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Gracing the pages of countless travel guidebooks for Portugal, the Pena Palace in Sintra is one of the country’s most famous landmarks. Its red and yellow walls are recognisable throughout Europe, and it’s often the sole reason visitors to Lisbon decide to visit Sintra.
Because of this, though, pretty much everybody who visits Sintra visits Pena Palace, so unfortunately, no matter when you visit, you’ll never have the palace to yourself. However, I have visited the Pena Palace in the height of summer, the busiest time to visit, twice now, and I definitely have a few tips and tricks to make your visit great. So great, in fact, that you’ll barely notice the crowds!
The Pena Palace is the “Palácio da Pena” in Portuguese, so any signs referring to Palácio da Pena on your way to the palace mean you’re heading in the right direction.
The History of the Pena Palace in Sintra
The history of the Pena Palace started in the middle ages when a chapel was built here. For centuries, it remained a peaceful pilgrimage site for prayer and reflection. A lightning strike severely damaged the monastery in the 18th century, but it was the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake that completely wiped it out.
The ruins lay undisrupted until 1838, when King Ferdinand II discovered the site. He soon decided it would make the perfect gift for his wife, Queen Maria II. With the land available to him, King Ferdinand built the awe-inspiring Pena Palace we see today, and it became the summer palace for the Portuguese royal family.
The Palace itself was constructed between 1842 and 1854, and it remained in royal hands until 1889, when the Portuguese state purchased it. After the Portuguese revolution of 1910 it became a museum and national monument for everybody to enjoy.
Although you can wander around the palace interiors and staterooms, the interior of the palace is nowhere near as impressive as its exterior. There’s also not much information at all about the history of the palace on display. For this reason, I recommend reading more about the Pena Palace before your visit if you find its history interesting.
What Makes the Pena Palace so Great?
The Pena Palace is an absolutely unmissable attraction in Portugal, and, given it’s so close to Lisbon, there’s absolutely no excuse not to choose Sintra as your day trip from Lisbon and pay a visit to the Pena Palace.
The main reason people visit the Pena Palace is to take in its vibrant colours with their own eyes. Most castles and palaces around Europe look pretty similar, so it’s a very unique experience to visit a castle painted in bright tones of red and yellow!
Of course, another thing that makes the Pena Palace absolutely worth visiting is the epic views it offers over Sintra on a clear day. Standing at the castle walls overlooking the surrounding hillsides, you really do feel like you’re on top of the world!
The grounds of the Pena Palace (called the Parque da Pena in Portuguese) are huge, spanning 210 acres, so if you’re visiting Sintra on a really tight budget you could easily spend the entire day at the Pena Palace and its grounds. You’d therefore only need to pay one entry fee in Sintra.
Most visitors to the Pena Palace visit the Palace only, so if you do venture into the grounds you’ll find plenty of viewpoints and hidden gems that are barely ever visited.
How to Get to the Pena Palace from Sintra
From the Sintra train station, you’ll have to catch some form of transportation or wear very good walking shoes to get to Pena Palace. The palace is around 4km from the station, and the route is almost entirely uphill, so I definitely recommend catching the bus!
Coming out of the train station, turn immediately right, then take a sharp right again, and head to the bus stop “Rua Dr. Alfredo da Costa”, which is a maximum of a one minute walk away. From here, you’ll want to catch the 434 tourist bus, which will take you straight to the Pena Palace. The journey takes around 25 minutes.
At the bus stop there will be a ticket seller who will immediately recognise that you’re a tourist and will help you to purchase your bus ticket before the bus arrives. If you want to visit more palaces, such as Monserrate Palace and Quinta da Regaleira, you’ll need to purchase the Sintra 24-hour tourist bus ticket, which costs €15. It enables you to board any bus in Sintra, which is ideal, as the Quinta da Regaleira and Monserrate are visited by a different bus route.
