Sintra is famous for its castles, but there’s also some unique pastry in town.

A Short History

Evidence has been found showing that humans have been in the area around Sintra since the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras over 7,000 years ago.

Rome occupied the area from the second century BCE until the fifth century CE. Roman ruins include a dam, bridges, and roads.

In the 8th century, the Moors from North Africa conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula including Sintra. To defend the city, they build what must have been an incredible and extravagant castle on the hilltop. However, some archaeologists have put forward that, in fact, the Visigoths constructed the castle well before the Moors’ arrival.

The Moorish Castle, Sintra, Portugal (photo: Brent Petersen)

Moorish Sintra was isolated by the Christian armies during the Reconquista. Several Christian armies briefly held or tried to capture Sintra, but it wasn’t until 1147 when Afonso Henriques took control of the city and built a church inside the walls of the castle that Sintra finally came under Christian control.

Fancy palaces and churches were built to support the monarchy who spent a lot of time in Sintra, especially the summers, where the cool mountain air was a welcome respite from the heat of Lisbon. But, much of the city was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake that also leveled Lisbon.

After an ambitious rebuilding plan, King-Consort Ferdinand and Queen Maria II spearheaded a plan to create an audacious palace on the ruins of one destroyed and subsequently abandoned at the top of a hill. The Pena Palace became the symbol of Sintra as well as the royal summer home after completion in 1854. It has attracted curious tourists ever since.

Foodie Sintra

Ok, I know, you didn’t come to Sintra for the food. You’re here to see palaces and castle ruins and fancy gardens. But, there’s some cool dishes to try as well.

Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal (photo: Brent Petersen)


The culinary highlight of Sintra is the Travesseiro. This light and flaky pastry is filled with an egg yolk and almond cream custard. There’s also a hint of vanilla.

In English, Travesseiro means “pillow” or “cushion” and that is an apt translation. The dough is so light and flaky. Little snowflakes of dough drift down onto the table (and your shirt) as you devour one.

Travesseiro at Casa Piriquita, Sintra, Portugal (photo: Brent Petersen)

Casa Piriquita invented the Travesseiro in the 1940s and they still make them using the closely guarded family recipe. People line up all day to get their Travesseiro at Casa Piriquita, but my favorite is made at Casa do Preto.


Queijada are a little round pastry in a shell. Inside is a filling made of fresh requeijão cheese (similar to ricotta), sugar, egg yolks, and cinnamon.

Legend has it that Queijada were used as currency in medieval times.

You’ll often hear the Queijada de Sintra referred to as “Portuguese Cheesecake.” This is a misnomer because even though it is made with a kind of cheese, it is quite different from New York style cheesecake.

Queijada de Sintra (photo: Brent Petersen)

Casa Piriquita makes a fine version, as does Pastelaria Gregório. Another good choice is Queijadas da Sapa.

Drinking in Sintra

The municipality of Sintra includes the town itself and ten other parishes stretching all the way from the mountains to the western shore of Portugal. Included in this area is the tiny winemaking region of Colares.

The second oldest winemaking region of Portugal (after Douro), Colares is also one of the smallest.

And, it’s getting smaller. 80 years ago, there were 2,500 acres of vines, now Colares is down to just 50 acres.

Colares is unique because the vines grow in very, very sandy soil.

Because the dreaded phylloxera aphid cannot survive on sand, the vines of Colares were some of the only ones not devastated in the 19th century. While almost all the vines in Europe were destroyed by sap sucking insects, the vineyards of Colares were left alone.

Since the output of Colares is so small, it isn’t easy to find wines from the region on local wine lists. To sample what the region has to offer, it is best to visit the a winery or the local co-op.

Or, if time is short, INcomum Wine Gallery has an extensive selection of Portuguese wines and usually has at least one from Colares.

Colares Wineries

There are a handful of wineries in Colares that are open to visitors (by appointment).

