Lisbon to Sintra day trip – one day in the CROWDED resort town

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Sintra, Portugal is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon and with good reason. The resort town, nestled in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains, is dripping with beauty, charm, and history. With castles that resemble something out of a fairy tale and ancient ruins that make you feel like you are visiting the Great Wall of China, there is so much to do in this small mountain town. While many will say a Lisbon to Sintra day trip is a must-do for anyone visiting Portugal, there are a few things to consider when planning a day trip to Sintra.

Sintra day trip from Lisbon view of Pena Palace

How to get from Lisbon to Sintra for the day

When it comes to transportation, a Lisbon to Sintra day trip is easy and convenient. If doing a Portugal road trip, you could elect to drive to Sintra if you have already rented a car. The other alternative is to take the train.

Trains leave routinely from Lisbon’s central Rossio Station. They left every 30 minutes during the peak season when we visited. We recommend staying as close as possible to Rossio Station, especially if visiting Lisbon with kids. Sintra can get very crowded, so try to start your day as early as possible to avoid at least some of the mobs of people. When you arrive at Rossio Station, you will see lines specifically for those exclusively booking tickets for a day trip to Sintra. At the time of our visit, a round trip ticket for the 40-minute train ride was about $5.00 USD. 

Where to go once you arrive in Sintra by train

When you arrive in Sintra, it can be a bit confusing. We ended up standing in a line inside the train station for about 30 minutes because it seemed like that was the line everyone went to. There was no signage saying what the line was for, so we assumed it was the line to buy bus tickets. But the line inside the train station was only for those who were booking tours. If you are doing a self-guided tour, you can bypass this line and go directly to the buses outside and purchase a bus ticket to the tourist attractions. 

You’ll want to buy a round trip ticket on bus 434. It cost about $5.00 USD round trip. Bus fare was cash only, so make sure you bring enough euros with you. There are also private tuk tuks that you can take for additional money, although my 4-year-old was not old enough for the tuk tuks. The bus takes you directly from the bus station to the Moorish ruins, Pena Palace, and the National Palace in the heart of old town Sintra, and then back to the train station. The bus route does one large loop, so everyone must visit in that exact order. Your bus fare only covers one loop. So, you can’t start at the National Palace and then catch the bus to Pena Palace.


Our experience using public transportation in Sintra

It felt, at times, like we were all being herded through this charming town like cattle, forced in one direction at one time. Beyond that, the bus ride up the mountain to the Moorish castle and Pena Palace was a giant traffic jam which took about 3 times longer than expected and became extremely frustrating. But the alternative would be a very long, steep walk uphill or driving on a narrow road filled with far too many massive tour buses and aggressive tuk tuks. 

A packed bus full of tourists on a Lisbon to Sintra day trip
The tourist bus is often just as packed as the narrow roads in Sintra.

Lisbon to Sintra day trip itinerary and things to do

Almost everyone who does a Sintra day trip follows the exact same itinerary, although many will skip a place or two either because they are on a budget, run out of time, or just get tired of the mobs of people and want to get the heck out of the over-crowded, albeit charming, town. Here are the top places to visit on a Sintra day trip.

  • Moorish Castle
  • Pena Palace 
  • Lunch in Old Town Sintra
  • National Palace
  • Quinta da Regaleira

Moorish Castle

The Moorish Castle is the first stop on the tourist bus route in Sintra. It is definitely under-rated. When researching a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon, I read a lot about Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, but it seemed like a lot of people either skipped the Moorish Castle or found it underwhelming. However, in our experience, visiting the ruins of the Moorish Castle was one of the highlights of our time in Sintra. Portions of the ruins resemble the Great Wall of China, at least they did to my 4-year-old daughter. It also wasn’t nearly as crowded as the other tourist attractions in Sintra, which may be one of the reasons we enjoyed it.

Sintra Moorish Castle
The Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal

If visiting the Moorish ruins with kids, keep in mind there are a lot of stairs and a lot of walking. It is somewhat of a walk from the road to the ruins, and another walk from the ruins to Pena Palace, although both walks are pretty and surrounded by nature.

Pena Palace

The most popular attraction in Sintra, Pena Palace looks like something out of a Disney movie. It’s understandable why this picturesque, vibrantly colored palace on a hill is such a popular place to visit. The bright yellow and red castle is stunning. You can choose to visit the grounds of the palace or for an extra fee you can tour the inside, as well.

