Hi Frugalistas! While there is so much to do and see in Lisbon a visit to the castles of Sintra, just 20minutes from central Lisbon should also be on your To Do list when planning your trip to Lisbon. With three very different, and very easy to access castles, and a picture perfect town, Sintra really does make the best day trip from Lisbon. And the best part? It’s so easy to make a day trip to Sintra under your own steam.
Getting to Sintra and getting around Sintra
Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon, so getting an early start is well worth the effort – buses and the town get terribly busy in the afternoon, with long queues and frustrated visitors.
Sintra is an easy 40minute train trip from the central and very easy to navigate Rossio train station. If you have a Viva Viagem ticket and have paid for the “Zapping” option you can easily use that. Trains run frequently and are clean and comfortable. The train trip itself is not particularly exciting, but don’t worry, once you arrive in Sintra, everything changes……
Sintra is the end of the line, so you won’t miss your stop. Head out of the station and turn right to catch the Scotturb number 434 bus into the town proper. The number 434 bus runs a loop from the station, into the town proper, and then onto the three castles I’m featuring in this post. A single ticket will allow you to jump on and jump off on a single loop, so make sure you keep your ticket.
If you would prefer you can also walk into the main part of town. It’s an easy, 15minute flat, well signposted walk.
The National Palace
The National Palace is first stop on your day trip to Sintra. When you hop off the bus you can’t miss it. It’s the big white building across the courtyard from the bus stop.
Entries and exits are carefully regulated, so you may find you need to queue even if you are there bright and early.
Like many stately homes, the palace is toured in a one way circular route. Also like many stately homes, there is not a huge amount of signage and information. I suggest taking a good quality guidebook if you want to get a deep appreciation of what you are seeing.
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Even though it is in the centre of town, do look outside the windows of the National Palace. There are some lovely views out over the rooftops of the town, up the hill to the Moorish Castle.
When you are finished visiting the National Palace, resist the temptation to head to the souvenir shops, hop on the 434 bus to get to the second of our castles of Sintra – the Moorish Castle.
The Moorish Castle
The Moorish Castle is that medieval ruin with the flags flying that you could see from the main part of the town up on the ridge.
There are two places to buy your ticket for the Moorish Castle – you can buy it at the very modern entrance just near the bus stop, or if that is crowded, walk up to the castle itself and get your ticket there. When you buy your ticket for the Moorish Castle, buy the combo ticket that includes the Pena Palace. There is a very small saving, but the big advantage is no queuing at the more popular Pena Palace.
There is quite a long, but rather pleasant walk through some pretty gardens to reach the castle. A number of view points are marked along the route where there are some rather nice vistas to enjoy.
But the highlight of your visit to the Moorish Castle is definitely the views from the Castle itself. You can climb and wander around the ramparts to your heart’s content enjoying the view back over the town to the coast. The Castle was originally built in the 12th century, but largely rebuilt in the 19th century.
There is no Castle as such. Just ramparts, towers, stairs and those glorious views.
Before you leave, do take time to enjoy the pretty gardens. There are plenty of quiet places to sit and enjoy the Castle from a distance. There is also a (very) small café, and very modern, clean loos for a comfort stop.
frugal first class travel tip: The Moorish Castle is full of stairs and narrow walkways. It is not suitable for those who are less mobile, or for small children in strollers.
The Pena Palace
The third of our castles of Sintra is probably the “star of the show” – the outrageously colourful riot that is the Pena (pronounced Pen-ya) Palace. While the Moorish Castle is all about Medieval minimalism, the Pena Palace is definitely all about 19th century excess. Imagine the Disney Castle influenced by the Moors rather than Neuschwanstein and you’ll get the general idea……..
Getting to the Pena Palace is easy. You can either take the Scotturb bus, or it’s about a 10minute walk (all uphill, and on a narrow winding road, so do be careful).
If you’ve already bought your ticket at the Moorish Castle, you can just show it and go right in.
Head up the grand driveway, and you then have two options to reach the Palace way up the hill ahead of you. You can either queue for the little shuttle bus (costs about EUR3) or you can walk. I walked both up to the Palace and then back down again. The walk is very well sign posted and the gardens are genuinely lovely. The buses are terribly crowded……….
Even once you leave the bus, there is still quite a bit of uphill walking to reach the actual Palace gates (where they will check your ticket again, so make sure you have it handy).
The Palace was built in the nineteenth century and there’s no coincidence it looks a bit like Neuschwanstein (or the Disney Castle depending on where you take your architectural references from). Its original owner was the German born cousin of King Ludwig of Bavaria, Prince Ferdinand.
While everyone seems to gather around the entrance exteriors and grand front terrace (and indeed they are very special), do make sure you head out the back to enjoy the wonderful view from the rear terrace. Then head inside for even more nineteenth century kitsch.
To head back into Sintra you simply catch the bus back to the station. Check the train times carefully for your return – a number of trains return to Oriente station rather than Rossio. It’s not a big deal to take that train, but just be aware so you can check your revised route on the way back.
Back in the main town area of Sintra
You’ll find plenty of cafes and restaurants back in the main town area of Sintra, although they do all look quite touristy. There are also plenty of souvenir and gift shops. If you walk back to the station from the central square you’ll find handicraft stalls lining the route if the shops haven’t tempted you.
You can also catch another Scotturb bus (you need to buy a different ticket) if you want to head on to Cascais or Cabo da Roco for some beach fun.
I really do think visiting the castles of Sintra is the best day trip from Lisbon. Have you been?
Of course, you can also book guided tours to Sintra if you want someone else to take care of all the arrangements.