National Palace of Sintra: a guide to the "must-see" fun Palacio Nacional

Picture from above of all the palaces and buildings of  of Sintra National Palace
Picture from above of all the palaces and buildings of  of Sintra National Palace

Do not make the common mistake of missing Sintra National Palace while visiting Sintra. It is the best but the least-known palace there.  Learn here why it is worth the visit.

Just one day to visit Sintra, Portugal is not enough to explore all the wonders this town offers. There are at least 5 amazing palaces in Sintra to choose from, so you need more information to decide which palace in Sintra to visit (and which to skip!)

The spoiler alert - the most advertised Palace in Sintra is NOT the one you should visit, if you are pressed for time.

However, this less known National Palace of Sintra is the must-see Palace in Sintra, even if you only have one day to visit and time enough for only two palaces! You will learn why it is a must-see palace after reading my post and watching my videos about it .

Alonga travel the author photo
Alonga travel the author photo

Hello, I am Tatiana—an architecture addict fascinated with beautiful old buildings and discovering the gems of Europe. Check out my comprehensive travel tips and reviews of the best European destinations and city breaks. Let's connect on social media!

Images of Sintra National Palace

Watch this video and the few other videos you can find later in this post to get a better impression of Sintra National Palace.

What is Sintra National Palace?

Sintra National Palace in Portugal, or the Palacio Nacional de Sintra, also called PalĂĄcio la Vila (The Town Palace), is one of the 2 medieval palaces in Sintra.

The best-preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal, it was inhabited continuously by the Royal family from the15th century to the late 19th century. It became a museum since then.

What you will see

You can see a large complex of separate palaces, built during different centuries, with each room of Sintra National Palace exquisitely decorated in an architectural style of the time it was built, connected by the halls, courtyards, and stairs.

And yet the modern National Place of Sintra is an organic mixture of these separate palaces, integrated well, and enhancing one another, creating an unforgettable experience for the visitors.

But what will impress you the most, and what makes this palace to stand out and a must-see destination—is how fun this beautiful Palacio feels! I will give you short highlights of the Palacio in the next section so you can see what I mean!

UNESCO thought the same, and the palace was declared a World Heritage Site in 1995. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Portugal and attracts visitors from all over the world.

A narrow oval door surrounded by colorful Moorish tiles in National Palace of Sintra
A narrow oval door surrounded by colorful Moorish tiles in National Palace of Sintra

Highlights of National Palace of Sintra

  • Fun ceramic tiles

  • Cute patios with fountains

  • Outstanding 15th century kitchen with chimneys to envy

  • Incredible carved ceilings

  • Indoor Arabic fountain

  • Cozy furniture you would love to own

  • Mesmerizing chandeliers

Below is the highlight of Nationl Palace of Sintra and its best features.

Colorful blue and green old Hispanic tiles in Palacio Nacional
Colorful blue and green old Hispanic tiles in Palacio Nacional
Fun looking patio chair covered with old colorful tiles in National Palace of Sintra
Fun looking patio chair covered with old colorful tiles in National Palace of Sintra

Look at these cheerful ceramic tiles! Aren’t they fun!? :)

Fun ceramic tiles

Have you seen anything like this patio with the old Moorish tiles and a fountain? I knew I hadn't, and I’ve been to many places!

A planter with flowers in a tiled azulejos wall in the Moorish section of National PalĂĄcio de Sintra
A planter with flowers in a tiled azulejos wall in the Moorish section of National PalĂĄcio de Sintra

Cute patios with fountains

Now, this is the kitchen many of us would love to have! Can you imagine it was built in the 15th century? The 33 feet tall chimneys were unmatched in their times (or ever!) and the kitchen had room for 30 cooks at the time to do their job of feeding vast group of people daily. Now these two tall cone-shaped white chimneys are icons of the National Sintra Palace.

