opposite Pena Palace.  The main draw here is the views, and it was my favourite castle in Sintra because the views really are magnificent.  You can walk all around the castle walls to see the beautiful coastline, and Pena Palace, as well as Sintra Palace, La Quinta de Regaleira and more. 

There isn’t much left of the Moorish Castle itself, which was built in the 10th century, following the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors.  Basically, just walls remain intact, and you can walk along the walls and admire the gorgeous views. 

There are steps up to the castle wall, although there is a section which is accessible without steps.  There is also a small museum which exhibits some of the artefacts found in the castle.

The Moorish Castle is a perfect place to watch the sunset, as it is quieter than during the day once the tour groups have left, and you can watch the light change as the sun dips behind the horizon. 

Depending on the time of year you may not be able to see the sun actually set as it goes behind a hill, but in January I had a perfect view of the sunset and Pena Palace in the same shot.

Entry to the Moorish Castle costs 8 euros for an adult ticket, with discounts available for young people, seniors and families. Buy a skip-the-line ticket here.

La Quinta da Regaleira

La Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra - Not a Castle but Still Beautiful
La Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra – Not a Castle but Still Beautiful

Not strictly speaking a castle or a palace, this beautiful house and bizarre gardens are often counted among the castles of Sintra because they are worthy of any member of royalty.  However, it is only recently that the house has become popular to visit, since the appearance on Instagram and social media of the ‘Well of Initiation’. 

The Mysterious Well of Initiation in La Quinta da Regaleira - The Castles of Sintra
The Mysterious Well of Initiation in La Quinta da Regaleira – The Castles of Sintra

The house was built between 1904 and 1910 and belonged to Viscondessa da Regaleira.  It was bought by António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro who commissioned the unique project of house and landscape from the Italian set-designer and architect Luigi Manini who created this magical place. 

The house conjures up images of a magical palace, while the gardens provide lots of mysterious areas to explore.  Don’t miss the Well of Initiation or the climb to the top of the Regaleira Tower for views of the Moorish Castle and surrounding countryside down to the coast.

An hour is probably sufficient to see the best bits of the gardens and to pop inside the house.  The upper floors were closed for maintenance when I visited so there were just a few rooms open.  For me, the garden & the outside of the house were the highlights.  You can pick up a map of the house and gardens at the entrance, or download it here.

Entry to La Quinta da Regaleira is not included in the combination ticket for the other castles in Sintra as it is privately owned.  You can book skip-the-line tickets here or choose an option an audio guide below:  

 

 

The National Palace of Sintra

Castles in Sintra -The National Palace of Sintra
Castles in Sintra -The National Palace of Sintra

The National Palace of Sintra is in the centre of Sintra, and easily reachable on foot from the train station.  The castle was the residence of the Islamic Moorish Taifa of Lisbon rulers of the region, and was one of two Moorish Castles in Sintra – the other up on the hill is still known as the Moorish Castle.

None of the original castle remains today, although the current National Palace of Sintra was built in the Middle Ages and enlarged in the 1600s, and today is more or less the same as it was then, in terms of the building itself. 

The castle is a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudéjar architectural styles, and is an important historic museum.  However, as I am not a huge fan of going inside castles and buildings like this, I decided to skip it.  If you are interested in the historical buildings and seeing how royalty lived, then it is a must for you. 

Entrance to the National Palace of Sintra is often included on Sintra tours from Lisbon.  If you visit independently, adult tickets are 10€ each, with discounts available for youths, seniors and families.  You can also buy a skip-the-line ticket here.

The Park & Palace of Monserrate

The Park and Palace of Monserrate in Sintra
The Park and Palace of Monserrate in Sintra

The Palace of Monserrate was not built for royalty, but the beautiful house is certainly fit for a king!  The building combines Gothic, Indian and Moorish influences together with exotic and plant motifs which are harmoniously blended with the exterior garden.

