To complete your family holidays in Lisbon, you must include a day in Sintra, exploring the charms of nature and architecture. It will surprise you at every step!
We have prepared a day tour (actually three - check them at our website) for your family to visit Sintra in a kid-friendly way, including the historic village and some of the most surprising and amazing palaces and gardens. We want to help you decide which program is best for your family.
Table of Contents
1. Places to Visit in Sintra
Depending on your interests and expectations, your desire to have a more exclusive or more popular experience, the age of the children and your willingness to walk, there are different possibilities to experience Sintra.
Pena Palace and Park
The first image that appears when one (re)searches about Sintra is that of a dazzling colorful palace (yellow and red, surrounded by an immensity of green park and framed by the blue sky), located at the top of the mountain. Magnificent!
It is in fact the most visited place by the millions of tourists who visit Lisbon every year (Pena received around 2 million visitors in 2018, as did St. George’s Castle, in Lisbon). This means that it is a crowded place, with long queues and quite unfriendly for a family visit.
Unfortunately, currently, guides do not have priority access (neither at the ticket office nor at the entrance – Park or Palace) (*). A system of time slots was recently adopted to enter and visit the palace (which is good), but it considers the entry of 300 to 350 people every half hour, something that is impractical for visiting the interior of the palace, especially when visiting with children. Inside the Palace it becomes very uncomfortable to shuffle along through the narrow, velvet-roped lined corridors, at the pace of the crowd (which pulls or pushes you, in front and in the back of the group), without the possibility of stopping and properly appreciating the pieces of furniture and the stories that are told about them.
Unless a family has a particular interest in castles and palaces, decorative arts and antique furniture, we are convinced that it's well better just visiting the Park and the outside of the Palace… It is possible to have a pleasant experience at Pena if the visit focuses on the exterior, exploring the Park and the surrounding grounds of the palace (including the Chapel, the Triton's Terrace, the Coach House's Terrace and the Shop, the Monumental Gate, the Courtyard of the Arches , the Sentry Walk ) and the incredible mountain and ocean views.
In the Park, the duration and extent of the visit will depend on how willing you are to walk. There is a lot to see and if you enjoy Nature and if you like gardens and plants, then everyone will be happy! There are lakes with ducks and swans, there are giant ferns, an incredible collection of camellias (which bloom in winter), greenhouses, secret chapels, fountains, and much more.
(*) Parques de Sintra has recently (January 2024) introduced a new 'skip-the-line' ticket option. These fast-track tickets are currently only available for Tourism Professionals using Parques de Sintra’s B2B ticket purchasing platform and it is limited to 25 tickets for each visiting time slot. Therefore, it is advantageous to book your guided tour with a certified tour guide or through a travel agency, and as far in advance as possible.
Quinta da Regaleira
This is the second most visited place in Sintra, which means there are also crowds and long waiting lines. In Regaleira, the main attraction it’s not the palace, but the garden itself and all the other features built around the estate – fountains and waterfalls, tunnels, towers and pergolas, the green house, the chapel and the unmissable initiation well.
As there are no time slots to organize the visits at Quinta da Regaleira, the queues are normal and concentrated in two places: the initiation well (with an expected waiting time that can reach 40/60 minutes during high season) and the palace (which has currently only four rooms to be visited). There are also long queues at the ticket office, but in this case (given that this monument it’s managed by a different entity – the Municipality of Sintra) guides do have priority access.
Although this is also a very busy place, Quinta da Regaleira it’s usually a preferred place (over Pena), especially when visiting with children. It’s less massive, more surprising and much more exciting for kids as they get to climb the towers and walk through the dark (sometimes scary) tunnels and grottos.
National Royal Palace
This palace, located within the historic village center is usually a good surprise for those who visit it and, in a day-tour comprising two palaces, it’s commonly a winner even elected by the youngsters – it’s interesting, fun (especially when using the learning activities that we have prepared) and totally unexpected. That’s probably due to its irregular architecture (visiting inside it’s like going through a maze) and long history (there are over 700 years of stories to be told here). And its two icredible chimneys!
There are other plusses: it’s located within the village center providing you beautiful viewpoints towards the village, the mountain and the Moorish Castle. And the visit is mostly inside (although there are many terraces, patios and balconies, as well as a very pretty vegetables’ garden) which is great during the summer or during rainy days.
