For someone who has already lived in Lisbon, when people ask me what to do in the Portuguese capital, I always suggest spending a day or two in Sintra, the land of enchanted palaces! The National Palace of Pena (in Portuguese, Palácio Nacional da Pena), on top of one of the highest mountains in this town, is the king of them all. With endless panoramic views, it’s full of colors and details, reminiscent of Disney castles.
In addition to having been elected one of the “7 Wonders of Portugal” in 2007, the National Palace of Pena is also considered the first romantic palace in Europe. For that reason, it served as an inspiration to other historic buildings, including the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, which was built only thirty years later!
So, do you want to know more about the National Palace Of Pena: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the National Palace of Pena
- How to Get to the National Palace of Pena
- What to See at the National Palace of Pena
- National Palace of Pena
- Pena Park
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Brief History of the National Palace of Pena
The history of the National Palace of Pena dates back to the 12th century when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built. At the end of the 15th century, King Manuel I had the small Catholic temple converted into a monastery, which he donated to the Order of Saint Jerome in 1503.
In the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena was left in ruins – a situation that was aggravated by the extinction of the religious orders in 1834. Left to abandon, the enclosure was bought by King Ferdinand II (the husband of Queen Maria II) in 1838, who decided to build a palace in the romantic style.
The person in charge of the project was the German architect Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, who transformed the building of the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena into royal apartments and added a new structure for the visitors and events halls.
Nowadays, the section in shades of red and yellow of the National Palace of Pena corresponds to the so-called “Old Palace” (the former monastery), while the part covered with tiles in shades of blue (including the large yellow tower) constitutes the “New Palace”.
Did you know that the National Palace of Pena was part of Portugal’s fourth set of inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List? This 19th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in Berlin (Germany), between December 4th and 9th, 1995.
However, the Cultural Landscape of Sintra includes many other UNESCO World Heritage Sites besides the National Palace of Pena, such as the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, the Convent of the Capuchos, the Moorish Castle, the National Palace of Sintra, the Palace of Monserrate, the Quinta da Regaleira, and the Villa Sassetti, among others.
Nowadays, Portugal is the ninth country in Europe and the eighteenth country in the world with the most UNESCO sites, tied with Poland. It has seventeen heritage assets (both cultural and natural) inscribed on the world list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
In the meantime, I’ve already had the opportunity to visit fourteen of them:
- Alto Douro Wine Region (2001)
- Convent of Christ in Tomar (1983)
- Cultural Landscape of Sintra (1995) – Chalet of the Countess of Edla, Convent of the Capuchos, Moorish Castle, National Palace of Pena, National Palace of Sintra, Palace of Monserrate, Quinta da Regaleira, Villa Sassetti
- Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (2012)
- Historic Center of Évora (1986)
- Historic Center of Guimarães (2001)
- Historic Center of Porto, Luiz I Bridge, and Monastery of Serra do Pilar (1996)
- Monastery of Alcobaça (1989)
- Monastery of Batalha (1983)
- Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belém in Lisbon (1983)
- Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Côa Valley (1998, 2010)
- Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden, and Hunting Park (Tapada) (2019)
- Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (2019)
- University of Coimbra – Alta and Sofia (2012)
How to Get to the National Palace of Pena
There are three ways to reach the National Palace of Pena from the historic center of Sintra: by car, by bus, or on foot. Since the monument is at one of the highest points of the Sintra Mountains, it’s possible that you skip walking there. But there are some walking routes (from the town of Sintra to the National Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle) for trails and nature lovers, which you can consult at the Tourist Office!
The three times I visited Sintra, I traveled by car – although I always chose to leave it in a free car park (at the entrance to the town) and opt for the bus. This is something I highly recommend, especially during peak season. Not only is it difficult to find a space outside each palace, but the parking lot itself is quite expensive.
If you’re in Lisbon and want to travel by public transportation to Sintra, you can check the train timetables on the CP – Comboios de Portugal website. Once at the town’s train station, all you have to do is take the Scotturb bus 434, which takes you to the National Palace of Pena. This tourist line is called “Pena Circuit” and has a fixed cost of €6.90 (round trip).
