A Guide to Visiting 8 Stunning Sintra Castles

A Guide to Visiting 8 Stunning Sintra Castles

So you’re planning to visit the Sintra castles and royal palaces? Great idea! From the historic castle of the Moors to the romantic royal palaces like Quinta da Regaleira, these buildings have many tales to tell. Follow our map of the 8 most stunning of Sintra’s palaces and castles and read about each of them as well as how to get to Sintra and the best places to stay.

To help you plan your day trip, we’ve created a simple but comprehensive guide to the most famous castles in Sintra. Knowing a little about each of them will help you narrow down the must-sees for your visit and the order that you’d like to see them in.

Sintra

When visiting Portugal, Sintra is a magical destination that has to be on your itinerary. With incredible mountainous scenery and a bustling town center, it is no wonder Sintra is so popular. Without a doubt, its historic castles and palaces are the major draw card. Our guide to five brilliant castles in Sintra will give you a great introduction to each of these magical places.

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Map of Castle Locations

Pena Palace

Pena Palace (Palacio Nacional da Pena) is undoubtedly a top attraction to experience when you visit Sintra. This hilltop palace is simply stunning and is actually one of Portugal’s top tourist attractions.

pena-palace
Pena Palace entrance

There are always floods of tourists here, so arrive early in order to beat the crowds!

Everything about the Pena Palace from its 19th century romanticist-inspired architecture to its strategic location and opulent interior will have you in awe.

Just from the outside, you can observe how remarkably well-constructed and decorated the palace was.

Architectural details on the exterior of Pena Palace

Within the Pena Palace itself, there are many fascinating parts to explore. This starts right from the main entrance where you are met by the sight of a gargoyle carved into the wall.

Inside, you can wander around the lavish rooms, including magnificent staterooms and King’s chambers. You can opt to just pay for access to the terraces, but it is really worth paying extra to explore the interior.

Inside Pena Palace

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One of the best things about this national palace is the mesmerizing views that are accessible within the grounds. You can enjoy the unparalleled panorama of the Serra de Sintra and the surrounding region from the Queen’s Terrace (known as the Relógio de Sol).

The Sintra Pena Palace was a summer getaway favorite for the royal family.

After visiting Pena Palace, tourists love to stroll around Park Pena Palace (Parque da Pena.) with its beautiful gardens, lakes, and footpaths. The Royals constructed the Park as an enormous “romantic garden.”

Meeting Point: Pena Palace
Hours: 10 am to 6 pm
Buy entry tickets to skip the line here.

Park de Pena

Moorish Castle

Another Sintra castle that should be on everybody’s itinerary is the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros). This is another one of Sintra’s splendid hilltop castles with a rich history and immaculate design.

Castelo dos Mouros was once a formidable fortress during the Moorish reign in Portugal (8th-12 century) that was subsequently taken over by Christian rule. Such was the importance of this castle that it was the principal defense point for the entire Sintra region!

Moorish Castle wall and towers

Located high on a rocky crag, the strategic location of the fortress allows for unparalleled panoramic views of the Sintra mountain range. Although less touristy than the Pena Palace, Moorish Castle is still undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Sintra. You can get a bus or walk the path from the Pena Palace as we did, which was a really lovely experience.

The Moorish Castle is very large, yet with a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere, differing somewhat from the noisy crowds you will have experienced if you visited Pena Palace.

Within Castelo dos Mouros, one of the major highlights is the Igreja de São Pedro Chapel, a 12th-century Christian chapel that is officially the oldest Christian place of worship in Sintra.

For the best views within the castle walls, head to the former watchtower known as Torre Real (the Royal Tower). This Tower was popular with the Portuguese nobility, including King Ferdinand, and the stunning view of the Sintra Mountains will make you realize why.

