You plan to visit the Pena National Palace in Sintra from Lisbon? This monument is a must-see in the city and you can visit both the interior and the gardens… as long as you avoid the crowds, as the queue in front of Pena Palace often becomes endless!
In this article, I give you some information about the place but also tips to visit the palace from Lisbon. Opening hours, prices, how to get to Pena Palace from Sintra station, I share with you useful information but also a visit of the monument with plenty of pictures.
- What’s the history of the Pena Palace?
- Inside Pena Palace in Sintra
- In the gardens of the Pena Palace in Sintra
- Practical information for visiting the Pena Palace from Lisbon
What’s the history of the Pena Palace?
The small town of Sintra, located inland about 30 km (19 miles) northwest of Lisbon, was once a popular summer resort for Portugal’s wealthy. Situated in a low mountain region, the town offered a less stifling climate than Lisbon. Kings, queens, aristocrats and nobles therefore had palaces and summer residences built there, allowing them to enjoy fresh air…
The Pena Palace in Sintra, painted in yellow and brick red, is one of them and its image is often used today to represent Sintra. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, it was one of the main residences of the Portuguese royal family in the 19th century.
The building is perched on the heights of the city and is a sort of patchwork of architectural styles, a choice made at a time when people liked exoticism. Here, neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance, neo-Manuelan and neo-Moorish styles were combined.
For several centuries, the site of the present National Palace of Pena was dedicated to a hermitage, Nossa Senhora da Pena, built in the 12th century and transformed into a royal monastery in the early 16th century. In 1755, the great Lisbon earthquake almost destroyed this monastery, but religious activity continued… which explains why today, during the visit, you can come across the “monk’s cave” (a former place of spiritual retreat) and the palace chapel, a legacy of that time.
In the 19th century, after having experienced absolute monarchy, Portugal fell into a civil war that lasted until 1834, at the end of which a constitutional monarchy was established and religious orders were abolished.
It was at this time that Queen Maria II and her husband Ferdinand II bought the land of the former monastery. At first they hoped to rebuild the building as a summer residence, but in the end they decided to build a palace using the existing buildings. The plans were drawn up by Baron de Eschwege, a German engineer, geologist, geographer and architect.
The gardens were laid out and the interior of the Pena Palace was decorated with numerous works from the royal collections. On the death of Queen Maria II, her husband remarried the Countess of Edla, for whom he built a cottage in the palace grounds.
A tradition was established: the Kings and Queens of Portugal began to make a habit of staying in Sintra in the summer, sometimes dividing their time between the palace and the pretty seaside town of Cascais.
In 1910, Portugal became a republic… and the “Palacio Nacional de Pena” a national monument. This made it possible to open the palace to the public. The part now painted in brick red corresponds to the buildings of the old monastery, while the yellow part corresponds to the new palace built by the royalty.
Now that you know a little bit more about the history, it’s time to visit the National Palace of Pena!
Inside Pena Palace in Sintra
My day at the Pena Palace was somewhat unexpected… because in all the tourist photos, this monument was always seen bathed in sunlight, against a blue sky background. However, when I went there, the area was covered by a thick fog… which, in reality, happens quite regularly!
I advise you to start the visit by the inside of the palace, because it quickly becomes crowded (to give you an idea, I was there at the opening, there was already a queue… and when I came out, you had to wait 1h30 to enter!) It’s also a monument for which it is essential to book your ticket in advance. The ticket will give you access to both inside and the gardens, which I think are the most beautiful part of the Palacio Nacional de Pena.
Indeed, the interior is, in my opinion, of limited interest. The visit is rather quick and, given the crowd, you hardly want to linger. Moreover, I did not find the furniture or the decoration of the rooms very interesting.
Through this palace, you discover the separation that existed at the time between the genders within a house, with rooms rather dedicated to men (office, library, dining room, billiard room/game room) and rooms rather dedicated to women, such as the boudoir and the bedroom (where, in line with this “gendered” character, floral motifs were used to bring delicacy and peace).
The chapel, sacristy and bell tower belong to the old monastery. King Ferdinand II had the 14 monks’ cells converted into larger rooms. The more modern wings, where the kitchen and the reception room are located, were built from 1843 onwards.
The dining room of the Pena Palace is the former refectory of the monks, which dates from the 16th century. It is furnished with an extendable table that can accommodate between 4 and 20 guests. It was designed in the 19th century at the request of the King but imitating an older style from the 17th century.
King Carlos, one of the occupants of the palace, slept in a room that used to be a monastery dormitory. The room was equipped with a toilet, a luxury at the time. This is the Queen’s room:
We also discover the study that was first used by the Countess of Edla (Ferdinand II’s second wife) and then by Queen Amelia. There is also an Arabic room, which was used to keep visitors waiting.
The large banqueting hall, followed by the “Stag Room”, was used for the King’s grand receptions.
The kitchen, with its beautiful copperware bearing the monogram of King Ferdinand II and the initials of the palace (“PP”), is also visible.
Not forgetting the former chapel of the monastery.
In the gardens of the Pena Palace in Sintra
This is, for me, the most beautiful part of the visit to the Palacio de Pena. A 200-hectare park full of exotic plants, which gives the impression of being in an enchanted forest…
If I can give you an advice, it is not to stay on the main roads but to go through the small paths because there are a lot of things to discover: bridges, flowers, streams, fountains, lakes…
The vegetation is lush, with ferns growing in abundance, particularly in the “Valley of the Queen’s Fern”, which adjoins the “Camellia Garden”.
