Known for its ancient fairytale palaces, rugged towering mountains, thick verdant forests, and perfectly manicured gardens, Sintra, Portugal, is the place dreams are made of. Here you can get lost in the city’s wild, natural outskirts or hit the streets and seek out the hidden wonders of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city center.
Whatever type of vacation you’re looking for, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Sintra. Whether you want to spend your time exploring colorful castles, discovering ancient ruins, feeling like a VIP in ostentatious palaces, or working on your tan on some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen, Sintra will leave you spoiled for choice!
Add into the mix fresh-as-can-be seafood, fascinating festivals that date back centuries, and stunning hikes that reward you with magnificent panoramas, and Sintra is a wonderful place to escape to and forget about your hectic life back home.
With so many exciting things to see and do, you may not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Sintra. Put these fun activities and attractions onto your Sintra bucket list, and you’re sure to have a fantastic time exploring one of the most beautiful parts of Portugal!
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase or booking through one of our links we may earn a small commission (don’t worry, it’s at no extra cost to you).
15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Sintra
1. Make the trek to Praia da Ursa
If you’re feeling energetic, one of the coolest things to do in Sintra is to hike to Praia da Ursa. This golden, sandy bay is one of the most stunning beaches you’ll ever lay your eyes on. The aquamarine water rushes onto the sand, creating white, bubbling waves, while the remains of rocky cliffs stand proud just off the coastline.
One of the things that make this beach so special is that hardly anyone goes there. That’s because it’s pretty challenging to get to. But if you’ve got a head for heights and you’re steady on your feet, you won’t have a problem working your way down the dirt track that leads to the sandy bay.
The jagged rocks that line the beach not only make the place look dramatic, but they provide a practical purpose, too. They break up the waves, creating the perfect conditions for swimmers of all ages and levels.
2. Feel bewildered at Quinta da Regaleira
For some of the best sights in Sintra, spend the day at Quinta da Regaleira. This overwhelming palace was created by António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro, the son of wealthy Portuguese parents. He was fascinated by the Divination, Knights Templar, and the Masons and built a dramatic castle to reflect that.
Quinta da Regaleira feels more like something a child drew than an architect designed. There are loads of hidden places, including seemingly never-ending tunnels and secret grottoes, all of which are created to delight and confuse visitors.
On the ground level, you’ll discover intricate gazebos, benches topped with sculptures, and (the most fascinating of all) initiation wells. These unique features are incredibly deep shafts that are lined with mind-bending spiral stairways that plunge down to sanctums for tarot ceremonies.
Because it’s so magical and unique, the palace has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fact that so many parts of the garden are completely overgrown and moss blankets almost every inch of the stonework makes this place even more alluring.
3. Explore the city by tram
When you need to take a break but there’s still more to see, one of the best things to do in Sintra is to hop on the city’s tram and go sightseeing. This is also a great option if you’re traveling with kids who can’t walk very far.
The tram (known in Sintra as the Electrico de Sintra) begins in the middle of the city and whisks you 8 miles away to the charming beach resort of Praia das Maçãs to the west. The trams that follow this route date back to the 1930s, and when you hop on board, you’ll feel like you’re starring in an old black-and-white movie!
Despite being so popular, the tram service is incredibly limited. It only runs a handful of times each day during summer and only once each day during winter. So you don’t miss out, arrive at the stop as early as you can so you’re first in line.
4. Be blown away by the views at Pena Palace
You’ll find some of the best Sintra sightseeing opportunities at Pena Palace. Declared one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders, this spectacular palace was commissioned in 1838 by King Ferdinand II.
The Disney-like castle is painted in all colors of the rainbow and looks over Sintra from an incredibly lofty position. Its ostentatious design and prestigious location will remind you of Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle. But Pena Palace is actually several decades older.
The design of the palace includes a number of historical styles, from Renaissance to Moorish. This was the fashion at the time of the palace’s construction and makes the fortress a fascinating place to admire and explore today.
Not only is the castle absolutely stunning, but the views from the castle’s windows and grounds are also magnificent. The palace is so high up that you can see for miles across the countryside and all the way down to the city of Sintra far below.
5. Test your taste buds with bacalhau
When you need a break from all the exciting Sintra activities, find a seafood restaurant and order some bacalhau. Bacalhau is a classic Portuguese dish that’s been enjoyed by locals for hundreds of years.
