Sintra and Cabo da Roca in 24 Hours
Beautiful in all seasons, the following is an off-peak winter travel guide, which benefits from less tourists and cooler weather; however, a shorter day means less time in each location in Sintra. A trip in the summer would be hotter and more crowded, but would allow you to visit at least one more location in the area. Bus times for Scotturb can be found here (unfortunately, the site is in Portuguese only).
The historic village of Sintra, and all its associated glories, is forty minutes outside of Lisbon. Trains run frequently from Lisbon's Rossio Train Station to Sintra Train Station. This distance makes Sintra an ideal day trip from Lisbon, although spending only a day may require you to rush through some sites.
For a more relaxed experience, hotels in Sintra are also available.
From the train station, the number 434 Circuito da Pena bus runs in a loop around all of Sintra making stops at most of the main attractions.
Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes, as many of the locations worth seeing in Sintra are hilly. Also, be prepared to leave for Sintra early, as the town fills up quickly with tourists.
If you plan on seeing multiple locations within Sintra, buy the Scotturb bus pass; it costs €12, lasts all day, and covers unlimited boardings of buses. Additionally, a €15 pass can be bought from the Rossio Train Station that includes both the bus pass and the train ticket from Lisbon to Sintra, as well as a bus ticket to Cabo da Roca and onto Cascais.More information about the buses can be found here.
Heading Out from Lisbon
Desired train: 8:41 AM departure — 9:21 AM arrival
Back-up train: 9:11 AM — 9:51 AM
The most convenient way to reach Sintra is by commuter train from Lisbon's centrally located Rossio Train Station. The train trip should take roughly 40 minutes and a ticket costs €5 euros per person; conversely, as outlined in Tips above, a Scotturb pass can be bought for €15 to include train and bus fare.
As most locations open in Sintra in the off-season at 10 AM, the earlier you can arrive in Sintra the better. The desired train above leaves you plenty of time to arrive at Sintra Station and then catch a bus to reach the next destination just before it opens to the public.
Quinta da Regaleira
(10:00 AM - 11:30 AM)
Desired bus from Sintra Train Station (435 Bus): 9:40 AM
Back-up bus: 10:10 AM, 10:35 AM
The Quinta da Regaleira is a magnificent palace featuring Gothic architecture, Masonic symbolism, and grounds containing numerous grottoes and Tarot initiation wells. The palace ground's open at 10 AM during the off-season. We agreed this was hands down the coolest site within Sintra, and we were glad we saw it first before it filled up with tourists. If you are spending two days in Sintra, or are less interested in seeing additional sites, Quinta da Regaleira could deserve more time than allotted.
The palace is not one of the destinations within the Sintra 434 circuit bus route; however, it is still easily accessible from the Sintra Train Station by the 435 bus. The center of historic Sintra is then an easy 15 minute walk downhill from the palace along charming rustic streets.
Centro Historico - Turismo (11:30 AM - 12:30 PM)
Walk-time from Quinta da Regaleira: 15 minutes
The historic center of the town of Sintra, the Centro Historico - Turismo is a charming old Portuguese country town. The downtown features numerous historic sites, such as Palácio Nacional de Sintra and the Igreja de São Martinho cathedral, not to mention the innumerable pastel back-alleys that, although touristy, are full of cafes, restaurants, and counters serving ginja — a Portuguese liqueur made from ginja berries and sour cherries that is traditionally served in a dark chocolate shot glass (Pro tip: take the shot like the locals, and stuff the shot glass and ginja into your mouth in one go).
While downtown, be sure to grab the local specialties of queijadas cheesecakes and travesseiro (almond creme and egg puff pastries) from Piriquita bakery. Once you've had your fill, be ready to hop on the 434 Bus - Circuito da Pena to see the panoramic sites of Sintra.
Castelo dos Mouros
(12:40 PM - 2:00 PM)
Desired bus from Centro Historico (434 Bus): 12:35 PM
Back-up bus: 12:50 PM
Looming over the town of Sintra and the surrounding region is the Castelo dos Mouros, the Moorish Castle, that was built during the Islamic conquest of the region. After the Portuguese conquered the castle, it became a prominent fort before eventually loosing prominence and suffering damage from a major earthquake.
