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15+ Magical Things to Do in Sintra with Hidden Gems (2024)!

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Are you looking for all the incredible things to do in Sintra? You’ve come to the right place. 

Sintra is one of the most magical places to visit in Portugal as it looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a fairytale.

There are emerald rolling hills as far as the eye can see, majestic castles, lavish palaces, mysterious wells, a colourful historic centre and gorgeous views of the Portuguese Riviera!

Most people visit here on a day trip from Lisbon. However, if you have time, I would recommend staying over as it’s a world away from the bustling capital.

Here are all the best things to do in Sintra including some hidden gems and tips to avoid the crowds. 

Things to do in Sintra Portugal
Pena Palace

Things to do in Sintra

1. Pena Palace

One of the best things to do in Sintra is to visit the majestic Pena Palace which stands high on a hill overlooking the town.

It’s a beautiful romantic castle decorated in bright yellow and red paint and blue azulejo tiles. It was founded by Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha who married Queen Maria II.

The site has a history since the 12th century as a monastery but was then transformed into a dreamy palace that Ferdinand II built with his fortune in 1842.

Today, this fairytale castle and gardens attract millions of tourists each year and it’s a must-visit. 

Pena Palace Sintra
Pena Palace Sintra
Pena Palace Sintra

Tips for visiting Pena Palace 

Before you even plan your trip to Sintra, I would make sure your tickets are booked for Pena Palace as it’s not uncommon for tickets to sell out weeks in advance. 

I’d recommend booking the first palace time slot of the day (9.30 am) to avoid huge queues to head inside. 

Even on a weekday in March, the crowds were unbelievable after 11 am and stretched all the way back to the entry gate.

Pena Palace Sintra
Pena Palace Sintra

Then, you need to plan how you’re going to get to Pena Palace as it’s located high up on a Sintra hillside. 

There are buses like the 434 Sintra Tourist Bus from the Historic Centre but I’d recommend a taxi or Uber as the buses usually have long wait times and fill up quickly.

Rickshaws are also an option but be prepared to pay a lot of money for these trips and be careful not to get ripped off!

Pena Palace sintra
Courtyard of Arches

Highlights of Pena Palace 

If you book the first time slot of the day, I would recommend heading to the Pena Park gates at around 8.30 am for a 9 am entry time. There will most likely already be a queue. 

After you enter the park, the walk up to the palace can be quite steep but it’s manageable with a reasonable level of fitness.

My recommendation would be to speed walk up to the palace to get some empty photos. Most people get distracted on the way with the views so you want to skip ahead. 

This is what I did and managed to capture the Entry gate, Triton Gateway, Chapel and Courtyard of Arches without many people in them! 

Triton Gateway Pena Palace
Triton Gateway

I then headed into the palace at 9.30 am with no queue and it was quite busy but not unmanageable.

Inside the palace, you’ll be in a single file and pretty much ushered through the attraction (the signs literally say not to stop) but all the rooms are still spectacular and I loved every minute!

Pena Palace Sintra
Manueline Cloister

You’ll see the magical Manueline Cloister, Queen’s Cabinet, Visiting Room, Dressing Rooms, Tea Salon, Great Hall plus many more! 

After you’ll step out onto the Queen’s Terrace for a panoramic view of the palace and exit by the café.

I recommend getting a coffee or cake here as you’ll have sweeping views of the rolling hills and coast! 

Pena Palace Sintra

2. Parque de Pena

After your palace visit, you can take a wander around the extensive Pena Park to see all its beautiful features.

King Ferdinand had trees and plants transferred here from all over the world and it’s nothing short of a miracle what he created with the wild landscape he had to work with.

There are signs dotted around the park to all the attractions but I would scan a QR code at one of the signs to download their free map which provides GPS directions! 

As you wander around this magical planned park, you can see the fabulous greenhouses with all sorts of cottage plants and stables with friendly horses.

There’s also a plethora of fountains, rock formations, flora and fauna. You could spend hours here as there is so much to see. 