If you want to visit the Castle of the Moors too, I recommend leaving the bus at that stop, visiting the castle, and then making the short walk to the Pena Palace. This is because the bus operates on a one-way loop, and the Castle of the Moors stop comes before the Pena Palace stop.
How to Get to Sintra from Lisbon
You can catch a direct train to Sintra from either Rossio or Estação do Oriente from Lisbon, and the journey takes between 40 and 50 minutes. When you arrive in Sintra follow the steps above to get to the Pena Palace.
Pena Palace Tickets
Entry tickets for the Pena Palace cost €14, which are the priciest entrance tickets to any Sintra palace or castle. Despite this, the price is definitely worth it. The Palace is a total knock-out, and if you visit on a clear day the views from the palace are insane.
There are some ticket machines and a ticket counter at Pena Palace that you can purchase tickets from, however that means you’ll have to queue twice – once to buy your ticket, and once to enter the palace. To skip the first queue, click here to buy your tickets in advance!
How Long to Spend at the Palace
I recommend spending between 90 minutes and two hours at the Pena Palace. This will allow enough time to explore the interiors and exteriors of the palace in detail, as well as snapping plenty of photos and maybe grabbing a coffee at the cool cafe on the palace walls.
You could easily spend 4+ hours at the Pena Palace if you decided to discover its sprawling grounds as they are so massive, but I don’t recommend this, for two reasons. Firstly, the grounds are extremely poorly signposted, meaning the likelihood of getting lost is pretty high. I got hopelessly lost in the grounds and had to scale a wall to finally get out!
Secondly, most people only spend one day in Sintra, so chances are you’ll want to visit as many attractions as possible in one day. For this reason, spending so much time at Pena Palace wouldn’t be worth it in my opinion.
My Travel Tips for Visiting the Pena Palace
• The Pena Palace is open from 9:30am until 8pm in summer, and 10am until 6pm in winter. The last entrance is 1 hour before closing time.
• You definitely need to wear comfortable shoes for your day trip to Sintra – ideally closed-toed shoes as there are plenty of dirt paths around the grounds of the Pena Palace and some steep sections. I had SO many blisters after I wore sandals for my first trip to Sintra. Luckily, on my second visit, I had learnt my lesson and my feet were much more comfortable in trainers.
• Many people recommend visiting the Pena Palace as your first stop in Sintra, and I wholeheartedly agree with this as long as you arrive very early (before 10.30am). Any later, and the crowds will already be arriving! If you do arrive in Sintra later, I recommend leaving the Pena Palace as the last attraction you visit on the day. I did this on my second visit, and the Palace was quite quiet.
• I found the Sintra buses very unreliable on both of my visits. Given how close together the Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleira, and Moorish Castle are, I recommend walking between the three attractions, rather than catching the bus. The routes are well-marked. I did this on my second visit to Sintra and it was far more straightforward.
• Sintra in summer can be almost unbearably hot! I visited the Pena Palace at 10am and it was already sweltering. For this reason, it’s really important to pack strong sunscreen and plenty of water for your day.
• That said, though, given Sintra’s mountainous climate, the weather here can be very unreliable. On my second trip to the Pena Palace I left Lisbon on a hot, sunny day. The weather in Sintra was foggy, humid and windy! For this reason, even if the weather is good in Lisbon, it’s definitely worth packing a jumper for your day trip to Sintra.
• Pretty much everybody who visits Sinra visits the Pena Palace, so if you already know which day you’re visiting I recommend booking your tickets in advance. It gets busy very quickly and there can be queues at the ticket machines. You don’t have to commit to visiting at a certain time slot, so you still have flexibility, but it just means all the organisational stuff has already been sorted, so it’s one less thing to worry about. Buy your tickets here.
There’s a reason that absolutely everybody visits the Pena Palace on their trip to Sintra. It’s one of Portugal’s most famous landmarks, and it’s totally unique! If you only visit one palace in Sintra, it has to be this one. I hope you have an amazing visit to the Pena Palace!
Have you visited the Pena Palace in Sintra yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!