Sintra is both a town and a municipality in the Estoril Coast region of Portugal. While most tourists will come to visit the town and its spectacular setting, the municipality is much larger. This article is about the town; for other destinations in the municipality, see the listings below. Sintra is only 28km away from Lisbon, and is primarily known because of the Pena Palace (Palácio de Pena), built in the 19th century in an eclectic style by the Portuguese king-consort Dom Fernando II. Close by, the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) is also an important landmark and a popular tourist destination. The town of Sintra itself boasts the medieval Sintra National Palace and several 19th century estates. Sintra and its surrounding mountains (Serra de Sintra) are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a popular destination for day-trippers, and can be easily explored while staying in Lisbon.
Sintra is reached quite easily by car from Lisbon. Leaving town on the A37 motorway to the west you will get to the A16, from where you can follow the signs to Sintra (travel time from the airport approx. 25 minutes). Be aware that Sintra itself is dreadful for car traffic, also because of the large number of tourist buses coming into town. Most roads are one-way only, and side streets are extremely narrow and often steep. The best is to park your car in one of the free car parks at the outskirts of town, and walk from there.
Sintra has a direct connection (Linha de Sintra) to the Lisbon Oriente railway station (travel time approx. 45 minutes, €4.30 for a return ticket). The Sintra railway station is located approx. 1 km outside town. More information can be found on the website of CP.
The historic 14km tram route from Praia das Maçãs, mainland Europe's most westerly holiday resort, terminates about 1km from Sintra town centre, at Ribeira de Sintra. The service is operated by restored trams dating from the early 20th century. The tram runs from Friday to Sunday, starting at 9:20 AM and running every 50 minutes. Travel time is approximately 40 minutes (single ticket €2). The trams are very popular, and therefore can be very crowded, with long waiting times.
Cycling in and around Sintra can be an interesting day out for those who are fit and have some experience. However, the area is very hilly and traffic in and around town is very dense.
- Bike Iberia, ☎ +351 96 242 3455 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . A Lisbon-based company offering guided and self-guided bicycle tours in Portugal and Spain. One of the rides on offer is a Sintra-Cascais round trip from Lisbon (€85).
- Cycling Rentals, ☎ +351 922 134 857 (email@example.com), . Based in Sintra with a fleet of Road, Touring, Mountain and Electric bikes. Private Guided Mountain bike tours from €45 for groups. Local rentals start at €25 a day.
- Park E Bike, ☎ +351 922 293 239 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Guided and self guided E-bike tours and rentals right in the old town of Sintra. E-bike rentals are €28 a day and from €20 a day for multiple day rentals.
You can save yourself a lot of excitement by NOT taking your car into Sintra. Traffic is dense, especially in the weekends, and most roads are one-way only. It is very easy to get lost in town, and the narrow and steep side streets take quite a bit of nerve to negotiate. Parking is virtually impossible outside the designated car parks (although you will be amazed at the spaces where the Portuguese manage to park their cars).
The town itself is small enough to be easily explored on foot, but in order to get to the Palácio da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros, taking the bus is the best option. Bus 434 does a one-way circuit from the train station to the town centre, Castelo dos Mouros and Palácio da Pena. Tickets are €5 (to be bought from the driver), and you can hop on and off whenever you want. Be aware that the bus can be very crowded, and especially the stretch leading up to the Moorish Castle is very bumpy, with many hairpins.
You can also walk to the Palácio da Pena and the Castelo dos Mouros. The trek is a rather daunting, steep one-hour climb from the town centre. If you feel fit, though, the beautiful woodlands and the stunning view from the top are generous rewards for your troubles.
There is also a walking trail through the woods to the Castelo dos Mouros that starts above the Sintra town centre at the wooden turnstile on the Rampa do Castelo. You'd better bring a map (free from tourist information at the train station), or ask for directions as the entrance to this trail is well hidden. Once you have made the journey to the castle, it's only few more minutes walk up the hill on the main road to the Palácio.
The walk to Monserrate from Sintra town centre is also approximately one hour, but is less strenuous. Please note that the Linha Monserrate that picks up passengers in front of the Palácio Nacional de Sintra is only a "sight-seeing" bus, it does not deliver you to Monserrate.
