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How to Plan a Relaxing Sintra Day Trip with Kids?

How to Plan a Relaxing Sintra Day Trip with Kids?

Lisbon was supposed to be a layover after visiting the Azores, but since we are not a fan of busy capital cities, we could not wait to grab our bags and head to Sintra for a day. However, it’s important to note that fitting all of Sintra’s attractions into a single day is nearly impossible, especially when traveling with kids. For a day that’s both relaxing and memorable, let me walk you through how we managed ours.

Main attractions in Sintra

The town of Sintra is a place where history and nature intertwine beautifully. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, Sintra captivates visitors with a palace at every corner. Since it is a short distance from Lisbon, it is a popular day trip destination, and as we were told by locals, the smaller palaces and mansions are home to some of the most prestigious and wealthy families in Portugal.

If you’re planning a day in Sintra, consider visiting the attractions renowned for being the most popular—and with good reason. Given the grand size of the palaces and the expansive areas of their gardens, you’ll be lucky to explore two or three in a single day.

  1. The colorful Pena Palace, perched high on a hill, is a prime example of Romanticism and one of Portugal’s most beloved landmarks.
  2. Quinta da Regaleira with its enchanting gardens and secretive wells is something out of a fairytale.
  3. The Moorish Castle offers breathtaking views all the way to Lisbon and the Atlantic ocean.
  4. The historical National Palace of Sintra known for its iconic chimneys.
  5. While the exotic blend of architectural styles at Monserrate Palace is surrounded by one of the most stunning romantic gardens in Portugal. 

To have a relaxing day that is memorable as well as manageable with a five and an eight-year old, we opted to explore the two most important landmarks Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira.

Pena Palace

Pena Palace is the most iconic attraction and the primary target of all tourist visiting Sintra. With its lovely colors and unique architecture is captured the attention of kids and adults alike.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

1) Buy your ticket in advance

Since the entrance to the Palace is limited to 100 visitors every 30 minutes, it’s crucial to buy your tickets online in advance. Even if you believe you’re traveling off-season. If you arrive without a ticket, you might find yourself waiting 2-3 hours for an available slot.

And yes, we learned this the hard way. We assumed that May would be less busy, but we regretted arriving without a pre-purchased ticket. We got there around 10 AM, and the first available slot to buy a ticket for was at 12:30 PM.

Since there’s no limit on entering and exploring the palace gardens, we took advantage of this opportunity. We explored the gardens and the exterior of the palace, then grabbed a quick lunch before our scheduled slot started.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

2) Exploring the outside of the palace

If you enter the palace gardens, you need approx. 10 minutes to go uphill to the palace itself. But if you have more time before your slot, you can explore the gardens or the outside of the castle.

You will find many lookout towers and terraces from where you can see The Moorish Castle, Lisbon and the surrounding area. I don’t know about you, but I cannot stop taking photos when I can see so far and wide.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

You will find the Palace Wall Walk right by the entrance to the palace. Even if there is a queue you can asked them to let you through. It is a narrow passage around the main palace building.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

We also visited the small chapel right at the end of the Palace Wall Walk.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

2) Inside Pena Palace

Even during the off-season, each time slot at the palace is fully booked, which meant we had to queue throughout our visit. The staff does a great job of keeping the line moving smoothly, so there’s rarely a long wait to see anything. You’re free to stop and explore any room at your leisure, except in the narrow corridors.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

3) Exploring the gardens

After exiting the palace, we took some time to explore the gardens. While they are expansive, they didn’t quite capture our interest as much as those at Quinta da Regaleira. To be honest, if you’re deciding where to spend more of your time, I would recommend the latter since it offers a more intriguing experience.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

That being said, as we made our way to the other exit, we found ourselves by the lakes, which turned out to be the highlight of the gardens. This area, lush and green with swans and ducks gliding across the ponds, is well worth your time, especially if you’re looking to conserve energy for other attractions. Our kids particularly loved the magical atmosphere surrounding the small tower in the middle of the last lake.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira was a fascinating estate located near the historic center of Sintra. The estate includes a palace, a chapel, and a stunning park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and a vast array of exquisite constructions. It was a private estate of the Monteiro family but it was purchased by the Sintra Town Council in 1997 and opened to the public the next year.

We didn’t have an online ticket, but in May we managed to get in within just 5 minutes. The adult ticket cost EUR 12, and the child ticket (for ages 6-17) was EUR 7 (May 2024 prices). You can download the map from their website, but we opted to buy a physical one for EUR 1 at the ticket office since I needed my phone for taking photos.

