If you’re interested in general information and tips for visiting Sintra – Don’t skip my other post. I guarantee that one will save you some time and headaches!
For this post I wanted to detail some of my favourite sights in Sintra, and how much time to expect at each. For reference, we tend to breeze through rooms full of memorabilia and spend more time taking everything in and enjoying the experience.
I’d rather not rank the attractions, but if I had to, this first one narrowly takes the cake!
Quinta Da Regaleira
Getting there: This is the one location outside of the centre that is a flat and easy walk. If memory serves it was about 15-20 minutes on foot with our tot, but a nice walk.
This is an impressive residence built in a gothic style, and while exciting to look at, at first I felt a teeny tiny bit disappointed that it was a bit of a “fake.” It was built recently by European standards, in the early 1900’s. I like knowing things are really, truly, very old. There are so few things out there that are genuinely OLD since most things that brag about being built in the 1600’s have inevitably burnt to the ground and been built back up. Regardless, very cool to look at! The areas of the house that you can go through, are not large, and can be covered in about 15 minutes.
The grounds of this property are the showstopper. Plan for HOURS exploring. This would be a great place to bring a packed lunch and find a little bench to snack at. We came in the afternoon, so we enjoyed coffee in the cafe, which ended up being a highlight since it has great views, and an ambience unique to this spot.
Another thing you should know about us, is that while I like to travel on a budget, I think splurging on restaurants and cafes in ideal settings is totally worth it! (Within reason. While pricier than some other places, the “tourist trap” restaurants in Sintra are still very reasonable in my opinion. Would I spend $34 on a club sandwich at Versailles again? Non.)
I recommend planning for 3 hours at this location. Make sure your phone has enough battery to be a flashlight, because there are still a few secret un-lit tunnels that you can access if you keep your eyes peeled. One of these is accessible under the duck pond. Try every little cave that doesn’t have a chain across it. This is probably the funnest part, and a great activity for kids!
The “Initiation Well” is THE impressive insta-famous location of the grounds and is now only one-way with no stopping. Be prepared to wait in line to descend the nine stories of stairs and have your camera ready to snap very quick photos, because the line does keep moving. Being that we visited in a so-so day in November, there wasn’t really a wait, but it was still busy.
There is so much more to this location than the well, so don’t skip out before you explore the whole grounds! There is a tower here and there, the tunnels I mentioned, the duck pond, caves, at least one bridge, and so many other little oddities. Paired with fantastic views of Sintra and amazing gardens, this is truly one of the best places that we’ve been.
Having visited twice and explored the grounds and then the house, it is almost an anti-climactic way to do things. Consider seeing the house first and then what the gardens have to offer, as long as you have lots of time. If you need to skip something, the map highlights the tennis courts, which are really nothing to look at. If something else has to go, I would skip the inside of the house over the rest of the grounds. It’s nice, but not that unique inside.
Getting there: Take an Uber from the town. The National Palace is a convenient place to order one. (More on getting around in Sintra and why Uber in my other post!)
Purchasing your tickets in advance is probably a good idea and would put you into a shorter line. We didn’t think to do that, and while the ticket line looks very alarming, it moves quickly. This is probably the very busiest sight in the area, so try to arrive early and if possible, on a weekday!
Start at the very bottom of the grounds and work your way up. I don’t think they allow people in from the lower gate anymore, so you will pass it on the right on the way up in your car. After you get your ticket and enter, skip the little buses that everybody gets into and find your way down the paths to the lower gate (keep right.) This is a good way to avoid crowds for a little while, and really enjoy the whole experience.
This sight is a workout! While the paths wind their way up gradually, there is no two ways about it, its a long way up! There are so many little trails to explore with hidden surprises everywhere. Don’t rush the experience, take it all in! (You can reward yourself with lunch at the top!) Plan for 4 hours at Pena. Maybe you won’t need that long, but you’ve made it all the way there, you don’t want to skimp on time and miss anything. The estate is MASSIVE!
The palace itself is a great stop for lunch! There is a restaurant on the second level with lots of options and a great atmosphere. The prices will not make you gasp. Again, when its in the budget I LOVE to do these things. In so many other cities, I just wouldn’t be able to justify the cost, so when it’s reasonable, I really think it’s worth it. Especially at Pena, after a long walk, lunch and a quick break is very satisfying.
Be prepared for this area to be very crowded. The palace interior is nice, and has lots of furnishings so it is fun to look through. Access is limited to certain areas though, so while it is huge from the outside, you can definitely be through in under an hour (moving slowly.) I think we covered it in about 30 minutes. I have seen people asking if the palace ticket is worth it, and I think it is. The first time I visited Sintra was 2013 and at that time it was not. We were really surprised by how little you could actually walk through. Having been back in 2019, I can say that I would go through it again given a chance. A lot more of it has been opened to the public and it is much more interesting now. (Maybe they had some feedback.)
The Moorish Castle can easily be accessed on foot after the visit to Pena Palace. Just exit the same place you came in and walk down the road. I think the walk was no more than 10 minutes.
This attraction is all outdoors, so be aware of that if visiting on a rainy day! There are still restroom facilities and a stall to buy coffee. The “castle” remaining is mostly just the exterior walls, which you can walk all the way around. This site is worth the visit for panoramic views of the area and to see an old style castle. However, once you’ve walked around the wall there is not much else to see here. You can be comfortably in and out in an hour. Siobhan was tired of castles and it was pouring rain when we visited, so Jason did the walk and Siobhan and I hid in a little cave-ish area. There are a LOT of stairs, so plan to take breaks to enjoy the view if you are visiting with kids.
While still at this site, look around for the signs pointing down to the city centre. There will be an arrow and a wide cobbled path. The walk is about 25 minutes, all downhill! This is not a great walk for strollers however, with many small sets of stairs. We did still take the stroller down with us but folded it every so often and carried it down the stairs. If your stroller is a pain to fold, you may not want to take the walk.
The National Palace
The National Palace is right in the heart of old Sintra. If you are staying in town it is a convenient walk. The first time I visited Sintra, I didn’t bother with it. As palaces go it isn’t especially ornate looking. This time we stayed a few steps away and had an evening free without enough time to see another attraction. Poor National Palace! What a relationship of convenience we have!
I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised with this stop and I think it is totally worth visiting. The interior is actually much larger than it appears and very interesting. It’s a bit of a maze to walk through and there are impressive furnishings throughout. Most of the building is open to the public and it never looked very busy. As I mentioned before, we are not really “read every placard” kind of people, so we were through it in about 30 – 45 minutes.
My phone was dead for this stop, that’s how much I expected of it, so I have absolutely no pictures! If you visit Sintra, you will be sure to see it as soon as you enter the old town.
Monserrate Palace and Convent of the Capuchos are the other two “big” attractions in Sintra. I visited Monserrate only in 2013 and not this most recent trip. It is another palace with nice grounds, but the grounds are not as exciting as Quinta da Regaleira or Pena, and the palace is not that large. I remember it being worth the visit, but if you do have to lose a stop, this would be the one for me.
The Convent of the Capuchos I have never been to! Whomp whomp. I wanted to visit the first time I was in Sintra and ran out of time. Then our last visit, same thing. We arrived before close not knowing that the last entry was an hour before closing. It is a convent on the mountain that was built for monks in the 16th century. You can walk through the tiny rooms and the grounds look interesting. C’est la vie. Maybe a third trip to Sintra?
I hope this post made you Sintra crazy! It is such a good experience. Don’t forget to check out my trip planning post: Sintra With Kids – More fun, less crowds.