Today, the castle is in various stages of renovation. Most impressively, its outer ramparts and towers still stand, allowing for a nerve-wracking (as someone afraid of heights) climb along the spine of the mountains overlooking Sintra to the topmost lookout tower. The view is stunning, the history feels alive, and you can see an enchanting glimpse of the Palácio da Pena perched on a neighboring summit from the castle.
If you are not a huge castle or history buff, the castle can be done in an hour for a quick walk along the walls.
Palácio da Pena
(2:30 PM - 3:30 PM)
Desired bus from Castelo dos Mouros (434 Bus): 2:14 PM
Back-up bus: 2:29 PM
A one-time favored summer getaway location for the royal family, the Palácio da Pena is now one of Portugal's most famous tourist destinations and a favored location for governmental meetings — and it is easy to see why. Perched on summit, the palace offers sweeping views all the way to Lisbon on a clear day. The palace and its grounds were designed in the Romantic style, meaning the architecture combines elements from throughout Portuguese history and the accompanying gardens feature trees and ferns from throughout the world.
The best way to give justice to the palace is to describe it as a cross between a Disney castle and a Guillermo del Toro movie, as the pastel walls and soaring elements of the palace contrast with the lush and carefully-groomed-to-be-overgrown and lush forested gardens.
Return to Sintra Station
(4:00 PM - 4:10 PM)
Desired bus from Palácio da Pena (434 Bus): 3:49 PM
Back-up bus: 4:04 PM
Grab a drink and some snacks from the convenience store by the train station bus stop and go to the bathroom if you need, because the next bus ride is longer.
Cabo da Roca
(4:45 PM - 5:45 PM)
Desired bus from Sintra Train Station (403 Bus): 4:10 PM — 4:47 PM
Back-up bus: 4:40 PM — 5:17 PM
The westernmost point in the Eurasian landmass, Cabo da Roca is all seas of succulents underfoot, soaring sea cliffs hundreds of feet tall, and the raging Atlantic underfoot. To call the scenery dramatic is an understatement.
Read more about Cabo da Roca here
To top it off, Cabo da Roca offers some of the most astonishing sunsets imagine. The mixture of the cliffs' heights and the unimpeded view of the horizon makes it seems as if the sun is slowly swallowed beneath beneath the ocean. The twilight is absolutely breathtaking as it paints the cliffs, succulents, and sand brilliant blues, oranges, yellows, and greens.
(6:20 PM — 8:15 PM)
Desired bus from Cabo da Roca bus stop (403 Bus): 5:47 PM — 6:19 PM
Back-up buses: 6:17 PM — 6:39 PM, 6:47 PM — 7:19 PM
Cascais is a charming seaside town within the greater Lisbon area that features a wide range of restaurants and nightlife opportunities. The most authentic (and delicious) move in Cascais is to go to a seafood restaurant and order either bacalhau (cod) or squid with some vinho verde (slightly sparkling and refreshing Portuguese green wine). If you are tired of Portuguese food, the town also offers a wide selection of Indian, Asian, and English restaurants (although why you would choose to go to an English restaurant ...)
Cascais can make for an ideal location to book a hotel or Airbnb. It's smaller streets and town-feel are a perfect place to unwind, while the town's long promenade and beaches are made for sunbathing (even in the winter). For the more daring, the casino in the neighboring town of Estoril is walking distance from Cascais.
Back to Lisbon
Desired train from Cascais Train Station: 8:16 PM — 8:49 PM
Back-up trains: 8:28 PM — 9:08 PM, 8:40 PM — 9:20 PM, 9:00 PM — 9:40 PM
If you decide against staying in Cascais for the night, the return trip to Lisbon is extremely quick. Trains run frequently, and take around half an hour at night. Please note, however, that trains from Cascais pull into Lisbon's second main station of Cais do Sodré. The return ticket to Lisbon costs €4.
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