The Moorish Castle may not be as elaborate as Pena Palace or the National Palace, but it is a really fascinating place. Now the castle is just ruins, but there is still lots to see and the views are spectacular. It ended up being my favorite place in Sintra, so I wanted to share some of the history of the Moorish Castle and the highlights of our visit.
Note: The Moorish Castle is also known as the Castle of the Moors or in Portuguese, Castelo dos Mouros.
Brief History of the Moorish Castle
The castle was built at the top of the Sintra hills, on extremely uneven terrain, by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century mainly for protection. It was conquered by King Afonso Henriques in 1147, and the castle’s Muslim rule ended.
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake caused considerable damage to the chapel and affected the stability of the castle. Later once peace was restored, the castle lost its strategic importance as there was no need to provide protection. Soon after the Moorish Castle was abandoned.
In 1838, King Ferdinand II acquired the Moorish Castle along with the Pena Palace. He worked to restore the medieval ruin and surrounding areas. In 1940, there was another restoration in preparation for the ceremonies celebrating the foundation of Portugal.
In 1955, the Sintra Hills where the Moorish Castle is built was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s hard to comprehend the castle is over 1000 years old!
What to see at the Moorish Castle
It’s a little bit of a walk from the bus stop to the Moorish Castle. It’s hard to say how long the walk takes because we stopped along the way to take pictures of the view and see some points of interest. Walking from the bus stop you can’t see the town or Sintra’s other attractions but the green of the Sintra Hills is still photo worthy! You will pass the guardhouse, which now actually houses a restroom and cafe!
Looking up towards the castle you will see several granaries. Granaries are structures carved out of rock to store food, mainly grains and legumes. This demonstrates the Arabic influence since this method of preserving food has been described in several Arabic agricultural texts.
Before you reach the castle, you will also find a burial area and a church. There is one marker that I found really moving, it was inscribed – “What man has assembled only God can set apart.” The quote is alluding to the fact that it’s impossible for us to tell whether the remains are Christian or Muslim. It was also an interesting quote given that nature had turned the castle into ruins.
The church that is next to the tombs is interesting. It is believed to have been founded in the 12th century. They have put in what looks like brand new floors. You will see remnants of the mural painting and also some interesting artifacts from the archaeological investigation site outside the church and other parts of the castle.
The highlight of our visit to the Moorish castle was the castle wall walk. It looked a little scary but it wasn’t too bad. You have to be careful because the steps and walkway are uneven, but the views are worth it. Some of the shots I took from the castle wall walk looked like I had used a drone. Well, a drone is on my Christmas list!
If you want to do the castle wall walk, I would recommend that you wear practical shoes. I wore ballet flats and that was fine, but heels or flip flops could be dangerous. Also, when we went, it was quite windy, I wished I would have put my hair up.
You can get great pictures of Pena Palace and other Sinta attractions including the Monserrate Palace, Palace of the Seteais, and the National Palace from the wall of the castle. On a clear day, you may even be able to see the Atlantic. I really cannot say enough about how magical the views are!
You also have great views of the Moorish Castle during the castle wall walk. Seeing it from above, helped me visualize what the castle would have been like in its prime. I also couldn’t help but think how difficult it must have been to build especially all those years ago.
You will also want to visit the Cistern at the Moorish Castle. It is a little hidden because it is underground, but you can find the entrance close to the cafe. It was built back in the 12th century to catch and store rainwater. There is no record of the cistern ever drying up and legend says that a Moorish king is buried underneath.
Tickets for the Moorish Castle
You can save money (and time) by buying your tickets online. You can then just show your tickets on your phone to be scanned at the entrance to the castle. If you don’t buy your tickets online, the ticket office is located close to the bus stop. The discounted prices are €7.60 for adults and €6.18 for children age 6-17 and seniors aged 65 and up. Children 5 and under are free.
Moorish Castle Hours
During high season the Moorish Castle is open from 9:30 am to 8 pm with the last entry being at 7 pm. During the low season, the hours are from 10 am to 6 pm with the last entry being 5 pm. I would recommend allowing 2 hours to see the castle. Also, go early to try and beat the crowds.
Facilities at the Moorish Castle
In addition to the facilities at the guardhouse, inside the castle, there is a small cafe. The cafe seating area is outside. You will also find restrooms and a gift shop.
How to Get to the Moorish Castle
From Lisbon, you can take the train from the Rossio Station direct to Sintra. Once you get to the Sintra Train Station you should get the 434 Bus to the Moorish Castle stop. The Castle is a short walk from the bus stop. There is also access to the castle from Pena Park.
Have you been to the Moorish Castle in Sintra? Or another castle that is now ruins? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments.
Expert Tips for Visiting the Moorish Castle Sintra:
- Buy your tickets online to save time and money
- Be sure to do the castle wall walk and see the archaeological sites.
- Go early to try and beat the crowds.
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