Be aware that Sintra is one of the major destinations in Portugal for day-trippers. Especially in the weekends during the holiday season, it pays off to plan your visits carefully to avoid the crowds that will be brought to the main attractions by coach. In the evening, when the day-trippers have gone home, the town is much more agreeable.
- Palácio da Pena (Pena Palace), . Summer 9:30AM - 8PM; Winter 10AM - 6PM. This is one of the sites in Portugal that you should not miss. The Pena Palace is a truly unique building, that looks like it may have been the inspiration for both Gaudí's creations in Barcelona, as well as for Disneyland. It was built in the mid-19th century on the site of a former monastery by the Portuguese king-consort Dom Fernando II as a summer palace for the royal family. In doing so, he combined various architectural styles into something that at first glance most resembles a wedding cake - you either love it or hate it. The park grounds around the palace are equally worth seeing. They are beautifully laid out, with many exotic plants, quaint features and beautiful viewpoints, with a myriad of trails leading through it all. The walk from the palace to the highest point in the Serra de Sintra (Cruz Alta at 528 m) will take you less than 30 minutes. Adults €14, under 18 and over 65 €12.50 (full entrance to palace and park).
- Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), . Summer 9:30AM - 8PM; Winter 10AM - 6PM. This castle was built in the 10th century by the Moors to defend the town of Sintra. Apparently, when Cascais was under the rule of Sintra, a huge fire would be lit here annually to remind the people of Cascais that the castle was there to protect them. It was further enlarged after the Christian reconquest in the 12th century. The complex was restored in romantic style by Dom Fernando II. Adults €8, under 18 and over 65 €6.50.
- Palácio Nacional (National Palace), . 9:30AM - 7PM. The former royal palace of Sintra also has its origins in the Moorish period. After the reconquest, it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family, who extended and embellished the building. The current palace still looks very much like it must have looked in the 16th century. Noteworthy (and visible from a long distance) are the two enormous conical chimneys, that have become the hallmark of the town of Sintra. Adults €10, under 18 and over 65 €8.50.
- Monserrate (Park and Palace of Monserrate), . 9:30AM - 7PM (park closes 8PM). The Monserrate palace is a beautiful 19th century estate, blending Portuguese, Arabian and Indian architectural styles. The estate was bought in 1856 by Francis Cook, an English textile baron, who altered and extended the original neo-Gothic estate, built in 1789. The surrounding park is a wonderful botanical garden with plant species from all over the world. From Sintra train station, bus 435 (the Villa Express) will take you to the main entrance of Monserrate via the palaces of Regaleira and Seteais for a return fare of €4 (15-20 minutes travel time). Adults €8, under 18 and over 65 €6.50.
- Quinta da Regaleira (Regaleira Palace and Gardens), ☎ +351 21 910 66 50 (email@example.com), . Summer 10AM - 8PM, Winter 10AM - 5:30PM. The origins of this place date back to 1697 but it was only in 1892 that Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric capitalist that had made a huge fortune in Brazil, bought the property and hired the Italian architect Luigi Manini to conceive a place that gathered, on the one hand, a sum of artistic currents (Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance) and, on the other hand, the glorification of national history influenced by mythic and esoteric traditions. A great variety of Masonic symbols is present in Regaleira Palace and Gardens. An important example is the magnificent "Poço Iniciático" (Initiation Well), looking like an upside down tower, where at every 15 steps a plateau is reached, in a total of nine leading to the depths of the earth. Adults €6, under 18 and over 65 €4.
- Convento dos Capuchos, (7 kms from Sintra, can only be reached by car or bike or on foot; follow the N375 from Sintra to the west, and turn left after 4km, from there it is signposted), . 9:30AM - 8PM. This remote monastery used to be a place of isolation and meditation, housing 12 Capuchin monks. It was founded in 1560 and was known to be the poorest monastery in the world, where the monks endured extreme hardships in their small cells. It is noteworthy for its architectural simplicity, its setting in the woodland of the Serra de Sintra, and the extensive use of cork in the interior. Adults €7, under 18 and over 65 €5.50.