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The National Palace of Pena is open every day, from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, being that the ticket office closes at 5:30 pm and the last entry is at 6 pm. On the other hand, Pena Park opens half an hour earlier and closes half an hour later (ie, at 9 am and 7 pm, respectively).
As for tickets, they cost €14 (from 18 to 64 years old) or €12.5 (from 6 to 17 years old, and for over 65s), and provide access to both the Palace and the Park. There’s also a family ticket (for two adults and two children) for €49. If you prefer to visit only Pena Park, there’s a cheaper ticket at 7.5€ or 6.5€. The family ticket that corresponds to this type of visit costs €26.
TIP: If you already know the day and time you want to visit the National Palace of Pena (and/or if you want to visit more than one monument in Sintra), I recommend that you buy the entrances through the Parques de Sintra online ticket office. This way, you have access to an automatic 5% discount!
What to See at the National Palace of Pena
National Palace of Pena
The National Palace of Pena is a true paradise for lovers of history, architecture, and photography! Actually, one of its most unique features is the fact that the royal building looks like a group of crowded palaces, as it mixes the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, Neo-Renaissance, and Neo-Manueline styles in its architecture!
So, there are some points of interest that you really shouldn’t miss when visiting this former royal palace:
EXTERIOR OF THE PALACE NATIONAL OF PENA
- Monumental Gate
- Sentry Walk
- Courtyard of Arches
- Triton’s Terrace
- Coach House’s Terrace
INTERIOR OF THE PALACE NATIONAL OF PENA
- Manueline Cloister
- Pantry & Dining Room
- Chambers of King Carlos I
- Chambers of Queen Amélia
- Queen’s Terrace
- Smoking Room
- Great Hall
- Stag Room
The Monumental Gate of the National Palace of Pena is, in fact, a large triumphal arch dating from the 16th century, which features architectural elements similar to those of the Belém Tower and the Casa dos Bicos (two monuments and museums located in the Portuguese capital).
This main entrance still crosses the old drawbridge, as well as a tunnel through which carriages passed towards the upper courtyards and terraces. Nowadays, the royal horse-drawn carriages have disappeared, having been replaced by thousands of tourists from across the world!
Contrary to what happened in medieval castles (and other similar military fortresses), the Sentry Walk of the National Palace of Pena never had functions of guard or defense. In other words, this walkway that goes around the palace and ends/starts at the Courtyard of Arches only serves as a viewpoint and a leisure space.
If you’re lucky with the weather and visit the National Palace of Pena on a clear day, you can see from the Sentry Walk: the city of Lisbon, the beaches of the Cascais line, the Moorish Castle, the conical chimneys of the National Palace of Sintra, the Seteais Palace, the gardens of the Quinta da Regaleira and even the Atlantic Ocean!
Courtyard of Arches
The Courtyard of Arches is probably the most popular and photographed spot in the National Palace of Pena. Located at the back of the building, it’s a terrace with a balcony in ocher tones, from which you can observe both the Atlantic Ocean and the green landscape of the Sintra Mountains.
It’s also in the Courtyard of Arches that you’ll find the famous staircase shared in so many images on social networks, as well as a romantic version of the most famous window in Portugal: the Chapter House Window (or Manueline Window) of the Convent of Christ, in Tomar!
The Triton’s Terrace is one of the first points of interest that you see right outside the tunnel (after the Monumental Gate). However, if you roam the Sentry Walk first, you’ll only pass through this courtyard at the end of your visit to the exterior of the National Palace of Pena.
Well, Triton’s Terrace was named after the mythological monster that decorates the entrance to the “New Palace”. This macabre being, who is half man and half fish, represents the water world (downstairs) and the terrestrial world (upstairs).
If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the low part is decorated with various marine elements, such as corals, shells, and whelks. As for the top part, it resembles a large vine, full of leaves and bunches of grapes.
Coach House’s Terrace
Due to its location, you can choose to explore the Coach House’s Terrace both before and after visiting the rooms and chambers of the National Palace of Pena. This is because it’s located right next to Triton’s Terrace and the Kitchen (the last point of interest on the interior itinerary).
As the name implies, this was the house where the carriages used by the royal family and their guests were kept. These stayed on the ground floor (which now houses the Shop of the National Palace of Pena) and the upper floor was destined for the servants’ rooms.