Parque de Pena Sintra

It’s perfect on a sunny day as the trees provide lots of shade. There are also benches and areas to relax.

If you only have time for one thing, the best highlight is taking a stroll through the Valley of the Lakes towards the lower exit gate. 

Here, you can find five lakes with little waterfalls and all sorts of miniature castles and towers made for ducks and swans!

It’s quite a large park with steep hills. If you did need assistance, I would take one of the complimentary shuttle buses to the highlights. Just note that wait times usually average an hour or more.

Valley of the Lakes Pena Park
Valley of the Lakes

3. Chalet of the Countess of Edla

My favourite part of Pena Park was the Chalet of the Countess of Edla which could be found in a far corner. 

After Queen Maria II died, Ferdinand married Elise Hensler in 1869. Elise was a Swiss-born opera singer who moved to the USA and was a huge lover of culture and the arts. 

Ferdinand fell in love with her after seeing her perform at the São Carlos National Theatre in Lisbon. 

They had a profound mutual interest in the arts and so they married shortly after and Ferdinand’s cousin bestowed the title of the Countess of Edla to her. 

Their controversial marriage was never fully accepted by the nobility or the wider public, but they used Pena Palace as their refuge and created this gorgeous chalet together. 

Chalet of the Countess of Edla Sintra

It was designed by Elise as an alpine retreat. She lived here for many years, even after she gifted Pena Palace to the Portuguese state.

Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a fire in 1999 and what we see today is mostly a sympathetic restoration. But, it’s stunning to explore.

You can find lavishly decorated living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and dressing rooms with some of the Countess of Edla’s items on display.  

Entry is included with a full Pena Palace & Park ticket. Opening times are usually 9 am – 5.30 pm but can be earlier in winter. 

Chalet of the Countess of Edla Sintra
Chalet of the Countess of Edla Sintra

4. Moorish Castle

After your visit to Pena Palace Park, it’s just a couple of minutes uphill walk to the Moorish Castle from the Valley of the Lakes.

The Moors lived in Sintra for centuries until 1147 and then the rule was handed over to Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal.

They left behind this gorgeous ruin built on the hillside and you can pay a visit to traverse the ancient walls with panoramic views over Sintra and Pena Palace! 

Moorish Castle Sintra

I will warn you, this is not a place to go if you’re afraid of heights or have bad balance. 

As much as I loved exploring this castle, there were barely any safety barriers, lots of steep steps, uneven ground and narrow pathways. 

I panicked a few times and had to take breather breaks as I was terrified, especially with the high winds and crowds. I had a white knuckle death grip on that crenelation! Just take your time and go slowly.

It may be worth purchasing tickets online before you go as there can be long queues for the ticket machines. There was only one working on my visit.  

Chalet of the Countess of Edla Sintra
Moorish Castle Sintra
Moorish Castle

5. Monserrate Palace & Park 

Many people skip the gorgeous Park and Palace of Monserrate in Sintra as it’s a little further afield than the other attractions.

But, I would prioritise this stunning attraction as it’s one of Sintra’s best-kept secrets and sees fewer crowds. 

The estate was largely constructed by Sir Francis Cook, 1st Viscount of Monserrate in the 19th century and has Gothic, Moorish and Romantic influences.

Monserrate Palace Sintra Hidden Gem

You can visit the stunning palace with its ornate galleries, music room and library. Then, explore the parkland with waterfalls, flowers, ruins and trees from around the world.

This was one of my favourite things to do in Sintra as fewer crowds meant it was an oasis in Sintra Hills.  

Click here to read my complete guide for visiting Monserrate Palace 

Monserrate Palace Garden Arched Terrace
Park and Palace of Monserrate
Monserrate Palace Gallery

6. Sintra National Palace

Don’t skip Sintra National Palace which sits in the Historic Centre. It’s one of the best things to do in Sintra and has over 1000 years of history. 