Sintra is, unfortunately, very much a tourist trap where it comes to buying things. You will find an ample selection of typical Portuguese souvenirs in town, none of which can be considered very original for the region; similar items can be bought all over the country.
Be aware that the small town has no supermarkets. There are a few small shops where you can buy groceries, but these are relatively expensive.
Sintra is famous for two local foodstuffs, queijadas and travesseiros. Queijadas are small sweet cakes, that are made using fresh cheese instead of butter. They are actually quite easy to make at home, but when you're there you might as well try some. Travesseiros are rectangular pastries made from fluff pastry and almond paste, and worth a try as well.
Sintra has lots of restaurants, but it may be difficult to choose a good one. The large number of day-trippers has not had a very good influence on the quality of food and service, and prices are generally slightly higher than in other areas of Portugal, though not prohibitive. Furthermore, places come and go, so it is hard to give an adequate and up-to-date overview.
- A Piriquita, Rua Padarias 1/7. Th-Tu 8:30AM - 10PM; We closed. The best place to have travesseiros. It can be busy though. Take-away possible.
- Fabrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa, Volta do Duche 12. Tu-Fr 9AM - 6:30PM; Sa-Su 9AM - 7:30PM; Mo closed. A good option for queijadas.
- Regional, Travessa do Municipio. Th-Tu 12AM - 4PM and 7-10PM; We closed. On the way from the railway station to town center. It can be crowded, since this place is well known with tourist guides - but the food is good, even when it is not all that typical Portuguese. Mains around €13.
- Petiscaria Casa Madalena, Estrada Da Madre Deus, 166, Carrascal de Sintra, ☎ +351 21 924 3490. Open from 7PM. This place is outside town, in Carrascal de Sintra, some 3km north of town. Cosy place, with good Portuguese cuisine and friendly service according to reviewers.
Sintra has very few real bars, most places will serve both food and drinks.
- Bar Saloon Cintra, Avenida Movimento Das Forças Armadas 5, Portela de Sintra, ☎ +351 9 144 627 61. This place is not in Sintra itself, but in Portela de Sintra, some 1.5km from town, past the railway station. It has overall good reviews.
There is no lack of options for accommodation in Sintra. Prices given may fluctuate depending on the season.
- Nice Way Sintra Hostel, Rua Sotto Mayor, 22, ☎ 00351219249800, . checkin: 2PM; checkout: 12AM. This hostel offers both dorms and private rooms. It was completely refurbished in 2011, and features a bar, a comfortable living room and garden. They also offer climbing lessons in the Serra de Sintra. €30 p/p for a standard double, dorms from €16 p/p; breakfast included. (38.799367,-9.392465)
- Oh Casa Sintra, Rua Gago Coutinho, 2, ☎ +351 21 8058 356 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Old townhouse located close to the railway station. Reviewers are positive about the romantic house and friendly service, but the rooms seem to be a bit noisy and could use some remodelling. €77 for a standard suite; they also have a 4-bed dormitory at €20 p/p. (38.800442,-9.382597)
- Hotel Tivoli Sintra, Praça da República, ☎ +351 21 9237 200 (fax: +351 21 9237 245), . Located right in the centre of Sintra, with splendid views from the rooms. Reviewers however comment that the interior could do with some remodelling, and that WiFi in the room is expensive. €82 for a standard double room.
- Casa Miradouro, Rua Sotto Mayor, 55, ☎ +351 21 910 71 00, . Guesthouse with very positive reviews for service, rooms and homemade breakfast, with free use of living room and garden. Located 700m downhill from Sintra town centre. €90 for standard double room, breakfast €10.
- Pestana Sintra Golf, Quinta da Beloura Rua Mato da Mina, 19, ☎ +351 21 042 4300 (email@example.com, fax: +351 21 042 4398), . For those interested in playing golf, this is a good place to stay, for €20 you can use the greens for an afternoon, and use of the swimming pool is included in the price. The hotel is located quite a long way from town centre though, so you need to bring a car if you want to do some sightseeing. From €93 for a standard room.
- Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, Rua Barbosa do Bocage, 10, ☎ +351 21 9533 200, . Located in an 18th century estate, this is a wonderfully romantic place to stay. Very positively reviewed, but it comes at a price tag ... €230 for a standard double room.
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