The Colares Regional Wine Cellars is a cooperative that produces half of the region’s wine and uses grapes from almost every local producer. This makes the CRWC the best bet for an overview of the wine region. You can get a tour of the winery and learn about the grapes and production while tasting some Colares wines.

If you’re taking the bus (439 or 403) to visit Colares Regional Wine Cellars, you can hop back on and be dropped off steps from Adega Viúva Gomes, one of the oldest producers in Colares. Adega Viúva Gomes became famous by winning first prize at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915. They have limited open house hours or book a tasting by appointment.

Further west, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean is Beira Mar Wine Cellars. They are another of the original producers in the Colares region and the only one I’m aware of that has (very limited) international distribution. Book ahead for a tour.

Getting to Colares

From Sintra take the 439 bus to Banzao – Talho in Colares (about 35 minutes) and walk a few steps to Colares Regional Wine Cellars. The 439 continues to Almocageme Largo with is a 1 minutes walk to Adega Viúva Gomes..

Or, take the 403 bus from Sintra to Colares Largo in Sintra (about 25 minutes) and walk 5 minutes to Colares Regional Wine Cellars. The 403 continues to Almocageme Largo with is a 1 minutes walk to Adega Viúva Gomes.

Beira Mar Wine Cellars can be reached by taking the bus in from the
Banzao-Adega Colares stop to Avenida Largo AuGeneral Colares N74 (about 18 minutes).

Things to do in Sintra

Pena Palace

The Pena Palace was originally just a Medieval chapel on a steep hill in Sintra. The chapel was expanded to a monastery in the 16th century. The earthquake of 1755 that leveled Lisbon also destroyed the monastery, although the chapel remained standing.

The site stood in ruin for almost 100 years until King Consort Ferdinand acquired it and the surrounding land (including the Castelo dos Mouros) in 1838. The royal palace was completed in 1854. Amélie, the last queen of Portugal, spent the night in the Pena Palace before leaving in exile, effectively ending royal rule and beginning the Portuguese First Republic.

During the buy season, the ticket lines can stretch on endlessly, eating into your valuable time. Instead, buy your ticket in advance online and save your sanity as well as some money. But, be aware that the tickets are time stamped. You’ll need to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to get to the palace and wait in the line to get inside because if you arrive late, you might be turned away.

Gargoyle guarding the entrance to the Pena Palace (photo: Brent Petersen)

Don’t sleep on the walk up to the Pena Palace. Lush gardens filled with native and exotic plants line the route. But, if you don’t want to walk uphill to the palace, there is a bus available that can zip you there in a couple minutes. Walking back down after visiting the palace will be easier and you’ll still get the full effect of the greenery.

Inside the palace are several state rooms filled with artifacts and some artwork, many of them left by the royal family when they fled the country in 1910. For more information download the audio guide to the Pena Palace.

But, the real attraction is viewing the palace from outside. The bright colors and garish decoration looks like something out of a Disney movie, a structure designed less for defense and more as an ostentatious display of wealth.

View from the Pena Palace terrace (photo: Brent Petersen)

If you’re in a time crunch, I’d suggest skipping the inside of the palace and enjoying the views from the outside. But, don’t miss strolling the gardens.

Getting There

From the train station in Sintra there are several ways to get to the Pena Palace. You can take an Uber or Taxi.

There will also be tour operators and tuk-tuk drivers outside the station. No need to look for them, they’ll find you, trust me.

There’s also the local 434 bus that makes a loop from the station to the historic center and up the hill to the Castelo dos Mouros and the Pena Palace.

You might be tempted to hike up the hill to the Pena Palace. I’d advise against it. It is a long, steep climb that takes quite a while. This will severely cut into the amount of time you have in Sintra that would be better spent exploring the wonders of the city.

Plus, you’ll want to save your legs for the Castelo dos Mouros.

View of the Pena Palace from the Moorish Castle (photo: Brent Petersen)

Castelo dos Mouros

The Moors held power in Sintra and most of the Iberian Peninsula for hundreds of years. Their influence can be seen today in Portugal’s cuisine (rice, couscous, sugar), language, and architecture.

