Some tips so that you don’t lose your mind in Sintra during high season.
High season is here. And with it, hordes of culture thirsty tourist from all over the place. Portugal has become one of Europe’s best-known countries, taking the prize of the best-kept secret in Europe… Until now, not a secret any more! The truth is that the country is not that well prepared for receiving so many people on such a short period of time. Don’t get us wrong, we believe we’re still far behind some of Europe’s traditional tourism hubs such as Barcelona, Florence or Paris. And the Portuguese do love to receive travelers (generally speaking). That being said, the country and some of its attractions don’t have the necessary infrastructures and organization to deal with so many people at the same time.
Located 30min from Lisbon, Sintra is probably the best example and the case study for this tourism boom. This charming village holds some of Europe’s strongest heritage collection: two royal palaces, a medieval castle, plenty of rich Estates and one of the best natural parks in Portugal. The only problem is that all of this is located in a few acres of land, with few access points and deficient roads that only go one way. So here’s the million-dollar question: Is it worth to visit Sintra during high season? The answer is definitely yes… Provided you follow a few of our tips bellow.
Entrance to Pena Palace early in the morning VS mid of the day.
TIPS TO SURVIVE SINTRA:
Plan ahead. If you’re that kind of person that doesn’t worry too much when traveling, that likes to go with the flow and see what the day has to offer, then Sintra is not for you. At least during high season. Our recommendation is that you plan ahead and stick with your plan, otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed with the sheer number of things you’re “supposed to see”. A basic day in Sintra, with a pleasant time schedule, without too much packed together could go like this:
- 9:30 – 11:30: Visit Pena Palace and Estate
- 12:00 – 13:00: Visit the Moor Castle (optional)
- 13:30 – 14:30: lunch in downtown Sintra
- 15:00-16:00: Visit the National Royal Palace in Downtown Sintra
- 16:00-16:30: Time for a treat in the local Piriquita coffeeshop
- 17:00-18:00: Visit Regaleira Estate
Transportation: You can get to Sintra in one of two ways: By public transportation (train from Rossio in Lisbon’s city center) or by car (either a rental or with a tour guide). Once you get to Sintra there are basically 3 ways to get around: By foot, by bus or by car. There’s no right way to get around, it really depends on what type of traveler you are. Some notes:
- Get around in Sintra by car: It will be comfortable, but parking will be a challenge you’ll have to deal with.
- Get around by public bus: It will be cheap and more relaxing vs car. But there will be long queues to get in and you’ll have to stick to the bus schedules.
- By Foot: This will be the best way to really know the place and by far the most relaxing. However, Sintra sits by some very steep hilltops, so you’ll have to be in shape in order to get around.
Tour guides: Again, hiring a tour guide is up to you. That being said, if you’re looking to get the most out of it, and you want to hand over the command of the day to someone that really knows how to get around, then a tour guide might be a good idea… Oh, did we mention we’re experts at it? Some of the local attractions such as the Regaleira Estate also offer their own guiding services, it might be a good idea to check them out if you don’t want to miss a thing.
Get there early: This will probably be the best piece of advice we can give you. You really don’t want your Sintra experience to get wasted simply because you overslept. Time your day so that you get to Pena Palace or Regaleira Estate by 9 am. Most of the attractions open at 9:30 so this way, you’ll be the first in line. Another thing you can do is to “waste” the mid/core of the day on meaningless wandering in the city center while using the earlier and later parts of the day to visit the “must see” attractions, that way you’ll skip the busy periods.
Buy your tickets online beforehand. This way you’ll skip the busy entrance lines and go straight to what you’re supposed to do in Sintra:
If you’re not the kind of person prone to e-commerce, then you can buy tickets locally at the door. Avoid buying them in front of the busy monuments such as the Moorish castle or Pena Palace, since they’re all managed by the same entity you can buy tickets for on attraction wherever you’re at.
Pena Palace grounds Vs inside: Some argue that you’re not really supposed to visit the interior of Pena Palace. The truth is that its outside architecture and the breathtaking views may lead you to think that the outside is just enough. Once again, that really depends on what type of traveler you are. If you really want to get a hold of the building’s vibe, then you should definitely go inside and check some of its eccentricities. There’s plenty to see and understand: the Manueline cloisters, the dining room, the smoking room, among many other exotic divisions. Once again, if you’re not really into understanding the details of this building or you’re in the rush then perhaps you might wanna skip the interior.
Alternative attractions: A Rootfarers post couldn’t be complete without mentioning the roads less traveled in Sintra. There are two very good attractions in Sintra Municipality that you MUST see and that are not that visited by the hoards. The first one is the Convent of the Capuchos: A XVI century complex that houses cramp humble spaces where the monks used to live. It’s truly a magical place, filled with a spiritual aura that invites you to relax and enjoy the scenery.
Capuchos Convent – photo credit to Vitor Oliveira (Portuguese_eyes)
Another alternative is the Palace of Queluz. Located on the outskirts of Sintra Municipality, Queluz Royal Palace is a fine example of Rococco architecture and its gardens are world famous. Its location (outside the touristic itinerary) makes it one of the least visited attractions in Sintra so it will be a pleasant visit!
Authentic experiences for authentic travelers