Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

best castles in Europe - Pena Palace Portugal

Pena Palace is one of the must-visit attractions in Portugal. This stunning bright yellow castle sits on a hilltop in the Sintra Mountains. It is easy to take a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra to visit the Pena Palace.

A Guide to Pena Palace in Sintra

Exploring Pena Palace: History of Pena Palace

Pena Palace or Palacio Nacional da Pena is a 19th-century Romanticist castle. Its location in the mountains, on the Portuguese Riviera, makes the palace so very picturesque. The brightly painted yellow terraces and palace exteriors surrounded by the greenery of Pena Park/forest pulls visitors to the hills every year.

It is important to note that the castle’s history can be traced back to the Middle Ages, where a chapel existed here at the Sintra Hills and was dedicated to Our Lady Pena.

The site used to be visited by King John II and wife Queen Leonor including his successor King Manuel I. The location of the sanctuary was considered sacred. In the later years (15 to 16th centuries), a monastery was built on this site (Order of Saint Jerome).

The Sintra Hills had remained a place of meditation and tranquillity for centuries.

When Lisbon was damaged in the Great Earthquake of 1755, the monastery also suffered damages. And those ruins were left unattended for centuries until Ferdinand II focused his attention to the Sintra Hills to make a summer residence for the royalty!

Construction and Architecture of Pena Palace

The Pena Palace that we can see today was built in the 19th century, as a summer home for Portuguese royalty. It was built by King Ferdinand II who had a very flamboyant and larger than life taste. It is an adaptation of 16th-century monastery ruins) and an imitation of a medieval fortress.

King Ferdinand set out to transform the ruins and the work of the Palace was assigned to Lieutenant-General and mining engineer Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. The latter was known to have designed many castles in Germany and beyond.

The construction took place between 1842 and 1854 and was completed by 1847. King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II had a lot of say in the design and decorative elements of the palace. They definitely left a stunning palace for the world to see.

The castle itself is unique from bright colours to Islamic influence on the interiors and room decor. A portion of the Pena Palace resembles medieval European nuance, and its placement in the hills is just another stunning addition to the castle.

Other notable features are the ornate parapets, yellow minarets and a unique purple wing (which is not visible from Sintra town). The purple wing is flanked by a red clock tower which makes the palace very Instagram worthy! All of these features make Pena Palace one of the prime attractions in the Iberian Peninsula.

The interiors of the Palace are equally stunning and are filled with decor and furniture that was meant for the nobility in the early 20th century.

The windows of the Pena Palace opens up to the forest, which is filled with many statues and ideals of Romanticism including gorgeous views of the town of Sintra and other attractions like the Moorish Castle and the Quinta da Regaleira. So beautiful are the views and the decorative elements, however, photography is not allowed in the interiors.

On the exterior of the Pena Palace is the lavish Parque da Pena. It is a forest park of 200 hectares, is located close to the palace, and visitors are allowed to access the site. The park is filled with gardens and walking trails where one can find more than 2,000 species of plants.

The gardens were inspired by the English Garden movement of the 18th century. And it is very unique with little figurines, viewpoints, fountains and trails. From here, you can also view the Castle dos Mouros peak (Castle of the Moors).

Pena Palace in the later years

The Pena Palace was abandoned when the Portuguese royal family fled the country during the Revolution of 1910. In the late 20th century, efforts were made to restore the palace back into its old charm.

Today, the Pena Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, and it pulls millions of visitors to the site.

How to visit the Pena Palace today

The nearest airport to visit Pena Palace is located in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal.

From Lisbon, it is an easy train ride to reach the town of Sintra. Using public transportation, it takes 2 hours to reach Sintra and fares start at $5 USD one way. After arriving in Sintra town, one had to take a sightseeing bus (434 for (€6.90 adult return) to reach the hilltop to visit the Pena Palace.

Many travellers walk the hills to reach the palace grounds, however, we do not recommend doing that as the lanes are very steep and vehicles use the same lane. Walking will take you 50 minutes to an hour. Plus if you plan to visit the gardens it will take 3-4 hours to explore and check out all the scenic viewpoints – so save all the energy for actual sightseeing.

There are day tours also available that take you to Sintra (with Pena Palace exploration, plus 2 -3 attractions) and back from Lisbon. Tours start at $95 USD per person, and also includes entry fee to the Pena Palace complex and interiors. With tours, you won’t be able to visit the forest park as there is limited time (unless discussed prior with the guide operator).

We don’t recommend driving there during peak seasons as parking is an issue in the small town of Sintra.

Admission Tickets for Sintra Pena Palace,

  • Palace and Park – This is to visit the palace complex and interiors – €14.00/aults
  • Park only – €7.50 (adult)

In order to view all the staterooms, and terraces it takes about 40 minutes to an hour. Allow additional time for photography, as it is a popular site it is normal to see crowds.

Exploring the Parque de Pena would require additional time and walk/hike. Key areas to check out at the park are Cruz Alta viewpoint (20-minute walk), the Alto de Santa Catarina and the Queen’s Throne (15-minute walk) or Tee Hill (40-minute walk).

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