Shortly after the 8th century conquest of the Ibernian Peninsula by the North African Moors, construction began on the Castelo dos Mouros high on a hill above Sintra (some historians say it was constructed earlier by the Visigoths). The castle guarded the city from invasion until 1147 when it was given up without a fight after the fall of Lisbon to the Christians.

Besides providing protection to the city, the castle was also a religious center. But the chapel was abandoned in 1493 and a small Jewish community used it until they too were expelled.

The earthquake of 1755 severely damaged the castle, making it structurally unsound. It has undergone renovations several times in the subsequent years.

Visiting the Castelo dos Mouros is one of the must-dos on a trip to Sintra. The entrance is just a 5 minute walk downhill from the Pena Palace.

Tickets are available at a kiosk next to the entrance. However, I would recommend buying your ticket in advance online. Not only will you save a bit of money, but the lines to buy tickets can sometimes be long, there are only two machines, and there is no one to help you if you have difficulty operating the machine (and it seems a lot of people have trouble navigating the process).

Once inside the gate, it is a short walk to the chapel. There are some signs in the park, but descriptions are minimal. For more context you can download an app and audioguide to your phone for a small fee. This is a good investment unless you’re just there for the views.

And, speaking of the views, they’re spectacular!

Not much remains of the castle itself, but you can hike up and down the stone staircases and see Sintra in all its glory.

Oh, those stairs! There’s a lot of climbing on uneven surfaces at the Castelo dos Mouros. There’s no handicapped access and those with mobility issues are going to have a very difficult, if not impossible, time navigating the castle. Even for folks in relatively good shape, it’s lots and lots of stairs. Take breaks, take pictures, enjoy the view!

Quinta da Regaleira

Despite its name, the Quinta da Regaleira is not associated with Portuguese royalty. And, even though the palace looks Gothic, it was built a little over 100 years ago.

Carvalho Monteiro bought the estate in 1892 and hired Italian architect Luigi Manini which explains some of the Roman and Renaissance design elements. Monteiro sold the property to Waldemar d’Orey in 1942 and it was later purchased by a Japanese company before being acquired by the Sintra Town Council who opened Quinta da Regaleira to the public in 1998.

The top attraction in Quinta da Regaleira is the Initiation Well. There are actually two Initiation Wells on the property, but the larger one rightfully gets the most attention. Expect to stand in line to wait your turn to descend a 90 foot spiral stone staircase to the bottom the well. Then, a rather long tunnel leads you back outside.

Despite the name, the Initiation Tunnel was never used as a water source. Instead, it was used for Tarot initiation rites reflecting Carvalho Monteiro’s interest in mysticism.

The palace is very popular for its magnificent Gothic façade, although the interior isn’t very interesting. Next to the palace is a small but nicely designed chapel.

The 10 acre grounds are endlessly interesting to wander. In addition to the Initiation Well and tunnel, there’s grottos, fountains, elaborate benches, and statuary. There’s even a waterfall.

Walking the Quinta da Regaleira isn’t nearly as strenuous as the Castelo dos Mouros, but to see it all, you’ll be walking up and down lots of stairs and along unpaved footpaths. In addition, the site gets very busy, especially in summer. I suggest buying your ticket in advance.

Sintra National Palace

Sintra National Palace (image:

The Pena Palace gets all the love in Sintra. But, for me, the Sintra National Palace is more interesting. Sure, it doesn’t have have the fairytale design or romantic hilltop location that Pena boasts, But, the expansive rooms featuring azulejo tile work, decorated ceilings, and Islamic inspired design make the Sintra National Palace more historically relevant than it’s more popular cousin. The most striking element of the palace is the twin cone towers which were used as chimneys for the large kitchen.

The land where the Sintra National Palace now stands was originally a castle built by the Moors in the 10th or 11th century CE during the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. After the Christians pushed the Moors out of Sintra in the 12th century, the castle became the property of the Portuguese royal family.

