Here are the best things to do in Sintra, Portugal – one of the most magical places on Earth! With its fairytale castles, colorful buildings, beautiful gardens, and spectacular views, it is amongst the most famous places to visit in Portugal!
We visited Sintra a couple of times during our three-month road trip around Portugal and spent, in total, more than a week there, so we got to explore all its iconic castles, beautiful palaces, and secret corners, including, all the best places for photos of Sintra!
With the help of this blog post, you won’t miss any iconic places in Sintra! Here I have summarized all the best things to do in Sintra with photos, descriptions, and exact locations on Google Maps. Happy exploring!
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1. Wander through the Sintra Historic Center!
Sintra is one of the most charming towns in Portugal and a popular day trip destination from Lisbon. Built on the slope of a hill, Sintra has a terraced layout with one building sitting on a higher or lower level than the other. It makes for a picturesque view!
Another charming characteristic of Sintra, especially the Sintra Historic Center, is that the buildings are painted in different colors. You could easily mistake it with some of those iconic seaside villages in Italy!
I have to say that Sintra is best enjoyed slowly. There is so much to see! If you can I highly recommend spending two days exploring Sintra with all its castles, the charming historic centre, and taking a trip to the popular places in the nearby area (read further!).
Most of the time, people rush here – come by buses from cruise ships or make a quick stop during their road trips and leave. To make your visit more pleasant, I recommend staying the night here in Sintra to enjoy these lovely streets to the fullest!
Location: Sintra Historic Center
2. Try traditional Sintra pillow pastries at Casa Piriquita!
If there is one thing you have to try in Sintra, it is definitely the traditional Sintra pastry – travesseiros do Sintra or the Sintra pillow pastry! The best place to do that is one of the oldest cafés in town dating back to 1862 – Casa Piriquita.
It is an iconic local pastry shop favored by locals serving all kinds of tasty baked goods as well as drinks. A great place for breakfast or an afternoon tea or coffee! You can sit at a table or buy all you want for takeaway.
We went there to have breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed all the pastries and toasts. After breakfast, we took some extra travesseiros pastries home with us. They are really soft like pillows and available with different fillings.
We tried one of every kind of travesseiros but my favorite was the original one with almond filling. Absolute deliciousness! Other pastries to try here are Pastel de Sintra and Queijada.
If you are looking for traditional pastel de nata, I recommend a place just a few steps from Casa Piriquita – Fábrica da Nata. They serve the best pastel de nata in Sintra!
Location: Casa Piriquita
3. Explore the regal Quinta da Regaleira!
Designed by an Italian architect, the spectacular Quinta da Regaleira or Regaleira Palace is one of the main attractions in Sintra. It is a stunning early 20th-century palace with vast gardens, lakes, fountains, and underground passages.
Romantic-style palace stands out with its Gothic-style pinnacles, towers, and gargoyles. Exploring the moody and dark grey Quinta da Regaleira was one of the top things to do in Sintra! It has these vibes like it is the villain’s castle you see in cartoons!
The spectacular palace incorporates a beautiful mix of Gothic, Renaissance, Manueline, and Roman styles. In case you are looking for some cool Instagram photo spots in Sintra, this palace with its picturesque corners has got you covered!
However, I can safely say that Quinta da Regaleira is truly famous for only one thing – the Initiation Well (also called the inverted tower). There are actually two wells, however, only the bigger one has this photogenic spiral staircase with 23 niches inside the wall.
The Initiation Well is one of the most famous places to visit in Sintra! It was never used as a water source but instead served for spiritual ceremonial purposes. When you go to the well, you will enter it at the top and then walk down the spiral staircase.
At the bottom of the staircase, you will enter underground tunnels. The main tunnel leads outside but there is one tunnel branch at the beginning that leads to the bottom of the second well called the Unfinished Well. Do check it out before exiting the caves!
Besides the Initiation Well, there are many other cool spots to explore! After visiting many places in Sintra, I can safely say that Quinta da Regaleira gardens are easily the most extravagant and luxurious of all the properties we visited!