Bacalhau is a type of salted cod. This special preservation method not only adds loads of flavor to the otherwise subtle dish, but it also means the fish can be stored without having to keep it cold. Although fridges and freezers are easily accessible today, bacalhau is still remarkably popular.
Bacalhau na Vila is an incredible place to try bacalhau in Sintra. This wonderful restaurant dishes up all different kinds of bacalhau, including salted cod soup, salted cod croquettes, salted cod towers, and salted cod salad. The salted cod towers look superb, and if you’re traveling with someone who doesn’t like or eat fish, the restaurant even dishes up a vegan version of this gastronomic delight!
6. Hike up to Cruz Alta
You’ll find some of the top things to see in Sintra by hiking up to Cruz Alta. This sky-high spot translates into English as “High Cross,” and that’s exactly what it is – an ornate twisted cross perched high above the city. The cross is located so high that it even looks down upon the towering Pena Palace!
To reach Cruz Alta, you’ll need to follow the hiking trail that weaves through Pena Park. It’s a magical route protected by tall trees that provide year-round shade. Despite the mystical, forest-like surroundings, the ground is paved, making it easy to follow, whatever type of footwear you have.
If you’ve got the stamina to hike the 1,732-foot-high trek, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views you’ve ever laid eyes on. Not only can you see all over Sintra, but on a clear day, you can even spot Lisbon and the Tagus Estuary in the distance.
7. Embrace the local culture with Feira das Mercês
Joining in with Feira das Mercês is one of the most fun things to do in Sintra in October. This culturally-rich event has been going on for more than 250 years, making it one of the oldest fairs in all of Portugal.
The fair takes place over the course of a long weekend (look out for posters advertising exact times and dates) and offers something for everyone to get involved with. You’ll see plenty of locals dressed up in typical Portuguese dress, handing out classic dishes, and performing traditional dances.
Small markets are set up with stalls laden with handicrafts, national dishes, and beautiful artwork inspired by the local area. There’s also a stage set up where popular folk groups perform, as well as lots of family-friendly entertainment for the little ones.
If you want to really immerse yourself, you’ll find plenty of stalls selling traditional clothing, as well as local shops selling typical costumes. Grab yourself an outfit and blend in with the locals!
8. Lose yourself in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
When you want to get back to nature, one of the top things to do in Sintra is to head to the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. One of the 13 remarkable national parks in Portugal, this amazing attraction is bursting with natural and human-made attractions. There’s so much to see and do here that you could spend your entire vacation inside the park!
If you’re really into history, you’ll have a fantastic time exploring Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors. Or, if you’d rather take it easy and relax, you can work on your tan at Praia da Adraga or Praia do Magotio.
As you’d expect from a national park, the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park is also teeming with superb hiking and cycling trails. These eclectic routes are suitable for people of all ages and abilities and take you past some of the most dazzling viewpoints in Sintra.
9. See Sintra plunge into the ocean at Cabo da Roca
It’s not every day you get to walk right to the edge of a city and see where it plunges into the ocean, but that’s exactly what you can do at Cabo da Roca! One of the most unique things to do in Sintra, checking out the view from this point is something you’ll be telling people about for years to come.
Standing at Cabo da Roca really does feel like you’re standing at the end of the world. The westernmost point of continental Europe, this is where tall, jagged cliffs plunge dramatically into the deep blue ocean far below. The cape stands at an impressive 460 feet above the sea and is topped with a cute lighthouse.
If you’ve got the time to explore, you’ll also come across a stone monolith on the granite cliff. It’s decorated with a cross to mark the headland and was once a famous seamark from Roman times to the Age of Discovery.
10. Celebrate summer with sardinhas assadas
If you’re a seafood lover, trying sardinhas assadas is one of the must-do things in Sintra. Portugal is well known for having some of the finest fish and seafood dishes in the world, and sardinhas assadas is definitely one of the best.
This traditional Portuguese dish translates into English as “roasted sardines,” but it’s so much more than that. The sardines aren’t roasted in an oven. They’re skewered onto wooden sticks and roasted over open flames on outdoor grills throughout summer.
When the sardines are freshly caught, they need barely any seasoning at all to make them taste great. In Sintra, you’ll mostly find them simply marinated in a little olive oil and salt.