Location: 2710-405 Sintra
Hours: 10 am to 6 pm

La Quinta da Regaleira

Another castle to add to your Sintra Itinerary has to be La Quinta da Regaleira. This 19th-century expansive gothic mansion is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called the ‘cultural landscape of Sintra.’

Quinta da Regaleira has one of the most impressive architectural styles of Sintra’s castles. Formerly a holiday home, it was inherited and completely renovated in the late 19th century by a wealthy Brazilian named Antonio Monteiro.

initiation-well-sintra
Initiation Well, Quinta da Regaleira

As well as the iconic neo-gothic architecture of the interior and exterior palaces, La Quinta da Regaleira boasts incredible gardens that are arguably the major highlight. The gardens are not what you might expect!

Don’t Miss the Hidden Tunnels

You can find a steep, spiral staircase that leads down to one of the major attractions of the gardens: the Initiation Well. Legend has it that this well was used for ancient ceremonies and initiations. These days, it makes for great photos and really triggers the imagination!

Also, within the garden complex, you can admire waterfalls and lakes as well as explore hidden underground caves with their unique maze-like structure. There is even a garden chapel.

You could spend hours exploring the wonders of La Quinta Da Regaleira; its well-crafted interior, and remarkable garden complex. Again, it is advisable to arrive here as early as possible to avoid wasting time in tourist queues- especially during the summer months.

If visiting multiple castles in Sintra, then consider a combined ticket.

Location: R. Barbosa du Bocage 5, 2710-567 Sintra
Hours: 10am to 5:30pm

Sintra National Palace

Sintra Palace (officially Sintra National Palace) is undoubtedly one of the jewels of Sintra and definitely worth adding to your Sintra trip itinerary.

Sintra-Palace
National Palace of Sintra

One of the best things about ‘Palácio Nacional de Sintra’ is its excellent central location- right in the heart of the Sintra town center. It is also known as ‘Palacio de Vila'(the Town Palace) thanks to these ideal logistics-within walking distance from Sintra Train Station.

With authentic gothic architecture, a stunning white façade, and two iconic chimneys, the National Palace of Sintra is easily one of the most striking monuments in the whole town. And it is also one of the most historically significant too.

Originally constructed on the site of a Moorish castle for eight whole centuries, this fabulous medieval castle was a residence for Portuguese Royalty. Indeed, from the Middle Ages onwards, this was a summer residence for some elite members of the Portuguese Royal Family- right until the Revolution of 1910.

These days, the palace is a major tourist attraction, thanks to both its beautiful appearance and fascinating interior. It’s a great place to learn about Portuguese history and there is a lot to explore. You can admire the impressive Coat of Arms Room and Swan Room (with swans carved in the roof tiles) as well as the magnificent Palatine Chapel.

Location: Largo Rainha Dona Amélia, 2710-616 Sintra
Hours: 9:30 am to 6 pm

Monserrate Palace

For a unique, less popular but equally magnificent castle, head to Monserrate Palace! It is the perfect place to avoid the typical touristy crowds found in the other castles. Ideally, you would head here at peak tourist times (in the middle of the day), before or after visiting one of the more crowded castles.

monserrate-palace
Monserrate Palace

Of all the palaces in Sintra, Monserrate Palace is one of the smallest, yet well worth visiting. Its uniqueness can be observed just from the outside- with its Arab/ Middle-Eastern influence and complex, symmetrical design. And when you venture inside the palace, its immaculate stone carvings and patterns leave a lasting impression!

It won’t take you that long to visit all the interior (maybe half an hour or less), but you will want to spend even longer relaxing outside the palace in its delightful English Gardens. The mix of Arab/ Middle Eastern architecture and English-style gardens gives Monserrate Palace arguably the most diverse of all the castles mentioned.

These English gardens were designed and inspired by Sir Francis Cook- a wealthy English merchant who bought the palace grounds in the 19th century. You can take a stroll by the lake, or relax in the botanical garden.

