Sintra, Portugal in 1 Day
I hope you have more than 1 day to spend in Sintra, Portugal, but in case you don’t, I’m going to tell you how to make the most of your day-trip to Sintra. We made a number of driving mistakes when visiting Sintra, and it cost us hours out of our day where we could have been sight-seeing.
Before I get into the best things to do in Sintra, Portugal I am going to give you a few tips on how to make the most of your time there.
DON’T DRIVE TO EACH ATTRACTION
While it’s true that you can drive to Sintra and drive from sight to sight, I don’t recommend it in the slightest. Driving is difficult there – the roads are beyond tiny, and the streets are small, steep, and winding. When we went, it was also so foggy that we could barely see a couple feet in front of us. We were also in a van, which was almost too big to even drive on some of the roads. It was doable, but if I could do it again, I wouldn’t have driven a van into the center of Sintra.
The other issue is our GPS had no idea where we were. We were probably ¼ of a mile away from one of the places we were trying to see, and the GPS took us in the wrong direction and we ended up driving around for literally 2 hours trying to figure out where to go. We only had 1 day for Sintra travel, so wasting that much time driving around was not fun.
A good option is to just take a full day tour to Sintra from Lisbon, where they take you to the main attractions and are responsible for getting you to and from these attractions.
Alternatively, you could just get yourself into Sintra (bus, drive) and then take the bus/walk to the sights that you want to see. Honestly, if I ever go back to Sintra, I think I would pay the extra money for a tour, unless I had more than 1 day there. Trying to get everywhere and mapping it all out to fit into one day was incredibly difficult. Paying the extra money to have someone take us to where we needed to go would have been more than worth it. I think driving around for 2 hours and almost getting stuck on the tiny roads has scarred me a little bit – it’s probably not as difficult as I’m making it seem to make your way around Sintra without a tour.
After doing a lot of research, it seems it would be easy to take the bus to most of the attractions I recommend seeing, so that’s probably a more cost-effective option than taking a tour.
WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES
Everything worth seeing in Sintra is going to involve a significant amount of walking. Wear something comfortable that you can walk around in all day. For example, Pena Palace has the grounds around the palace, and we walked around there for at least 2 hours. If we weren’t wearing sneakers or comfortable shoes, there’s no way we would have been able to do that comfortable, or probably at all.
It seems that Sintra, Portugal is around 10 degrees (F) colder than Lisbon, so make sure you wear or at least bring layers. Once you’re up on top of those windy roads and in the grounds around the Palace, the wind picks up and it’s a bit chilly, even in the heart of the summer when we were there.
So if you only have 1 day in Sintra, Portugal here’s what I recommend seeing.
Pena Palace – Pena Palace is almost indescribable. The entire town of Sintra is kind of magical and fairy-tale like, but once you get to Pena Palace, it’s like you’ve arrived in a different land. It almost looks like a Disney World castle, but it’s so much more than that. The palace itself is beautiful and historic – it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – but the most amazing part of the visit to Pena Palace was the grounds and gardens around the palace. We spent at least 2 hours exploring the area around the palace. The Palace sits at the top of a hill, and all around the palace, there are paths, bridges, plants, churches, and so much more. It’s like exploring a magical forest – it’s honestly so incredible that it’s difficult to describe. Make sure you visit the High Cross when exploring the grounds around the palace. Grab a map on your way in so you know where you’re going! When we went, there was so much fog that we couldn’t see too far in front of us, which made it feel so much more surreal. If there’s one place you must visit when you’re in Sintra, it’s the Pena Palace! I recommend getting a skip the line ticket for this one to make sure you don’t waste time standing in line.
The Castle of the Moors – also a must visit when you’re in Sintra. The castle sits atop a hilltop, and is one of the most incredible expansive castles you could imagine. The castle is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Views from the castle are said to be phenomenal – the day we were in Sintra, it was too foggy to see much of anything. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for something fun to do while on vacation, this place is a must-see. It may be worth getting a skip the line ticket for this one.
Quinta da Regaleira – probably my biggest regret of our trip to Portugal is that we didn’t get to see this place. We chose to see the Palace of Monseratte instead, and I regret it quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the Palace of Monseratte was nice and worth visiting if you have the time, but if you only have 1 day in Sintra, go see Quinta da Regaleira instead! We had planned on coming here but because of our driving mishap, we just didn’t have the time to get here. I strongly suggest putting this on the top of your list. Based on all the research I’ve done, this seems like one of the best places to visit while you’re in Sintra. There’s so much to explore and see there, like bridges, towers, underground passageways, wells, waterfalls, and so much more! I wish we had found the time to see this place when we visited!
Convent of the Capuchos – if you have time, I would add this to the list. Not surprisingly, we didn’t have time to visit this, but I really wish we had. I’ve seen some incredible pictures and it looks like a place worth visiting.
Once you get to Sintra, you can take bus 435 to Quinta da Regaleira. From there, you can wait for the 434 bus, which will take you directly to Pena Palace. Once you’re finished with Pena Palace, you can just walk a few minutes down the road to get to the castle. If you don’t feel like taking the bus, you can probably find a Tuk Tuk to take you to any of these sights. It doesn’t look like the bus takes you to the Convent of the Capuchos – it looks like the best way to see this would be to take a taxi or a Tuk Tuk.
If you plan properly and know what bus to take or how to get to where you want to go, you should have time to see all 4 of the places mentioned above, especially if you start your day early. Get to town early and take the bus to the sights you want to see. Don’t make the mistake we did and drive around for 2 hours!
I strongly recommend purchasing skip the line tickets for Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors if you only have 1 day to spend in Sintra, Portugal. I have read that the lines can get quite lengthy, and you won’t want to waste your day waiting in line when you could be exploring the magical town of Sintra!