The Manueline Cloister of the National Palace of Pena is one of the few spaces in the Royal Monastery of Our Monastery of Pena that have survived to this day. In fact, even though it has undergone refurbishment work in the last decade, its state of conservation is simply impressive!
Constructed in the first half of the 16th century, the Manueline Cloister is composed of two columned galleries – one on the ground floor and the other on the upper floor. In terms of decoration, the covering of Hispanic Arab tiles stands out, as well as the spires that display the armillary sphere and the cross of the Order of Christ (two symbols of King Manuel I).
Pantry & Dining Room
The Pantry and the Dining Room are two of the first rooms you’ll pass through on your visit to the interior of the National Palace of Pena. Like the Manueline Cloister, they’re located in the oldest part and, curiously, had a use very similar utility as when the building functioned as a monastery.
In the Pantry’s cabinet, you can admire three dining services that belonged to the Portuguese Royal House: one by Vista Alegre (Ílhavo, Portugal), one by Pickman (Seville, Spain), and one by Haviland (Limoges, France). The first two were designed for King Ferdinand II, the first owner of the National Palace of Pena. As for the third, it was ordered by King Carlos I.
The Dining Room is a magnificent space, with its tile covering produced by the Eugénio Roseira Factory (Lisbon, Portugal). Once the refectory of the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena, the room also received custom-made furniture by the Barbosa & Costa House (Lisbon, Portugal), in the 1860s.
Chambers of King Carlos I
The Chambers of King Carlos I are on the ground floor of the Manueline Cloister, while the Chambers of Queen Amelia (his wife) occupy the upper floor. In this set of rooms and bedrooms, you can visit the Room of the Chamberlain (or Chamber Man, a nobleman who watched over the King’s Room), the King’s Office, the King’s Bedroom itself, and the Bathroom (the first to be part of a royal residence in Portugal and which also served as a Dressing Room).
The Office of King Carlos I was the former Chapter House Room of the monastery, which King Fernando II had converted into the Coffee Room. The figures of nymphs and fauns covering the walls were portrayed by King Carlos himself, who was a talented painter and photographer. After the 1908 Regicide (which killed the King and the Crown Prince, Luís Filipe), the room continued to be used as a work office and living room by his second son, King Manuel II.
The Bedroom of King Carlos is furnished with pieces from his former chambers at the Palace of Necessities, in Lisbon. Previously, it had been the bedroom of the mother of the Countess of Edla (the second wife of King Ferdinand II and heiress of the National Palace of Pena).
Chambers of Queen Amélia
The Chambers of Queen Amélia include the Bedroom of the Secretary, another Bathroom, the Bedroom of the Lady-in-Waiting, the Queen’s Room, the Dressing Room, the Tea Room, and the Queen’s Office. Queen Amélia lived on the first floor of the former monastery from 1890 to 1910, after the murder of her husband and first child, and days before the Implantation of the Republic.
The Bedroom of Queen Amélia was originally the Bedroom of King Fernando II and the Countess of Edla. Here, it’s impossible not to notice the magnificent four-poster bed made of rosewood, the neo-Moorish stucco covering (by Domingos Meira), or the open views over the neighboring Moorish Castle!
The Office of Queen Amélia served as a Living Room for the Countess of Edla, between the 1860s and 1880s. The furniture and decoration pieces that make up the space are original, the most impressive being the queen’s desk. During the period in which she lived at the National Palace of Pena, Queen Amélia used this magnificent desk to read or write her letters.
The Queen’s Terrace is one of my favorite places in the National Palace of Pena. In fact, this is one of the best spots to observe the fanciful architecture of the palace and the surrounding natural landscape!
The existing metallic structure on this terrace was ordered to be built by King Carlos I and Queen Amélia. Its function was to support an awning, which protected the monarchs from the sun and heat, in the hottest months of the year.
At the other end of the courtyard, there’s the Arabic Cabinet, where there used to be an oculus for long-distance observations. Another interesting detail at the Queen’s Terrace is a sundial with an automatic cannon, which sounded every day at midday.
The Sacristy of the National Palace of Pena is one of the last rooms that can be visited in the so-called “Old Palace”.
As the name implies, it was the room where the Eucharist was prepared (which took place in the Chapel, the monastery’s old church), as well as the place where all the most valuable religious objects were kept.
