You need to see the wonderful fairytale town of Sintra, Portugal

things to do near Lisbon with kids Sintra Palace
A place where every frog could be a prince and each room holds the promise of a sleeping beauty waiting to be awakened by a kiss. These are the visions that flow through my mind when I remember my time spent in the spectacular fairytale town that is Sintra, Portugal. The mystical foggy forests lend images of magical creatures around each corner and are sure to inspire those who wander them.

Sintra was key to our choice of Portugal as a destination when we decided on the location for our first family trip. Our eldest son C was just four months old when we made the journey across the Atlantic from Toronto to Lisbon with kids and we were anxious to see how a little one would affect our approach to world travel.

Chimney spires of Sintra, Portugals National Palace rise above the surrounding architecture

A little bit about Sintra, Portugal

Sintra, nestled in the Sintra Mountains in Southern Portugal, about 33 km from Lisbon, contains two cities: Queluz and Agualva-Cacém. It’s known for its Romantic architecture that led to its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While calling Sintra a “town” may be a bit of a misnomer as it does have a population in excess of 800,000 people, the historic area of Sintra will make you forget the outside world in an instant. It has a long and incredible history as a human settlement, dating back to the early Paleolithic period, however it was the tumultuous period between 50 B.C. when the city was granted status within the Roman Galeria and 1109 A.D. when Count Henry reconquered the Castle of Sintra from the Moors that helped shaped the incredible range of sites and architecture within the city.

Sintra is often visited as a day trip from Lisbon where visitors can drive along the IC19 highway or take the suburban railway. It’s worth noting that the IC19 and the railway are both considered as some of the busiest places within Europe, so if you visit during high season, expect traffic during rush hours.

Tourists walking through an historic city viewed through a peaked archway - Sintra, Portugal

What’s it like visiting Sintra, Portugal

Although most travelers visit Sintra from Lisbon, we chose to use Cascais as our home base during our trip to Portugal. We took the A16 motorway and didn’t suffer from too much traffic on the way. The historic center of Sintra is known for being notoriously difficult for parking, our visit was not an exception. This is an old city and it’s narrow, winding roads, while incredibly beautiful, are not built for the amount of traffic that this city invites. We wound our way through the town before eventually lucking out as someone pulled out of a spot about a km walk from Pena Palace.

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We began our walk down towards the historic center pushing C along the way in our stroller when out of the blue a car screeched to a halt near us and an elderly man came rushing towards us waving his arms. As he approached he didn’t look at either Christina nor I, but his eyes, bright and filled with joy were only for C. We didn’t speak Portuguese and he didn’t speak English, but he smiled and laughed at C, touching his cheeks and eliciting a laugh from the tiny boy.

He looked up to Christina and I and smiled with a bow before heading back to his car with a lighter step and the occasional skip. Christina and I didn’t know what to make of this strange experience, but we both looked at each other and smiled at the thought that such a short, inexplicable exchange could bring so much happiness to a set of complete strangers. We turned back towards our road and continued on towards the National Palace smiling at the prospect of a great day ahead.

A woman pushes a baby stroller down a narrow cobblestone street while the suns rays explode around her - Sintra, Portugal

Palacio Nacional de Sintra (The Sintra National Palace)

As we approached the historic center, missing the National Palace is impossible. It’s two soaring chimneys poke high above the surrounding buildings and offer a point of reference easily visible to anyone within the town. The national palace is situated right in the heart of town and is the perfect place to start your exploration of Sintra. The palace’s blend of Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudéjar architecture that harkens to it’s near continual occupation from the 15th to the 19th century gave it the honor of being Portugal’s most lived-in royal palace.

A royal room lined with coats of arms in Sintra, Portugal

The Palacio Nacional de Sintra is open every day from 9:30 am until 7:00 pm. The entrance fee is 10 euros for adults (18 – 64 yrs) and 8,50 euros for youths (6-17 yrs). The location alone is worth a visit, surrounded by delicious bakeries and cafes, but inside the palace, the magic is truly present. The spectacular kitchen has a massive wood stove and equally massive chimneys that will catch your breath. The octagonal Sala dos Cisnes (Swan room) includes frescos of gold-collared swans. The Sala das Pegas (Magpie Room) has a ceiling lined with images of magpies, reputedly commissioned by King João I after he was caught kissing one his Queen’s ladies-in-waiting.

Great hall in the Sintra National Palace with a stunning chandalier and intricate wood ceiling - Sintra, Portugal

The Palacio Nacional da Pena (The Feather Palace, Pena Palace)

The Feature Palace is a fitting name for this flamboyant and eclectic castle that sits high up on the hills of Sintra. One of the most beautiful and unique castles in the world, Pena palace was commissioned by King Ferdinande II, a man known for his artistic flair. It’s recommended that you set aside about 2 hours to visit Pena Palace, but be aware that you may find yourself drawn into its magical allure and time may disappear before you know it.

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Be sure to set aside the most amount of time for exploring. Each section of the palace is different from the rest with vibrant colors and intricate stone carvings, leading to an experience of discovery and adventure around each corner. The interior staterooms are lavishly designed, and the views you’ll get from each vantage point are so wonderful as to transport you back into the days of romance and adventure. The lush gardens of the castle offer incredible photo opportunities and there are countless angles that will amaze you.

