The best independent guide to Sintra
The best independent guide to Sintra
The Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions in Portugal and exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture. The palace is a hedonistic mix of vividly painted terraces, decorative battlements and mythological statues, all of which stand at stark contrast to the lush greens of the Parque de Pena forest.
The interior of the Pena Palace is equally as fascinating, being restored to reflect the decor in 1910, when the Portuguese nobility fled to Brazil to escape the revolution. Surrounding the Palacio da Pena are forested grounds, which continue the design ideals of Romanticism, with hidden pathways, mystical ornaments and stunning vistas.
The Palácio da Pena is one of the world’s most magnificent palaces, and this is why millions of tourists flock to Sintra each year. With the Pena Palace now being one of the most recognisable tourist attractions of Portugal, expect it to be incredibly busy during your visit, especially in the peak season.
This article will provide a tourist guide to the Palacio da Pena and help you get the most from your visit.
We cannot stress enough to you how busy the palace can be during the peak season (Easter through to September). Always plan your visit as early (or late) in the day as possible, and always avoid 10:30-15:00, when the coach tours arrive. The palace has extended opening hours of 09:30 to 19:00 (with the last ticket sale 18:15).
The Palacio da Pena is at the top of a steep hill (480m) and it is a very demanding 50-minute uphill hike from the train station. Never plan to walk this route, and we recommend catching the 434-tourist bus (€6.90 adult return).
There is very limited and expensive food options at the palace, always have lunch in Sintra town centre.
Insider tip: The terraces and battlements can be visited using the cheaper grounds ticket, which does not include the staterooms
Annoyance: Inside the palace they are unnecessarily strict about no photos, if you stop for one second with you phone out expect a guard to instantly warn you to put it away…..
There are two different entrance fees for the Palacio Nacional da Pena; “Palace and Park Ticket” and “Park Ticket”. The “Palace and Park ticket” allows entry to the Parque de Pena grounds, the terraces surrounding the palace and the staterooms. The “Park” ticket provides entry to the Parque de Pena and the terraces.
For most visitors, the highlight of the Pena Palace are the colourful terraces and decorative battlements, and these can be seen with the cheaper “Park” ticket.
The staterooms are worth visiting, as they combine both interesting architecture with fascinating 19thcentury artefacts and furniture. Only consider visiting the palace interior outside of the peak hours, otherwise you will find yourself jostling with other tourists, trying to see the exhibits or take the perfect photo.
The 2020 entrance fee to the Palacio Nacional da Pena are:
• Palace and Park - €14.00/€12.50/€49.00 (adult/child (6-17)/family)
• Park - €7.50/€6.50/€26.00 (adult/child (6-17)/family)
Skip the queue tickets for the Pena Palace can be purchased here.
All of the tickets include the entrance to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, which can be included while exploring the Parque de Pena.
You may grumble about the inflated entrance fees, but the non-profit Parques de Sintra organisation reinvests all revenue into the region’s monuments. Over the last ten years there has been a notable improvement in facilities, restoration and maintenance all funded by tourism.
At a minimum, it takes 40 minutes to view all of the staterooms, 30 minutes to admire the terraces, and 10 minutes to walk from the ticket office to the palace entrance. This time could be easily doubled to either enjoy the visit, or to take the perfect Instagram photo.
Exploring the Parque de Pena could greatly extend a visit to the Palacio da Pena. Close to the palace are the ornamental duck lakes, the Warrior Statue and the Queen's fern garden, all connected by shaded footpaths. Further is the Cruz Alta viewpoint (20-minute walk), the Alto de Santa Catarina and the Queen’s Throne (15-minute walk) or Tee Hill (40-minute walk).
The Chalet of the Countess of Edla, constructed by King Ferdinand II, is an interesting side excursion; it is a 30-minute walk from the palace and takes around 20 minutes to explore.
In summary, there are sufficient sights to spend the whole day in the Parque and Palacio da Pena
Most visitors have limited time to discover Sintra, and rightly try to fit in as much as possible. The common day trip route combines the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, the historic centre of Sintra, the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palacio da Pena. This is a convenient route, as it follows the 434-tourist bus. Alternatively, the Palácio Nacional de Sintra could be swapped for the Quinta da Regaleira.
Advice: If you wish to follow this sensible route we would suggest starting with the Palacio da Pena, when it is the least crowded.
Related articles: Day trip to Sintra
A day trip to Sintra involves a lot of walking and waiting for public transport. A much more enjoyable approach is to join an organised tour of the region.
Organised tours in Portugal have greatly improved their standard over the last 9 years, and are now designed for worldly and well-travelled tourists. We have worked with Getyourguide.com for the previous 5 years and a selection of their best tours of Sintra include:
• Sintra Highlights Full-Day Tour (€65)
• Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais Full-Day Tour from Lisbon (€60)
• Pena Palace and Regaleira Guided Tour from Lisbon (€63)
• Sintra, Cascais and Cabo da Roca Coast Day Tour (€53)
Tip: Pre-booking your entrance tickets avoids having to wait in ticket office queues
The Palacio Nacional da Pena sits atop a jagged rocky outcrop, on one of the highest hills of the Sintra landscape. The base structure of the palace is formed around an abandoned Hieronymite monastery, and aspects of this original structure can still be seen. The main courtyard is a two-storey Manueline cloister and the Nossa Senhora da Pena chapel has been barely altered since the 16th century.
The chief architect was of German nationality, taking inspiration from the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, his travels through Asia and Africa, and from Portugal. The main tower (though painted rose-red) has many characteristics to the Torre de Belem (Lisbon) and the spikes on the gateway resemble the 16th-century Casa dos Bicos in Alfama (Lisbon).
The Pena Palace is situated at the second highest point of the Serra de Sintra (480m) and it is a very demanding uphill hike from the historic centre of Sintra or the train station, which has an elevation of 190m. Never plan to drive to the Pena Palace, as there is very little car parking. During the summer the town becomes completely gridlocked as frustrated drivers search for car parking spaces.
The recommended means of travel is the 434 tourist bus, which performs a one-directional loop of; train station, historic centre, Mouros castle, Pena Palace, then returns to the train station. A taxi from the train station to Pena costs €6.50, but demand in the summer outstrips supply.
Related articles: 434 bus - Lisbon to Sintra
The brilliant colours of the palace slowly faded since their original painting in mid-19th century, to such an extent that by the 1990s the palace’s appearance was rather drab and dreary. In 1996 Pena Palace underwent an extensive restoration project, and this included repainting the exterior walls the original colours. This vivid colour scheme horrified some of the more conservative residents of Sintra. Fortunately, the work continued to create the magnificent palace you are able to see today.
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