Sintra, located about 30 km from Lisbon, is one of the most visited places in Portugal. The proximity to the capital and the beauty of this village and nature park make it a must-see destination, translating into millions of visitors a year. Yes, you read that right – millions. Taking into consideration that Sintra’s entire municipality has an estimated population of around 380,000 people, the number of annual visitors to this picturesque location far surpasses its resident population.
While the Palácio da Pena, the Castelo dos Mouros, and Quinta da Regaleira are among the most visited places, there are several other spaces and activities in the town of Sintra and the Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais that offer a more tranquil experience with fewer crowds.
1. Explore the details of the Palácio and Parque Biester
Perhaps because it only opened to the public in 2022, the Palácio Biester still slips under the radar for many visitors to Sintra. Side-by-side with its better-known and busier neighbor, Quinta da Regaleira, this property, dating from the 19th century, is a perfect example of the romantic architecture that so well characterizes the buildings hidden among the dense Sintra forest.
The botanical park covers six hectares and boasts trees from all over the world, offering stunning views of the Castelo dos Mouros and the town of Sintra from its belvederes. The palace itself is full of original and extraordinary details, like the decorative paintings by the artist Luigi Manini and the French master Paulo Baudry that adorn the walls and ceilings of each room. And, like other places in Sintra, mysticism and the occult intersect here with stories of the Knights Templar and initiation chambers that feed the imagination. It will take several hours to fully appreciate the beauty of the Biester property.
Planning Tip: Start your visit at the entrance on Avenida Almeida Garrett and walk through the gardens until you reach the palace. Book a 90-minute guided tour by emailing email@example.com to learn about the property’s history, or skip the queues by buying tickets online.
2. Hit the trail that leads from Villa Sassetti to the Chalet da Condessa D’Edla
This journey is not for the faint of body or spirit. We’re talking about almost a day of walking along winding, uneven paths uphill from Villa Sassetti to the Chalet da Condessa D’Edla, passing the lakes of the Parque da Pena. But the natural beauty of the route and the countless nooks, crannies, old buildings and viewpoints will make it worth the effort. To navigate the trails, visit the tourist office in Praça da República and ask for the maps of Villa Sassetti and Parque da Pena before embarking on your journey.
Detour: Don’t want to do the whole route or don’t have enough time? Start at the entrance to the Vale dos Lagos. Remember to bring comfortable trail shoes and water to keep you hydrated.
3. Ride the rails between Sintra and Praia das Maçãs
Leave Sintra and head towards the coast aboard a traditional Portuguese tram. Built in the early 20th century, this line leading to Praia da Maçãs was abandoned for years before being restored in 2004. Today, it takes local residents and visitors on an 11km journey through the Sintra landscape, passing houses and roads and stopping at places like the Adega Regional de Colares, in a unique 45-minute ride to the sea.
Planning Tip: To get to Praia das Maçãs, take the streetcar at Rua General Alves Roçadas in Estefânia. You can buy the ticket for the ride at Vila Alda – Casa do Elétrico, located next to the streetcar stop (excluding weekends and public holidays, when you can buy it directly on the transport). When returning to Sintra, remember to get your ticket from the driver.
4. Stroll through the gardens of Quinta da Ribafria
Quinta da Ribafria, a property from 1541 and an example of Manueline civil architecture, sits on the outskirts of the Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais, about 35km from Lisbon.
After years of abandonment, this manor opened its gates in 2015, inviting visitors to wander through its once-neglected woods and gardens.
Follow along a charming path adorned with sculptures by both Portuguese and international artists – including Stefano Beccari from Italy and Amparo Luis from Spain – or stop on one of the benches to enjoy the peace and quiet and be carried away by the sound of the wind in the treetops. If you go when the estate opens at 10:00am, you may be one of the first there.
5. Have a picnic at the Lagoa Azul
It’s not an unknown place, not least because of its proximity to the town of Cascais. Still, it’s a great option if you’re looking for a green area to have a picnic or just take a stroll surrounded by the landscape of the Serra de Sintra.
This lagoon, which takes on beautiful hues of green and blue as the day passes, appears almost like an oasis, only disturbed by the splashing of ducks in its waters or the sound of dogs walking by with their owners. The place is also popular as a starting point for mountain bike rides. To enjoy the Lagoa Azul in greater peace, avoid the weekend or the month of August and go early in the morning.
Planning Tip: The parking lot is small and you may not find a space if you go during a busy hour. Alternatively, take the train from Lisbon to Cascais and then a taxi or Uber to get there.
6. Be amazed by the views from the Santuário da Peninha
At one of the highest points in Serra de Sintra, almost 500m above sea level, the Santuário da Peninha has the best views in the Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais.
Walk along dirt tracks until you come to the Capela de Nossa Senhora da Peninha, where you can enjoy a wide view of the surrounding landscape.
On clear days, you can see from Cabo Espichel in the south to Cabo Carvoeiro in the north. Closer by, you can glimpse Praia do Guincho, Cascais and the Cabo da Roca lighthouse, the westernmost point of mainland Europe.
Side by side with the chapel is a mansion built in 1918 by the same owner of Quinta da Regaleira (closed to visitors) and, further down, an old 12th-century hermitage.
Planning Tip: This area is very exposed to winds, so foggy days are frequent here. Check the weather before you set off.
7. Follow the paths taken by monks at the Convento dos Capuchos
The Convento dos Capuchos, also known as the “Cork Convent” due to the use of cork in its construction and decoration, is a place for contemplation and introspection. After all, this 16th-century convent followed the religious philosophy of the Order of St. Francis of Assisi.
For 250 years, Franciscan monks walked these paths that extended between large granite blocks and dense vegetation, welcoming the few men of faith who lived there and visitors alike. As you too walk these trails today, you’ll encounter chapels and hermitages where time has left its mark, yet spirituality lingers and unconsciously slows your pace.
Planning Tip: To make entry easier, purchase your ticket online. For an additional euro, gain access to the audio guide app, which will assist you in navigating this landmark.
8. Taste fresh fish with a sea view at Azenhas do Mar
Once an old fishing village, Azenhas do Mar never ceases to amaze visitors with its simplicity, beauty and communion with the landscape.
About 10km from the village of Sintra and 40km from Lisbon, this small group of white houses stretching along the cliffs seems part of a painting. In fact, many Portuguese painters have come here for inspiration, including Júlio Pomar. Arriving from Praia das Maçãs, stop at the viewpoint facing the town and you’ll understand why.
The place is small and has little parking, especially in summer. But during this time, you can enjoy the natural pool on the beach at the foot of the cliff – the same beach that, being so small, loses its sand when the tide gets high. Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in the freshest fish and seafood while enjoying the breathtaking views and beautiful sunsets at Azenhas do Mar restaurant right by the beach.
9. Spread out your towel at Praia do Magoito
About 10km from Azenhas do Mar, Praia do Magoito is an excellent option to escape Sintra’s busiest beaches, such as Praia Grande or Praia das Maçãs. There’s plenty of space to lay your towel on this long sandy beach that stretches along the imposing cliffs leading to Praia da Aguda.
Another way to explore this landscape is to walk along the cliff-top path that links the two beaches.
Other tips on avoiding the crowds in Sintra
Low season and weekdays are the ideal times to avoid the biggest crowds in Sintra. If you can’t make it at these times, choose the opening hours or the last visits of the day to see the monuments more calmly. Staying overnight in town can help you with that task, and also enjoy a relaxed evening after the day trippers leave.
Buying tickets online whenever possible will also help you avoid the queues and plan your time better.