An enormous kitchen with the Queen Maria Pea the coat of arms on the wall.
An enormous kitchen with the Queen Maria Pea the coat of arms on the wall.
2 enormous white conical kitchen chimneys of Sintra National Palace
2 enormous white conical kitchen chimneys of Sintra National Palace

Outstanding 15th century kitchen with chimneys to envy

Sintra National Palace has a few outstanding carved ceilings, and the Heraldic Hall with the dome ceiling is the most breathtaking sight of them all.

enormous carved ceiling decorated by coats of arms of noble Portuguese in Heraldic Sala dos BrasÔes
enormous carved ceiling decorated by coats of arms of noble Portuguese in Heraldic Sala dos BrasÔes

Incredible carved ceilings

It also has an Arab Room with indoor Moorish style fountain. How special!

Arabic room in National Palace of Sintra with an indoor fountain surrounded by colorful tiles
Arabic room in National Palace of Sintra with an indoor fountain surrounded by colorful tiles

Indoor Arabic fountain

beautiful wall table by fun colored glazed ceramic Moorish tiled wall in Sintra National Palace
beautiful wall table by fun colored glazed ceramic Moorish tiled wall in Sintra National Palace
Cupper colored wooden cabinet in National Sintra Palace shows incredible craftsmanship
Cupper colored wooden cabinet in National Sintra Palace shows incredible craftsmanship

The museum features some wonderful furniture from the Royal Palace. Leak, ebony, rosewood, ivory, brass and copper was used creating these and many other fine example of CRAFTSMANSHIP in the museum

Cozy furniture you would love to own

The origins of Sintra National Palace go back to the 8th century, when a Moorish fortress was built on the site.

The Moors were Muslim inhabitants of North Africa and Iberia who settled in Portugal in 711 AD. This fortress was later destroyed by King Alfonso VI of Castile and LeĂłn during his successful 1147 siege of the town.

It then became a royal residence during the reign of King Dinis I (1279-1325).

In 1502, King Manuel I ordered the construction of a new palace, which was completed in 1519. The palace was occupied continually since then until the 19th century and undergone many renovations and additions to the Palace. 

A short recap of the long 1100 years of history

Related
A link to National Coach Museum in Lisbon PortugalA link to National Coach Museum in Lisbon Portugal

palaces and rooms

I organized the rooms built in the palace into a table for a clearer view

Table of room additions by years built

The beginning of National Place of Sintra

The first structures at the 8th century Sintra National Palace were likely built during the Moorish rule. None of the buildings have survived.

The earliest surviving part of the palace is the Royal Chapel, which is believed to have been built during the reign of King Dinis I in the early 14th century and remodeled later at different times.

Bright blue & green Moorish style tiles azulejos in National Palace of Sintra
Bright blue & green Moorish style tiles azulejos in National Palace of Sintra

KING JOHN I MAJOR BUILDING CAMPAIGN OF 1415

King John I of Portugal, or King JoĂŁo I, was a visionary who undertook a massive building campaign of Palacio Nacional in 1415. His vision was to construct numerous impressive structures across the kingdom, ranging from lavish palaces and churches to grand fortresses and castles. This project was among the largest construction efforts in Portuguese history, as it involved significant investments of time and resources.

The most notable example of King John's royal campaign was the immense Sintra National Palace. 

Ala Joanina

The majority of buildings around the central courtyard - called the Ala Joanina (or John's Wing) – were built during that time. The campaign also included many other new structures, such as the Swan Room, Magpie Room and Patios, as well as the Manueline-style Ala Joanina.

central courtyard Ala Joanina or John's Wing of Sintra National Palace
central courtyard Ala Joanina or John's Wing of Sintra National Palace

Remodeling of the kitchens

Back in the day, kings considered sharing meals with their subjects to be a crucial duty, right up there with dispensing justice and ensuring safety.

When palaces were located far from cities, hunting was the primary source of food, making it crucial to have larger and more efficient kitchens.

The kitchens in Sintra were game-changing in the 1300s, featuring two enormous conical chimneys that funneled smoke away from the palace, making it more habitable for the royal family.

King John I upgraded the kitchens to accommodate the hundreds of people that made up the court, as well as the game prepared for banquets.