A castle with multi-coloured facade stands against a blue mountain sky - Sintra, Portugal

Pena Palace is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm during the summer and 10:00 am to 5:00 pm in the winter. The entrance fee to the palace and Pena Park is 13,50 euros. A cheaper ticket which grants access to the park and palace terraces, but not the staterooms, costs 7,50 euros. Although the cheaper ticket may seem enticing, the staterooms are beautiful, seemingly untouched since they were last lived in back in 1910, and well worth the extra few euros.

Circling Pena Palace is 200 hectares of magical tree-lined walking paths. Moss-covered trees and hidden art pieces are tucked within its folds and the paths lead to panoramic viewpoints or hidden lakes. You may find yourself searching for Sleeping Beauty nestled in a room in one of the beautiful ruins in the forest as you make your way toward the Moorish Castle.

Looking out over Sintra, Portugal and it's surrounding lush forests from the detailed ramparts of Pena Palace

Castelo dos Mouroshe (Moorish Castle, Castle of the Moors)

The Castelo dos Mouroshe is definitely one of the least visited within Sintra. Constructed between the 8th and 9th centuries by Moors, the castle was protected by its elevation and the fact that it was surrounded by dense vegetation. The castle has a deep cistern that provided freshwater, but a good portion of it has collapsed over the past millennium.

On your way to see the Moorish Castle, you will see the spectacular ruins of the chapel of São Pedro de Canaferrim, constructed by Afonso Henriques following the surrender of Moors in Sintra. The chapel, with its collapsed wall, is lit intermittently by sunlight peeking through the breaks in the trees. The chapel looks like the perfect backdrop for a fairytale wedding.

Looking along the wall of a stone castle with a colourful palace in the background - Sintra, Portugal

The castle itself is incredible and elicits dreams of ancient battles with archers lining the battlements while commanders bark orders to the troops below. Climbing up the flag-lined outer wall offers panoramic views of Sintra and Pena Palace that seemed to be pulled straight from a storybook. The hike to the peak of the castle is worth the effort. Catching the late day sun at its peak, with Sintra in the distance and Pena palace at the peak is a jaw-dropping view that is sure to inspire anyone who sees it.

Hiking the Moorish castle with children can be a bit tricky as it’s almost entirely stairs. It quickly became obvious that our stroller would be even less useful here than it was in hilly Lisbon. In fact, it prompted us to completely rethink our method of child-transport on our travels.

With the late day sun setting quickly, we made our way down the mountain, as we attempted to make it to the Quinta da Regaleira before closing time.

A ruined chapel sits in the woods and is lit up by sunlight through breaks in the trees - Sintra, Portugal

Quinta da Regaleira

As we wandered down the mountain, the sun began to drop and it led to plummeting temperatures in the Sintra mountains. We hadn’t anticipated the temperature drop and it wasn’t long before I had C wrapped in his blankie and my sweater wrapped around us both in an attempt to keep him warm on our way down. We realized that we wouldn’t make the closing time. We were tremendously disappointed, but missing this gives us a great reason to return to Sintra once our children are a bit older. While we can’t speak to the views within this estate ourselves, the photos that we have seen are quite simply magical.

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Why your children will love Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is a spectacular place for children to explore. Although many castles and historic sites with rooms stacked with antique furniture might elicit yawns of boredom from kids, the fairytale vibe of Sintra will make the trip a dream come true for both parents and children alike. From the ruins of the ancient Moorish castle, adorned with flags at each post and it’s vibe of knights and battles, to the colorful Pena palace and its brilliant colors and exciting views where children can run through the battlements and re-enact their dreams of Prince and Princesses.

The National Palace offers the royal vibe and exploration while the Gorgeous Quinta da Regaleira Palace will elicit dreams of rescuing maidens or princesses from its spectacular dungeons. Sintra, Portugal is bound to create an explosion of imagination in any child.

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About the Author

Kevin Wagar is a professional traveler and family travel expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life. With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that traveling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.

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  1. Wow, Sintra really does look like a fairytale and it’s so colourful! I’ve always wanted to go to Portugal and you’re making it worse! 😉 Looks like you had a great time. Hope you do get to go back when your kids are a little older!

  2. We took the train out Sintra from Rossio station in Lisbon. i believe it took about 50 minutes and from memory the train run every half hour during summer when we visited. The day we went it was 38 degree’s in Lisbon but only about 28 in Sintra much cooler in the hills. Sintra is amazing and not somewhere to be missed by anyone in the near vicinity. We are going to Lisbon in December and will be visiting Sintra once again

  3. Oh my goodness this is just so beautiful and GRAND. I just love how amazingly colorful that palace is. I’ve never actually heard of this place before but now it definitely will be added to my list of places to see, eventually…

  4. Such stunning photos! It really does look like a fairytale 🙂 I have never researched too much about Portugal, but this would be reason enough to go! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Kudos to you for traveling with such a young child. He looks pretty content with it all, and I’m sure he’ll be traveling the world for a long time. Your photos are beautiful and you’ve painted an enticing picture of Sintra with your words.