Inside the Palace of Monserrate - Which Castles in Sintra You Should Visit
Inside the Palace of Monserrate – Which Castles in Sintra You Should Visit

The gardens are well worth exploring and are arranged in geographical areas.  You can see plants from all around the world here and feel like you are travelling through the collection of plants from Australia, Mexico, Japan and others.

Entry tickets to the palace and gardens cost 8€ for an adult, with discounts available for youths, seniors and families.  The Park of Monserrate is a partner of the Royal Horticultural Society and provides free entry to RHS members.

National Palace and Gardens of Queluz

Castles of Sintra - National Palace and Gardens of Queluz
Castles of Sintra – National Palace and Gardens of Queluz

Queluz Palace and Gardens are in the Sintra municipality, about halfway between the town of Sintra and Lisbon.  The palace is best visited on a day trip from Lisbon, or perhaps on a pitstop while travelling between Lisbon and Sintra. 

The Palace of Queluz was built in the 18th Century, and is a beautiful Rococo style palace, often referred to as the Versailles of Portugal.  The Palace was initially conceived as a summer residence but became the royal family’s preferred place for their leisure and entertainment and the permanent home of Queen Maria I and her consort King Pedro III from 1794 until 1807.

You can choose to visit just the gardens, or pay extra to go inside the palace to see the beautifully restored rooms.  Adult tickets are 5€ for the gardens or 10€ for the gardens and palace, with discounts available for youths, seniors and families.  

Sleep in Seteais Palace in Sintra

Seteais Palace in Sintra - an elegant white building with grass leading up to it - Sintra Castles & Palaces
Seteais Palace- Sintra Castles & Palaces

As well as the above Sintra castles, how about spending the night in a palace?  Tivoli Palácio de Seteais Hotel was built as a residential palace in 1787 by the former Dutch Consul in Portugal.  While not a Royal Palace, it is a national landmark and is included in the UNESCO Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site.

Several Portuguese noble families lived here before it was converted into a hotel in 1955.  Now you can live out your royal fantasies and sleep in one of the luxurious bedrooms, which have hosted many famous guests over the years including Agatha Christie, Mick Jagger, Brad Pitt and Kylie Minogue to name a few!

Take leisurely strolls through the mazes on the hotel grounds, or admire their beauty from the Seteais Restaurant while savouring a meal crafted by the master chef.  From the restaurant, you can enjoy privileged views of the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, or book a romantic picnic for two to enjoy on the grounds.  

FIND A HOTEL

Which castle in Sintra will you visit?  If you have a favourite, let me know!  I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.

How to Get to Sintra

Getting the Train from Lisbon to Sintra

The train to Sintra is by far the easiest way to get to Sintra from Lisbon.  Trains run regularly on two lines to Sintra, one from Lisbon Rossio Station and the other from Lisbon Oriente Station via Entrecampos and Sete Rios. 

The train journey to Sintra takes about 40 minutes and run about every 10 to 20 minutes throughout the day from both stations.  Check the train times online before you travel, the trains are less frequent on Sundays but still run every half an hour or less.  The first train from Lisbon leaves Rossio train station at 05.41am, and the last train back to Lisbon Rossio departs Sintra at 00.20am. 

The Train From Lisbon to Sintra - How to Get to Sintra From Lisbon
The Train From Lisbon to Sintra – How to Get to Sintra From Lisbon

Buy your train tickets on the day of your journey from the ticket machines at the station in Lisbon, it costs €5 for a return ticket, including the €.50 for the reusable card, or €2.25 each way if you have a card already.  The return ticket is valid for several days, so if you plan to spend the night in Sintra you can still buy a return. 

Bear in mind that if you only buy a single, there is only one ticket machine at Sintra Station, so if there is a queue you may have to wait a while to be able to get your ticket back to Lisbon!

By Bus

There is a bus to Sintra from Lisbon, but it takes longer than the train and getting to the bus stations is less convenient than the train, so taking the train is by far the best way to get to Sintra from Lisbon.  However, if you prefer a bus, shuttle bus or private car you can find available options on Bookaway here.