Rows of ovens, cooking stoves, and copper pots and pans lined the walls.

The current kitchens, as we see them today, are from the reign of the last queen to occupy the Palace, Maria Pia. The coat of arms and white tiles on the walls date back to her renovation in the late 19th century.

Now these two tall cone-shaped white chimneys are icons of the National Sintra Palace.

The view from the inside of the conical CHIMNEY in Sintra National Palace kitchen that became an icon of Sintra National Palace

The Swan Room (or Sala dos Cisnes) of Sintra Palace

The swan room of Sintra Palace, with the swans painted on the ceiling is, the largest room of the Palace, where the most important events, like celebrations and receptions, took place, was also built in 1415.

The room is decorated in a regal style, featuring intricate stucco work and gilded wood carved into swan motifs.

Even today official banquets for special occasion of visits by foreign heads of state are held here.

The Swan Room in Sintra Palace
The Swan Room in Sintra Palace

MAGPIE ROOM ( OR SALA DAS PEGAS).

The Magpie Room was first built during the 15th century as part of the palace's original design. The walls are decorated with azulejos (glazed tiles) and painted in a variety of colors. The most striking features of the room are the two large magpie birds that adorn the ceiling, which were added during the 19th century renovation.

This room was used to received the notables of the kingdom and foreign ambassadors. The tile decoration and the composition of the ceiling are quite remarkable. The south-facing window opens over the Sierra with a view of the Moorish Castle.

The Magpie Room is still used as an occasional formal reception area, but is open to visitors year-round.

Magpie room is decorated in the most gorgeous tiles in the Palacio. They were added in the 16th century.

The marble fireplace was also added later. It was a gift to King Manuel I by Pope Leo X. The floor is covered by a Persian rug from the 15th century.

Magnificent Magpie room with beautiful ceramic tiles in National Palace of Sintra
Magnificent Magpie room with beautiful ceramic tiles in National Palace of Sintra
Gorgeous glazed tiles on the wall in Magpie Room of Sintra National Palace
Gorgeous glazed tiles on the wall in Magpie Room of Sintra National Palace

The Golden Chamber

This is the third room in the palace of King JoĂŁo I. This is the room where the king could sleep and work, and also could receive noble people.

The room was later decorated with very special Spanish tiles.

Tiles with Armillary Sphere

These tiles are exclusive of the National Palace of Sintra and can only be found in the Golden Chamber and Grotesque & Lion Patios. They look like cute decorative tiles, but they actually carry the emblem of King Manuel I - the armillary sphere. They were added to the chamber later and were ordered from ceramic specialists from Seville.

Mudejar style in Sintra Palace one of the styles that creates organic architectural mix
Mudejar style in Sintra Palace one of the styles that creates organic architectural mix

Architecture

The architecture of Sintra National Palace is an exciting mix of different architectural styles: Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudéjar, working together organically.

The reason there are so many architectural styles in Sintra Palace is because many rooms were added during a stretch of a few centuries under different rulers, while the old parts of the Sintra Palace were kept intact. 

So, there are 11 centuries of fresh additions, wings and accents in Sintra Palace! 

While often such a mix of additions to a structure during different times can create a chaotic and overcrowded style, the present National Palace of Sintra is a rare example of an organic architectural style. 

Let's see the main characteristics of the listed above styles to understand their influence in Sintra Palace better. 

 Moorish style biforas decorating the windows in Sintra National Palace
 Moorish style biforas decorating the windows in Sintra National Palace

Biforas - lavish decorations of windows and arches in Sintra National Palace

architectural styles of National Sintra Palace.

Decades of renovation brought these individual architectural styles to Sintra  National Palace.

Gothic style

The entrance gate of Sintra Palace and the King's Hall are built in Gothic style. This type of architecture was popular in Iberia from the 12th to 15th centuries. It includes pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses.

