El Palacio da Pena is the most famous castle in Sintra, and the one you’ll see on all the Portugal guide book photos. The brightly coloured red and yellow towers are visible from all around Sintra, as this castle is high on the hillside and the gardens include the highest point in Sintra. The castle is a dream for Instagram fans and photographers, so take your time to explore the terraces and gardens of Pena Park to find the best views of Pena Palace, you won’t regret it – and you don’t even need to pay full price for the Pena Palace tickets! Here are all my tips for visiting Pena Palace and Gardens.
Pena Palace Tickets
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. 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 and probably not worth paying the extra to go inside.
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.
If you are just taking a day trip to Sintra, try to make time to explore at least some of the gardens. 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.
Pena Palace Terraces
As soon as I got inside the gates of the Palacio da Pena, I headed straight up the hill to the castle. If you can get there early enough there are some great photo opportunities before the palace gets too busy.
The castle is unlike anything I’d ever seen before – like a fairy tale on steroids! The brightly coloured walls, beautiful Arabic archways, intricate carvings and tile patterns create quite a spectacle. I went through the archway guarded by Triton and gazed at the view of Sintra to the sea and beyond. That courtyard stayed quite quiet for a while, so I climbed up the steps opposite the red clock tower to get some shots of the steps leading up to the chapel with the clock tower behind it (like the cover photo) and vice versa from the chapel back to the yellow part of the castle.
Pena Palace Castle Walls
From this courtyard, you can also walk around the castle walls for views of the Moorish Castle. Carry on and you’ll come out back in the main courtyard by the entrance to go inside the castle.
Once I’d tired of seeing the beautiful castle close up, I went downstairs to the shop and picked up a map to explore the Pena Park and Gardens around the palace.
Pena Park is huge, and a maze of footpaths. Make sure you pick up a map, you will need it to find your way around! It was lovely and quiet, and if you have time, you really should explore for some beautiful views of the Palace.
I expected to see and hear lots of animals and birds around the park, but as the trees were planted by King Ferdinand, they are not natural to the area, so not many animals have become accustomed to the ‘new’ environment. In places, it is eerily quiet, but lovely to get a break from the hectic Pena Palace.
Where to Get the Best Views of Pena Palace from Pena Park
There are several viewpoints all around Pena Park where you can catch a glimpse of the castle, but these are my favourites:
Temple of Columns
When the King and Queen lived here, the temple used to offer a wonderful view of the castle, but now the trees are all too tall to get a decent view. I had a break here and had a little picnic as I’d left before breakfast, so it’s still worth taking a look.
St Catherine’s Heights
This was my personal favourite, as this was apparently the favourite spot of the Queen. There is a seat carved in the rock where the Queen used to sit, it’s always nice to know that you’ve followed in the footsteps of royalty!
La Cruz Alta
The cross is the highest point in Pena Palace Park and the view from the top is worth the walk! There are lovely views all around, and if you have a decent zoom on your camera you can get some corkers of the castle. It is further away from the castle though, so don’t miss St Catherine’s Heights on the way to La Cruz Alta.
This is the sunniest part of the park, so if you visit Sintra in winter like I did, you will be glad of the sunshine up here! It can get chilly in the shade of the trees, although in the summer it will be lovely and cool.
Top Tips to Make the Most of your Visit to Pena Palace
Buy Your Tickets Online
Buying your ticket online not only gives you a 5% discount, but you also get to skip the queue to buy tickets at the gate. There may still be a queue to actually get inside 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.
Walk Up from The Gate to the Castle
When I got inside the gates there was a little shuttle bus waiting to take visitors up to the castle entrance, which is about 10 minutes’ walk up the hill. There is a fee to use this bus, and you have to wait for it to fill up, so if you’re feeling energetic then save yourself the cash and the wait and hike up the hill yourself. Despite there being a tour group in front of me at the main gate, as they were waiting for the shuttle bus I walked on ahead and managed to get photos of the palace without anyone in them!
Take Your Time
I realise you might not have much time to visit the Palace and Pena Park, but it really is worth it to explore if you can. Even if you only have the ticket to visit the park and the outside area you can still walk all around the outside of the castle, including along the castle walls for beautiful views of the countryside and the Moorish Castle below.
Get A Free Map of the Park and Gardens
The park area is like a maze, you will need the map! If you don’t get one with your ticket you can pick one up just inside the gift shop at the palace.
Take Plenty of Water
If you’re exploring the park, take plenty of water with you. It is very hilly and there is p lenty of ground to cover so make sure you stay hydrated. Use the bathrooms at the castle before you go exploring as there aren’t many dotted around the park.
Take a Picnic
If you do have time to properly explore, why not make a day of it and take a picnic with you? There are plenty of lovely spots to sit and have a snack.
Use the Free Shuttle Bus
Travel fail on my part, I didn’t realise the shuttle bus around the park was free. It seems you only pay for the first part of the journey from the entrance to the castle gates, and the rest of the shuttle route around the park is free. Check the route here or on any of the bus stops around the park, they are really handy if you want to go right the way over to the Chalet.
How to Get to Pena Palace
The road up to Pena Palace is fairly quiet in the morning, but it is a 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!
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 €6.90 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 took a tuk-tuk taxi down for €5 as there was one waiting outside and I couldn’t face walking any more!
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.
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!
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.
Parking is not good in Sintra, so I don’t recommend this as the best way to get to Sintra. Public transport and Sintra tours 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
There are lots of options for taking a day tour to Sintra from Lisbon if you only have enough time for a day trip. 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, which also include transport to Sintra and back:
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.
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.
Hotels in Sintra
There are plenty of hotels in Sintra to choose from as well, including the highly reviewed Sintra1012 Boutique Guesthouse, a small bed and breakfast right in the centre of Sintra town. Sao Miguel Guest House also gets excellent reviews, and although it is more expensive there is a massage and beauty centre on-site so you can pamper yourself after a day’s sightseeing!
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 Caiscais is hard without your own transport. There are plenty of rooms to rent on Airbnb, like this bright apartment with amazing views, or this gorgeous cottage. >>>Check out all the options on Airbnb.
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
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Have you been to Sintra? What was your favourite Instagram spot in Pena Palace and Gardens? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave your comments below.
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