20 Things To Do In Sintra

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Sintra sits within the Greater Lisbon Region of Portugal, facing west out to the Atlantic. It is one of the most densely populated places in the country with a municipal population of 385,000. Over half a century ago, the growth of air travel saw Portugal’s reputation grow and Sintra was one of the places that has certainly benefitted. It is relatively close to the airport at Lisbon. Once visitors arrive, they will find a picturesque region with nice gardens and beaches, a pleasant climate and an array of historic buildings, castles and palaces.

Portuguese explorers during the period described as the “Age of Discovery” ensured Portugal thrived. Its many historic buildings in this area are evidence of that. Sintra developed enormously after the announcement of the Portuguese Republic just before the First World War. Industry and commerce thrived in a place where agriculture was already important. Local wines found wider recognition. Wealthy Portuguese recognised Sintra’s qualities, building summer homes with nationals vacationing there just as charter flight travel began to bring numbers from overseas.

There is plenty to occupy any visitor. The Sintra-Cascais Nature Park satisfies anyone wanting to explore the region. Castles and palaces came to the attention of UNESCO. Several landmarks, such as the Pena National Palace and the Castle of the Moors, are on the itineraries of visitors, of whom there are well over 3 million annually. Here are ideas for you to consider.

Sintra, Portugal

Top Tours

Famous Historic Pena Palace Part Of Cultural Site Of Sintra Against Sunset Sky
Spending time at Pena Palace is one of the top things to do in Sintra.

20 Things To Do In Sintra

1- See The City Monuments

Convent Of Santo Antonio Dos Capuchos In Guimaraes, Portugal
Visiting Antonio Dos Capuchos is one of the top 10 things to do in Sintra Portugal.

Sintra has many of Portugal’s most impressive castles.

The Moorish Castle, for example, has some elements that date back to the 8th and 9th centuries.

Built in prime defensive positions, you will get lovely views across the immediate area.

The Pena Palace is a good example of the Romanticism style of the 19th Century.

The Sintra National Palace in the heart of Sintra is another reason it received the recognition of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Also known as the Town Palace, its interior is wonderful, with opulence that the prosperity earned during the Age of Discovery could fund.

Another highlight is Quinta da Regaleira, built in a dense forest early in the 20th century.

It comprises gardens, lakes and grottoes and is in the centre of Sintra.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Full-Day Private Monuments Tour from Lisbon

2- Enjoy A Walking Tour

There are many popular walking tours in Sintra and you can discuss the alternatives with a tour company with a huge map on a wall where the options are illustrated in front of you.

After deciding the route, you want to take, you will head out learning more about history, legend and morphology as you proceed.

You will want to capture many settings with your camera and there is no rush.

The popular landmarks you will likely see include a Moorish castle, Pena Palace, Villa Sasseti and the Chalet of the Countess.

Some walks are more exacting than others, but you can choose one suitable for your fitness level.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Walking Tour with Palace, Castle, and Old Town Visit

3- Spend A Day In The Capital

While in Sintra, you will surely want to spend a day in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital.

There is plenty to see and do in Lisbon, a city that caters very well for its visitors.

Indeed, four hop-on-hop-off bus routes could take up plenty of your time.

You may enjoy stylish architecture, lovely gardens, local markets, museums or art galleries.

Whatever your preferences, one of the four alternatives will be a good starting point for your time in Lisbon.

You will get an audio tour with several language options in each case.

Do your research and book accordingly.

Recommended tours: Lisbon: Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour

4- Buy A Hop On Hop Off Pass

The hop on hop off concept is also available in Sintra itself.

It is a great introduction to the place, with the choice of the main places of interest entirely personal.

If you want to explore independently, there are a few better ways to begin than by booking this bus tour.

The route passes all the main landmarks, with the 24-hour pass having no restrictions on the number of times you can get on and off.

There is a published timetable and audio commentary to explain more about the places you are passing at any one time.

Recommended: Sintra: Hop-on Hop-Off Bus Travel Pass including Pena Palace

5- Take A Jeep Tour

jeep by the ocean
Going on a jeep tour is one of the adventurous things to do in Sintra Portugal.

Another good way to spend a day in Sintra is to take a jeep tour which will allow you to combine around its main landmarks but also enjoy some local hospitality.

The National Palace, Seteais Palace, Monserrate and a Moorish Castle are all on the route and there will be several places where you will get great panoramas to capture on your camera.

Cabo da Roca, the furthest point west on continental Europe, is one such place and after getting there, it is time to head for lunch.

After a wine tasting, Pena Palace is your last stop, a place that will capture your imagination and perhaps will get you thinking about a tour that spends more time there.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Jeep Safari, Sunset Hike, and Tapas at the Beach

If you want to tour independently, you can rent a Renault Twizy e-car with GPS audio to guide you around.

