The first time I saw pictures of Pena National Palace, I knew I must visit Sintra, Portugal. The bright colors of the castles up on the hilltop look like something out of a fairytale. The palace has been considered one of the most romantic castles in the world, so you really must see it for yourself. The architecture is a combination of Neo-Gothic, Neo-Moorish, and Neo-Renaissance styles and it is truly a masterpiece. Pena Palace is popular for good reason, so be prepared to deal with crowds.
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Brief History of Pena Palace
It all started back in the middle ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill after an apparition of the Virgin Mary. In the late 15th century, King Manuel I, a very religious man, ordered a small monastery to be built on the site. (He also sponsored the construction of Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon).
The building sustained significant damage in the big earthquake of 1755. The monastery was reduced to ruins although the chapel stayed in tact. The monastery was abandoned until King Ferdinand II acquired it in 1838 along with the Castle of the Moors and a few other estates in the area.
King Ferdinand’s Transformation
King Ferdinand transformed the remains of the monastery into Pena Palace, also known as the Palacio Nacional da Pena, which would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. He changed the areas where the monks used to live into bigger rooms. However, he soon realized the building wasn’t big enough to be a proper royal palace, so he decided to create a new wing. The part of the building painted in red is the old monastery and the new areas are painted yellow.
After Ferdinand died, the palace went to his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla. Then in 1889, the palace became the property of Portuguese government. The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her final night at the palace before leaving the country in exile during the Republican Revolution of 1910.
The palace quickly became one of Portugal’s most visited monuments. Over time, the colors faded and the palace was entirely gray. By the end of the 20th century, the palace was repainted to its original colors. In 1995, the palace and the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
Pena National Palace Opening Hours and Tickets
The National Palace of Pena is open from 9:45 am to 7 pm during the high season. The last ticket is sold 6:15 though. Pena Park is open from 9:30 am to 8 pm. The hours are reduced during the off season.
You can get tickets for the Park and the Palace or just the Park. The tickets for both attractions are €14 for adults, €12.50 for children 6-17 years old or seniors over 65, or €49 for a family ticket which includes 2 adults and 2 children. You can save €1 per person by going during what they call happy hour from 9:30-10:30. You can also save time and money by purchasing your Pena Palace ticket online along with the other attractions in Sintra that you plan on visiting.
Getting to Pena Palace
The 434 bus (which you can pick up from the Sintra train station) does have a stop at the entrance to Pena Palace or it is a short walk from the Moorish Castle. However, it is a steep climb up from the entrance to the actual palace. There is a small bus that will take you there for an extra €3 per person. You can buy the tickets in the gift shop close to the bus stop.
We decided it was worth it because we knew we would still be doing lots of walking the rest of the day and wanted to give our feet a break. We were glad it was a quick ride to the top because it was quite bumpy!
Pena Palace Inside Tour
I saw the line to go inside Pena Palace as soon as I reached the main level. I was a little intimidated at first, but the line to see the Pena Palace inside moved quickly. The queue ran the length of the courtyard area but we only waited about 20 minutes. While we were waiting, we admired the newt that watches over the entrance to the inner yard. He is half a man, half a fish, his hair gradually turns into branches and symbolizes the four elements: fire, water, air and earth.
Once we got inside Pena Palace, it was still crowded and we moved through the rooms at a slow pace. The rooms are decorated as they would have been when royalty used the palace as a summer home. I was really impressed with the tile work, especially in the inner courtyard. I loved all the detail and carvings on the furniture pieces.
Note: Some of the rooms were under renovation while we were there. Photography is allowed inside Pena Palace, but selfie sticks are not!
Pena Palace Castle Wall Walk
Just like at the Moorish Castle, you have the opportunity to do a castle wall walk at Pena Palace. Not too far from the entrance to the inside of the castle, you will see the start of the walk. You will definitely want to bring your camera for this because the views are spectacular. The walk is not long but I would recommend allowing 20-30 minutes if you are the type that likes to take pictures.
Pena Palace Chapel
There is a small chapel inside Pena Palace which was built in the 16th century. Amazingly, it was not damaged during the earthquake. Again, the tile work inside is really impressive and I loved the sculptures by the altar. There is also a nice stained glass window. You can enter the chapel from one of the courtyards.
Pena Park (Parque de Pena)
King Ferdinand also played a big role in designing Pena Park. He wanted it to be a maze of romantic paths to impress his guests. The park has plants from all over the world: North American Magnolia, Japanese Camellia, Australian Fern, different cypresses, and cedars. The highlights of the gardens include the statue of King Fernando II overlooking his palace, the lush fern gardens, and the southern viewpoint that has amazing views over the palace. The park covers over 200 hectares, so you will want to allow some time to really explore it.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to see Pena park because we wanted to see as many castles as possible in the one day we had in Sintra. I really hope I make it back so I can take some time to explore the gardens.
Eating at Pena Palace
There are two places to eat at Pena Palace. We went to the first one we got to since we were hungry! However, if we would have gone one more flight up, that cafe has outdoor seating. The food we had was surprisingly good though, especially the cod.
Pena Palace is One of the Highlights in Sintra
You could easily spend a whole day just exploring the National Palace of Pena and Pena Park, but there are several other places you must visit in Sintra – such as the Moorish Castle, National Palace of Sintra, Quinta de Regaleira, and Monserrate Palace, just to name a few. As mentioned in my previous post about Sintra, I would recommend allocating two days in Sintra if your itinerary allows. You can either do two-day trips to Sintra, since it is only a short train ride from Lisbon, or you can spend one night at a hotel in Sintra (check availability and prices for Sintra hotels here).
I think one of the reasons, I like castles and Pena Palace so much is that they make me feel like I am in a fairytale. Pena Palace really is just magical and a must visit for everyone going to Portugal. Have you visited any fairytale castles?
Expert Tips for Visiting Pena Palace:
- Go early and buy your tickets in advance.
- Pay the extra €3 to ride the bus up to the palace.
- Eat at the cafe outside at Pena Palace.
- Allocate enough time so you can see the Palace and the Park – at least half a day.
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