It was originally built in the 11th century for the Kings of Portugal and later was the famous home of King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster.

Today, it’s a gorgeous museum you can visit and it’s filled with Azulejo tiled bedrooms, staterooms and kitchens. 

Sintra National Palace
Sintra National Palace
Magpie Room Sintra National Palace
The stunning ceiling in the Magpie Room

I loved all the English influences in this palace which were made for Queen Philippa. I particularly loved the Swan Room and Magpie Room.

However, the most spectacular chamber of the entire palace has to be the Room of the Coats of Arms.

This is decorated with blue and white Azulejo tiles, heraldic emblems of noble Portuguese families and a lavish gold ceiling. Honestly, I spent an age just exploring this room! 

You will probably need around 1-2 hours to visit this palace. There is an audio guide you can download for 1 euro. 

Sintra National Palace Swan Room
Swan Room, Sintra National Palace
Sintra National Palace
Room of the Coat of Arms

7. Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira is an enchanting estate filled with magic and mystery and was built by an eccentric Brazillian called António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. 

Monteiro bought the property of Baroness da Regaleira at a public auction in 1893. He would later create a spiritual wonderland filled with Romantic, Celestial and Masonic symbols.

On your visit, you can explore the Gothic Palace, Chapel, the Celestial Fountain as well as several towers, lakes, statue avenues and caves. It’s essentially a playpark for adults!

The gorgeous mansion can be busy but it’s well worth waiting for as you can learn the history of the estate and the Kings of Portugal.

Quinta da Regaleira
Quinta da Regaleira

There’s also a really lovely café you can visit in Chimera Court with homemade food and drinks.

As this estate is not owned by the Paques de Sintra group, the food in this café is actually tasty for reasonable prices. 

I was so happy to order something that wasn’t a bland overpriced, sad-looking sandwich served to you in a packet. 

I would visit this attraction for lunch if you didn’t bring any food with you!  

Read more – my top tips for visiting Quinta da Regaleira 

Quinta de Regaleira Sintra
Portal of the Guardians Quinta de Regaleira

8. Initiation Well

According to legend, the land around Quinta da Regaleira was once home to the Knights Templar under King Alfonso Henriques.

António Monteiro was obsessed with the Freemasons and many believe that he was a Freemason himself. 

As part of his grand project, he built a mysterious Initiation Well on the grounds. This moss-covered well is thought to have been used, not for the collection of water but for Masonic initiation ceremonies. 

This involved the initiate being blindfolded and heading down the well with a sword in hand. They would then enter the dark underbelly of tunnels and emerge into the light as a member of the brotherhood! 

Sintra Initiation Well

Many people also say this is a Gateway to Hell as it has nine levels similar to Dante’s Inferno. But, the only way you can find out is to visit for yourself! 

It’s not uncommon for there to be an hour’s theme-park style queue to walk down this well in peak season. 

I would visit around 30 minutes before closing time when there are fewer people and you’re not being ushered to keep walking down in a single file. 

This is what I did and there was no one there. I got some lovely empty photos this way and it was a much better experience. 

Click here to read my complete guide with more tips for visiting the Initiation Well 

Initiation Well
Initiation Well

9. Biester Palace 

Just down the road from Quinta de Regaleira, you can visit Palácio e Parque Biester. 

The house was designed in the 19th century by José Luiz Monteiro and Luigi Manini as a residence for Ernesto Biester.

It was built as a Romantic residence for his family but, similar to Quinta de Regaleira, there is more to this mysterious mansion than first meets the eye.

Many of the rooms inside the house like the Chapel and Library are filled with Masonic symbolism from the Knights Templar and the Occult. 

You may recognise this fabulous palace as it was a filming location for Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate” starring Johnny Depp.  

The exotic gardens are also a delight to explore and were designed by the French architect François Nogré. You’ll find waterfalls, caves, and a tea house on the extensive grounds. 

