How to see the famous castles in Sintra, Portugal – without feeling like a zoo animal

Pena Palace in Sintra

We all want to see the biggest tourist attractions but hate getting stuck in the crowds – queueing for hours and hours. The equation may seem impossible, but what if it’s not? It all comes down to timing, and frankly, being a little smarter than your peers.

We visited Sintra during peak season in May, it was a beautiful sunny day and the crowds were insane. Still, we managed to see 3 of the most popular castles without having to ever feel claustrophobic in the crowds. I’m here to tell you how.

Monserrate Palace

The ultimate guide to see the famous castles in Sintra:

Who is this post for?

Anyone planning a day trip to see the castles in Sintra and wants to know in which order to go, to avoid the horrible tourist queues.  This post will tell you how to visit Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira and Palace de Monserrate OR the Moorish castle.

Useful info before you go

How to get to Sintra
  • There are two rail routes between Lisbon to Sintra, and both are equally useful for tourists, they are: 1) Rossio Station to Sintra (takes 40 minutes) and 2) Oriente station to Sintra (takes 47 minutes). The ticket fare between Lisbon and Sintra is 4.50 for a return ticket.
  • The train is highly recommended, as there are very limited parking spaces in Sintra.
How to get around in Sintra
  • All of the castles in Sintra are situated on high hills, and unless you have unlimited time and are fit as an Olympic athlete, do not choose to walk up to the castles. There will be a lot of Tuk Tuks when you arrive, offering to take you up there (and they can but it will be far more expensive), but the most cost efficient option is to take the buses.There are 2 different bus lines that you have to worry about:
    1) Bus route 434, the circle line which will take you to Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle
    2) Bus route 435 which will take you to Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate Palace.
  • The roads leading up to the castles are very narrow, meaning that they are one-way streets. This is important to know because it affects the order in which you should see the castles. Don’t go for the one furthest away first, because then you have to take the bus all the way back to the station afterwards, and then up again. You’ll lose 1.5 hours doing this.
  • Never drive in Sintra.
What to bring
  • The weather in Sintra can change in a heartbeat and go from very warm to chilly and foggy. It’s a good idea to bring a sweater just in case. Also, bring some water – you can buy it at the castles and near the station when you arrive in case you forget. It’s also a good idea to bring some snacks, as the bus services in Sintra sometimes are delayed, and you don’t know when you get to have lunch.
Quinta da RegaleiraQuinta da Regaleira

Before you go

  1. First, decide which castles you want to see. We decided to see Quinta da Regaleira, Pena Palace and Palace de Monserrate. There are a lot of castles in Sintra but during just a 1-day trip it’s unlikely that you’ll manage to see more than 3.
  2. Secondly, buy your train tickets from Lisbon to Sintra in the day before at any of the train stations mentioned above.

The same day as the trip

  1. Make sure you catch a train that arrives in Sintra around 9 in the morning.
  2. Now, the hack begins. Most tourists will opt to see Pena Palace first, or in some cases the Moorish castle and then Pena Palace, ending with Quinta da Regaleira, making the queues for the bus line insane. Instead, start by taking bus 435 to Quinta da Regaleira. There’s a lot to explore there so the visit could take at least 2 hours, the castle grounds (park) is by far the best part. Take your time and explore, try to aim to be done around noon.
    Quinta da Regaleira
  3. If you want to go to Monserrate:
    When you feel like you’ve seen enough of Quinta, hop on the same bus (435) to Monserrate. After you’re done there, hop on the same bus line that will take you back to Sintra station. Have lunch there.
    If you want to go to the Moorish Castle:
    If you’d rather see the Moorish Castle, then take the bus 435 from Quinta back to Sintra station. Have a quick snack / lighter lunch preferably to go (depending on time) and hop on bus 434 and exit at the Moorish castle. You’ll want to leave the Moorish castle around 16 and as you will go to Pena directly after (without a stop at Sintra station), you’ll maybe want to have lunch before.
    Monserrate Palace
  4. Take bus 434 onwards to Pena Palace. An important thing to remember during the day is to get to Pena Palace before their last admission. Plan your time to the other castles accordingly.The Pena park is open 09:30 – 20:00, last ticket and last admission 19:00.
    The Pena palace is open 09:30 – 19:00, last ticket 18:15 and last admission 18:30.

    I’d recommend you go to Pena around 16-17:00, that way you’ll still have plenty of time but you’ll also beat the biggest crowds. We went there around 4 and hardly had to queue at all to get in or to take photos at the popular locations. After you’re finished at Pena Palace, take bus 434 back to Sintra station, and head back to Lisbon.
    Pena Palace in SintraPena Palace in Sintra

Happy castle hunting!

One Reply to “How to see the famous castles in Sintra, Portugal – without feeling like a zoo animal”

  1. Beautiful! I can’t wait to go back and follow your suggestions. Thank you

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