Valters laid down his surf magazine, looked out the campervan window and slowly turning towards me said: “I’m so glad this morning dawned a day of blue sky!”
It seems like just yesterday we were in Portugal, cooking eggs near the pavement leading to the castles main door and plotting what we are going to do for a day. It seems like just yesterday we were playing in the shade of the trees waiting for the new possibilities.
Our initial goal for revisiting Portugal was to rent a campervan, visit world-famous castles and drive along the coast towards the south in search of startling natures marvels.
Before visiting the Sintra region, we went through endless travel forums and sites looking for information about getting around the area with a campervan.
Most of the travellers are advised to ditch the car and use the circular 434 bus route for many reasons-locations of all the Sintra castles are across very steep hills, parking is expensive, roads are too narrow, and it is possible to drive only in one direction.
However, we decided to go our own way, and it paid off. Despite all the warnings, we discovered that driving in Sintra was a not only worthy challenge but also fun and we were surprised that parking was free. As one of our favourite sayings goes; ”Don’t listen to what they say, go see.”
A quick guide to Visiting magical Sintra Castles for the first time
Things to know before you go!
Sintra is a very charming Portuguese town situated within easy reach of its capital Lisbon, and this is where you’ll find plenty of fantastic attractions. This place is home to old castle ruins, beautiful palaces, hiking trails, ancient churches, a national park and incredible coastal scenery. Due to its proximity to Lisbon, it gets very crowded, especially in the summer month, and once you arrive in town, it’s effortless to see why.
- If you are planning on visiting all the major sites in town as well as all the castles, not to mention the coast and forests, you’ll need at least two days, if not more. There is lots of walking involved between the attractions, so come prepared.
- Admission fees to see the castles aren’t cheap, they vary depending on the age and season. The good news is it is possible to get a discount when purchasing combined tickets.
- Although most of the castles have a café, the food there isn’t particularly tasty, and as in the most tourist places, it’s also overpriced. It is best to bring your own lunch or even better, buy a fresh sandwich or a few pastries in Sintra town before visiting castles.
- Prepare for the heat as it gets sweltering during the summer month, bring lots of water and wear sunscreen.
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon
To get to Sintra from Lisbon, take a train from Lisbon’s Rossio train station. The train runs every 15 minutes and the returns ticket costs just a few euros. Once in Sintra you can choose to get around on foot, Bus 434, rent an electric car or get a taxi.
Bus 434 would be the best option as it drives in a loop between the castles and the historical centre (bus tickets costs EUR5 for the whole day). Keep in mind that the bus doesn’t go directly to Quinta da Regaleira estate and make sure you don’t lose your bus ticket; you need to show it to the bus driver every time you board.
Quinta da Regaleira estate
Out of all the castles we choose to visit four(leaving the National Palace for the next time) and started with Quinta da Regaleira estate.
This castle is a truly remarkable place for anyone to see. Everything from waterfalls and towers to symbols, secret messages, and secret underground passageways made us feel like we were lost in medieval times looking for hidden truth left there by the previous owner.
We both agreed that this was a tantalising place after we reached The Masonic Initiation Well with a spiral staircase winding all the way down into the dark. Inside of the well was cold, damp and apart from the dripping water, so strangely quiet.
I can’t even remember how many castles we have visited together and to tell you the truth at some point they all blend. But not Quinta da Regaleira.
Castle opening hours: 10:00 – 20:00 (summer) and 10:00 – 17:30 (winter).
Castle entrance fees: Adults, EUR 6; kids, EUR 4; under 9’s go free.
Palace and Park of Monserrate(The Palacio de Monserrate)
Palace and Park Monserrate are more like an exotic villa with Gothic, Arabic and Indian influences. Thanks to an Englishman Sir Francis Cook who decided to build a summer residence in Sintra, we can fully appreciate the beautiful Music Hall and elaborate plaster decorations.
Right outside the palace, we found an impressive garden brimming with different plants, sweet-smelling flowers, and trees from all over the world.
Monserrate was one of the quietest and artistically prominent places we visited in Sintra. While it was close to suffocating in Pena Palace, Monserrate provided peaceful grounds, and we were accompanied just by a few elderly couples.
While rooms inside the Palace are spacious and full of light, all the original collections, as well as furniture, has been long moved. The building itself was vacant for almost fifty years before restoration started in 2000.
Castle opening hours: from 9:30-19:00 (for the palace) and 09:30–20:00(for the park).
Castle entrance fees: Adult, EUR 8; Kids, EUR 6.50
Pena Palace (Palacio da Pena)
Pena Castle was on our go-to list for quite some time, and it entirely lived up to all the hype. Sitting on top of the second-highest peak, surrounded by idyllic forest, this palace is a colourful masterpiece. We spent a couple of hours navigating the castle and its grounds and could have easily spent the whole day if we weren’t trying to stick to the schedule.
In the gardens are over five hundred different species of trees originating from every corner of this world, and we even managed to find Sequoia among them right away.
Our advice about visiting this particular castle – get there early. The ques outside the castle gates were very, very long. We managed to get there at the same time as three large buses filled with tourists.
Because of that the path to the castle was crowded, inside hallways were cramped and it was easy to tell we were a bit impatient, but the views, unique interior and art entirely made up for it.
Castle opening hours: 9:30-20:00
Castle entrance fees: Palace&Park – Adult, EUR 14; kids, EUR 12.50; under 6s, free.
The Castle of the Moors
Palace of the Moors was different from others, more like a massive fortress with towers and flying Portuguese flags. While driving through Sintra, we caught a glimpse of its crenellated wall, and we couldn’t wait to see it. This medieval castle requires less time to explore than the others, yet it is equally impressive and definitely worth a visit.
The castle of Moors was built in the 8th and 9th centuries by the moors, and it was possible to walk along the walls from where we could see all the way to the Atlantic ocean and had a good view of Pena Place in the distance too.
Castle opening hours: 09:30-20:00(summertime) and 10:00-18:00(winter time)
Castle entrance fees: Adult, EUR 8; kids, EUR 6.50
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
Now, over to you!
Have you been to Sintra town? Which castles did you visit? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Sintra and have travel-related questions!