The terraced gardens feature beautiful viewpoints, lakes, scenic benches, towers, fountains, statues, and bridges, as well as a chapel and a large collection of plants, bushes, and trees. Almost got lost in the winding network of paths, haha!
We visited Quinta da Regaleira in early November, bought our tickets in advance, and arrived at the entrance 30 minutes before opening time, so we could be the first ones to enter. When the palace opened, the line behind us was already massive! I can only imagine how it looks during peak season.
Quinta da Regaleira palace is located very close to Sintra Historic Center so it is easy to reach by foot. We stayed in Sintra town not too far away so we just walked here. It’s an easy walk and only goes slightly uphill, but you can also catch a tuk-tuk or a taxi.
4. Discover the secrets of Sintra National Palace – the oldest palace in Portugal!
Although Sintra National Palace is not as well-known as some other castles and palaces in Sintra, I very much enjoyed our visit to this iconic place. Besides it is considered the best-preserved medieval residence of Portuguese royalty in the whole country!
And do not mistake it with the famous Pena Palace! This one – Palacio Nacional de Sintra or Sintra Palace – is located inside the old town, but the one sitting on top of a hill is Pena Palace! Despite being less known, I’m glad we got to visit Sintra National Palace.
The royal residence stands out with its two gigantic conical chimneys rising above the palace’s kitchen into the skyline of Sintra. It is believed that the first foundation of the building complex was built in the 10th century making it the oldest palace in Portugal.
However, the palace as we see it today was built, shaped, and redesigned over the next centuries. Practically every king and queen of Portugal has spent some time in this palace leaving a rich mix of architectural and cultural heritage.
The palace is truly massive and most of what we see today was created during the 15th-16th centuries. For me, the place that stood out the most was Sala dos Brasões or Coat of Arms Room (first photo).
The impressive room is the most beautiful spot in Sintra Palace. It is a large 13-by-14-meter room proudly boasting walls covered with painted Portuguese tiles and a high golden ceiling with paintings of 72 coats of arms of Portuguese noble families.
I also loved The Swan Room as well as the inner courtyard with a nook full of beautiful Portuguese ‘azulejos’ tiles and paintings on the ceiling. If you have an extra hour to spend in Sintra Old Town, I recommend paying a visit to this historic palace!
5. Stop by the iconic Moorish Fountain!
One of the magical corners you can find around Sintra is Fonte Mourisca or Moorish Fountain. It is a beautifully built decorative street fountain with a notable Moorish design – one of the most iconic spots in Sintra!
Built back in 1922, the hundred-year-old fountain proudly boasts the Neo-Mudejar style with three jagged horseshoe arches positioned inside one bigger arch. The fountain is decorated with Mudejar-style tile mosaics.
There are actually a couple of decorative fountains you can find around Sintra like Fonte da Sabuga or Fonte dos Pisões, however, none of them can really be a competition to this stunning Moorish Fountain.
We visited this place in the early morning when we were heading to Quinta da Regaleira palace. It is a quick stop along the way as there is nothing else to do here, but nevertheless, it is a beautiful place worth visiting when in Sintra!
Location: Fonte Mourisca
6. Admire the fairytale Pena Palace!
Pena Palace (Palácio Nacional da Pena) sitting atop a hill in the small town of Sintra is probably the most visited tourist attraction in Portugal and definitely amongst the most famous European castles! This colorful castle has to be on every Sintra itinerary!
The 19th-century fairytale castle is also a national monument and was voted as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal by the public – a list of notable landmark attractions of great importance and historic significance in Portugal!
The charming Romanticist palace is famous for its colorful appearance which makes it look like it came straight out of a Disney movie. The palace sits on a rock outcrop in Sintra Mountains surrounded by an exotic forest.
Fun fact! Palácio da Pena was built on the site of an old monastery. When King Ferdinand II of Portugal married Queen Maria II in 1836, he wanted to build a summer residence for the family and fell in love with this place in Sintra.
So he bought the convent as well as the surrounding area and started building the summer palace. Today you can actually distinguish between the two parts of the palace – the red part is the old monastery, but the yellow and blue is the new building.
King Ferdinand not only ordered to build the beautiful castle but he was also behind the idea of having a large, exotic park around it! The park includes trees and exotic plants from, basically, all corners of the Earth – North America, China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand!
