The Best Things to See and Do in Sintra, Portugal

The fairytale-esque Pena Palace is one of the top places to see in Sintra, Portugal
The fairytale-esque Pena Palace is one of the top places to see in Sintra, Portugal | © Joe Dunckley / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Nina Santos
9 October 2020

Sintra isn’t just a beautiful Portuguese destination; it’s one of the world’s most alluring towns. Enchanting palaces, historical fortifications and enigmatic pathways occupy each hilltop and slope. Plus, the city is only a 45-minute train ride from Portugal’s capital. From the Quinta da Regaleira to Cabo da Roca, here are the top things to see and do in Sintra.

Experience the mystery of the Quinta da Regaleira

Architectural Landmark
Map View
A view of the Palacio e Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal.. Image shot 07/2009. Exact date unknown.
© Alun Reece / Alamy Stock Photo
The 20th-century Quinta da Regaleira is a gothic architectural masterpiece that served as the private residence to many owners, including the Viscountess of Regaleira (a merchant family from Northern Portugal). Another owner of the estate was responsible for adding the mysterious symbolism that can be seen throughout the grounds, pertaining to masonry, the Knights Templar and alchemy. A tour takes approximately two hours and takes in the main building, a chapel, the park, tunnels and more – all for just €10 (£9) per adult or €5 (£4.50) per child. One of the most popular places to take a photo in Sintra is from the bottom of the Quinta da Regaleira’s Initiation Well, looking up towards the trees.

Tour the Pena Palace

Monastery, Park
Map View
The Pena Palace could be straight out of a children’s fairy tale book, with its setting atop a mountain peak and multicoloured towers. It is the most famous landmark in Sintra and one of the first places many tourists make a beeline for. It was designed by Portugal’s King Fernando II and reflects 19th-century Romanesque Revival architecture. It’s easy to plan a visit since the doors are open from 9:30am to 8:00pm in the summer season (10am to 6pm in the winter), and tickets cost €14 (£12.75) for adults and €12 (£11) for children, which includes a walk through the elaborate interiors and the gardens. The palace was categorised as a Unesco World Heritage site in the 1990s.

Take stunning pictures at the Parque da Pena

Monastery, Park
Map View
Pena Park, Sintra, Portugal
© Oliver Wintzen / Alamy Stock Photo
Part of exploring the Pena Palace includes walking around the grounds, and make sure you bring your camera for this unique experience. The forested walkways cover 200ha (494 acres) and showcase thousands of floral species in addition to the beautifully manicured hedges and spooky paths.

Hike around the Castle of the Moors

Building, Park, Ruins
Map View
Like the other major attractions, the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) is located high up on the Sintra Mountains and can be easily reached on the local bus. Anyone wanting some exercise can also hike up, but be aware it’s no leisurely stroll! Construction started in the 8th century, and the stone castle was a fortification that was built and used by the Moors who once occupied much of Portugal. Afterwards, the castle was ruined due to natural disasters, but restoration projects have sought to maintain the main structure since the 1800s. A hike down the mountain from the castle is much easier than heading up, providing many opportunities for capturing magnificent photos of the pine forests and city.

Enjoy ornate architecture at the Monserrate Palace

Map View
The Monserrate Palace in Sintra, Portugal
© Stefano Valeri / Alamy Stock Photo
Once a summer home for Portuguese royalty, the Monserrate Palace is a 19th-century mansion with Anglo-Saxon, Indian and Arab architectural influences. The delightful hallways inside are elaborately decorated and highlight gothic arches in unusual light colours and – like the Quinta da Regaleira and Pena Palace – the Monserrate Palace was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site in the 1990s. The estate contains a botanical garden, which is a perfect location to sit and rest after a day of walking from palace to palace.

Indulge your sweet tooth at the Casa Piriquita

Bakery, Cafe, Pastry Shop, Portuguese, $$$
Map View
Just as you cannot visit Belém without stopping at the Pasteis de Belém, you shouldn’t leave Sintra without trying a few sweets at the Casa Piriquita pastry shop. Look out for the travesseiro, a sticky, flaky and sweet rectangular cake filled with egg cream and flavoured with almonds. This 155-year-old shop is also known for its queijadas. Stemming from the Portuguese word for cheese, queijo, queijadas are round cakes filled with cheese, sugar, eggs and cinnamon, surrounded by a delicious flour crust. Try to grab a seat inside to enjoy these Sintra favourites with a coffee, or take your cakes to go.

Book a luxurious night at the Seteais Palace

Spa Hotel, Hotel
4.8/5 (268 Reviews)
Courtesy of Tivoli Palácio de Seteais /

Sintra is the perfect place to pretend to be royalty amid the many palaces and castles, so a night at the Seteais Palace may allow you to briefly live the dream! This five-star luxury hotel was built in the 18th century and oozes elegance in every room and corner. From the fine-dining restaurant to the elaborately decorated suites, a night at the Seteais Palace would be hard to forget.

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Stop at Cabo da Roca – mainland Europe’s westernmost point

Natural Feature
Map View

Hop on a bus or in a taxi, and soon you can be at Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in mainland Europe. Nearly always windy, the cape terrain with cliffs and a charming 18th-century lighthouse is oftentimes described as a little wild and raw. This is the perfect spot to take photos with nearly 360-degree views along the coast.

Soak up the sun at one of Sintra’s beaches

Natural Feature
Map View
Adraga beach, sunset colors, in Sintra, Portugal. Explore the caves at Adraga Beach to catch a glimpse of goose barnacles, a local delicacy
© Luis Vieira / Alamy Stock Photo

They’re smaller than many other beaches near Lisbon, but Sintra’s coast is incredible and a popular spot with the locals. It is also popular for water sports, and activities enjoyed here include surfing and paragliding. The Praias da Adraga and Ursa are a little more remote and only reachable by car – the latter involving a slow trek down to the beach from the parking lot.

These recommendations were updated on October 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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