As the royal family became obscenely wealthy during the so-called Age of Discoveries, the palace was expanded in the 15th and 16th centuries. Even though the palace was severely damaged by the 1755 earthquake that leveled Lisbon, it was rebuilt to look like it was before the disaster.

The rooms of the palace are filled with fascinating decorative design elements and artwork.

The Swan Room was the Great Hall in the palace and its centerpiece is a giant chandelier. But, the room’s namesake are the swan ceiling panels. Their painter and creation date is unknown, but they’re likely from the 14th century.

Swan Room (photo: Brent Petersen)

The Magpie Room was originally used to by the King and Queen to grant an audience with a head of state of a royal’s subject. Later the room hosted banquets. The magpie paintings adorning the ceiling are likely older than even the swan panels.

Magpie room (photo: Brent Petersen)

The Galley Room was built in the 16th century, like to connect the rooms of the northwest wing to the main palace. The 17th century ceiling paintings depict Portuguese, Dutch, and Ottoman boats and show the importance of Portugal’s sailing fleet.

Galley room (photo: Brent Petersen)

The Room of the Coat of Arms has the coat of arms from the 72 most important families in Portugal under King Manuel I (1495-1521). Of course, King Manny has his coat of arms atop all the others at the highest point on the room’s ceiling. There is also some of the most impressive azulejo tilework in The Room of the Coat of Arms.

Coat or Arms room (photo: Brent Petersen)

The Chamber of King Afonso VI is in the oldest part of the palace which was renovated in the 13th century and dates well before that. This room is at the heart of palace intrigue from the second half of the 17th century.

Alfonso was born in 1643 to King John IV and Queen Luisa de Guzman. At the age of three, young Alfonso was stricken with an illness that left him paralyzed on his left side and mentally unstable. But, when his father John died in 1656, 13 year old Alfonso was elevated to king. As he was a minor, his mother Luisa was named regent and was pretty much in charge of the kingdom.

Because of Alfonso’s disability, he was susceptible to outside influence and his confidant, the ambitious Luís de Vasconcelos e Sousa, 3rd Count of Castelo Melhor, began whispering in his ear that Luiza wanted to have Alfonso killed so she could become head of the kingdom. This, of course, was ridiculous since Luiza was already in charge of Portugal and probably would be for the rest of his life. And, if Alfonso died, the throne wouldn’t pass to Luisa, but instead to her next son, Pedro.

Alfonso believed his The Count of Castelo Melhor and had his mother exiled to the Azores and later a convent in Lisbon where she died.

That’s when things got much worse for Alfonso. He married the power hungry Maria Francisca of Savoy. Maria discovered that Alfonso’s childhood illness had left him impotent. So, she began an affair with Alfonso’s brother Pedro and had her marriage to Alfonso annulled.

Maria Francisca then began her own whisper campaign, convincing Peter that Alfonso was unfit to rule, which due to his mental state, was probably true. Pedro consolidated his power and was able to effectively overthrow his brother and exile him to the Azores (karma, much?). Alfonso was still king, but it was in name only as Pedro controlled the government.

Later, when Alfonzo’s health grew even worse, he was permitted to return to Sintra but was kept in what is now called The Chamber of Alfonso VI under constant guard by 300 soldiers until he died nine years later.

In the final twist, when Alfonso died, Pedro was elevated to king, but Maria Francisca died 3 months later.

King Afonso VI imprisoned in the Palace of Sintra, by Alfredo Roque Gameiro.(image

The Courtyard and Gardens of The Sintra National Palace are not expansive but are interesting for their Mudejar design, showing the Muslim influence in Sintra and Portugal as a whole.

Courtyard (photo: Brent Petersen)

The Sintra National Palace is the historic city center so it’s an easy and scenic walk from the train station.

Park and Palace of Monserrate

Park and Palace of Monserrate (image:

Originally a hermitage in the 16th century, The site later changed hands several times and was an especially popular retreat for British writers. Lord Byron expressed his love for Monserrate in the poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” In the 19th century, British trader Francis Cook bought the property and set about constructed a castle that combined a mishmash of styles including neo-Gothic, Indian, and Moorish.