Pena Palace - the most popular place to visit when spending one day in Sintra
Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

Although incredibly picturesque, the castle can become extremely crowded, particularly in the summer months. During our visit, it was so crowded that people were getting impatient and pushing others to get a good photo. The exterior patios were so full that it was impossible to take a photo without a million other tourists in it. Perhaps earlier in the morning or during the off-season it is a different experience, but if visiting during peak months or hours, expect mobs of people at the palace.

Old Town Sintra / National Palace

By the time you visit both the Moorish castle and Pena Palace, you will want to make your way back to town and grab lunch. The bus will drop you off in front of the National Palace. While it is a tourist site, as well, we skipped the National Palace due to time constraints. Old Town Sintra is quaint and has numerous restaurants with both indoor and outdoor seating where you can have lunch, dinner, or even just grab a refreshing drink. There are also plenty of little shops where you can buy souvenirs, local crafts, or other items.

streets in Sintra Portugal town center
The town of Sintra | Photo credit: hele1409 on Pixabay

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira is another one of the most popular things to do in Sintra. Made even more famous by the many dreamy photos of the enchanting estate’s cylinder-shaped initiation well you can see circulating on social media. The estate offers much more than just one Instagram photo opportunity though. With beautiful gardens, underground passages, chapels and museums, the ornate UNESCO World Heritage site is worth the short walk from the town center of Sintra. The walk to Quinta da Regaleira from the National Palace is only about 10 minutes. 

 well at Quinta da Regaleira
The initiation well at Quinta da Regaleira – Photo credit: stefanieeeek on Pixabay

Tips for spending one day in Sintra

Don’t drive

The roads in Sintra are narrow, steep, and crowded with large buses and crazy tuk tuk drivers. This is not the type of place where I would recommend driving. It would be stressful and potentially dangerous. As much as we don’t really like to follow the tourist route, if you want to see Sintra, sticking to the tourist route is your best option.

Get there early

As I’ve mentioned multiple times above, Sintra gets ridiculously crowded. It’s best to take the very first train of the morning and start your day as early as possible. When you arrive, walk from the train, through the train station, and directly to bus 434 and buy your ticket with cash at the bus. The earlier you can get your day started, the less crowded and frustrating your experience will be.

Wear good walking shoes

A fair amount of walking is unavoidable in Sintra. Even if you take the bus directly to Pena Palace, there is an uphill walk from the road to the palace that everyone must take. Make sure you are dressed appropriately and wear a good pair of walking shoes. I did not do this and had the blisters to show for my mistake.

nature walk to the Moorish ruins on a day trip to Sintra
Nature walk to the Moorish castle.

Prepare for crowds

Even if you do everything right by taking the first train and first bus in Sintra; even if you don’t linger too long at the attractions; you will still find yourself fighting crowds. Sintra is a tourist town. Some might even call it a tourist trap. At times, I just wanted to get out of Sintra as quickly as possible because it was so crowded and overwhelming. I got tired of being pushed or bumped in narrow corridors. Waiting in lines and standing on crowded buses was exhausting. Being shoulder to shoulder with strangers the entire day is also not what I typically consider enjoyable.

Crowds of people at Pena Palace on a Lisbon to Sintra day trip
The crowded terrace at Pena Palace in Sintra.

If you want to see this town, you will have to prepare to see it alongside 4 million other people. If you don’t like crowds, skip it and spend an extra day in Lisbon instead. I offer an alternative to a day trip to Sintra in our Lisbon itinerary.

Is a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra worth it?

Determining whether a Sintra day trip from Lisbon is worth it really depends on the individual. If you hate crowds, it is certainly not for you, especially if you are traveling during the summer months. The town is beautiful as are its various attractions. I’ve heard many people say Sintra was the highlight of their Portugal trip. I did not have the same experience, mainly because I do not like crowds. It’s one of the many reasons we tend to travel off the grid or opt for road trips through less popular areas. 

While the town of Sintra is worth visiting, the mobs of people completely tainted the experience for me. I would have rather spent an extra day in Lisbon or taken a day trip to another place in Portugal instead. But if you don’t mind crowds and really want to see this picturesque mountain town, by all means, visit Sintra. 

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