The unique climatic conditions up on the mountain (not too cold, not too hot) are very suitable for the exotic foreign plants. It is also very common to see a big cloud of fog surrounding the palace when the humidity arrives from the ocean nearby.
The Pena Palace is a must-see spot to visit in Sintra, so the best time for visiting this iconic place is first thing in the morning before it turns into chaos with long lines and crowds. Or you can try going there at the end of the day right before closing time.
Don’t forget to buy your tickets online at least a couple of days before your visit! Morning tickets usually disappear first as it is a popular time to go for guided tours and groups. We also went in the morning and easily squeezed past all the groups!
How to get to Pena Palace? It is not allowed to drive up there by private vehicles. You can get there by bus #434 which leaves from Sintra train station (you can buy tickets from the driver), by tuk-tuks (price is the same as the bus), or by authorized taxi.
If you feel like it, you can also hike up there but it will take 45 to 60 minutes of hiking uphill so it is not the easiest hike. You need to arrive at the entrance to the park before your designated time slot because it will take another 15 minutes to hike up to the palace!
We went to the Pena Palace first thing in the morning and as soon as we arrived at the palace, we started exploring the outside squares and corners. Normally the visit goes to the interior of the palace and then you exit the palace and explore the outside of it.
We did it the other way round and this is how we got photos without people and managed to skip crowds because everyone was queueing to get inside the building first. We just walked past the queue and explored the outside first.
You have to enter the palace rooms no later than 30 minutes after your designated time so after 20 minutes of exploring the outside we were right in time to enter the palace. The inside was narrow and packed with people and tour guides. It is to be expected!
My favorite place in Pena Palace was the inner square next to the red Clock Tower. Not only does it have incredible panoramic views over the West Coast of Portugal, but it also offers countless photo opportunities – see the best Sintra photo spots here!
7. Explore the Park of Pena and climb up to the High Cross – the highest place in Sintra Mountains!
After a visit to the famous Pena Palace, I recommend staying for a while and dedicating some time to exploring the Pena Park which often gets overlooked by the majority of visitors to the palace.
The Park of Pena is a gorgeous forest featuring a large collection of unique trees, and plants, a network of trails as well as some places of interest just a short walk away from the palace – Warrior Statue, Temple of Columns, the valley of lakes, and the High Cross!
Standing proudly at 529 meters above sea level, the High Cross or the Cruz Alta viewpoint is the highest point in the Sintra Mountains with amazing views over the surrounding area and the Atlantic Ocean. The best part about it – the stunning views!
The viewpoint features a beautiful Neo-Manueline cross that, interestingly, has been struck down twice already by lightning and by storm and this is a replica from 2008 measuring 3.5 meters high and 1.5 meters wide. Impressive!
8. Visit the charming Chalet of the Countess of Edla inside the Park of Pena!
The Park of Pena hides another hidden gem in Sintra – one of the most incredible buildings you will see, Chalet of the Countess of Edla! A visit to this chalet is already included in the price for the Pena Palace so do check it out!
Chalet of the Countess of Edla is one of the most unique buildings and one of my favorite secret spots in Sintra! It is a charming yellow Swiss-style chalet hidden inside the lush green forest. However, there is something uniquely special about it!
The most special feature of the house is that its balconies, windows, doors, and handrails all are covered with cork from the famous Portuguese cork oaks. This unique detail is something I haven’t seen anywhere else around Portugal.
The chalet was built for King Ferdinand II of Portugal and his second wife, the Countess of Edla during the second half of the 19th century. It is surrounded by lakes, fountains, and 200 species of trees, bushes, and flowering plants.
On the inside, you can visit different rooms on two floors – every room decorated in a different style each one of them more unique than others. In the middle of the house, there is a beautiful stairway that connects both floors.
When we visited there were practically no people around as it is quite a walk away from the Pena Palace (about 1 mile/1.6 kilometers). If you are not in a rush, I highly recommend taking a walk to the beautiful chalet.
