Located just 30km from Lisbon, the UNESCO-listed castles of Sintra are a must-see during your time in the Portuguese capital.
No matter whether it’s a half day tour you opt for, or a full DIY day trip you embark on, seeing these magnificent castles, dotted among the Sintra-Cascais National Park, are certainly something you want to tick off your bucket list… and get onto your Instagram feed (sorry not sorry!)
Of course, the flagship, brightly coloured towers of the Pena Palaces are the number 1 site here, but did you know that Sintra also boasts an array of other castles and historic palaces you should definitely take in during your time here?
No? Well read on to discover the best Sintra Castles to visit, what order to see them in, as well as how to get to them, how to buy your tickets, what to pack and when to visit. Some might say it’s the ultimate guide to visiting Sintra and you know, you’d be well-placed to listen them!
Let’s get stuck in…
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How to Get to the Sintra Castles
There are numerous ways to get to the Sintra Castles, including driving yourself there and taking a bus, but the best 2 options (if you are coming from Lisbon) are either a guided tour or via a local commuter train.
Both of these are easy and affordable.
You can learn more about catching the train from Lisbon to Sintra, including a full step-by-step guide, in this post I wrote, otherwise check out the list below for my top recommended Sintra trips which run from Lisbon and will handily organise the full excursion for you!
- From Lisbon: Sintra and Cascais Full-Day Tour
- From Lisbon: Sintra, Regaleira and Pena Palace Guided Tour
- From Lisbon: Sintra Highlights Full-Day Tour
- From Lisbon: Sintra and Quinta da Regaleira 5-Hour Tour
How Long to Spend in Sintra
Most people opt to visit Sintra as part of a day trip from Lisbon.
This is what I did and I found it the perfect amount of time to take in all the castles I wanted, as well as see a bit of the town of Sintra too.
It’s also easy and efficient to visit Sintra as part of a day trip because, if you’re staying in Lisbon, you won’t have to pack up all your stuff, move destinations and find new accommodation, giving you more time to just enjoy yourself!
That said, you can certainly stay in Sintra longer if you like – this will probably allow you to take in the castles at slightly quieter times.
If you do plan to spend a night in Sintra – or longer, perhaps as part of a Portugal road trip, then check out these top accommodation picks in the town.
When Best to Visit
There’s no question that Sintra can get really busy – it’s probably the most popular day trip from Lisbon and in peak season months (June through September) expect large, jostling crowds.
Luckily I visited Sintra in 2021, when the pandemic meant tourist numbers were low and actually the crowds were not bad at all – that was one silver lining of covid I guess!
To try and avoid the crowds during my regular travel times however, I recommend visiting Sintra midweek (you’ll avoid the weekend Lisbon city-breakers) and also in the shoulder season months of April, May and October.
During these times the weather should still be good, but crowds will be thinner and accommodation prices across Portugal in general, are much cheaper.
How to Buy your Sintra Castle Tickets
It’s easy to buy tickets to all the Sintra Castles individually at each entrance gate.
You can also buy tickets in advance online, but unfortunately, this doesn’t allow you the option of buying combination entrance tickets, which are definitely the most cost-effective option if you plan on visiting 2 or more castles.
With a discount dependent on how many castles you opt for, combined tickets are valid for 30 days so, if you do spend longer in Sintra, you have plenty of time to visit as many of the castles as you wish!
A veritable castle feast if you will!
#1 Pena Palace
The Palace of Pena is the most famous castle in Sintra.
If you’ve seen any of the brightly coloured, Disney-like images of Sintra on your Instagram feed, then this is the place where they were snapped.
Situated in the Sintra-Cascais National Park, the Pena Palace is the highest of all the Sintra Castles located right at the top of the hill.
No matter how you get to Sintra (drive, bus or train), I recommend catching the #434 Sintra Tourist Bus from outside the train station to get up to the Pena Palace.
You can walk up, but the hill is extremely steep, not to mention long, and attempting it will eat into your precious castle time – plus you’ll probably arrive looking like a sweaty mess!
Entrance tickets to the Pena Palace cost 14€ per adult, which gives you full access to the castle and the grounds. I suggest going for this option.
Tickets can be bought using the automated ticket machines at the entrance gate, which have instructions for use in English – phew!
You’ll also find a café and toilet at the entrance and I suggest you make use of them!
From the entrance, you’ll begin the short walk up to the bright red and yellow palace itself.
You can wander through the castle, exploring all the turrets and gateways and snapping to your heart’s content – I just hope you get a cloudless blue sky like I did – although I have heard that sadly it’s often cloudy when you’re this high, so sorry to brag if the weather doesn’t work out so well for you!
There’s a pretty clear route through the Pena Palace that most visitors follow as it means you get to take it all in, so I just suggest touring the place in logical order – not missing the walk to the small chapel at the very top to check out the amazing stained glass window.