Biester Palace

10. Explore Sintra Historic Centre

Most people only spend a day in Sintra from Lisbon and make a beeline to Pena Palace and the castles around the area.

But, I wouldn’t skip a wander around the vibrant and colourful Sintra Historic Centre on your visit.

You can meander the narrow laneways and find all sorts of charming souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants.

There’s also a Sintra Natural History Museum and the train station has the prettiest entry hall with ornate tiles.  

If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, I would head into Cantinho Lord Byron. Byron famously stayed in Sintra in 1809 and called it ‘Glorious Eden’. 

Sintra Historic Centre
Sintra Historic Centre
Cantinho Lord Byron Sintra

11. Casa Piriquita

On your stroll around the Sintra Historic Centre, make sure to pop into Casa Piriquita.

This is a classic coffee house and bakery that was established in 1862 and serves up the best pastries in town. 

You must try their famous Travesseiro pastries. Travesseiro means ‘pillow’ so it’s also known as the pillow pastry. 

It’s a famous Sintra delicacy and has a sweet egg and almond cream centre and is topped with sugar.

The coffee house is quite small so you may have to wait for a seat – but it’s well worth waiting as it’s beautifully decorated in floral tiles!

Travesseiro at Casa Piriquita
My tasty Travesseiro at Casa Piriquita

12. Palacio de Seteias 

If you’re looking for a truly beautiful place to stay in Sintra then I would recommend the Tivoli Palacio de Seteais. 

It was a palace of the notable Marquis’ of Marialva who hosted Prince Regent John VI and Princess Carlota Joaquina here in 1802. They built a neoclassical arch in their honour.

Tivoli Palacio de Seteais.

Now, it’s a sumptuous 5-star property with rooms and suites overlooking the valley and coast of Cascais. You’ll be treated like royalty during your stay. 

There is also a bar, restaurant, wellness suite and planned gardens to explore at your leisure.

Even if you’re not a guest, I recommend paying a visit to the front courtyard as it has wonderful views over the valley towards the coast. It’s just a few minutes walk from Quinta da Regaleira!

Click here to book your stay at Tivoli Palácio de Seteais

Tivoli Palacio de Seteais

13. Capuchos Convent

One of the more hidden things to do in Sintra is the Capuchos Convent. It’s a bit of a secret and a great way to avoid the crowds. 

It was founded in 1560 by Dom Álvaro de Castro, a senior counsellor for King Sebastian of Portugal. 

According to legend, his father became lost chasing a deer in the Sintra hills and he fell asleep against a rock. 

He then had a dream that he interpreted as a divine calling to build a Christian temple on the site. 

Eight Franciscan monks moved here from the convent of Arrábida and it was a sanctuary dedicated to Santa Cruz or the Holy Cross. 

It passed from owner to owner until it eventually was bought by John Cook, 1st Viscount of Monserrate in 1873 who lived in his palace nearby.

Now, it’s a desolate and atmospheric ruin protected by Parques de Sintra that’s open to the public.

You can drive here and there’s a free car park at the site. But, if you’re travelling by bus it may be a long walk to get there from the nearest stop.

There’s a 2.5 kilometre walk from Monserrate Palace but this can be quite steep and complex.

It may be easier to take a taxi. Uber and Bolt both work in Sintra but make sure to arrange a return journey to save you from getting stranded! 

Capuchos Convent Sintra

14. Café Paris 

If you’re looking for places to eat in Sintra with style, I would recommend the stunning Café Paris which can be found opposite the Royal Palace.

It has been here since 1945 and has sumptuous interiors, mirrored walls and sparkling chandeliers. 

They have a huge menu and are open for a lavish breakfast, brunch, afternoon tea or dinner! I highly recommend their artisan pancakes. 

Sintra is famous for its seafood as you’re so close to the Atlantic Ocean and Octopus is usually found on the menu as the catch of the day. 

Cafe Paris Sintra
Café Paris
Cafe Paris Sintra

15. Queluz National Palace

Although not in Sintra proper, Queluz National Palace makes a great day trip or stop on your way to Lisbon. 