By Car

Recent changes to the traffic rules in Sintra have meant that driving private vehicles in the historic centre is limited to residents, so you would have to park outside the historic centre and then walk to the castles and palaces in Sintra, so I don’t recommend you drive to Sintra.

Public transport and tours to Sintra are plentiful so you don’t have to drive, however, with a car, you could then explore more of the coastal areas much more easily than with public transport.

A Sintra Day Tour

As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of options for taking a day tour to Sintra from Lisbon if you only have enough time for a day trip.  Tours generally include transport from Lisbon and back and visit a couple of the castles in Sintra then call at Cabo da Roca and Cascais on the way back to Lisbon.

Once you have decided which Sintra castles you want to visit, and how much time to spend there, you can choose the best tour for you.  You can browse available tours to Sintra here.

FIND A TOUR

Transport in Sintra

Walking

The road up to Pena Palace is fairly quiet in the morning, but it is quite a steep walk uphill all the way, and at the end of the day after walking all around the Pena Palace Gardens and the Moorish Castle I was exhausted!  Perhaps use public transport to get to the castles, then walk back down the hill to save your tired legs! 

By Bus

The 434 Scotturb bus runs from next to the train station up to the hills of the Serra de Sintra and the Palácio Nacional da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros. The 434 bus service is frequent (about every 20 minutes or so) but there can be long queues in peak season.  A ticket costs around €7 and the bus departs from outside the train station.

By Tuk-Tuk or Taxi

If you don’t want to wait for the bus, there are plenty of tuk-tuk drivers waiting around the station and in the centre of Sintra to take people up to Pena Palace.  However, they cost significantly more than the bus so it’s up to you to decide if it is worth it.  I walked up and managed to take a tuk-tuk taxi down for €5 as there was one waiting outside and I couldn’t face walking any more!

Tuk Tuks are a useful mode of transport in Sintra!
Tuk Tuks are a useful mode of transport in Sintra!

Where to Stay in Sintra

There are more than enough things to do in Sintra to keep you busy for two or three days – and way more than you could possibly see in just a day trip.  Spend the night here to enjoy the city when the bulk of the tourists have left, and you won’t regret it. 

Hotels in Sintra

There are plenty of hotels in Sintra to choose from as well, to suit all budgets.  Take a look at these options:

Budget Option: If you don’t mind a shared bathroom, The Five House is excellent value and gets great reviews from all their guests (both for dorm rooms and private double rooms) for the lovely hosts and delicious breakfast.  >>>CHECK PRICES

Mid-range: Check out the highly reviewed Sintra1012 Boutique Guesthouse, a small bed and breakfast right in the centre of Sintra town. >>>CHECK PRICES

Luxury: The lovely Villa das Rosas has a swimming pool, private parking, a beautiful garden area and includes breakfast in the rate.   For a real splurge, take a look at Cedro’s Nature House, a beautiful property close to the Moorish Castle, with spotless, modern rooms, a swimming pool and gorgeous views. >>>CHECK PRICES

Sleep in a Palace: If you want to stay in a palace yourself, check out the luxurious Tivoli Palácio de Seteais!

FIND A HOTEL

Hostels in Sintra

There are several hostels in Sintra where you can spend the night without breaking the bank.  Casa Azul hostel gets great ratings and has dorms and private rooms, as does the Five House, a family-run B&B which has a dorm room as well as well-appointed double rooms. 

FIND A HOSTEL IN SINTRA

Airbnb in Sintra

I chose to stay in an Airbnb in Sintra, and really enjoyed spending time with my host, who took me to Cabo da Roca and several beaches along the coastline.  You could do this yourself with a hire car but exploring any more than Cabo da Roca and Cascais is hard without your own transport.  There are plenty of rooms to rent on Airbnb, like this gorgeous cottage.   >>>Check out all the options on Airbnb.

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