Location: 2710-405 Sintra
Hours: 9.30 am to 6.30 pm
Buy a ticket and skip the line here

Now you know the background of the best Sintra castles, you need to decide if you want to take a guided tour or plan your own self-guided day trip.

Once you’ve visited Sintra and its main sights, you could also elect to spend a couple of days here and explore the surrounding region. Sintra offers some great hiking, and it’s a simple trip to the ocean from town. There are some great walking tours in Sintra if you are staying a few days.

Consider these other historical and beautiful castles and palaces:

The National Palace of Queluz

Queluz Palace is built in the Rococo style and after being used as a summer retreat, it was the home of Queen Maria I at the turn of the 19th century.

The National Palace of Queluz - Lisbon - Portugal
The National Palace of Queluz Sala de Mangas decorated with tile panels

It’s another royal estate where you can pay to wander the gardens or buy a combination ticket to see inside this lovely palace.

Location: Largo Palácio de Queluz, 2745-191 Queluz, Portugal
Hours: 9 am to 6 pm
Buy a ticket and skip the line here

The Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla

Like Pena Park, the garden of the Countess of Edla was created with “romantic sensitivity” and the Chalet and garden have a romantic story at their heart.

After the death of his first wife, King Fernando II (who built the Palácio da Pena) fell in love with opera singer Elise Friederike Hensler (later Countess d’Edla). His new wife was never accepted into the royal court and so the couple fled to the rolling hills outside Lisbon.

Together they built this Alpine-style chalet in the late 19th century and beautified the surrounding garden. The Condessa d’Edla chalet has an eclectic decor comprising wall paintings, tiles, and cork. Outside there is a rich vegetation of botanical species.

Garden of the Countess of Edla
The Chalet and garden of the Countess of Edla

The Countess of Edla sold all her royal palaces when the King died, but she kept their unique chalet-style cottage built in the far corner of the Pena Palace grounds.

Unfortunately, it burnt to the ground in 1999 before being magnificently restored in 2011. It’s a must-see for anyone who is a romantic at heart!

Seteais Palace

Right across the way from the Quinta TheTivoli Palácio de Seteais is of the few palaces that you can visit at night. It’s a neoclassical palace that was built by the then Dutch Consul to Portugal in the 18th century.

It’s also a 5-star hotel, so consider splashing out for a night, touring the palace, sleeping the night there, and having a truly royal Sintra Portugal experience!

Where to Stay in Sintra

The historical center of Sintra is a popular place for travelers spending only a night or two in Sintra. The location is handy to the Sintra station.

  • Lawrences Hotel the only 5-star property in the Sintra city center and is perhaps the most charming of its hotels with a special and welcoming atmosphere and impeccable service.
  • Chalet Saudade – just 100m from Sintra’s bus and train stations Chalet Saudade, a lovingly restored guest house offers single rooms, suites, and even family suites.
  • Villa Estefânia – just an 8-minute walk to the National Palace and views of the Moorish Castle the studios here have a kitchenette making them great for a longer stay.

Cascais and Cabo da Roca

If you spend a night or two in Sintra, consider making your way to Lisbon via Cascais and Cabo da Roca. Cascais is a resort town on the coast, and Cabo da Roca is a cape and is the westernmost point in Europe. It’s a quick half-day trip from Sintra and a fantastic place to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

  • Villa Cascais Boutique Hotel – in the historical center of Cascais this renovated aristocratic residence of the 19th century offers something to suit everyone with both traditional and modern decorated rooms.
  • The Albatroz Hotel – Just 1 minute from the beach at Cascais Bay chose from double rooms or suites with sea views.

How to Get to Sintra

You could take a tour or if you prefer, you can DIY your Sintra trip by taking a train from Rossio train station in the city center. The ticket booths are very busy during summer, so it’s worth buying them in advance or arriving at least 20 minutes before your train is due to depart.

Check out our guide to the best day tours to Sintra from Lisbon if you only have a day to explore.

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