Regarding possible crowds: there are some organized groups visiting this palace daily, but (unlike Pena palace) it’s possible to get around and overtake them, as there are no narrow rope lined corridors, but instead there is a succession of spacious rooms, one after another. This Palace usually gives us the possibility for a relaxed, careful visit at the pace required by the family and the activities that we have prepared.
If your priority is to experience a more exclusive Sintra, away from the crowds and still very exceptional, then this is the perfect place. Here you will find an amazing architecture (with bright colors and beautiful handcrafted decorations), together with lush gardens and impressive viewpoints.
This is the perfect place for nature and garden lovers. Among plants from the four corners of the world (including a Mexican garden and an Asian garden), romantic ruins, waterfalls and lakes, walking in Monserrate Park it's like embarking on the romantic mystique of Sintra.
2. More Places to Visit in Sintra (for autonomous visits)
If you have more time to explore Sintra, you should know that there are other special places to visit, less known and much less crowded.
Not far from Pena there is the Moorish Castle, an amazing former military fortress standing on top of the mountain, with incredible surrounding views, namely to the historic village center (located at the bottom of the mountain), the ocean, Lisbon (on clear days) and Pena Palace! The main entrance to the Moorish Castle is located walking distance from the main gate to enter Pena Park, so visiting both on the same morning/afternoon should be possible…
In the village’s historic center there is a Story Centre (Sintra Mitos e Lendas), where you may learn more about the history of Sintra, some famous visitors who spent time in Sintra and wrote beautiful texts describing this romantic paradise (like Hans Christian Andersen and Lord Byron) and the many legends that are told about mystic Sintra. In the same building you will find the tourist office.
Biester Palace & Garden it’s also located walking distance from the village center (on the way to Regaleira). Don’t expect it to be as amazing or surprising as other places in Sintra (especially after visiting places like Regaleira, Monserrate or Pena), but the gardens and the house are very pretty and the visit it’s quite enjoyable (mostly because this is still quite unknown and very few people visit it).
Other stunning places to visit are the Convent of Capuchos and the Chalet of the Countess of Edla. Check access and transport (ideally taxi/uber) as these attractions are located far from other monuments and the historic village center.
3. How to get to Sintra?
Depending on your budget and your list of places to visit, the best options to go to Sintra from Lisbon are the train and a private van (with driver).
The train departs from Rossio train station in Restauradores Square in Lisbon, and the train ride to Sintra lasts 40 minutes (it stops in every station). Even though the ride it’s not particularly pretty, it’s quite inexpensive and the trains are comfortable. The trains depart from Lisbon every 20 or 30 minutes in the morning on business days (8:11, 8:41, 9:11, 9:41, 10:01, 10:41…) and hourly on weekends (9:01, 10:01…).
In Sintra, the train station is located approximately 15 minutes walking distance from the historic village and, in this case, it’s totally worth it and a great opportunity for a first introduction to this magic place.
If you visit only for one day though, taking the train will reduce the number of places you can visit. It will work perfectly in case you plan to visit the National Royal Palace (in the historic village center) and Quinta da Regaleira (located walking distance from the village center), but visiting any other of those main monuments (like Pena or Monserrate) implies taking a bus, and that is quite time consuming (other than the fact the buses are usually
packed and that becomes very uncomfortable, especially when visiting with kids).
Of course, hiring a private van is much more comfortable and relaxing, as you would have the driver picking you up at your hotel/apartment in Lisbon, and dropping you off as close to the visiting places as possible… If you have younger kids or if your family doesn’t enjoy walking, then this is definitely the best option for you. There will be quite some walking to do, whichever monuments you choose to visit (because most palaces are surrounded by gardens and you must walk the paths from the entrance gates to the palaces), but much less if you have
a van at your disposal.
Driving and Parking in Sintra
We discourage foreign visitors (and locals!) to drive in Sintra. The roads that cross the village center and the mountain are one-way roads, most streets/roads have access restricted to residents or public transports only and car parking in the village center is quite difficult and expensive.
If you bring the car to Sintra and try to drive to the entrance of one of the monuments you chose, there is a good chance that you will have to go around the mountain until you can return to Sintra, without finding an (authorized) place to park. Or else you come up with an unauthorized parking place and most likely your car will be towed!
If you must bring a car, then check on this website (https://parking.sintra.pt/) the various alternative parking lots that the Municipality offers. From there, you should walk or take a bus or a taxi/uber towards the historic village center or one of the monuments.
Beware that private vehicles are not allowed to drive to Pena Palace nor the Moorish Castle. To visit these places, it's better to hire a private transfer, take a bus (# 434, departing from the train station) or a taxi/uber.
