The Pena Palace in Sintra is a former royal summer residence in Portugal, the vision of King Ferdinand II who bought it in 1838.
A magical sight, it is a fairy tale palace located on top of Pena Hill. The beautiful building is surrounded by lush forest and sweeping landscapes full of greenery and natural beauty. It’s been a designated World Heritage Site since 1995.
The construction for Pena Palace began on the site of a ruined monastery (the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena). The beautiful and imaginative design reflects features of 18th century Romanticism.
King Ferdinand lived in the palace until his death in 1885 and his second wife then passed the castle to the Portuguese State five years later. The palace was then occupied by King Carlos I and Queen Consort Amelia of Orleans who used it as a summer residence until Portugal became a republic in 1910.
It is now the National Palace of Pena and a major tourist attraction in Portugal, with up to 800,000 people visiting a year.
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Where is the Pena Palace?
The Pena Palace is in Sintra, a small town near Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.
It is on top of a hill about a 10-minute bus or taxi journey from the centre of the town (if going directly from the train station then the journey is a few minutes longer).
How far is Sintra from Lisbon?
Sintra is approximately 30 kilometres away from Lisbon. This means it’s possible to see the Pena Palace and other nearby attractions all within a day trip to Sintra.
How to get to Sintra from Lisbon
You can get to Sintra from Lisbon by train. The journey takes around 40 to 50 minutes from the city’s Rossio or Oriente station. The return journey costs around €5. There’s also a bus from Marques de Pombal in Lisbon, but this can be slower.
If you are driving, the best way to get from Lisbon to Sintra is by taking the IC19 road and A16 motorway.
How to reach the Pena Palace from Sintra
From Sintra train station, catch the 434 Scotturb bus up to the palace entrance. There were also people offering to take us up the hill in a rickshaw when we were there.
If you fancy seeing Sintra town before or after your visit to the palace, then you can walk between the town and train station, a pleasant stroll of around 10 minutes. You can then pick a bus up from the edge of the town to the palace or take a taxi. We took a taxi which was about €8 when we visited.
Note that there is a short but steep uphill walk to the palace when you arrive and have passed through the entrance.
Why visit the Pena Palace?
If you’re on a short break to Lisbon, you might wonder why you’d travel to Sintra when there’s more than enough things to do in the city. However, there are several reasons why visitors to Lisbon should take a trip here.
First, there is the architecture of the buildings: you’ll find a fascinating mix of different styles, including Neo-Moorish, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline and New Romanesque. This combination makes it a really fascinating place to wander around.
The colours of the palace also make it stand out – bright reds, yellows and oranges. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before. The colours, mixed with the different architectural styles, lend it an almost whimsical, fairy tale appeal.
Another reason to visit is for the views you get from the palace. It’s situated on top of a hill with sweeping views of the countryside below. You can see these when you walk around the palace walls and ramparts. This includes the chance to see see Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean from different viewpoints.
There’s also tonnes to see inside this grand building. There are multiple rooms to wander through, with detailed information about the royal family that once lived there.
Finally, a visit here is not just about the palace. It sits within 200 hectares of parkland and forest and there are number of attractions to explore within it. On a fine day you can take a picnic and enjoy sitting out in the grounds.
So there is plenty to explore for the price of your ticket. It’s also one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen and is one I’ll never forget.
What is there to see in the Pena Palace?
There are plenty of fascinating sights to see and things to explore when you reach the Pena Palace.
The outside of the palace
Some of the parts you can see when you wander outside include two gates located at the entrance. The Alhambra Gate, inspired by a gate in the Alhambra in Spain, and the Monumental Gate, take you to some of the palace’s terraces.
The New Palace has two towers and an elaborate bow window; beneath the window is the Tunnel of Triton with a bright Moorish design.
Even more colourful is the Courtyard of the Arches; this is a truly fantastical part of the palace. It’s a great place to snap some pictures.
In one part, you can take the Sentry Walk around the ramparts. This is where you’ll get your best views of the surrounding countryside – but beware, it can get very windy!
The inside of the palace
Inside, you initially walk through an attractive cloister, another area that is tiled in a Moorish style. You then proceed through different rooms that depict various aspects of life in the palace.
These include the dining room with its incredible ceiling, the office where King Carlos worked, and the room where he slept. You can see the apartments occupied by Queen Amelia and those for King Manuel.
King Ferdinand’s sitting room, also known as the Arabic Room, is one of the most striking rooms in the palace. You’ll understand why it has this name after entering it.
Other rooms include a music room, the Stag Room (a room for banquets which unsurprisingly has stag antlers on the wall), and the Great Hall. The Great Hall was apparently used for playing billiards during the Royal Family’s time in the palace.
The Pena Palace Park
In addition to the palace, there are some interesting sights to see within the Pena Palace Park. It’s a beautiful place to explore and, covering 200 hectares, makes for a full day out if you have the time.
Lakes, gardens, and temples
The park contains lakes, gardens, and temples. Included among these is the Valley of the Lakes, where you can meander along the side of five lakes with small gushing waterfalls. The Little Birds Fountain, a small domed pavilion standing among the trees, is close by.
The Temple of Columns, another tiny domed structure painted yellow and with a Neoclassical design, is located near the 19th-century Warrior Statue.
Pena park also contains the High Cross, which sits at 528 metres and is the highest point in the hills around Sintra. The cross that you see today is a replica of a replica, the previous two having been destroyed by extreme weather.
There is also the Queen’s Fern Valley with plants from Australia and New Zealand and the Garden of Camellias with flowers from China and Japan.
The Grotto of the Monk was formerly a monastery’s retreat and is still preserved today.
Close by is St. Catherine’s Height, with a flat portion of boulders (the “Queen’s Throne”) where Queen Amelia is said to have sat when she visited. She is known to have drawn the palace from this vantage point: you can see one of these images during your tour around the palace rooms.
The Garden of the Countess of Edla is also a beautiful and peaceful place to visit. The Chalet of the Countess, which King Ferdinand and his second wife built in 1864 as a summer retreat, has an alpine chalet style and sits in the garden.
Pena Palace tickets
You can book tickets online which allows you to skip the line and make the most of your day trip to Sintra.
If you are trying to maximise your time in the Lisbon area, you can also book tours that combine a visit to the palace with a trip to the coast.
Pena Palace hours
Opening times are 9.30am to 6.30pm for the palace. The park opens and closes half an hour earlier and later.
More things to see in Sintra
There are quite a few interesting sites which you can visit before or after visiting the Pena Palace.
There is a 10th century Moorish Castle which sits on another of the peaks in the Sintra area and has walls that snake across the hill (you can see this from the Pena Palace). It has an Interpretation Centre that provides information on the castle.
The Palace of Monserrate is another stunning Romantic structure with beautiful and exotic gardens. This is another place to be wowed by the architecture.
Sintra town itself is also worth spending some time in. It has a pretty town square and several cafes, and there are some lovely places to eat lunch in as well. The small winding side streets contain some boutique shops to browse in.
Other European and UK day trips and short breaks
If you visit the Pena Palace in Sintra, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
For ideas for other European and UK day trips and short breaks, check out some of my other posts:
For more ideas for short breaks and day trips, visit my website.