Manueline style

Manueline is a Portuguese variation of late Gothic, which includes maritime motifs like ropes, anchors and armillary spheres (astrolabes). Many Manueline elements can be seen in Sintra National Palace's façade, such as the windows decorated with armillary spheres or the relief sculptures on the main gate.

Moorish style

Much of what remains today of Sintra Palace was built during Moorish occupation between 1147-1493AD. Examples include some rooms decorated with azulejos (glazed tiles) and horseshoe arches typical of Islamic architecture.

Mudéjar style

This refers to a type of architecture that developed in Iberia during the 12th to 17th centuries, which combines elements of Christian and Islamic styles.

To learn more about alluring Mudejar architecture read my other post.

Building additions of King Afonso V (1432–1481)

The chapel

The earliest surviving part of the palace is the Royal Chapel got many additions made by John I of Aviz, and it was remodeled by King Afonso V.

The chapel has a tiled floor with tiles in the apse laid to resemble a carpet, painted walls, and a wooden ceiling decorated in geometrically patterned Mudejar latticework.

King Afonso V added the chapel’s golden altarpiece and sepulchre, which are richly decorated in Manueline style. Both the altarpiece and sepulcher are very different in style from the Mudejar carpentry of the chapel’s ceiling, which features geometric patterns that resemble a starry sky.

The Chapel saw more of significant changes during the 16th century under the rule of Manuel I. Raul Lino worked on restoring the palace in the 20th century.

Manueline style plaster rope decoration over a doorway in Sintra Palace
Manueline style plaster rope decoration over a doorway in Sintra Palace

Additions campaign by King Manuel I (1497 - 1530)

Remodeling in Manueline style

Manueline stile, characterized by its intricate designs and decorations, and it features rope-like elements, was named after King Manuel I, who commissioned the construction of the Ala Manuelina (Manuel's Wing) and the Sala dos BrasÔes (Coats-of-Arms Room) during his reign.

The Ala Manuelina featured typical Manueline windows, and polychromed tiles in a MudĂ©jar style, which were made specially in Seville. 

blue ceramic tiles showing hunting scenes in the Heraldic room of Sintra National Palace
blue ceramic tiles showing hunting scenes in the Heraldic room of Sintra National Palace

AZULEJOS IN Coats-of-Arms Room Sala dos BrasÔes Sintra Palace

Coats-of-Arms Room (Sala dos BrasÔes)

The Coats-of-Arms Room (Sala dos BrasÔes) in Manueline style was the most magnificently decorated room in the palace during the time of King Manuel I. It featured the heraldic symbols of the Portuguese noble families, and was one of the most significant heraldic rooms in Europe.

The dome shaped ceiling of the room displays the King Manuel I's coat of arms, surrounded by 72 coats-of-arms of the King and the main Portuguese noble families.

In the center of the room, there is a stunning eight-pointed star that features a beautiful medallion, which glows with yellow and black colors. This beautiful medallion is surrounded by several smaller stars that represent the early Portuguese conquistadors.

The room was decorated with typical Manueline windows, and featured polychromed tiles made specially for the King in Seville, with Mudéjar motifs.

The blue tiles with different hunting scenes are very impressive as well. The pictures don’t do the room enough justice, it’s the most impressive room!

Brown dome ceiling in Coats-of-Arms Room Sala dos BrasÔes in Sintra Palace
Brown dome ceiling in Coats-of-Arms Room Sala dos BrasÔes in Sintra Palace

Arab Room (Sala dos Árabes)

Another outstanding room built in the 15th century in Sintra Palace was the Arab Room (Sala dos Árabes).

The room features a low ceiling with intricate Moorish designs on its walls, decorated with colorful tiles. The star of the show is the ornate fountain in the center of the room, which features detailed geometric patterns and Arabic inscriptions. 

The room was constructed when King Manuel I of Portugal ordered the redecoration of the palace.