You will discover this cross (the “Cruz Alta”), which once marked the highest point of the Sintra hills, at 528 metres above sea level. It was installed in the 16th century. But it was partly destroyed by lightning in 1997.
It was rebuilt and placed in the park itself, while a copy was put back on the hill. If the weather is good during your visit, you can enjoy a view of the palace itself.
It’s a place that awakens your childlike soul and on this day, in the mist, it looked even more magical.
You also come across a farm, with sheep, horses, a cow, a donkey, a rooster, chickens…
The Countess of Edla’s chalet (“Casa do Regalo”), which I have already mentioned, can also be visited (for an additional fee). Inspired by alpine architecture, it had to be rebuilt after a major fire in 1999. Its cladding is not made of wood but of painted plaster, the rest of the decoration incorporates cork to underline the doors, windows and other elements of the architecture.
You will also come across the “Fountain of the Little Birds”, a neo-Moorish pavilion topped by a dome and housing a fountain.
Not to mention greenhouses and lakes…
It takes several hours of walking to enjoy this park in all its richness, but if you love nature, it’s definitely worth exploring! It’s also one of the fun things to do as a family as children can have a great time in the gardens (only risk: losing them!).
Practical information for visiting the Pena Palace from Lisbon
How to get to Pena Palace from Lisbon?
The easiest way to get to Sintra is to take the train from the Rossio station in Lisbon, which has regular departures (2 per hour in general, find the timetable online here). You can pay for your journey with the Viva Viagem transport card, which can be used in the Lisbon area, or buy a ticket for the occasion (less than 5€ for a return trip). The journey takes 40 or 55 minutes depending on the departure time.
There are also trains from Oriente station, east of Lisbon. The fastest trains take 47 minutes to get there (beware, at some times the journey takes over 1 hour 50 minutes!).
When you arrive in Sintra, exit the station on the right. You will come across a bus stop for the 434 line, which is the one you should take to reach the Pena Palace. It also stops at other places of interest in Sintra: the Moorish castle (Castelo dos Mouros) and the historic centre. You can buy a hop-on, hop-off ticket (about 7€) which allows you to get on and off the bus freely.
If you have a car at your disposal during your trip, I really don’t recommend coming to Sintra with one. There are few car parks available and no matter what, you will not be able to park close to the palaces for the visits as spaces are very limited. In any case, if you take the car from Lisbon, park at the foot of the Sintra hills, near the train station… then take the bus for the visits.
Also, I don’t recommend walking up from the station to the palace. On foot, it’s about a 5km (3.1 miles) walk, and a quite steep one… and above all, the road is often narrow and without any real pavement, so that it’s not very safe for pedestrians. Even if the price of the bus may seem high, it will save you precious time!
How to buy a ticket for the Pena Palace?
I strongly advise you tobuy your ticket online in advance. These all-inclusive tickets include entrance to the palace, access to the park and also entrance to the Countess of Edla’s cottage.
If you would like a ticket for just part of the grounds, you can purchase this on site (separate tickets can be purchased for the gardens and the Countess of Edla’s Cottage, for example).
I advise you to arrive at the site a little before the official opening time (and when I say “at the site”, I really mean in front of the Pena Palace), to start with the inside of the palace and then to go and enjoy the gardens and the chalet at leisure.
Can you visit the Pena Palace with a guide?
If you don’t want to deal with the logistics from Lisbon, it is possible to book an excursion with an English-speaking guide, depending on your tastes:
- This one, offered by Inside Lisbon, includes (if you choose the “with tickets” option) the visit of the Pena Palace, the historical centre of Sintra and then the discovery of the pretty seaside resort of Cascais and the viewpoint of Cabo da Roca. This is a small group tour, perfect if you want to avoid the “herd” aspect of the larger tours.
- This tour, offered by Go2Lisbon, follows the same itinerary (with Cascais and Cabo da Roca), also in a small group, but does not include the entrance to the palace, which you can buy in addition.
There is also the possibility to combine the visits to the Pena Palace and the Quinta da Regaleira (again, the entrance fee to the Pena Palace will have to be paid on site with the help of your guide).
These tours all depart from Lisbon on a one-day basis.
What are the opening hours of the Pena Palace?
Pena Palace opens at 9.30am and closes at 6.30pm, with the last possible entry at 6pm. The gardens are open from 9am to 7pm, with the last entry at 6pm.
Last visit tips before you go!
During the visit, information boards are available in Spanish and English, with brief explanations and a QR code that you can read with your smartphone if you want to know more.
You should also be aware that there are carts inside Pena Park that can take people from one point to another on the route, as the park is extremely large. There is a charge for the ticket (a few euros) but it may be worth it if you don’t want to walk too far or if you come to Sintra for the day and have a tight schedule.
Don’t forget to bring warm clothing: the temperature difference between cities like Lisbon and Sintra can be significant.
Near the palace, you can visit the Moorish castle (which offers a beautiful view of Pena) before returning to the historic centre of Sintra for a late lunch, for example. You can then spend the afternoon visiting other places, such as the Quinta da Regaleira, which I loved, or the magnificent Montserrat Palace.
In my opinion, this is a must-see on your trip to Lisbon: the entire cultural landscape of Sintra is classified as a Unesco World Heritage Site, as much for its history as for its vegetation, its typical European romantic character, so you are guaranteed to spend a day rich in discoveries, whatever the visit programme you create!