While keeping your eyes on the road, you will get a “commentary” on the landmarks you pass.

You will get information on the best places to park on your route and it is up to you how long you stay in any one place.

You can expect to head through the historic heart of Sintra, the National Palace and the Moorish Castle, and Pena Palace.

Other highlights include Cabo da Roca, Quinta da Regaleira and Miradouro da Vigia (three hills, three castles).

You may already be familiar with some of these from earlier tours, so you can plan extended stays at your favourites.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Twizy E-Car Rental with GPS Audio Guide

6- Jump The Queues

National Palace In The Town Of Sintra Taken From Castle Of The Moors
Visiting the Castle of the Moors is one of the top things to do in Sintra for history buffs.

In high season, you can expect to encounter queues at the major attractions in Sintra.

You can avoid such queues by booking tickets in advance.

Armed with e-tickets and an audio guide, you can walk past the queues at the Moorish Castle and the Quinta da Regaleira, for example.

Booking in advance allows you to make the most of your time in a day.

Audio tours provide well-researched information on specific landmarks, their history and any quirky stories that may be associated with the places.

You can use the audio as many times as you like, given they will be stored on your smartphone.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Moorish Castle Entrance E-Ticket With Audio Tour

7- Explore Pena Palace

If one place deserves more time than any other in Sintra, it is probably the Pena Palace within a park of the same name.

It comprises two wings, one being the former 16th Century Manueline monastery of the Order of St.

Ferdinand II built Jerome and the other wing in the 19th century.

You can walk around the battlements, watchtowers, entrance tunnels, and drawbridge.

It had been empty for a long time when Ferdinand acquired it and he undertook repairs as well as adding that second wing.

His inspiration was the famous castles on the Rhine in Germany, fine examples of the Germanic Romantic style.

The gardens are beautifully laid out as well.

The Palace of Pena became a National Monument in 1910 and is a major reason why UNESCO recognised the importance of Sintra in 1995.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Pena Palace and Park Entrance Ticket

8- Enjoy A Day Of Real Variety

The Lighthouse In Cabo Da Roca
A trip to Cabo Da Roca is one of the top things to do from Sintra Portugal.

Another of the tours available by jeep passes the main attractions of Sintra but then ensures you are at the impressive cliffs of Cabo da Roca late in the day.

As you hike down to a little-known beach, you will see the sun beginning to go down.

Take care as the route is steep, twisting and turning, but the reward after half an hour is soft, golden sand.

Relax and taste some traditional Portuguese ‘petiscos’ (tapas) like cheese, chouriço and bread with a glass of wine.

You will surely want to swim as well in this idyllic setting.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Historical Jeep Tour

9- Take A Gastronomic Tour With A Difference

Touring the countryside in a vintage car will take you back in time.

Life has not changed much in some local villages over the decades.

Ericeira is a seaside village with its original cobbled streets, and you can spend time walking around.

The village is now known as a popular surfing place.

Did you know that the highest recorded wave for surfers is now on Portugal’s Atlantic Coast? (Nazare, 80 miles (10 kilometres) north of Sintra.

This trip includes time at a waterfall in the mountains, a great photo opportunity, a visit to Mafra, and the chance to sample traditional local dishes.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Countryside Gastronomic Tour in a Vintage Car

10- Take A Night Tour

Sintra’s Historical Centre has a rich history and that includes elements of mysticism in its early days.

You will learn more on an evening tour about myth and legend from when it was merely a village.

The tour starts a short road trip away across the mountain.

The outline of Sintra under starlight reveals its major landmarks: the National Palace and Pena Palace among them.

Your experienced guide now has the ideal setting to tell you about Sintra’s past and the thoughts and ideas of its inhabitants many centuries ago.

There is silence everywhere other than the voices of your group.

Recommended tour: Private Sintra Night Walk: Stories From the Mountains

11- Fly In The Skies

Tandem paragliding for up to half an hour will give you a new perspective of Sintra.

You will begin with a brief safety talk before heading to the skies.

Your guide will be vastly experienced.

All you have to do is enjoy the flight.

Few experiences can match soaring above the land, especially in a great place like Sintra, with views of the countryside, rooftops and the Atlantic Ocean.

For an adrenalin thrill, give it a go!

Recommended tour: Sintra: Paragliding Tandem Experience

12- Walk Around Biester Palace

Biester Palace and Park is in Sintra’s heart, and buying an entry ticket in advance will ensure you can avoid any queues.

This is the work of the architect José Luiz Monteiro with the park having a collection of rare trees.

The palace dates back to the second half of the 19th Century.

In Romantic style, the palace has a great collection of paintings from some of the most famous names of the 19th Century.

French landscaper François Nogré incidentally designed the gardens.