Today, Parques de Sintra manages the property and has set about to restore and improve the site.

Visitors can see the castle as well as the extensive gardens with plant species from around the world.

The Park and Palace of Monserrate is a couple miles outside the Sintra city center. Take bus 1253 and there’s a stop outside the park entrance.

Cabo da Roca

A short trip from Sintra is Continental Europe’s westernmost point is marked with a monument on the windy cape.

By far, the biggest tourist attraction in the Colares parish (part of the Sintra municipality) is Cabo da Roca.

The first thing you’re likely to see as you round the bend and Cabo da Roca comes into view is the Farol do Cabo da Roca (Cabo da Roca Lighthouse). Beginning operation in 1772, the Cabo da Roca Lighthouse is the third oldest lighthouse on the Portuguese coast.

The lighthouse is still used for navigation and has 3 lighthouse keepers working on site. The light itself is only about 70 feet above ground level, but because of the massive cliffs, the lighthouse is actually over 500 feet above sea level. From this commanding position, the beacon can be seen up to 30 miles away.

As this is a working lighthouse, it is not open to the public. But, it’s easy to get great photos of the lighthouse from the Cabo da Roca grounds. On occasion, the lighthouse is open to tour. However, as of this writing, it is closed indefinitely due to renovation work.

The point itself is a rocky cape; part of the Sintra mountain range. Visitors love the dramatic scenery with cliffs plunging hundreds and hundreds of feet into the Atlantic Ocean below.

There’s a striking stone marker where people take selfies for Instagram. On the marker is a poem by the famous Portuguese poet Camões that says ““here…where the land ends and the sea begins…” You’ll also see the longitude and latitude coordinates of Cabo da Roca. If you want a souvenir of your trip, head to the nearby tourist office and get a certificate with you name on it showing that you have been to the westernmost point in continental Europe.

From there, you can walk down a short trail for more spectacular scenery.

There are tiny beaches along the coast, but remember, you have to go down, down, down to get to them.

The Praia da Ursa is gorgeous. You can take a trail near Cabo da Roca to get there. It’s important to bring good shoes because this is a hiking trail with over 300 feet of elevation change. And, don’t forget, you’ll have to make the climb back up!

Also, Praia da Ursa is a tiny beach with no facilities or lifeguards. The water is cold and the currents are very, very strong. Swimming is strongly discouraged. Finally, Praia da Ursa, because of its remoteness, is an unofficial nude beach. If that sort of thing bothers you, maybe find another place.

Bus 403 goes from Sintra to Cabo da Roca and takes about 45 minutes.

Day Trips

Sintra is itself normally a day trip from Lisbon. And I’ve written a huge Foodie Travel Guide to The City of the Seven Hills.

It’s also easy to get to Setubal from Sintra via Lisbon. Setubal has great wine (its known for Moscotel), beautiful beaches, and an historic fort.


Sintra is a small town, so there’s no airport. Most people visit on a day trip from Lisbon.


The train is an easy way to get from Lisbon to Sintra. Get the Sintra train at the Rossio station. The trip lasts about 40 minutes and Sintra is the last stop so you can’t get lost.

Or, you can take the train from the Oriente station. This station is closer to the airport if you are arriving in Lisbon by plane going straight to Sintra. The trip is to Sintra is about 45 minutes.

Use the Viva Viagem card when riding public transportation. Pay for your ride by zapping in and out at the station. Add money to your card at a ticket kiosk or at the ticket booth.

Pro tip: It’s best to start the day with a Viva Viagem card topped up with enough money to pay for your rides. The kiosk in Sintra often has a long line and the ticket booth in the station is sometime unattended.


Of course you could save yourself the trouble and take a rideshare to Sintra from Lisbon. It takes about 30-40 minutes (or more, depending on traffic). Best of all, you can get a ride up the hill and right to the Pena Palace or Castelo dos Mouros.