Location: Chalet of the Countess of Edla
9. Walk around the medieval walls of Castelo dos Mouros!
Sintra is full of magical places and Castelo dos Mouros or the Moorish Castle is one of them. This medieval castle that was built during the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors is amongst the most popular tourist attractions in Sintra!
Book now >>> Castle of the Moors Fast Track Ticket
Castelo dos Mouros was then conquered by the first king of Portugal, Afonso I of Portugal also called Afonso Henriques, in the 12th century. It is, in fact, a medieval fortress as it was built as a strategic military structure.
Although the name suggests otherwise, you won’t see much of a castle today – all you can explore during your visit are 450-meter-long massive stone walls with multiple defensive towers built on large rock formations. But it is pretty cool nevertheless!
When visiting the Castle of the Moors, definitely walk around the whole perimeter of the walls. They offer some of the best views over Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and Sintra Mountains. Fingers crossed for a clear day and blue sky on the day of your visit!
The walls offer many photo opportunities where you can take an iconic medieval photo of the castle walls as well as the beautiful views over Sintra. It helps if you can arrive in the morning but this castle is not as crowded as the famous Pena Palace.
If you walk to the Southern end of the castle walls, there will be a defensive tower overlooking the South side of the mountains. It is the perfect spot for a photo of the nearby Pena Palace – you can see it rising high up in the distance (see photo above)!
Tip! If you arrive at the Moorish Castle early in the morning, know that the entrance to the castle is located a good distance from the main road! You have to enter the gate and walk about 350 meters to the actual entrance to the castle (exact location below).
10. Explore the enchanting Palace of Monserrate!
Amongst all the palaces and castles in Sintra, the majestic Palace of Monserrate in Sintra stands out as one of the most gorgeous ones in terms of architecture. The unique palace was built in the middle of the 19th century.
Book now >>> Monserrate Palace and Park Skip-the-Line Ticket
Today Palácio de Monserrate serves as the perfect example of Sintra romanticism. The credit for creating this masterpiece goes to an English merchant Francis Cook who created this vision by mixing elements of Gothic, Indian, and Moorish styles.
The romantic palace features decorated archways and overlooks the natural beauty of the gardens and forests surrounding the palace. It is part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape which, unsurprisingly, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Despite the unique exterior, I do think that the most iconic part of the Palace of Monserrate is the inside. Although the palace is rather small compared to other palaces and castles in Sintra, it is packed full of dazzling beauty.
As you enter the palace, you will have the opportunity to explore two floors connected with a staircase. The rooms upstairs are less impressive than downstairs where you can observe an exotic mix of architectural styles.
One of my favorite spots in the Palace of Monserrate was the hallway lined with golden Moorish-style arches decorated with carved elements and details (photo above). This picture-perfect hallway is the ultimate photo spot in Sintra!
Another one of my favorite places inside the palace was the Music Room (you will recognize it by the piano in the room). It is a circular room with arch-shaped windows and a stunning flower-resembling decoration on the ceiling (photo above)!
In the center of the palace, there is a round fountain. This space is not only connected to hallways and rooms but it also has an open ceiling connected to the second floor. Once you climb up to the second floor, you can have a great overview of the fountain.
The whole palace felt like a magical fairytale. No wonder it is amongst the most amazing wedding venues in Portugal. Entry to the palace and the garden costs 8 EUR and I recommend buying tickets online before your visit.
This is one of the rare tourist attractions in Sintra where you are allowed to drive to by private vehicles (there are a few parking spots at the entrance). We rented a car and went there on our own. You can also get there by taxi or by bus from Sintra train station.
11. Wander around the Park of Monserrate and find the secret chapel ruins!
Although the Palace of Monserrate is truly a wonderful masterpiece, there is something else worthy of your attention nearby. The palace is surrounded by an enchanting forest with exotic plants, pathways, waterfalls, and beautiful nature.
One of my favorite hidden gems in Sintra was the secret chapel ruins inside the Park of Monserrate. Such a mystical place with ruins of an old chapel already overgrown with trees and plants. Looked magical!
There is this especially unique archway that makes for a perfect backdrop for a cool photo. The roots of a giant tree have grown around and in front of an archway creating a scene of a sea monster capturing its prey with its tentacles.