Arab Room (Sala dos Árabes) in National Palace of Sintra
Arab Room (Sala dos Árabes) in National Palace of Sintra
Grotto of the Baths in Sintra National Palace
Grotto of the Baths in Sintra National Palace

Grotto of the Baths in Sintra Palace

The Grotto of the Baths is one of the most intriguing attractions located inside the Sintra National Palace in Portugal. This unique underground cave is known for its intricate tile work, and stucco decoration from the 18th century. It is believed to have been used as a royal bathhouse by the Portuguese monarchy.

The walls and floor of the cave are covered in some magnificent tile panels there and stucco ornamentation representing the Creation of the World.

The blue and white tiled wall panels represent fountains and gardens.

And it looks very pretty!:)

16th century King John III building campaign of Sintra National Palace

King John III had an Italianate loggia added in 1543 and a two-story octagonal tower built for him by Flemish architect Jan van Oosten between 1571 and 1575.

King Sebastian later added Mannerist elements to the palace, such as arcades with pilasters and curved shapes framing windows and doors.

The last major change to Sintra National Palace occurred under Queen Maria II (1834-1853), who ordered new ceilings made from wood painted with gold.

Sintra Palace in 17th and 18th century

In the following centuries Kings continued to inhabit Sintra Palace from time to time, also ordering some new decorations, some paintings or furniture for the Palace, but nothing major.

The was one dark mark in the history of Sintra palace happened when the mentally unstable King Afonso VI, was forced to live in his bedroom in the medieval section of the Palace, without leaving the residence from 1676 until his death in 1683.

Sintra Palace suffered damage after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, but was restored in the original manner. The biggest loss to the great earthquake was the tower over the Arab Room, which collapsed.

At the end of the 18th century, Queen Maria I redecorated and redivided the rooms of the Ala Manuelina.

Modern times in Sintra Palace history

During the 19th century, Sintra became again a favorite spot for the Kings and was used frequently. With the foundation of the Republic, it became a national monument tin 1910. In the 1940s, it was restored and old furniture from other palaces was added. The magnificent tile panels were restored as well during that time. It has been an important historical tourist attraction ever since.

And it’s waiting for YOUR visit!:)

Practical Information

Where In Portugal Is Sintra?

Sintra Portugal, the Lisbon District of Portugal, is located 30 km North West from Lisbon, or 1 hour train ride.

While it is located only 14 km from the Atlantic ocean, it takes 90 minutes by public transportation. It only takes 20 minutes to ride by car, but do NOT come on a car because of a parking problem!

Alternatively, you can arrive from Cascais on a bus. Read my other post on how to use buses in Portugal.

Where Is Sintra National Palace Located?

Sintra Palace is located right in the town center, a short 10 minutes walk from Sintra train station.

Should I drive to Sintra or take a train?

Arriving on a train or bus is by far your best bet as finding parking anywhere in Sintra is impossible. It will create you unnecessary stress and it will take away from your enjoyment for sure!

Read about the best ways of getting around Portugal in my other post.

Renting a car is especially not wise if you're traveling solo. Read more on why choose public transport over renting a car here.

You don't need a car in Sintra and it won't be too difficult to get around Sintra. Read my other post about how to do that.

But the best way is just to walk everywhere. It will take you 1 hour to get to castle of Moors from the center, and then it takes 20 minutes to walk from there to Pena Palace. Quinta da Regaleira is withing 15 minutes walk from the center. But you need to take a bus to go to Monserrate Park and Palace.

Visiting the Sintra National Palace: Hours, Address

Hours: Open every day

9:30AM–6PM

Largo Rainha Dona Amélia, 2710-616 Sintra, Portugal

+351219237300


How much does it cost to visit Sintra national palace (palĂĄcio nacional de sintra) 2021?

Admition price to Sintra National Palace:

Adult (18-64 years old) - 10 euros

Youth (6-17 years old) - 8.50 euros

Senior (65 years old and above) - 8.50 euros

Child (below 6 years old) - Free of charge

Family (2 Adults aged 18-64 + 2 Youths aged 6-17) - 31.35 euros


How long to spend in the Palacio de Sintra?