One of the most intriguing features of Quinta da Regaleira is the Initiation Wells. The wells consist of spiraling staircases that lead deep into the ground and are interconnected by tunnels. We had to queue a bit around 15 minutes to get there.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

The route starts at Poco Iniciático and ends at Gruta do Oriente.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

We then explored the estate’s various features, including climbing the Torre de Regaleira, walking around the Lago da Cascata, and venturing inside the Gruta da Leda.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

The Gruta do Labirinto is a dark grotto that requires a flashlight to navigate. The limited lighting makes it essential to illuminate your path to avoid tripping or getting wet. The kids felt like they were on a treasure hunt—it was quite the adventure. And it wasn’t that short as well.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

Of course, our tour wouldn’t have been complete without visiting the Palace and the Chapel, although the latter was under renovation when we were there.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

The rooms were lovely, well-preserved. We could learn about the history of the estate as well. The kids loved seeing who actually lived here on the vast number of photos that were displayed. They were intrigued to see what clothes the kids at that time worn and were is actually the kids room.

Photo credit: Emese Maczko, Eco Lodges Anywhere.

How to get there?

Exploring Sintra, especially with kids, can be quite the adventure, and while there are numerous ways to get there—public transport, rental cars, or joining a guided tour—having a private car service like Daytrip was the best decision we could make.

Let me start by saying that we were invited by Daytrip to review their services. But nobody told me what to write. These are my honest views and the true reflection of my experience. I did not accept any payment in exchange for any coverage.

Now, let me dive into why Daytrip might be the best option here in Portugal, or indeed in any of the 110+ countries where they offer their services.

Public transport vs Daytrip

Trains depart from Rossio Train Station and take about 40 minutes to reach Sintra (check timetable here). Once you’re at the train station in Sintra, it’s roughly two miles to Pena Palace and about one mile to Quinta da Regaleira. However, keep in mind that since these attractions are located uphill, you’ll have a bit of a climb ahead of you that will likely take an hour especially with kids. Also there is also a lot of ground to cover inside these attractions, so it may very well be overwhelming for kids to walk the way from the train station to the entrances.

If you’re looking for convenient transportation within Sintra, you can hop on bus No. 434 departing every 15 minutes. This tourist bus operates a loop route that connects the historic city center with Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. It’s a great option if you want to avoid the uphill trek. However, it’s worth noting that this isn’t your typical local bus—the prices are a bit higher. A 24-hour pass costs EUR 13.50, while a single ticket will set you back EUR 4.55.

Traveling with kids means that planning ahead is key, especially when it comes to logistics and timing. If you’re considering public transport for your trip to Sintra, keep in mind that it might take up a significant chunk of your day. Navigating schedules and transfers can add more time to your journey, which is an important factor to consider when traveling with little ones in tow. And I have not even begun to explain how to get to one attraction to the other.

In contrast, traveling with Daytrip was a breeze—comfortable, efficient, and quick. Our driver picked us up right at our hotel, and within 45 minutes, we were already at the doorstep of Pena Palace. This convenience made the journey stress-free, especially when managing the unpredictable schedules that often come with family travel.

Renting a car vs Daytrip

Sintra, including the iconic Pena Palace, is a major tourist hotspot, particularly in the summer months. Even in May, when we visited, the roads were narrow and bustling. Rarely any parking spots in sight.

It’s important to note that the road leading directly to the Palace is restricted to certified tourist vehicles with a special sticker confirming that. This means that if you’re driving a rental car, you won’t be able to park near the palace or even get very close. You’re left with two choices: tackle the uphill walk, which could take about 30-40 minutes, or catch bus No. 434 to get there more comfortably.

Since we traveled with Daytrip, our car had the required sticker and our driver dropped us off at the entrance. He went away to find a parking spot, and we messaged him when we were ready to get picked up again. Wasn’t it that much comfortable? Yes, it was.

Guided tour vs Daytrip

If you book a guided tour via Viator, via Get Your Guide, or via any local company, you can certainly streamline your visit to Sintra by taking you directly to the entrance. However, traveling with children as part of a group tour can pose its own challenges. Even with a private tour, there’s a chance that the kids might not be as interested in the detailed historical narratives that guides often share about the attractions.

We found it much more enjoyable to explore the attractions at our own pace, choosing to see only the parts that really interested us. This flexibility allowed us to tailor the day to our own interests and take breaks when we needed, which is often crucial when traveling with kids. It made our visit to Sintra not just manageable, but truly memorable.

Final thoughts on Daytrip

While many people might typically book Daytrip for straightforward city-to-city transfers, I highly recommend considering them for custom routes as well. Our driver was not only professional and knowledgeable but also friendly and fluent in English. He put the kids at ease surprisingly quickly. The entire experience—drive, car, logistics—was polished, efficient, and well-coordinated. We felt completely relaxed throughout the day.

Our driver ensured we were picked up and dropped off right by the entrances, saving us the energy for exploring the attractions rather than exhausting ourselves walking long distances, waiting in queues, or navigating confusing routes. This convenience was a true blessing and greatly contributed to maintaining our sanity throughout the day.

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Emese Maczko is a travel blogger behind Eco Lodges Anywhere. Having explored several destinations around Europe, the US, Indonesia, and Australia, and resided in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Luxembourg, Emese possesses a keen understanding of diverse cultures and an appreciation for the beauty of each destination she visits. She advocates for sustainable travel and ecotourism.