What to see and do on a day trip to Sintra, from fairy tale castles to dramatic forests and deserted beaches
From fairy tale castles and imposing palaces to dramatic forests and deserted golden beaches, there’s a reason that the historic town of Sintra has attracted quite so much attention over the years. Everyone from the Celts to the Moors have put down roots here, with members of the Portuguese royal family finally securing the town as a summer retreat. Located just an hour outside of Lisbon, a day trip to Sintra is wonderfully easy to arrange. Here’s everything you’ll need to know, from how to get there, to the top Sintra sites, the best Sintra beaches, and the finest local foods to try in this captivating city.
Firstly, how to get from Lisbon to Sintra? This picturesque little corner of Portugal is easily accessible from the centre of Lisbon, either by car or by train. Rent your ride and hit the road, or head over to Lisbon’s Rossio train station and hop on one of the regular services to Sintra (a good choice during the summer months, when the roads can become very congested). Get off at the final stop and then either walk or catch the bus straight into town.
Situated in the centre of town and standing at over a thousand years old, the Palácio Nacional de Sintra is a great place to start your day trip to Sintra. Still much as it was in the 16th century, this Portuguese palace features intricate Moorish decorations and gilded interiors (especially in the Coat of Arms Room). For those after a little active sightseeing, Sintra’s Moorish Castle offers a heart-pumping hour’s trek up a steep incline (or a short bus ride from town, if you’d rather not work up a sweat). Remember to bring your camera – clinging to its steep hilltop location, the castle offers impressive views right down to the Atlantic Ocean. Next on the itinerary is the estate of Quinta da Regaleira. Designed by the same mind that gave the world La Scala opera house in Milan, and scattered with symbols of the Knights Templar, hidden doors, and lavish decoration, a visit to this neo-gothic mansion and its stunning grounds is a must on any day trip to Sintra. Another of our favourite Sintra sites is the Palácio Nacional da Pena. Set atop a rocky peninsula in the midst of the sprawling Park of Pena, this imposing palace was built by Ferdinand II in the 19th century, with part of the original structure dating back to the 1500s.
Scattered along Portugal’s Atlantic Coast, Sintra beaches aren’t as warm as their Algarve counterparts, which are fed by Mediterranean waters. But what they lack in temperature, they make up for in beauty. Not far from the historic centre of town, at the edge of the verdant Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, the Praia da Adraga and Praia da Ursa beaches offer golden sand, rolling waves, and some unusual natural attractions – at Praia da Ursa, make sure to check out the giant rock in the shape of a bear.
Sintra is famed for its queijadas; magical mini treats that fall somewhere between traditional custard tarts and cinnamon-spiced cheesecakes, and no day trip to Sintra would be complete without sampling this sugary local delicacy. Try them at Fábrica das Verdadeiras Queijadas da Sapa, one of the best bakeries in town. And with the Atlantic mere minutes away, it would be a crime to leave without trying the startlingly fresh seafood. From grilled octopus to fresh fish straight of the boat, you can find some of the best at waterfront restaurant, Azenhas do Mar.