I highly recommend taking a slow walk through the park! Imagine everything being quiet and you are exploring these ruins and other hidden corners while surrounded by scenic nature. Such a magical feeling!
Location: Chapel ruins in the Park of Monserrate
12. Watch the sunset at the Westernmost point of continental Europe – Cabo da Roca!
Cabo da Roca or Cape Roca is an iconic place in Portugal – it is not only the Westernmost point in Portugal but the whole of Europe! It is a famous cape stretching into the Atlantic Ocean – the best place for watching the sunset!
The cape also features an 18th-century lighthouse and amazing views of the surrounding landscape and the ocean. Waiting for the sunset in Cabo da Roca is usually written on every other Portugal bucket list.
However, due to its popularity, it gets very crowded, especially around the sunset hours. You can easily reach Cabo da Roca by car (there is a large parking lot) or catch a bus from Sintra. I’m sure you can take a taxi from Sintra as well.
If you have extra time to spend here I recommend arriving earlier before the sunset and taking a hiking trail along the coastline from Cabo da Roca to one of the most beautiful beaches in Portugal located just nearby – Praia da Ursa (read more below)!
Location: Cabo da Roca
13. Hike to one of the most breathtaking beaches in Portugal – Praia da Ursa!
Praia da Ursa or Ursa Beach is easily one of the most beautiful places I have visited in Portugal! With its golden-sand shores and astonishing rock formations this wild beach completely mesmerized me when I finally got to see it.
The beach got its name thanks to the large sea stacks – one of them is named ‘Roca da Ursa’ or the ‘Rock of Bear’. The beach is accessed by a steep dirt path descending the cliff. A beautiful place for a seaside walk, but not a place for a quick beach stop!
14. Stop by one of the most beautiful places in Portugal – Azenhas do Mar!
A visit to Sintra isn’t complete without stopping by one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal and the perfect place for watching the sunset – Azenhas do Mar! The name ‘Azenhas do Mar’ translates from Portuguese as ‘Watermills of the Sea’.
The town that originated as a fishing village has now grown into a seaside resort featuring Mediterranean-style whitewashed houses with terracotta roofs. The town is famous for its picturesque landscape with houses sitting on the majestic seaside cliff.
Viewpoints situated on the seaside cliff offer some of the most beautiful views you can see in Portugal. I recommend stopping by Miradouro das Azenhas do Mar viewpoint to enjoy the fantastic views of the town and the beach below with its iconic rock pool.
15. Go on a trip to the gorgeous Queluz National Palace!
The glamorous 18th-century Queluz National Palace is amongst the last major Rococo buildings designed in Europe and served as a residence and a retreat for many different members of the Portuguese royalty.
Although it was built as a place for leisure and recreation for the Portuguese royal family, at times it became an official residence for some members of the monarchy. Today Queluz National Palace is a member of the European Royal Residences Network.
The Palace of Queluz is often referred to as the ‘Portuguese Versailles’. Founded by Queen Maria I and King Pedro III, the palace displays an abundance of extravagant architecture. Of all the Portugal’s palaces, this is amongst the most beautiful ones for sure!
I loved wandering around the halls, corridors, and rooms of the extravagant palace. The architecture here was truly majestic! My favorite places inside the palace were the Ballroom, the Hall of Ambassadors as well as Sala das Mangas gallery with tiled wall panels.
However, it is especially known for its majestic gardens, including the famous Fountain of Neptune. The gardens feature statues, terraces, fountains as well as a cascade, the first artificial waterfall to be built near Lisbon.
Queluz National Palace is located in Sintra municipality right at a halfway point between Lisbon and Sintra Historic Center – it will be a 20-minute drive from either of those locations! Entrance tickets to the palace cost 10 EUR per person. Worth it!
Sintra feels like it has been touched by some sparkling fairytale magic. Portuguese royalty has favored this dreamy place since the Middle Ages and even to this day as the current claimant to the now defunct Portuguese throne still lives in Sintra.
I hope you enjoy your time in this marvelous town and in Portugal! And I hope you will get some travel inspiration from this blog post to make your trip to Sintra even more exciting, memorable, and filled with lots of fun things to enjoy during your visit!