The 14€ ticket also gives you the option to go inside the castle and marvel at the incredible interior architecture and furnishings – if you’re a history buff, this is a must.
I recommend around 2 hours to visit the Pena Palace and then stopping at the café onsite – with amazing views, it makes the perfect spot to refresh before you head on to your next Sintra Castle!
#2 Moorish Castle
Next up on my list of the top Sintra Castles to visit it’s the amazing Castelo dos Mouros, otherwise known as the Moorish Fortress.
You can easily access this castle from the Pena Palace by following one of the well-paved trails down the hill and it’s a lovely walk that allows you to take in the natural surrounds and, of course, the views.
Buy your 8€ tickets to the Moorish Castle at the entrance gate if you haven’t got your combined ticket already, and then enter this ruined site, which I think I actually preferred to the Pena Palace.
In general, I felt it had more atmosphere and is certainly older and more historic – it was constructed in the 10th century.
It was also less crowded and the views were incredible.
You can wander the walls and turrets of this amazing place and there’s also a small museum which provides some really interesting info into the history of the whole Sintra area.
Honestly, it’s pretty easy to see why humans have lived here for thousands of years, plus why the rulers built fortifications here – def a good chance of spotting invaders on the advance hours (or even days) before they reached you!
#3 La Quinta de Regaleira
Traditionally a less popular one among the Sintra Castles, the Quinta de Regaliera has now become a huge hit, mostly thanks to Instagram, which has showcased its incredible Well of Initiation to the world.
The well is 88-foot-deep and was never, in fact, used as a water source, but actually built for secret ceremonial purposes, which only adds to its social media appeal!
Technically not a castle, La Quinta de Regaliera was actually part of a private estate built by an Italian architect for a wealthy Portuguese freemason, but I’m including it in this list because it’s now a really popular third option for those visiting Sintra.
And it’s easy to see why!
A 4 hectare property, the whole place is adorned with enigmatic buildings, mysterious parks, and underground tunnels. There are also grottos, a chapel and a Gothic grand residence that is festooned with gargoyles that span its 5 floors.
And if that wasn’t enough, the gardens and the views here are also mega highlights!
#4 National Palace of Sintra
And finally, we come to the 4th entry on my list of the best Sintra Castles to visit.
If you’re just day tripping to Sintra, which I’m guessing most of you will be, then seeing 4 castles really is enough, both in terms of time and castle fatigue – after all, when you see loads of a similar thing, you definitely stop taking in the beauty after a while!
And that’s why I really recommend picking a few top Sintra Castles to visit, rather than trying to cram them all in. Doing things this way will actually help you have a much better and more memorable experience.
And so on we go to the 4th and final castle I recommend you visit in Sintra – the National Palace, which is actually located in the town itself.
If you’ve started at the Pena Palace, and then wandered down the hill to see the other 2 Sintra Castles I’ve mentioned, the National Palace then actually makes the perfect end to your day back in the town itself.
First built in the Middle Ages and then expanded over time, the National Palace of Sintra is very much worth a visit, even if none of the original remains can be seen.
The former residence of the Islamic Moorish rulers of the area, the castle is now a blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudéjar architectural styles, and is an important historic museum and monument to this day.
It’s all about going inside this one to really appreciate it and entrance tickets cost 10€. Allow an hour or 2 for your visit.
5 Packing Essentials For Visiting the Sintra Castles
- Decent day pack
- Supportive walking shoes
- Natural SPF sunscreen
- Good insect repellent
- Sony A6000 camera
How to Pay in Portugal
When it comes to getting paying for things in Portugal, I always recommend using card payments as much as possible, because many ATM machines in this country charge hefty withdrawal fees.
But of course, you want to ensure you’re not being charged overseas transaction fees or getting poor exchange rates when you use your card abroad, which is why I always take my Wise Card away with me.
The easy way to spend abroad with the real exchange rates, no markups, no sneaky transaction fees and a free Euros account, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card in Portugal… and it links easily with Google and Apple pay – sold!
Get yours here.
Best Travel Insurance for Portugal
I wouldn’t dream of travelling anywhere these days without proper coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads which I’ve used during my time across Portugal and Europe.
If you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker looking for travel insurance, then look no further than Safetywing’s great Nomad Insurance policies. These guys will cover you at some seriously great prices!
Where to Visit After Sintra?
If you still have time for more travelling after Sintra (and lucky you if so!), then you may want to head to other parts of Portugal.
Check out these articles for some inspiration…
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So there you have it, my list of the top 4 Sintra Castles to visit and how to arrange them into a handy day trip itinerary.
Any more tips about visiting the Sintra Castles?
Please drop them into the comments box below to help out your fellow travellers…