It was founded by Queen Maria I and King Pedro III in 1747 as a royal Rococo residence and summer retreat. 

Unfortunately, it also became a discreet retreat for Maria I as she suffered from severe mental illness after Pedro’s death. 

Queluz Palace Portugal
Queluz Palace

It later became the official residence of Prince Regent João and his family following the destruction of Ajuda Palace in 1794. 

There are so many gorgeous features, lavish rooms and wings to admire on a self-guided tour.

You can visit the elaborate ceremonial facades on the grounds with azulejo tiled water canals, grotto waterfalls, and elaborate fountains with Roman gods such as Neptune.

The Ballroom Queluz Palace
The Ballroom at Queluz Palace

Inside the palace, you also have highlights like The Ballroom, Sala de Mangas and The Hall of Ambassadors. I also loved the Equestrian Library too. 

It makes a great day trip from either Sintra or Lisbon. As not many people visit, it’s a great way to avoid the crowds. 

The town of Queluz isn’t that great though. I had high hopes but only ended up getting a quick bite to eat before I left. So, make it a quick stop!

Hall of Ambassadors Queluz Palace
Hall of Ambassadors – look at that ceiling!

16. Explore Cascais & Portuguese Riviera

When visiting Sintra, you’re in touching distance of the seaside town of Cascais and the Portuguese Riviera! 

It was the official summer residence of the Portuguese royal family in the 1870s and so it became very popular after that. It makes a great day trip from Lisbon or Sintra.

You can meander through colourful streets, admire stunning lighthouses and eat your weight in fresh seafood. 

You can also visit highlights like the Santa Maria Lighthouse, Boca do Inferno, Cidadela Art District and Cabo da Roca, the most western point of Europe.

If you’re not bored of lavish residences yet, you can head to the Castro Guimarães Museum which was the home of the Count and Countess de Castro Guimaraes.

You’ll also be spoiled for choice with golden sand beaches as there are so many to choose from!

Cascais Portugal

How to get to Sintra in Portugal 

Most people travel to Sintra from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and it’s very simple to do.

You can take the train from Rossio train station to Sintra in around an hour so it makes it an easy day trip. 

If you have invested in a Lisbon Card, you can use this for the train journey as well which is a bit of a saving!

You’ll arrive at Sintra train station and then you can take the local buses or taxis to the palaces and castles in Sintra Hills.

If you’re heading to Sintra from Porto, I found the bus a lot quicker and cheaper than the train. 

You can take a FlixBus from Porto to Sintra directly and it’s just over a 3-hour journey as opposed to 4/5 hours by train.

Sintra Historic Centre

How many days in Sintra are enough?

Many people only take a day trip to Sintra to see Pena Palace and a few other sites but I would encourage you to stay overnight. 

There are so many magical things to do in Sintra that make it worth visiting, but you do need a couple of days to see it all at a relaxed pace.

Many of Sintra’s attractions are spread out and built on the rolling hills of the countryside. So, it involves a lot of walking and uphill climbing.

Travelling to the attractions can be a challenge without a car. There are buses and rickshaws if you don’t want to pay for taxis.

Even if you decide to drive, note that traffic can be awful as Sintra has a lengthy one-way system in the hills and this often has bottlenecks. 

I visited Sintra for 3 days and found this was just the right amount of time to see all the main highlights without burning out. 

Pena Palace Sintra
Pena Palace Sintra

When is the best time to visit Sintra? 

Sintra is one of the busiest locations to visit in Portugal and sees over 20 million tourists a year.

The best time to visit Sintra would be in the shoulder seasons of Spring or Autumn. Also, I would try to avoid weekends as these are the busiest days of the week. 

Although it can be a risk with the weather, at least you don’t suffer from the stifling heat and can visit the sites with fewer crowds.

Pena Palace Sintra

I visited in early March and was very lucky as it was sunny every day. But, it was already very crowded in the castles with super long lines.