Expect to spend around one hour, minimum. But 1.5 hours is better. It’s much less crowded than Pena, so you don’t have to rush to it. You can make it your last stop in town, before heading back to the train station if you’re visiting Sintra on a day trip.

Sintra National Palace vs Pena Palace

How does Sintra National Palace compare to Pena Palace? And which one to chose?

In short: Pena Palace is more famous, but Sintra National Palace is more impressive inside. You still need to check out the Pena Palace from outside.

The majority of the tourists arrive on a day trip and don't have enough time to visit all the palaces in Sintra. Therefore, they have to choose the best palace. Sintra National Palace is often compared to the better-known Pena Palace. Many people even think that the Sintra Palace and Pena Palace are the same thing. 

Read the post above to find out that Sintra National Palace is better for exploring inside. And you can visit Pena Palace to admire from  the outside. 

Is Pena and Sintra the same palace?

I see very often that people are confused, and think that Sintra Palace and Pena Palace are the same palace. I would like to clear the confusion.

When people think about palace in Sintra, they usually think about more famous National Palace of Pena.

You can see pictures of colorful and exotic yellow and blue buildings of Pena Palace almost everywhere. And yes, the buildings are indeed very beautiful and you should definitely admire them from the outside!

So, no - Sintra Palace and Pena palace is not one and the same!

Here is a picture of Pena Palace, so that you will understand which is which.

 Sintra National Palace and National Palace of Pena are not the same, this is how Pena Palace looks
 Sintra National Palace and National Palace of Pena are not the same, this is how Pena Palace looks

Related questions

Is Pena Palace worth going inside?

No, Pena Palace is not worth going inside if you only have one day in Sintra (or even 2 days).

If you only have one day in Sintra, save time by NOT going inside Pena Palace (which is just mediocre compared to other palaces). Instead, use the time saved to visit Sintra Palace!

Picture of Pena Palace is attached above so that you can understand which palace is which.

My advice about not going inside Pena Palace might surprise you, as all other websites tell you to visit Pena Palace and go inside it. But that would take an entire day, as the line to see inside the palace is usually huge and will take hours of your day.

So, instead, go and see exotic and pretty buildings of Pena Palace from the outside and on saved time—visit Sintra palace!

So, in conclusion of comparison of Sintra National Palace vs Pena Palace. If you only have time to visit one palace in Sintra, visit Sintra National Palace and skip Pena Palace. Pena Palace is the new Palace, built in 19th century. Sintra Palace was started in 11th century with major addition in 14th century

However, the best is to visit both palaces and just admire Pena Palace from outside, and visit the interior of Sintra Palace - the unique and old palace of Sintra. 

If you are still not sure about my advice, read the blog post above to see why you just can't skip going inside Sintra National Palace. 

When to visit Sintra National Palace

When planning your trip to the Sintra National Palace, it is best to visit in the months of April-October. During this period, temperatures are pleasant and the palace's surrounding gardens are in full bloom.

It is also worth noting that the palace is open every day from 9:30 am-6:00 pm, with extended hours during peak tourist season.

Other Palaces around Sintra worth seeing: attractions nearby

Here is the top 5 of the places to visit in Sintra.

  • Quinta da Regaleira, a manor house surrounded by lush gardens.

  • Pena National Palace or PalĂĄcio Nacional da Pena (see above)

  • Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros), or the Castle of the Moors is a 9th-century ruin located on a hilltop overlooking the town. I really recommend visiting! The pic is above

  • Chalet and Garden of Condessa d'Edla.

  • Monserrate Park and Palace (Parque e PalĂĄcio de Monserrate), a romantic palace located in a wooded park and surrounded by exotic plants. My friend Steve gives a great account of that place in his guide to Monserrate Palace.

All of these places are well worth a visit and will make your trip to Sintra an unforgettable experience!

Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros)

The  view of the Castle of Moors or  Sintra Moorish Castle in Sintra
The  view of the Castle of Moors or  Sintra Moorish Castle in Sintra

I hope you will enjoy Sintra National Palace!

Let's connect on social media, the links are in the footer.