As if it were a page torn right out of a fairy tale, the Pena Palace and Park, is a fine example of 19th-century romanticism in Portugal. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before.
Located just outside of Lisbon in the Sintra hills, the Palace was built in such a way that it is visible from any point in the Park. The park consists of a forest and lush exotic gardens with over 500 different species of trees originating from across the globe.
Most deservedly, the Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Unique, absolutely it is! And, that is why it is a definite must-see place when in Lisbon.
Once Upon A Time...
In the middle ages stood a chapel dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Pena’ that stood on the top of a hill overlooking the town of Sintra. In the 13th century, due to its serene and peaceful surroundings, royalty ordered the construction of a monastery to house 18 monks. For centuries it was considered a quiet place for meditation. In the 18th century, it was severely damaged, first by lightning and then in the great Lisbon earthquake in 1755, reducing it to ruins all but the original chapel.
It wasn’t until 1838, when King Ferdinand II decided to acquire the monastery and the surrounding land which included a few other estates peppered along the Sintra hill. This led to the construction of the architectural marvel now known as the Pena Palace.
The Pena Palace is a fusion of so many different styles from Neo-Gothic to New-Manueline to New-Islamic to Neo-Renaissance. It’s majestic and romantic. Almost the entire Palace stands on a rock formation in the Sintra mountains. So, are you ready for your tour? Come, let me show you…
The bright vivid colours slowly faded since their original painting in mid-19th century, to such an extent that it was visually identified as being entirely grey. In 1996, Pena Palace underwent an extensive restoration project, and this included repainting the exterior walls the original colours. Two decades later, the colours are still so bright and vibrant.
The Pena Park is a vast forested area of 200 hectares that surround the Palace. The same Romanticism style of the Palace is carried through to the majestic gardens. The King ordered vegetation from all around the globe, including sequoias from America, ferns from Australia, succulents from Africa, ginkgoes from China, cryptomeria from Japan; and Western red-cedar.
The gardens are filled with a maze of walking paths, secret pathways, pavilions, ponds, and benches. The Park is cool and shaded. With only small pockets of light streaming through the tall towering trees casts a warm glow. It’s so quiet and serene. Don’t rush your visit in the Park, because in my opinion, it is the real highlight.
Pena Palace is in the historic town of Sintra which is easily accessible by road or rail from Lisbon. By train, I took the Sintra Line directly from the Rossio Station (“Estação do Rossio”); it takes just under 45 minutes to reach the historic center of Sintra.
Purchase your ticket at the train station by buying the “Viva Viagem” card. The initial purchase price for this card is €0.50, but it is reusable for all other train/bus travel in and around Lisbon. All you do is top up the card on the machine and select Sintra as the destination. It costs €2.25 one way from the Rossio station. When you arrive at the Sintra train station, take the tourist bus 434 from Sintra train station to the Pena Palace.
The Palace is on a steep hill, about 5 km (or 3 miles) from the train station. So even though it doesn’t seem too far away, walking there will take you far too long due to the steep hairpin turns up the mountain.
The local area recommends visitors take the bus. First, there is very limited parking and the roadway is far too narrow to allow for parking. As well, they are wanting to control the air quality and limit car emissions in this area. You will also find many tuk tuk tour companies offering you a private tour. These will be more pricey than the bus and will take longer to get to the top of the mountain.
There are two different entrance fees for the Pena Palace – a ‘Palace and Park Ticket’ and ‘Park Ticket’. The ‘Palace and Park ticket’ allows entry to the Palace – exterior and interior and the Park. The ‘Park’ ticket provides entry to the Palace exterior only and the Park. I purchased the cheaper ‘Park’ ticket, and think for most visitors, seeing the colourful exterior and walking the Park grounds is the real highlight.
Lastly, as this is one of the most visited attractions in all of Portugal, A LOT (can’t stress it enough) of people go here. I visited in early March, Portugal’s winter and low season, and it was busy! I can’t image what it must be like in peak tourist season. Every guide book or article ever written about Pena Palace will tell you to get there first thing in the morning or towards the end of the day, otherwise there are far too many people to actually appreciate this destination.
Looking for current hours of operation and admission prices, click here.
From Pena Palace you will notice another castle off into the distance. That is the Moorish Castle, or The Castle of The Moors as it may be referred to.
The Moorish Castle is a short walk from Pena Palace, or at least the entrance to it is. Once there it is a bit of a hike to get all the way to the castle and back. So if you are looking to explore more, this is a great option. Just save your stamina, as it makes for a long day.