  6. I love all the tiled buildings in Portugal! It has always been my favorite thing about the country. Glad you had a great time exploring this village!

  7. I can’t believe how amazingly colourful the architecture is. I love buildings and exploring old towns and your photos are clearly doing Portugal justice! I travel a lot around Asia at the moment but would love to see more of Europe. I really should seeing as I’m European myself ><

  8. I feel like every time I visit a place there is always something I miss. And the photos of the Palace look amazing. I seriously added this to my list of places to go. Great post.

  9. Sintra, why is it I think of Frank Sinatra whenever I see the word! What a fabulous place and how nice you were able to travel there with the kids. Have to say I would have been a little freaked out by the man who stopped his car to get out to touch your son’s cheeks but it all turned out well in the end. Love your photo’s especially the ramparts.

  10. Fairytale is right, Sintra looks unreal! Definitely recommending this to anyone I know who is traveling close by. It almost looks like a Disney movie come to life. The colours, even the skies are so beautiful! It looks like you and your family had a wonderful time. 🙂 I really enjoyed your article.

  11. Hi Kevin

    Ok, ok… I’m concvinced. I have to visit Portugal soon. Amazing pictures and these cathedrals, the landscape. Breathtaking.

    I’d love to do a Europe road trip through France, Spain and Portugal, all along the coast and going inland a few times too.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Cheers, Reni

  12. Oh WOW I am in LOOOOOVE with the pictures of the feather palace! It looks like a beautiful Disney castle but in pastel easter egg colors! <3 <3 Great shots

  13. Portugal is a county I’m really hoping to get to soon. This city looks like a great place to visit. I love exploring castles, so that’d be top on my list to see there! Your photos are amazing!

  14. I love your gorgeous photos! I am going to Portugal in June but sadly won’t be able to make it to Sintra. I appreciate all the historical information as well. It’s hard to believe such a sophisticated castle is over 1000 years old!

  15. I was in Sintra last summer and also chose Cascais as a base. Both great decisions! We hired a car and drove to Sintra at 7am. It was great to enjoy the town for a couple of hours before the hordes arrived. Great guide! I hope it encourages people to visit this magical place!

  16. I recently was in Lisbon and we went to Sintra as well, and also visited the Castle but did not enter as we did not have enough time (also love Cascais <3 ) I recommened that part of Portugal to my sister with her family because I also think that it would be fun with kids.

  17. Stunning photos! Thank you for sharing! Sintra (I kept reading Sinatra in my head…as in Frank…lol!) looks beautiful! Also, you’re from the GTA; awesome — so am I (Hamilton!). Canadians, unite!

  18. Portugal is on MY list of places to go. I am hoping that we can go in November for Thanksgiving. Hoping and praying the husband says yes! I have been looking at this town! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  19. Wow this really does look like a fairytale place. Those palaces look like scenes from Aladdin! Would love to explore this place one day.

  20. I can’t believe I missed out on Sintra my last trip to Portugal! Incredible photographs as usual and I am in awe of the Moorish architecture. The intricacies and the meticulous attention to detail is incredibly awe-inspiring. I lived in Morocco for a while and it was like a dream come true and Sintra has similar architecture.I can’t imagine how wonderful it must be for children. It’s like living through a story book. I can’t believe this place has not caught my radar before! Thanks for sharing all of this, Kevin! I look forward to reading more about you and your family’s escapades through your posts!

    1. Thank you so much Trisha! I really hope you get the chance to visit! Morocco has been a dream of ours for quite some time and it’s getting much closer to reality!

  21. The architecture and style are very interesting, I can’t put my finger on it – it is almost kitchy, but at the same time quite captivating. Perhaps the region could afford such constructions due to a lack of war. You see something similar in Valencia and Barcelona, too.

  22. Indeed, it is a truly wonderful places – I visited Sintra many years ago, and I would be happy to go there again – beautiful place for photography as well.
    I’m going to Portugal in three weeks’ time but I’m afraid that I won’t have time for it.

  23. Thanks for sharing this! Now I know where to find that palace now. I’ve seen it somewhere before but only know that it’s in Europe. Pena Palace really does look like it’s something out of a fairytale! 🙂

  24. Hi! I’m going to Sintra in a few months on a mother/daughter hiking trip, and have been unable to find out any information on shoes vs. hiking boots. I’d like to wear running shoes as they are the most comfortable shoes I own. Do you think one would need more sturdy hiking boots for the hiking around Sintra? Did you guys have any special footwear? I just need advice from someone who has been there. It looks awesome. Your pictures make me want to go even more. Thanks!

    1. Hello Kim, you don’t need hiking boots to hike around in Sintra as you don’t need the grip that hiking boots provide. You just need to make sure you are wearing something comfortable as there is a lot of walking. So, if you find your running shoes are the most comfortable shoes you own then I would definitely go with those. Have fun in Sintra! It’s a beautiful place.

  25. Thankyou for writing about Castle of the Moors. I have always in awe of different castles and I got to love this one. Good thing you also travel with your kid, making it more evident that traveling to Portugal is really family friendly.

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