Restaurante da Adraga is a wonderful place to try sardinhas assadas in Sintra. Here the sardines are huge, and they’re served with buttery pan-fried potatoes and fluffy white rice. The rest of the menu is filled with equally tempting local fish and seafood.
11. Relive history at the Castle of the Moors
The Castle of the Moors, also known as the Moorish Castle or Castelo dos Mouros, is one of the top Sintra attractions you’ve absolutely got to check out. Perched all alone on the top of one of the city’s tallest peaks, the castle is mostly just ruins today. But the remainders that you can see make it easy to imagine how impressive the fortress was in its heyday.
Originally built by the moors and made bigger following the Reconquista, the Castle of the Moors is made up of undulating walls (almost like the Great Wall of China) separated by four square towers. The castle hugs the contours of the mountaintop and looks incredible from every angle.
Stand at one of the highest points of the castle, and you’ll be able to see the dramatic Sinatra countryside, as well as the Atlantic ocean crashing on the rugged coast.
12. Discover one of Portugal’s most photographed villages at Azenhas do Mar
If you love snapping pictures to show to your followers, you’ll find one of the top things to do in Sinatra in the peaceful village of Azenhas do Mar. Located on the outskirts of the city, this mesmerizing village is one of the most photographed spots in Sintra.
Precariously sitting atop a blonde cliff that plunges into the ocean, the picture-perfect Mediterranean village looks like something out of a fairytale. Clusters of tiny whitewashed houses spill down the cliff before coming to an end at a golden sandy bay and natural rocky pool.
There’s no real highlight of the village – the village itself is the highlight! But there are plenty of things to do here. Wander around and soak up the blissful, laid-back Portuguese atmosphere. If you’re a fan of fish and seafood, you’ll be spoiled for choice with all the tempting restaurants, most of which offer stunning sea views.
13. Discover your musical side at the Sintra Music Festival
The Sintra Music Festival is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Sintra in the fall. Held between September and October each year, this lively festival dates all the way back to 1957, when it was known as Sintra Musical Days. It’s been going strong ever since, attracting all kinds of talented artists from all over the world to its stages.
The popular festival is dedicated to classical music, and although most of the concerts are performed by Portuguese orchestras, a number of them are performed by international artists, providing something for everyone.
Some of the biggest ballet dancers, opera singers, and composers have attended the festival over the 5+ decades the festival has been running. Cultural events take place in various prestigious locations throughout Sintra over the course of several weeks. So check the website to find out exactly what’s going on and when.
14. Explore the Historic Center of Sintra
Sinatra’s Historic City Center is incredibly charismatic and enchanting, making it a must-visit during your vacation. Try and get there as early as you can. The gorgeous town is at its best first thing in the morning, when the sun is just rising and there are hardly any people around. Later in the day, the streets fill up and the alluring town loses its charm.
The Historic City Center is incredibly compact, so you can reach every part of it on foot. The only thing that you really need to be aware of is that its twisting cobblestone streets snake up a precipitous valley, so you need to be pretty energetic to get around. But the challenge is certainly worth it for the chance to explore a place that looks like it came straight out of a Bavarian fairytale.
Here you’ll come across a number of intriguing museums, drool-worthy bakeries, dazzling parks, and artisan boutiques to explore. Make sure your phone memory is empty because you’ll be snapping pictures non-stop!
15. Spice up your life with frango assado
Frango assado, known more commonly in English as piri piri chicken, is hugely popular throughout all of Portugal because it tastes amazing. If you’ve never had it before, frango assado is made by butterflying whole chickens and marinating them in a spicy sauce made from olive oil, lemon juice, and fiery piri piri oil.
When the chicken has absorbed all the delicious flavor, it’s cooked over an open fire on a grill until it’s tender and juicy on the inside while being crisp and slightly blackened on the outside. For extra flavor, leftover marinate is used to baste the chicken as it cooks.
Restaurante Bonjardim serves up the very best frando assado in Sintra. This traditional Portuguese eatery dishes up huge portions of piri piri chicken alongside crispy fries and fresh salad. Make sure you ask for extra piri piri sauce so you can smother your fries with it!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Sintra. What’s your favorite thing to do in Sintra?
Planning a trip to Portugal? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!