I dread to think what summer would be like. From speaking with the taxi drivers, it sounded like it was absolute chaos!

If you are heading there in peak season, make sure all your tickets are pre-booked in advance to guarantee entry and set off early to beat the heat and larger tour groups.

Sintra Initiation Well

How to travel around Sintra 

Sintra is a spectacular place of natural beauty but many of the fairytale attractions are spread out and perched high on the rolling hills. 

Visiting all the highlights can be a challenge if you don’t have a car to get around and it does take some pre-planning if you want to use public transport.

It’s easy enough to walk to places like Quinta de Regaleira from the historic centre on foot as this would only take 15-20 minutes.

However, if you want to visit places like Pena Palace, the Moorish Castle or Monserrate Palace, I would strongly advise taking a bus or taxi. 

These places are so high up and it would take over an hour to walk to them from the train station. You also have to traverse steep, winding roads with traffic and you’ll be exhausted before you even begin!

Pena Palace Sintra

The Sintra Tourist Bus 434 is a great way to get around and has stops for all the notable sites. Just keep in mind that it can get incredibly busy onboard and services are every 15 minutes. 

They also stop early in the afternoon and sometimes before the closing times of the main attractions. 

To save time, you can easily take taxis and I would recommend this for Pena Palace.  Although Uber and Bolt work, I found local taxis to be a little cheaper with the taxi metre. 

There are also rickshaw tours that you can take but prices for these can be extortionate if you’re not careful!

If you prefer you can take this Sintra guided tour from Lisbon where you can visit Pena Palace, Quinta Regaleira and Cascais. It takes all the work out of planning so you can simply enjoy it.

Queluz Palace Sintra

Is Sintra worth visiting?

Most definitely, Sintra was my favourite place in all of Portugal as it looks like it’s been plucked from the pages of a fairytale. 

Majestic castles perched on rolling emerald hills and the epic views of the coast make this a spectacular destination. 

There are so many magical things to do in Sintra that you’ll be spoiled for choice. So, make sure to leave enough time to explore it properly. 

Monserrate Palace Facade
Monserrate Palace

I had a 3-day stay and didn’t want to leave. I could have spent weeks here as it’s a world away from the busy capital of Lisbon. 

Many people don’t like Sintra due to the crowds but there are always ways to manage that by travelling in the off-season, during the week and booking early morning tickets in advance. 

Don’t skip a visit to Sintra in Portugal, it’s a little slice of heaven near the Portuguese Riviera! 

Monserrate Palace Sintra

My top tips for visiting Sintra 

  • Book tickets for Pena Palace in advance – do this before you visit Sintra to avoid disappointment. Also, try to book the first slot of the day to avoid long lines. 
  • Take a bus or taxi to Pena Palace – it’s really high up so make sure to plan transport to get you there. 
  • Wear decent footwear – you’ll be doing a lot of walking in Sintra. Many paths are steep and are often uneven. So, you need sensible shoes like trainers or boots. 
  • Pack a lunch – the food outlets run by Parques de Sintra at most of the attractions left much to be desired. It was tasteless and overpriced. Pack a lunch to save time, money and your taste buds!
Monserrate Palace Sintra Music Room
  • Stay overnight – a day trip is what most people do but consider staying to see everything at a relaxed pace. 
  • Take a layer – You’ll be high up in the hills here and there can be a chilly breeze especially as you’re so close to the Atlantic Ocean. 
  • Photography – photos and videos are fine in most places without flash. Tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed to be used inside the palaces but the parks and grounds are fine. 
Monserrate Palace Sintra

Read more of my Portugal travel guides

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Why you must visit Café A Brasileira in Lisbon

Livraria Lello – magical bookshop in Porto

Was Harry Potter written in Porto’s Café Majestic?

Palacio da Bolsa – How to visit Bolsa Palace in Porto

Livraria ler Devagar – a must visit bookshop in Lisbon

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