Possible restrictions that can affect your visit
Whether you take a guided tour or visit autonomously, there are also other unpredictable aspects to consider. Sintra and its attractions are located in an area that is legally protected in environmental terms (Sintra-Cascais Natural Park), for its landscape and the fauna and flora it encompasses. Therefore, and for visitor safety reasons, road and pedestrian access might be exceptionally closed at times of extreme risk of fire (in summer) or falling trees due to wind or heavy rain (in winter). When this happens, the possibilities for visiting are reduced (no access to the mountain and the monuments located there, like Pena, the Moorish Castle, Monserrate or Regaleira) and are concentrated only in the historic center of the village of Sintra (including the Royal National Palace).
4. Practical Information
There are many alternative options for lunch in the village center: light meals, fast food, grab & go, elaborate cuisine, fancy or trendy restaurants, terraces with enjoyable views, international (Asian or Italian), vegetarian options and kids’ menus, you have it all. Also, inside some of the monuments (like Pena, for example) there are restaurants or cafeterias with several options. Whichever place you choose, leave some room for the local pastries: Queijadas and Travesseiros are a must in Sintra.
Beware that the use of stroller it's totally not recommended in Sintra. Most of the streets in the village center, as well as the gardens and parks and the monuments themselves, have many steps and long stairs, irregular pavements and sloped paths. Strollers are not allowed inside the palaces and in places like Quinta da Regaleira strollers are not allowed in the well and tunnels. Also, as the entrance is not located in the same place as the exit, leaving the stroller by the entrance (to pick it up later) is not feasible.
There are some recommendations regarding what to wear when visiting Sintra, especially when coming from Lisbon. You should bring an extra jacket or sweater (even during summer time) because Sintra is usually cooler than Lisbon and there is commonly a very cool breeze in the morning. This recommendation becomes even more important if you visit any of the monuments located at the top of the mountain (like Pena or the Moorish Castle), especially if you go there early in the morning. This is due to a meteorological phenomenon that happens in Sintra (that your guide will be happy to explain to you on the way there).
5. Exploring Sintra by yourself
If you decide to explore Sintra by yourself, consider the following additional tips:
When planning your visits, check the monuments’ websites. For the monuments managed by Parques de Sintra (including Pena, Moorish Castle, Monserrate, National Royal Palace and others) check the ‘Plan Your Visit’ section to search for information regarding opening times, prices, how to get there, available cafeterias, and more.
Regarding Pena, when buying your tickets, make sure you choose the correct option: Pena Park (this ticket gives you access to the park and the surrounding grounds of the palace, avoinding some of the waiting lines) or Pena Palace & Park (in this case you will be asked to choose an entrance timed slot - make sure to be at Pena's entrance gate 45/60 minutes before your slot and be prepared for a hard walk up the hill and long waiting lines when getting near the palace). When you have an entrance ticket with a slot, beware that you only have a 30 minutes tolerance for a possible delay. Also, note that the fact that you have an entrance ticket with a timed slot does not mean you will get inside the palace exactly at that time...
In Pena, there is a mini-bus shuttle service, which requires an additional ticket (that you may also buy online). This is a tranfer that departs (approximately) every 15 minutes from the park's main entrance gate, driving you up to near the palace (with quite long queues). We only recommend the use of this transfer for elderly people or people with mobility difficulties. The walk uphill is interesting and a great opportunity to appreciate every detail of the landscape and enjoy the views of the palace, which appears at the top of the hill.
If you plan to visit Pena, you should know that there are two pedestrian paths (Santa Maria and Vila Sassetti hiking trails) connecting the village center (in the bottom of the mountain) and the monuments located at the top of the mountain (the Moorish Castle and Pena). These hiking trails take 50 to 60 minutes walking uphill and they are suitable for families with children who are used to hiking uphill.
Private cars (including rented) are not allowed to drive up the mountain (unless you live there). So, if you don’t hike, you should hire a private transfer, take the bus (# 434, departing from the train station) or take taxi/uber.
Beware that the entrance door to Quinta da Regaleira it's not located in Largo da Quinta do Relógio, as Google Maps or some Uber/Taxi drivers will tell you. This is actually the exit door. The entrance door is located uphill by Quinta da Alegria/Seteais Tivoli gate, so once you start seeing Regaleira Palace in a distance (when walking from the village center) don’t relax just yet – there is an extra effort to make (10 more minutes walking uphill and enjoying the surprising views in every corner).
Enjoy your family trip to Sintra!