Don’t drive your own car to Sintra. The street are difficult to navigate and parking is scarce.

Local Transport

Once you leave the Sintra train station you’ll undoubtedly be approached by local tour operators and tuk-tuk drivers trying to sell their services. If that’s your choice, go for it. But, if you’d like a tour, I’d recommend booking one in advance with a reputable company.

A better option is the local 434 bus. The bus makes a 1 way loop from the train station to the historic center of Sintra and up the hill to the castle and Pena Palace.

You can buy a one way ticket from the driver or, for a higher price, buy a hop-on hop-off ticket. The hop-on hop-off option is a good value if you plan on visiting multiple locations during your trip. Note that this only covers one loop of the journey, so plan your stops ahead of time.

Index of Things to do in Sintra

Pena Palace

Must-see hilltop palace

Estrada da Pena, 2710-609 Sintra, Portugal

Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle)

Centuries old ruins of a castle near Pena Palace.

2710-405 Sintra, Portugal

Quinta da Regaleira

Palace with amazing gardens and grounds for exploring.

R. Barbosa du Bocage 5, 2710-567 Sintra, Portugal

Park and Palace of Monserrate

19th century mansion and gardens. A few miles outside the historic center of Sintra.

2710-405 Sintra, Portugal

Sintra National Palace

11th century palace with a notable museum.

Largo Rainha Dona Amélia, 2710-616 Sintra, Portugal

Index of Eating & Drinking in Sintra

Casa Piriquita

Pastelaria that invented the Travesseiro.

R. Padarias 1 18, 2710-603 Sintra, Portugal

Casa do Preto

Oustanding Travesseiro. Located a couple miles from the city center.

Estr. Chão de Meninos 40, 2710-194 Sintra, Portugal

Pastelaria Gregório

Fine pastelaria with good Queijadas.

Av. Dom Francisco de Almeida 35, 2710-562 Sintra, Portugal

Queijadas da Sapa

A good place to get Queijadas. Been making them since 1756.

Volta do Duche 12, 2710-631 Sintra, Portugal

A Praça

Vegetarian restaurant with some locally grown ingredients.

R. Paço 16, 2710-602 Sintra, Portugal


Portuguese restaurant with vegetarian and gluten free options.

R. Gil Vicente 4 6, 2710-568 Sintra, Portugal


Several vegetarian and vegan options with a lovely outdoor seating area.

Volta do Duche nº2, 2710-631 Sintra, Portugal

Romaria de Baco

Several vegetarian options including entrees and nice tapas dishes.

R. Gil Vicente 2, 2710-616 Sintra


Portuguese restaurant with a few veg options including veg Alheira (sausage).

R. João de Deus 43, 2710-580 Sintra, Portugal

INcomum Wine Gallery

Extensive wine list with usually at least one selection from Colares.

R. Dr. Alfredo da Costa 18, 2710-523 Sintra, Portugal

Colares Regional Wine Cellars

Wine cooperative in Colares with tours and tastings.

Alameda Cel. Linhares de Lima 32, 2705-351 Colares, Portugal

Adega Viúva Gomes

Fine winery in Colares.

Largo Comendador Gomes da Silva nº 2 e 3, 2705-041 Colares, Portugal

Beira Mar Wine Cellars

Award winning winery.

Av. Luís Augusto Colares 70 74, Colares, Portugal

Index of Shopping in Sintra

INcomum Wine Gallery

Extensive wine list with usually at least one selection from Colares.

R. Dr. Alfredo da Costa 18, 2710-523 Sintra, Portugal

A Esquina

Ceramics shop with works painted by talented artists mostly from Coimbra.

Praça da República 20,2710-557 Sintra, Portugal

Index of Places to Stay in Sintra

Casa da Pendôa

Near the Sintra National Palace in the historic town center.

R. Pendoa 17, 2710-610 Sintra, Portugal

Sintra Boutique Hotel

Modern hotel in the historic town center.

R. Visc. de Monserrate 48, 2710-591 Sintra, Portugal

About the Author

Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon and Porto. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.