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A day trip from Lisbon: How to see Sintra's colourful Pena Palace

A day trip from Lisbon: How to visit Sintra’s colourful Pena Palace

This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2018. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.

If castles matched personalities, then Pena Palace would be my dream home.

Perched on top of a hill in Sintra is the most colourful castle I’ve ever laid eyes on. The exterior walls are painted in bright splashes of yellow, red, and cream, with purple-blue azulejos (Portuguese tiles) covering the remaining sections with pretty patterns.

Standing on the Queen’s Terrace, I let my imagination form a vision of what it might be like to live here. Waking each morning to step onto the balcony and gaze over the vast countryside sounds like my perfect form of luxurious living.

Even though Pena was packed with tourists on the busy Sunday that Rob and I visited, the palace was still a sight to be seen. This former monastery and royal residences is truly like something out of a fairytale.

If you’re also dying to visit Pena Palace in Sintra, here’s some practical info on how to see it on a day trip from Lisbon!

When to go to Sintra:

Although we were advised to go on a weekday, unfortunately we had no choice but to visit on a Sunday. Sintra was bustling with tourists when we went, so if you have flexibility with your dates, definitely plan your visit for a weekday instead.

If you do end up going on a weekend, plan to leave as early as possible. The palace opens at 9:30 AM and it would be much nicer to explore minus the crowds. We made the mistake of arriving at about 11:30 AM and it was already busy. You could also try visiting in the late afternoon as the palace is open until 6:30-7:00 PM.

Oriente train station, Lisbon

How to get to Sintra from Lisbon:

As we were staying at Tivoli Oriente Hotel, we caught the train from the nearby Oriente train station. While Tivoli Oriente was not in the greatest location for exploring the city of Lisbon, it was super convenient for jumping on a train for day trips from Lisbon (or travelling to and from the airport!). The hotel is in a modern part of town near the expo centre, and had comfortable rooms plus a mouth-watering buffet breakfast. We jumped straight into the pool immediately after arriving from Porto the day before.

Train tickets to Sintra were available from the suburban ticket counter at Oriente station (don’t make the mistake of waiting at the long-distance counter like we did!) and cost € 5 for a return journey. I had the Lisboa card, which gave me free travel on the metro – all I had to do was validate my Lisboa card on the ticket machine as I approached the platform.

If you’re staying in the city centre, then you can catch a train to Sintra from Rossio station – the ride should take around 40 minutes. Alternatively, book a Sintra day tour which has all the transport to and from the city as well as the Sintra entrance tickets sorted for you.

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

How to get to Pena Palace from Sintra:

Once you arrive in Sintra, there are a few ways you can get to Pena Palace. After doing some research, I decided that we would take the 434 tourist bus to Pena. To get to the bus stop, exit the station and walk along the street which follows the north side of the station about 200 metres until you get to a bus stop that says 434. Don’t be fooled by any empty 434 buses that you may spot along the way – these buses are just banked here until it’s their turn to head onwards to the bus stop.

At the bus stop, you will have to line up for the next bus. We waited around 10-15 minutes before we made it on to a bus. There was a lady taking payment for the bus tickets as we waited in line. The cost was €6.90 for a return ticket which I was in Sintra in 2018, but it may have gone up in price since then.

If you don’t want to fuss around with the bus, you can negotiate a fare with a tuk tuk driver instead. I’m not aware of what the price for this would be, but I’m fairly sure that it would be a more convenient, though probably more expensive way to get to Pena than the bus!

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Entrance tickets for Pena Palace:

There are a few options for buying your entrance ticket to Pena Palace. I decided that we would buy them on arrival at the palace, seeing as my Lisboa card offered me a small discount.

If you don’t have a Lisboa card, then I would definitely recommend buying your tickets in advance through the Parques de Sintra website. This will save you lining up to get tickets when you get there, which took about 10-15 minutes for us. It will also get you a 5% discount on the ticket price.

There are 2 tickets types to choose from – a Park ticket or a Park and Palace ticket. We were a little confused about the difference, and after our day of exploration, we discovered that the park only ticket will get you access to everything except for the inside the palace itself. You can still walk around the grounds and even access the terraces of the palace to get photos. The things that you will miss out on is the Queen’s Terrace photo spot which is only accessible after entering the palace, and obviously the historic displays inside the palace.

Exploring Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal, 2018

Best photo spots at Pena Palace:

The classic photos of Pena Palace are taken from the Queen’s Terrace (where the above photo was taken), which is only accessible with a Park and Palace ticket. This pretty terrace offers gorgeous views of the colourful palace exterior as well as the surrounding landscape.

If you’ve only purchased the Park ticket, there are plenty of other photo spots on the lower terraces. When you arrive at the entrance to the palace itself, veer to the left of the ticket gate – just around the corner and through the archway are some lovely terraces and spots to take photos of the palace with the countryside views.

Where to eat in Sintra:

There are two cafes at Pena – one at the palace and the other at the entrance to the park. You can expect to pay tourist prices at these and they don’t have loads of food options, so we decided to stop in the town of Sintra for lunch instead.

The 434 bus will stop twice on the way back to the station – get off at the second stop for Sintra’s town centre. We ended up walking through some of the narrow laneways, and found a bakery with some vegetarian quiches and pastel de nata (Portuguese tarts – so delicious!).

If you want to save a few $$, you can BYO food and have a picnic at Pena instead. There are plenty of places within the park to settle down and eat a packed lunch.

Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra, Portugal

Other palaces in Sintra:

After you’ve finished up with lunch, you can take your pick of other palaces in Sintra to explore. I picked Quinta da Regaleira as my follow up as it was an easy 10 minute walk from the town centre and I had heard that the gardens were lovely.

The palace itself wasn’t all that much to rave about, but the gardens at Regaleira were totally amazing and much less crowded than Pena! There were caves and underground tunnels winding throughout the grounds, and every time you went down a path, you never know where it would take you to next. It felt kind of like a choose your own adventure.

The Initiation Well (pictured above) is what most people go to see at Regaleira, and I have to admit, it was pretty cool. A winding stairwell takes you from ground level deep into the earth, and at the bottom it connected to some tunnels.

We chose to make our way back to Lisbon after Regaleira and so made the 20 minute walk back to the train station, but if you still have time, there are more palaces that you can see around Sintra. The National Palace of Sintra is located in the town centre so is an easy choice, or if you’re willing to take another bus (the 435), you can visit the stunning Monserrate Palace. Check out walking tours in Sintra for more locations.

Sintra guided tour option:

If you don’t want to fuss around with the train and bus (and avoid waiting in all the queues for entrance tickets!), then you could book Portugal group tours or take a guided day trip from Lisbon to Pena Palace and Sintra instead. This option includes transport from Lisbon.

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Other tips for visiting Sintra:

  • Don’t attempt to walk to Pena from the train station. Apparently it’s an hour-long walk in the hot sun and the road is steep and unpleasant.
  • Avoid driving to Sintra and Pena Palace. There aren’t many parking spots around the palaces, and I heard a few other people complaining about how long it took to find a spot. There’s also enough traffic clogging the narrow roads as is!
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. There is some moderate walking involved around the grounds and the surface can be uneven at times. Choose comfort over fashion!
  • Prepare for limited phone signal up at the palace. We were trying to use our data to learn about the palace but could barely get any signal. It wasn’t a problem as we could get access to phone data once we got back into town, but it’s just something to keep in mind.

*I was a guest of Visit Lisboa and Tivoli Oriente for this part of my stay in Lisbon. I’m proud to be an honest and transparent blogger, so every opinion expressed on AGWT is a true review of my experience.

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