I suggest you arrive into Sintra late afternoon/evening so you can reach the main sights nice and early the next day to beat the queues. You can easily catch a direct train from either Lisboa Oriente or Rossio stations for circa EUR 2 each way.
Sintra train station is a 15 minute walk or 5 minute taxi from the centre of the town where most accommodation is located. You can visit Sintra directly from Lisbon airport (3 stops on the metro from Oriente station) or tag this fairytale town onto your 48 hours in Lisbon (Explore my guides to Part 1 and Part 2 here).
Check into Sintra 1012 boutique guesthouse, run by Karen and her husband who are very flexible to check in times for those landing into Lisbon late or wanting to enjoy dinner in Lisbon before heading to Sintra. The best room is Suite 1 on the ground floor with a lovely outdoor terrace on which you can enjoy breakfast on during Summer months.
If you’re in time for dinner I highly recommend a small place only a few minutes walk up the hill. Romaria de Baco offers a great wine list and delicious Portuguese tapas at very reasonable prices. Make sure to prebook a table or go later in the evening as this is a favourite with both locals and tourists alike so the tables are always full, and for good reason!
Karen will kindly bring breakfast to your room in the morning, including a choice of eggs, pastries, fresh juice, scones, hams, cheeses all of which you can enjoy in your PJs!
It’s best to head to Pena Palace as soon as it opens to try and avoid the hoards arriving from Lisbon on day trips. There is a tourist bus which takes you up to the palace, but your best option is to order an Uber (EUR 4), and head to the tourism office just around the corner of the hotel whilst you wait. You can purchase tickets for all of the sights here before your Uber arrives and avoid having to queue at the gates (it’s well worth doing this!).
Once at Pena, following a short but uphill 10 minute drive, head straight up to the palace. Although it is a fairly steep walk up from the entrance to the palace, we avoided the temptation to be lazy and pay for the bus which takes you up instead (but looking at queues later in the day, this was a very popular option and not worth the hassle).
Take in the ramparts and turrets of Pena Palace, admiring the striking colours splashed across the walls. You can follow a route around the palace walls and enjoy the stunning views across the Sintra region. On a clear day you might be able to see all the way to the coastline and spot the Castelo dos Mouros, your next destination, from the palace walls.
The queue to tour the inside of the palace gets long pretty quickly, so head there first if you want to go around and explore the interior of the historic royal summer residence complete with beautiful stuccos.
If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the highest point in the Sintra National Park, the High Cross (around 500m above sea level), giving you phenomenal 360 degree views around the park and back down to the palace. Thankfully the walk is mainly shaded by the trees however make sure to take some water with you in Summer!
Retrace your steps all the way back down to the park entrance and wander 5 min back down the main road to the entrance to the Castelo dos Mouros (all whilst feeling secretly smug seeing the very long queue of latecomers waiting to enter to Pena Palace and park grounds).
Castelo dos Mouros, the ruins of a 9th Century castle built to defend the city, stands just below Pena Palace, but has equally stunning views of the city and surrounding areas – you might even be able to spot your hotel!
Wander around the castle ruins and its walls to take in the view and if you can face another climb in the Portuguese heat, head to its highest point to enjoy views back up to Pena Palace. There is a small cafe near the entrance to the castle if you need refreshments prior to the climb!
There’s no need to catch a taxi back especially with the roads now crowded with other tourists, instead enjoy a downhill half an hour walk along the zig zag path from the castle directly back into the historic centre of Sintra.
Depending on what time you arrive back into Sintra town, you have two options for how to spend your afternoon. Either grab a quick bite to eat before heading straight off down the road to explore one of the other palaces, Quinta de Regaleria or the National Palace, or if you prefer to keep things more laid back after a chaotic morning of sightseeing spend your afternoon meandering around the town.
There are a number of beautiful palaces in and around Sintra which are all well worth a visit if you have the time. Quinta de Regaleria, a 20th Century residence with enchanting gardens, is only a short 15 minute walk from the Tourist office; the National Palace of Sintra sits in the centre of the town; and the park and palace of Monserrate are only a couple of miles away.
For a more relaxing afternoon first head for Dona Maria, which boasts the best terrace views in Sintra. Grab a table on the end of the terrace to take in the panoramic views across the town and spot the white peaks of the National Palace whilst enjoying a glass of espumante. Restrict yourself to only a glass of wine here though as delicious food is waiting nearby!
After your well deserved glass of vino turn around the corner to Tascantiga and pull up a seat outside. Tuck into some hearty local tapas dishes, including delicious beef with port caramelised red onions and mushrooms baked with ham and cheese.
Spend your last few hours in Sintra browsing some of the local crafts shops for souvenirs and tasting the local liquor, Ginja, a cherry liquor served in a chocolate cup – the perfect dessert!
After just 24 hours in Sintra leave this fairytale town and catch the train back to Lisbon and onto the airport, or head back via Oriente and onto Porto to explore another of Portugal’s cities.
Find Out More…
Sintra 1012 Guesthouse – http://www.sintra1012.com
Romaria de Baco – http://www.romariadebaco.pt
Sintra National Parks and Monuments – http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/
Tascantiga – https://www.facebook.com/tascantigasintra/