Located within easy reach of Lisbon, the town of Sintra is one of the region’s gems. Crammed with historic mansions, awe-inspiring palaces, and astonishing natural beauty, it’s understandably a major tourist hotspot, with hundreds of thousands of day-trippers and vacationers descending on its streets each year. If you’re planning a visit, you’ll find no shortage of attractions to visit and activities to enjoy. If you need some help drawing up your itinerary, here are the 20 best things to do in Sintra, Portugal for first-timers.
20. Jump for the stars at Quantum Park
If you need to burn off some steam, head to Quantum Park, one of Europe’s largest trampoline parks and a guaranteed winner with all the family. Along with the trampolines, there’s a handful of climbing walls, a half-pipe for skaters, a jumping tower, and a vertical fall slide. If you want to test your trampolining skills to the max, try a game of dodgeball or basketball on the trampoline courts. If all that doesn’t satisfy your urge to jump, the UPUP Park in Rio de Mouro offers 80 trampolines and a huge inflatables area. Entrance to both venues costs €12 per hour.
19. Try a smoothie at Chia Juice Bar
Until Irina and Rui Duarte decided to open the Chia Juice Bar in 2018, Sintra had plenty of bakeries, a few old school coffee houses, but very little that catered to the health-conscious and the time-poor. That’s now changed. The bar offers a zippy service and an even zippier menu. If you want to grab a detox juice, a superfood salad, or a raw cocoa pancake, take the advice of Time Out and head on over. If you’re in the mood for something more festive, they also do a fine line in organic wine.
18. Tour Monserrate Palace
Described by sintraportugaltourism.com as one of the best examples of 19th-century European eclecticism in the country, Monserrate Palace was first built as a Gothic Revival mansion in 1790 by an English merchant. It later became home to novelist William Beckford, and then art collector Sir Francis Cook, both of whom transformed it into what it is today. The palace is a kaleidoscope of different styles, some parts neo-Gothic, other parts neo-Moorish. Topping the entire thing is a dome inspired by the Duomo in Florence. The interior is astonishing; while the original furniture is long gone, the gothic arches, marble columns, and intricate details remain. Before you leave, be sure to spend some time in the lush parkland surrounding the palace.
17. Try a sweet treat at Casa Piriquita
If there’s one thing Sintra does exceedingly well, it’s sweets. One of the best places to indulge in some local treats is the 155-year-old Casa Piriquita pastry shop. It’s famous for Quijadas, a Portuguese round cake stuffed with cheese, sugar, eggs, and cinnamon and encased in a sweet flour crust. If that doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, try one of their signature Travesseiros, a pillowy cushion of cake filled with egg cream, flavored with almonds, and lightly dusted with powdered sugar. The bakery invented the recipe in the 1940s and it’s still a closely guarded secret to this day.
16. Visit Europe’s westernmost point
Just a short bus or car ride from Sintra is Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point in mainland Europe. Windy, wild, and raw, the cape sits 140 metes above sea level atop a craggy cliff. The views along the coast are astonishing, so be sure to bring your camera along for the ride. Other than the natural scenery, there’s also a charming little lighthouse to admire.
15. Spend the night at Aldeia da Praia
In some camping resorts, you can count yourself lucky if you get anything more than a pitch and a cold shower. Aldeia da Praia is a whole other ball game. Less of a camping site than a village in its own right, it features elevated glamping bell tents with stunning views and equally stunning interiors, a craft beer bar, an organic pizza truck, a wine shop, a restaurant, a supermarket specializing in local produce, a huge kid’s playground, a beach fashion store, and a retro, bubblegum pink ice cream van selling bubble waffles stuffed with a special ice cream made from tapioca flour. There’s activities, live music events, and regular wine tasting sessions with local wines and some of the region’s best charcuterie and cheese. Whether you come for an afternoon, an evening, or the night, you’re guaranteed a great time.
14. Admire the view at Cruz Alta
One of Pena Park’s chief attractions is Cruz Alta, a Sintra landmark that sits 528 meters above sea level. The trail to the top is steep but rewarding, winding through serene forests and offering gorgeous glimpses of the surrounding parkland. Once you’re at the top, take a second to snap a picture beside the Manueline-esque stone cross that marks the peak. After that, simply stand back and admire the breathtaking view – on a clear day, you might even be able to see as far as Lisbon.
13. Take a day trip to Palácio Nacional e Jardins de Queluz
While there’s more than enough to keep you entertained in Sintra, it’s worth leaving it behind for the day to take the short trip over to the city of Queluz. Its chief attraction is the Palace of Queluz, an 18th century, Rococo-inspired palace that once served as the summer retreat of Dom Pedro of Braganza, the King Consort to Queen Maria I. The interiors are a thing of wonder, studded with dazzling frescos and gilded stuccowork. Once you’re done exploring the mansion, it’s worth spending an hour or so strolling through the very picturesque grounds.
12. Sunbathe at Sintra’s beaches
As The Culture Trip notes, Sintra’s beaches may be smaller than many of the other beaches near Lisbon, but that doesn’t make them any less visit-worthy. One of the best is Praia da Ursa. It’s remote and only accessible by car (on the road to Cabo da Roca, follow the signs down a dirt track to the beach. Once you’ve parked, you’ll need to inch your way down a cliffside trail to reach the sand), but its gentle waves, blissful tranquility, and sublime scenery make it worth the effort.
