Sintra has since I was a young girl been one of my favourite places to visit in Portugal. Growing up in Lisbon, I have always felt a nostalgia for Sintra, for its dramatic scenery and grand architecture. It’s a great contrast to Lisbon, and a truly fantastic family day out, we visit Sintra every year, and each time it feels fresh and exciting. Keep reading to plan your visit to Sintra with kids.
The Portuguese city of Sintra is an enchanting place and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has inspired generation after generation of renowned painters, poets and literary names, and nowadays attracts swarms of tourists from around the world.
Surrounded by lush and tall greenery, the hilltop city is at its most perfect during the summer months, when the cooler temperature is a welcome escape from Lisbon’s stuffy city heat. That’s also one of the reasons why it was the chosen summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family for centuries.
Keep reading this guide for planning a trip to Sintra, and if you have any questions do just get in touch on here or on my social channels.
What is the best time of year to visit Sintra?
Sintra has its own micro-climate, which means that it’s usually considerably colder and wet than Lisbon. Visiting in Spring and Autumn will allow you to visit without the summer crowds, but still make the most of the mountain city with the bright blue skies, and the sun shining.
Planning your day in Sintra
When is it best time to visit Sintra to avoid the crowds?
Sintra is incredibly charming, and a must-visit, but it is small and gets very easily crowded. The tour buses usually arrive around 10am, so I suggest aiming to arrive between 8 and 9 if you can. There are plenty of wonderful pastelarias for you to discover and sip an espresso (café) and try one of Sintra’s traditional pastries.
How to get to Sintra
Lisbon to Sintra by train
From Lisbon’s Rossio station (near Baixa), you can get a train to Sintra, which will take you there in about 40 minutes. Find out more about tickets and schedules here.
If you want to explore further afield, you may want to consider hiring a car, but driving into Sintra and up towards the castle and the palace is not for the faint-hearted and usually full of traffic, so unless you’re adamant you need it, catch a train and some taxis instead.
How do you need to know when planning your trip to Sintra with kids?
Sintra’s town’s streets are steep and cobbled, not ideal for babies in strollers and you’ll need to plan ahead for little ones that can’t cope with too much walking. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to have a rest, but do keep reading to see which of Sintra’s sites you want to visit the most and take into consideration that each has a fair bit of walking. It’s also worth pre-booking your meal, as it does get so busy in town.
If you don’t want to fuss around folding buggies, pushing a small child uphill or dealing with cobbled pavements, I would recommend you consider going on a day trip to beautiful Obidos instead, which although perhaps not as grand as Sintra, makes for a wonderful day trip that we found to be very child-friendly.
Where to eat in Sintra:
Cantinho de Sao Pedro is a lovely and spacious restaurant with a traditional menu at fairly good prices. An average meal cost will be €20 per person including drinks.
Exploring Sintra’s historical centre
As you arrive into Sintra, you’ll see the Moor’s Castle and Pena Palace on the rather steep Serra de Sintra, sheltering the cosy and quaint historical city centre.
The winding and colourful cobbled streets are very attractive, lined with traditional pastelarias (bakeries) and dozens of shops selling trinkets. If you manage to navigate the crowds, do take the time to wander off the main streets to escape the tourist traps and witness the real charm and grandeur of this unique city.
After relaxing over a coffee, it’s time to decide exactly how you’re going to climb that mountain. There are several options for you to choose from:
- There’s a public bus that does a loop from the train station, to the town, to the castle & palace
- My personal favourite way is the Sintra hop-on/hop-off bus – it includes stops at all the main sites in Sintra, plus it goes to the coastal towns of Colares.
- Book a taxi, executive car, or whatever takes your fancy.
- Get yourself in a tuk tuk for a bumpy but fun ride.
- Drive up to one of the car parks located near Pena. If you choose this option, you’ll still need to climb uphill for about 300m or more to the Palace.
- When just going up to Pena, this is what I usually do – tighten your shoe-laces, take a deep breath and start walking – here’s a link to the trail.
Visiting the Castelo dos Mouros
You’ll be awestruck at the sight of the Moor’s Castle. One of my favourite walking grounds, the castle is perched on the Serra de Sintra, with vertiginous views stretching as far as the Atlantic Ocean.
The remaining building and ruins you can visit are the result of a long and difficult history, originating in the 10th century and running up until the assassination of the Portuguese king and his heir in 1908. The castle takes around an hour to thoroughly explore, and it’s a very pleasant, gentle walk.
Zipline and adventure experiences in Sintra
We went ziplining in Sintra a few years back, but the company doesn’t seem to exist anymore. It was a lot of fun, and great for older children to expore the National Park. I have found some great alternatives and creative experiences for kids, but haven’t experienced them myself.
Palácio da Pena with kids
A good 10 minute uphill walk from the castle, you’ll find the exquisite former summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family: The Pena Palace, a world of whimsy and wonder. This exuberant and colourful palace is a perfect example of what royal money did when it had no limits (similar to another example we’ve visited, the Brighton’s Royal Pavilion).
As we walked through it, we kept finding fantastic mixes of textures, detail and the playful combination of bright and bold colours, together with gorgeous tiling give the palace a wonderfully quirky facade.
We found ourselves spending the majority of the time exploring the various terraces and courtyards, but if you wish to visit the royal quarters you can also do so.
Baby-buggies are parked at the entrance so you will need to carry little ones around. Parents of toddlers beware that when roaming the battlements there are some steep drops protected only by low stone walls, so you will need to keep a tight grip.
Quinta da Regaleira
Nestled amidst Sintra’s enchanting hills, Quinta da Regaleira is a mystical place that will have you embarking an adventure like no other.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is a Gothic wonderland, featuring a mesmerizing network of tunnels, lush gardens, and a mysterious initiation well that descends into the depths of the earth. Children will be spellbound by the air of enchantment that permeates every nook and cranny of the property.
The architecture, adorned with ornate carvings and mystical symbols, evokes the spirit of a fairy tale. Outside, families can wander through lush gardens, cross charming bridges, and navigate through intriguing subterranean passageways.
nb: This post isn’t sponsored, nor have I received any kind of compensation for recommending these businesses, but I may get a commission from some links in case you book it. Find out more about how it all works here. I hope my recommendations help you plan your very own family trip to Sintra.