While there, you can go to some of the park’s best viewpoints from which you can take memorable photos of such as a Moorish castle or the Atlantic Ocean.

Recommended tour: Sintra: Biester Palace and Park Entry Ticket

13- See Nearby Cascais As Well

Ocean Wild Beach Stormy Weather
Exploring Sintra Cascais National Park is one of the top things to do in Sintra Portugal.

Cascais is another nearby town that is worth a visit.

Its old town centre was very popular with Portuguese royalty during the weeks of summer.

Its major landmarks are the medieval Nossa Senhora da Luz Fort and the Citadel Palace, a former royal retreat.

Also, look at the whitewashed Nossa Senhora da Assunção Church, known for its glazed azulejo tiles.

Paula Rego House of Stories is another place where the best Portuguese artist’s paintings are housed.

Add the beaches and marina and Cascais is a great day out.

Recommended tour: Lisbon: Pena Palace, Sintra, Cabo da Roca, & Cascais Daytrip

15- Explore The Palace Of Queluz

Queluz Palace
Visiting Queluz Palace is one of the interesting things to do in Sintra.

The Palace of Queluz was built in the 18th century and is one of the finest Rococo buildings in Europe.

It was the home of Pedro of Braganza, the brother of Jose I and who later became Pedro III.

His niece, Queen Marie I, found a home there as she suffered from mental illness after Pedro III’s death.

In 1794, it became the official residence of the Portuguese monarchy.

Its popularity declined through the 19th Century, but it was taken over by the State early in the 20th Century.

Fire caused extensive damage in 1934 but was opened to the public after restoration.

It remains one of the region’s top attractions.

The Queen Maria I Pavilion, one of its wings, is used as Portugal’s official guesthouse.

Recommended tour: National Palace of Sintra and Gardens Fast Track Ticket

16- Take A Tuk Tuk To Convento Dos Capuchos

Yes, there are tuk-tuks in Europe.

You can take one in Sintra to the Convent of the Friars Minor Capuchin (the Convent of the Capuchos), a historic convent in the Sao Pedro de Penaferrim parish.

D.João de Castro, the Viceroy of India and his family were responsible for building a convent to house a community of reclusive clergy.

There were open spaces but very cramped conditions, so few complained when the Order who lived there was abolished.

The State bought the site early in the 20th Century, and repairs have been undertaken over the years.

Only in the last two decades has it been open to the public.

17- Spend Time At Praia Da Ursa

Praia Da Ursa Beach In Summer Day Light
Admiring the raw beauty of Praia Da Ursa is another thing to do around Sintra for nature lovers.

You may find Praia da Ursa included on some of the tours out of Sintra, but spending far more time there is worth more than any tour can allocate.

It is a small, fairly secluded beach named “Beach of Bear Rock”.

Two huge rocks are at the beach’s northern end, some describing the shapes as a bear with a cub.

You have to make an effort down a steepish slope to get there, but that is one of its real advantages in high season when other beaches are likely to be busy.

Its location is one of the reasons why Praia Da Ursa is one of the unofficial natural beaches on this stretch of coastline.

18- See The Exhibition At Sintra Air Base

Sintra Air Base’s origins date back over a century.

It is the nation’s main training base for pilots and technicians.

While access to the whole base is restricted to the public, its Air Museum is interesting to anyone interested in planes and flight.

It opened to the public half a century ago elsewhere but its growth led to the bulk of the collection being moved to its present site of Sintra.

It houses several interesting aircraft, including Lockheeds.

De Havilands, Cessnas and Pipers, Douglas, Boeings and Sikorskys, almost 50 exhibits in all.

19- Board The City Tram

The Sintra tramway is a narrow-gauge transport system running between Sintra and Praia das Macas during summer.

It is 11.5 kilometre (7.1 miles) long in total, passing through Colares and close to Sintra’s Praia Grande.

It has been under different ownership over its history, with the first trams running early in the 20th century.

It now belongs to the municipality that took over from Stagecoach Portugal.

It is not a particularly comfortable ride, but that is part of its charm.

20- Take A Local Cookery Class

There are many opportunities to attend a cookery class in Sintra.

They include heading to a bakery to learn how local bread and pastries are made.

Alternatively, and this is likely to be a favourite, start at a local market to buy the fresh produce to cook traditional dishes that you will find on most restaurant menus.

You will certainly impress friends if you invite them around for dinner once you are home and produce a typical Portuguese-style dinner.

Do your research online and give it a try.

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Steve Smith is a widely travelled man who has lived on the South West Coast of Turkey since 2008. He hails from North East England where he lived most of his life but has been to every continent of the world, with a particular love for Southern Africa and its wildlife. He lists Argentina, India, and Vietnam as other favourite places that he enjoyed greatly while sport is also a passion, cricket and golf as a participant, rugby union and soccer as a spectator.