11. Visit the Museu do Ar
Palaces are great, but there are only so many you can see before they all start blending into one. If you’re ready to switch things up, a tour of the Museu do Ar comes highly recommended. Located at Sintra Air Base, the aviation museum is armed with planes, navigation equipment, helicopters, instruments panels, and paraphernalia. The exhibits take you from the very earliest aviation attempts in the Renaissance period through to the Tiger Moths of World War I and the modern jets of today. Kids, in particular, will love the chance to hop on board and get an eyeful of the interior of the Douglas C-47A Dakota.
10. Ride the Sintra tram
Trams are more than just a mode of transportation, at least in Sintra. If trekking around palaces and hiking through parks has left your legs in need of a break, hop on board the tram from the center of Sintra out to Praia das Maçãs on the coast. Granted, the ride can get a bit bumpy, but the views of the mountains and coast more than makeup for it. The ride takes around 40 minutes, with tickets costing a very reasonable €3 each way.
9. Indulge in some fresh seafood at Bar do Fundo
If you’re in Portugal, it would be remiss not to indulge in some of its famous seafood. You’ll find no shortage of seafood restaurants scattered around the town, but if you want to visit the best of the best, head to Bar do Fundo. Located at the very bottom of Praia Grande, the family-owned restaurant offers fine sea views and even finer seafood. Must-try dishes include the octopus rice, seafood cataplana, and on wintery Sundays, the Portuguese stew buffet.
8. Take an early morning stroll of the old town
The center of Sintra is a maze of narrow stairways, cobbled streets, winding passageways, and breathtaking architecture. Best explored in the early morning, it’s a great way to pass a few hours, take some holiday snaps, and admire the town before the busloads of tourists start arriving.
7. Tour the remnants at Convento dos Capuchos
Located just a short drive outside of Sintra is Convento dos Capuchos. Once upon a time, it was Franciscan monetary. The monks have long gone, but the remnants of their tiny, cork-lined cells still remain. A tour of the monastic buildings and chapel costs €7. It’s not palatial, there’s no opulence, but if you need a reminder of the benefits of a simpler, slower way of life, this will get you it.
6. Check out the artifacts at the Castelo dos Mouros
The Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) sits high above the town in the Sintra Mountains. Dating back to the 8th century, it was originally constructed as a fortification by the Moors. It eventually fell into ruins, but since the 1800s, restoration projects have helped restore and maintain its original structure. In 2005, evacuation work in the area uncovered dozens of artifacts dating as far back as the Bronze Age, along with the foundations of a medieval cemetery and several Moorish houses. Today, the artifacts are on display in the small church that now serves as a visitors center.
5. Tour the National Palace of Sintra
The National Palace of Sintra is, quite simply, breathtaking. The only medieval Portuguese palace to survive intact to this day, it’s crammed with intrigue and beauty, from the strange conical chimneys rising from the kitchen to the ornate tapestries decorating the walls. In contrast to its relatively austere exterior, the interior is an exercise in ostentation, crammed with artwork (there’s even a model Chinese pagoda), murals, and sumptuous details. The highlight is the magpie room, which features an incredibly detailed painting of magpies holding the emblem por bem (for honour) in their beaks. The story goes that after Queen Philippa of Lancaster caught her husband King John I in a tryst with a lady-in-waiting, he had the room decorated with as many magpies are there were women at the court to put an end to the chattering and gossip.
4. Visit Condessa d’Edla Chalet
As you draw up to Condessa d’Edla Chalet, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a Disney film. In a way, you have – it was here that the opera singer Elise Hensler and King Fernando II played out one of Portugal’s most legendary love stories. Inspired by Swiss alpine chalets and surrounded by gardens, this fairytale house oozes romance. Replete with murals, rich details, and extraordinary finishes touches, it’s little short of spellbinding. The grounds are just as magical, filled with botanical species from all four corners of the globe. Tickets cost €9.50 (children under 5 go free) and include a visit to Quinta da Pena, the chalets’ interior and Jardim da Condessa in the price.
3. Explore Quinta da Regaleira
Recommended by jumpin-tours.com as one of the top things to do in Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira is an imposing, 19th century estate located just outside the historic center of Sintra. With its gargoyles and turrets, it’s certainly impressive, but the real magic is what’s going on under the ground. The palace sits atop an elaborate series of underground tunnels and towers, the latter of which were used for ceremonial purposes, including Tarot initiation rites. The largest of the towers has a 90-foot circular staircase leading deep into the earth – it’s a slightly daunting descent, but one not to be missed.
2. Hike around Pena Park
Spread over 500 acres of hills and forest, Pena Park is a nature lover’s dream. Designed at the same time as Pena Palace, it boasts over five hundred species of trees, ferns, and plants from around the world. In terms of size, scale, and quality, nothing else in the region comes close. Along with the obvious attractions of Cruz Alta and the Casa do Regalo chalet, the park also offers a huge assortment of fountains, sculptures, and artworks, along with numerous trails that lead you all around the mountainside. Tickets cost €7.50 but come with the promise of at least 2-3 hours of hiking pleasure.
1. Visit Pena Palace
Recommended by tripsavvy.com as one of the top things to do in Sintra, Pena Palace is, quite simply, dazzling. Sprawling across the top of a hill, its brightly painted walls can be seen as far away as Lisbon on a clear day. Built by King Ferdinand II in 1842, it features an astonishing mix of architectural styles, resulting in an eclectic, fairytale creation that would put even Disney to shame. The interior, which has been meticulously restored to resemble its appearance during the final years of the monarchy, is just as astonishing. Tickets cost €14, although you can usually get a discount if you buy online rather than at the gate.