Last Updated on April 21, 2023
A picturesque town located in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains on the western coast of Portugal, Sintra is less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the vibrant capital city of Lisbon.
Known for its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and charming architecture, Sintra has long been a popular destination for travelers from around the world. The town is home to several historic palaces, castles, and mansions, including the famous Pena Palace, which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With its stunning vistas, lush greenery, and mild climate, Sintra offers a unique blend of natural and cultural attractions making it an ideal destination for tourists of all ages and interests. Whether you’re interested in history, architecture, art, or simply relaxing in a beautiful natural setting, the hillside town of Sintra definitely delivers.
Let’s cover some of the best things to do and see in a place Lord Byron proclaimed a “glorious Eden.”
Visit Pena Palace
This colorful and whimsical palace is one of the most iconic landmarks in Sintra. The grand palazzo, perched 450-meters above sea level features a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Manueline, and Moorish, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland.
The inspiration behind this castle in the sky was Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the husband of Maria II. Ferdinand called on a fellow German, Baron Eschwege, to help him build his fantasy. The palace’s last royal occupant was Queen Amélia.
One morning in 1910, she clearly saw that the monarchy in Portugal was ending. Having lost her husband and her soldier-son to an assassin two years prior, she was determined not to lose her second son, Manuel II. Gathering her most precious possessions, she fled to Mafra, where her son waited.
She did not see the Pena palace again until 1945 when she returned to Portugal under much more favorable conditions. Pena has remained much as Amélia left it, making it a rare record of European royal life in their halcyon days preceding World War I.
Explore Quinta da Regaleira
This stunning estate was built in the early 20th century by a wealthy Brazilian businessman and is renowned for its unique blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline architectural styles, as well as its stunning gardens and mystical symbolism.
One of the main highlights of Quinta da Regaleira is the Palace of the Regaleira featuring intricate stonework, turrets, and towers. The palace has several floors, including a basement that’s accessible by a secret tunnel from the gardens and filled with grottoes, tunnels, and chambers adorned with elaborate mosaics and frescoes.
The gardens of Quinta da Regaleira are another major attraction with a wide range of flora and fauna, several ponds, fountains, and waterfalls. The gardens are also filled with a number of symbolic structures, such as the Initiation Well, a deep, spiral staircase that was used for Tarot and alchemy rituals.
Tour a Moorish Castle
This medieval castle located high on a hilltop was originally built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the Moors, who occupied the region for several centuries. The castle was later conquered by Christian forces during the Reconquista, and extensively restored and expanded in the 19th century.
Visitors can explore the castle’s battlements, towers, and ramparts, which offer panoramic views of the Sintra Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean, and the surrounding countryside. The castle’s strategic location made it an important stronghold during the Middle Ages, and visitors can learn about its history and significance through castle exhibits and audiovisual presentations.
One of the main highlights of the structure is the Tower of Homage, the castle’s tallest tower and one offering the best vistas of all. The castle’s walls and towers are adorned with a mix of Moorish and Christian motifs, including horseshoe arches and cross-shaped windows.
Hike the Sintra Mountains
The mountains located on the western coast of Portugal offer a stunning natural landscape with lush forests, rugged cliffs, and panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Some of the best hiking trails in the Sintra Mountains include Pena Park, surrounding the Pena Palace, with trails leading through the park’s dense forests. Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is a protected natural area located between Sintra and the nearby town of Cascais with several hiking trails leading through rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, and stunning coastal views.
Other trails in the area range from easy, moderate and challenging, depending on the hiker’s experience. But it’s not hard to find one in this incredibly picturesque region that’s suitable for outdoor lovers of all skill levels.
Visit the National Palace of Sintra
The National Palace of Sintra, also known as the Royal Palace, is one of the most important landmarks of the town and a popular tourist attraction.
The palazzo was built in the 14th century and served as a royal residence for several Portuguese kings. It’s a prime example of medieval architecture with Gothic, Moorish, and Manueline influences. The palace has been carefully restored and preserved over the years, and many of the original features, such as the stunning tilework and intricate stonework can still be seen today.
Visitors to the National Palace can explore several rooms and areas of the palace, including the Sala dos Cisnes (Swan Room), famous for its elaborate ceiling decorated with over 27,000 painted swans.
One of the most unique features of the National Palace is its large central courtyard surrounded by several towers and balconies. The courtyard is also home to the palace’s famous chimneys, which are shaped like cones and decorated with intricate tilework.
Explore Old Town
There’s no better way to experience the rich history and cultural heritage of Sintra than visiting its Old Town. The area is filled with charming narrow streets and alleyways lined with traditional Portuguese houses and shops.
The National Palace, the magnificent 12th century Igreja de São Martinho church and several historic fountains are located in Old Town.
But perhaps the most fun thing to do here is tasting Portuguese cuisine. The old town of Sintra is home to several restaurants and cafes serving up traditional Portuguese dishes. Sample local favorites like Bacalhau (salt cod) or Pastéis de Nata (custard tarts).
Relax on Sintra’s Stunning Beaches
Sintra is located on the coast, and as a result, there are several beautiful beaches in the area. Praia das Maçãs is one of the most popular, located at the mouth of a river with a large saltwater pool that fills with seawater during high tide.
Praia Grande is popular with surfers and bodyboarders, and one of the largest beaches in the area with stunning views of the Sintra Mountains.
Praia de Adraga, Ursa and Magoito are more remote and secluded surrounded by steep rugged cliffs and fascinating rock formations.