04 Dec A Self-Guided Sintra Day Trip: Hiking to Sintra’s Palaces
Sintra is a beautiful place to hike, but we found Sintra hiking trail information was hard to find for independent travelers. Tour websites were steering people to the tour bus circuit and we had to do a lot of online research to find any sort of trail maps or clear hiking directions.
After visiting Sintra with a We Hate Tourism tour, we really wanted to see more. So we decided to do a day trip to Sintra on our own, taking the train from Lisbon one weekday morning in early November and walking to the various palaces. In this post, I’ll try to share what we did and what we learned along the way so other independent travelers can have an easier time visiting Sintra on their own.
Sintra Trail Maps
Hiking trail maps for Sintra are hard to find online. I finally found this one to the Moorish castle, but it’s not very detailed and didn’t include Regaleira Palace, which was the one palace we really wanted to see. Once we were in Sintra, we did come across some trail maps posted at the Moorish Castle and Pena Palace, which would have been nice to have beforehand, although the trail we initially took is not included on either.
Here are both Sintra walking maps (note that in the second map, the town at the bottom is actually North of the castle):
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon by train
Conveniently, there’s a direct regional train to Sintra that leaves from Rossio station in the heart of Lisbon. You can purchase tickets at the counter on the top floor for “urban” lines.
At the time of this writing, reusable cards are 50 euro cents and a round trip to Sintra is 4.40 euros. If you already have a reusable Viva Viagem card (also used for the bus, trams, and metro), make sure you’ve used up any single journey tickets or other credit. You can only have one “type” of ticket on the card at a time.
We arrived to Rossio around 7:20 a.m., and there was only one person in line at the ticket counter (this is early November). The train was waiting for us and left at 7:41 on the dot, mostly empty. There’s nothing spectacular to see on 40 minute journey except Lisbon’s aqueduct at the beginning, then it’s just suburbs and graffiti’d train stations. We arrived in Sintra around 8:20 with the train almost empty again. In retrospect, it would have better to take the 8:11 a.m train since few things are open in Sintra before 9!
Walking up to Sintra’s historic center
Exiting the train station, we followed signs to the town center. There’s a nice wide sidewalk and a pretty setting with statues along the way. Be aware that Google Maps may show you a shorter walking route from the train station, but the main road is actually preferable and there’s less elevation change.
Since we arrived before 8:30, only one cafe was open, across from National Palace. The town was just starting to wake up and no tour buses were present yet.
We waited with a handful of others for the historic Piriquita bakery to open at 9, with the delicious scent of pastries wafting into the street. I can’t remember the name of the long sugar-covered pastries with jam filling, but they’re our favorite. We ordered two of those plus one quiejada, an espresso, and a coffee with milk (5.80 total). The bakery was founded well over a century ago and has even opened a second shop in town – one is closed on Tuesday and the other closes Wednesdays.
For anyone looking to hike straight up to the Moorish Castle, there’s a trail sign across from Piriquita on the corner of another shop. (This is actually the way we came back down.) The sign mentions that corresponding walking maps are available at the Sintra info center.
Not sure you want to hike Sintra on your own? You can also do a half-day trekking tour of Sintra with a guide. You’ll meet the guide at the National Palace in Sintra, so just follow our directions up to this point. Morning and afternoon walking tours are available.
>> Click here to check price and availability of the Sintra Half-Day Trekking Tour <<
Walking to Regaleira Palace
Freshly fortified by pastries, we started the short walk to Regaleira Palace. There was a sign on the road leading out of town from the southwest so we knew we were headed the right way.
We also came across the hop-on hop-off bus circuit map. If you don’t want to walk, that’s always an option. It appears to be 2.50 per ride or 12 euros for the full day.
When the road started heading uphill, we began to see the palace grounds. We continued walking all the way around the corner to the open gate. At 9:35 a.m., the grounds had just opened. There was no line for Quinta da Regaleira tickets and just a slow trickle of people entering.
We enjoyed exploring the grounds without crowds, starting with the mysterious Initiation Well. We followed various underground tunnels, found curious rock structures and caves, and were generally in awe of the eccentric landscape architecture. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…
We entered the actual palace building at 10:45 a.m. The top floor wasn’t open so we walked through in about 5 minutes. Ready to move on, we took advantage of the bathrooms in another building before heading out for the rest of our hike.
Note: If you have time and want to visit more palaces, I’d recommend starting with Monserrate first. We saw it on our first visit to Sintra. It’s really beautiful – especially the mansion itself. The gardens are also lovely but they pale in comparison to those of Regaleira, so do Monserrate first and you’ll be increasingly impressed! Monserrate is further up the road from Regaleira and is almost always less crowded.
If you don’t have enough time for both, prioritize Regaleira over Monserrate when possible.
Rampa da Pena Trail from Regaleira
We got confirmation from a security guard that there was indeed a trail entrance further up the road, though we got the impression he was rarely asked about it. So we followed signs to Monserrate and before too long, we saw the trail and sign on the left.
We entered the trail around 11 a.m., which was walled on both sides the entire way until it put us back out onto the winding road heading up to Pena Palace.
We noticed that a tuk tuk driver was guiding some tourists through a gate across the road, so we followed them in to check it out.
It was the perfect place for our picnic lunch. We sat on some rock outcroppings and had views of both Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle perched on their respective hills.
Although it wasn’t marked, we suspected that the hiking trail is actually supposed to continue through that same gate, as there was a pretty prominent dirt path leading in the direction of Pena Palace (though slightly downhill). Since we weren’t sure, we returned to the road and followed it up to the Pena entrance.
Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle
Not including our lunch break, it took us less than an hour to hike from Regaleira to the top of the hill. We first came upon one of the entrance areas and a parking lot for Pena Palace, where we could see part of the gardens through the gate. It’s still a big climb uphill from the ticket booth to reach the palace itself, and we hear the lines can get long, so a visit to Pena could potentially take up the rest of the afternoon. We decided to skip it.
The hiking trail continued through the back of the small parking lot where there was a trail sign and map posted. I included this map earlier but here it is again for reference (we were at the orange pinpoint, top right):
From the Pena parking lot, there was a nice dirt path that became cobble stone after we passed a viewpoint of the Moorish Castle. Soon, we were approaching a ticket booth for the Moorish Castle on the nearby road, but we turned left and continued along the stone paths toward the castle.
Tickets for the Moorish Castle are collected at the ‘inner circle wall’ so you can see a bit of the outer grounds without paying.
I recommend checking out the nice short video inside the chapel that depicts the area’s history. Between the chapel and the inner wall/ticket entrance, you can also look into two old burial grounds.
From the Moorish Castle, there’s a cobbled pathway and stairs leading down to the road back into town. I believe there are a couple ways down, so we just followed the signs to Centro Historico and enjoyed the nice views.
We came down this stairway – the path from Sintra to the Moorish Castle is well marked so it should be easy to follow if you’re doing the reverse of our trip. (Apologies to the tourists we caught in our pictures!)
We left the Moorish castle around 12:10 and were back at the train station by 12:45 p.m, just in time for the 1 o’clock train back to Lisbon. There was a marked difference when we passed through Sintra’s town center on the way back – it was no longer quiet, and we had to dodge people in the alleys.
All in all, our self-guided Sintra day trip was a success. We loved exploring Sintra’s serene hiking trails and spending more time around in its magical palaces. Each visit has left us wanting to go back for more – as long as we can stay off the beaten path and avoid the growing crowds of tourists!
If you have any questions about making a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon or about hikes in Sintra, please let us know in the comments. If you’re an expert in this area, we’d love to hear your advice and suggestions for the best walks in Portugal!
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