After a short train ride from Lisbon, you reach Sintra, the town with the most colourful palace I have ever seen – the Pena Palace.
Who comes to Sintra as a tourist almost certainly has the plan to visit Pena Palace. From the train station, bus 434 goes to the palace for € 5 per person. It is a round trip ticket, you can get on and off at several stops. The tickets are sold at the bus stop, so simply line up in the long queue and wait. The buses run frequently, are always packed with people but you get a ride relatively quickly. The route is very curvy and the driving style of the bus drivers quite literally sweeps you off your feet – make sure you hold on tight!
Or otherwise kindly apologise when you suddenly land on the lap of a stranger, like I did. The walk up to the palace is very steep and takes about an hour. The ticket price is really worth the investment!
Tip: If possible, do not to get off at the first possible bus stop with the intention to get back on later. The bus on the way up to the palace is usually very full and rarely stops for additional passengers.
Entrance to Pena Palace
Although we visited Sintra in pre-season they had opened 4 out of 5 ticket counters. Long queues were standing there, waiting to buy their tickets.
If you buy your tickets online, you not only save money but also time! You can choose between different tickets for access to different areas of the terrain. We picked the “Park and Palace” option. This gave us access to the beautiful park around the Pena Palace, the outdoor area and terrace of the palace and the interior of the palace. If you can do without the interior, you can buy the Park category. With this entrance ticket, you enter the park and the outside areas of the palace.
If you spontaneously decide that you’d like access to the interior, there is the possibility to purchase an additional ticket in the souvenir shop.
In 1840, the Portuguese King Ferdinand II commissioned the Palacio Nacional da Pena to be erected on the ruins of a monastery. Monks had lived here for many years, but the monastery had been destroyed during the earthquake of 1755 and was then abandoned. The palace stands on a rock in the Serra de Sintra, high above the small village of Sintra.
In 1837, Ferdinand II bought what was left of the monastery and some farms in the vicinity.
He wanted to build a palace here as a proof of his love for his wife. Unfortunately, she passed away before the completion of the building. His second wife, Countess of Edla, was involved in the design of the interior.
The Pena Palace was built in various architectural styles. The trained eye can discover elements from neo-renaissance, neo-gothic, neo-Manueline and Moorish building elements. The interior was predominantly designed in the style of baroque and rococo. Since 1995, the Pena Palace and the cultural landscape of Sintra have been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In the palace
A steep footpath leads from the entrance gate to the palace. If you cannot walk or do not want to walk, you can go up or down a part of the route with a small shuttle. You get the first look at the palace on the way up. The colourful buildings shimmered through the trees and very much reminded me of paintings of castles that kids would do. The entrance gate, decorated with the armour of King Ferdinand, leads onto a large forecourt. From a small tower, you get a good look at the decorative elements of the facade of the palace and it also offers a nice view over the surrounding terrain.
The only time I have ever seen such colourful buildings before was in artificially designed recreational parks. I wasn’t surprised that our guide in Lisbon called it Disneyland for adults.
The main facade has been designed with so called Azulejos. This Portuguese tile art is a typical style element found on many houses in Lisbon. In the Pena Palace, the tiles are decorated in the traditional Moorish style with geometric patterns.
Although at first sight, this particular section of façade does not seem to go well with the style of the rest of the palace, I liked this traditional looking area much better. I am especially fascinated by the figure of the Triton. A gigantic portico crowns one of the passageways. The installation shows Triton, half fish, half man, at the creation of the world. This figure has a somewhat sinister look down at the passing visitors.
For me, it felt almost daunting, as if it is forbidden to use this passage. Of course, we went through the gate. Running along part of the palace you find the “Wall Walk”. From here you have a great view over the surroundings.
Garden Pena Palace in the park
After the visit of the palace, the park magically attracted us. On a once bare mountain, a forest and historical gardens were set up.
The area spans around 85 ha of intricate paths and many hills. Small signposts guide you through the gardens. We were almost alone in the park and enjoyed not only the peace but also the shaded paths very much. Interesting places are to be discovered everywhere, such as the temple of the columns, the monks’ grottoes or the garden of ferns of the queen.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the whole garden in one day, but we still got a very good impression of what it is like. A steep path led us downhill into the valley of the 5 lakes. All the streams of the park above run into this valley. Past the duck houses, which remind us of castle towers, we arrived at the “guard house at the lake gate”.
You can also buy tickets for the Pena Palace here, but then you have to walk up the hill to the palace. We have left the palace grounds here, caught a very crowded 434 bus at the bus stop and made our way back past the main entrance of the palace all the way to Sintra.
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park,
Estrada da Pena,
2710-609 Sintra, Portugal
Opening hours (2017):
Park: 9.30am – 8pm
Interiors: 9.45am – 7pm
Outside area: 9.45am – 7.30pm
Park: 10am – 6pm
Palace: 10 am – 6 pm
Entry fees (2017).
Park + Palace
Adults: 14 €
Children (6-17 years): € 12.50
Adults: 7.50 €
Children (6-17 years): 6,50 €
Further discounts are offered!