Nowadays, it houses two showcases with three floors each, where various pieces in silver and gilded silver are on display.
All of them were part of the private collection of the Portuguese Royal House and were used in masses and other liturgical celebrations in the palace.
The Smoking Room is the first room in the “New Palace” on this visit to the interior of the National Palace of Pena. The oak furniture is original from the time of King Ferdinand II, who commissioned it from the Barbosa & Costa House in the 1860s (the same company that produced the furniture for the Dining Room).
However, in my opinion, to see the two most interesting details in this room, you have to look up! The ceiling was clearly inspired by Mudejar art and architecture – probably to match the water pipes, which were very much in vogue at the time. And the glass chandelier evokes a more naturalistic environment, in harmony with Pena Park.
After so many bedrooms and rooms, we finally arrive at the most important and sumptuous room of the National Palace of Pena: the Great Hall! This ample space was intended for the daily entertainment of the Royal Family, the reception of the most distinguished guests, and the holding of formal events and parties.
The Great Hall was also called the Billiard Room, due to a large pool table that existed in the heart of the room. Furthermore, it’s known that the monarchs and the rest of the family also played checkers and dominoes. The remaining furniture (including the hanging chandelier and the four other chandeliers) was, once again, created by the Barbosa & Costa House.
Although the National Palace of Pena has a Dining Room (already mentioned in this guide), King Ferdinand II decided to build the Stag Room as a second Dining Room (or a Banquet Room, to be more specific).
Guests who weren’t granted access to the Royal Family’s small private Dining Room ate their meals in this large, circular room, which is part of the famous turret of the “New Palace”.
The name is a clear allusion to the various deer heads and antlers that decorate the walls of the room, evidencing the Portuguese Royal House’s taste for hunting and a theme that was very common in the decoration of European palaces, throughout the 19th century.
The large dimensions and the vast number of rooms of the National Palace of Pena almost let you guess the size of its Kitchen, even before you pass through it! At the back of the room, there are three chimneys, each designed for a wood stove (although only two of the original stoves have been preserved).
And at the entrance you see on the right, you could access the oven. Here, there are also hundreds of pots, pans, crockery, cutlery, and other kitchen utensils used in the preparation of meals for the various generations of kings and queens, who inhabited the National Palace of Pena.
If you think the National Palace of Pena is huge, wait until you see Pena Park! With about 85 hectares, this landscaping project carried out by King Ferdinand II transformed the Sintra Mountains into a set of gardens, lakes, fountains, viewpoints, and statues (among other spaces and structures).
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to explore all the corners of Pena Park in one visit, even if you spend the entire day in this green paradise. In fact, I confess that I only explored a small part of the forest area, because my main objective that day was to visit the National Palace of Pena and the Chalet of the Countess of Edla.
In other words, the points of interest in Pena Park mentioned in this guide are only those found on the way to the Chalet from the Palace. If you prefer, you can take this same route on a small tourist bus (the price is included in the ticket) or take a longer walking tour and include stops at:
- Saint Catherine’s Heights
- Warrior Statue
- Queen’s Table
- Temple of Columns
- Riding Arena
- Dovecote House
- Garden of Queen Amélia
- High Cross
- Grotto of the Monk
- Queen’s Fern Valley
- Camellia Garden
- Fountain of Small Birds
- Valley of Lakes
- Pena Farm
- Garden & Chalet of the Countess of Edla
Fountain of Small Birds
The Fountain of Small Birds is a hidden pavilion in the heart of Pena Park, whose name comes from the small bird statues placed on an interior parapet.
Constructed in an Islamic style, the Fountain of Small Birds has a hexagonal plan and a spherical dome, which gives it a bulky look.
On the outside, a ring decorated with inscriptions in Arabic stands out, mentioning the two monarchs associated with the Pena enclosure (King Manuel I and King Fernando II).
Another detail that is worth noting is the tiling of the walls, reminiscent of those found in the Manueline Cloister!
Valley of Lakes
The Valley of Lakes is made up of five lakes of different sizes, which are connected by small waterfalls. The two furthest north are also decorated with duck houses, which shelter not only ducks but also swans, geese, and other waterfowl.
And did you know that the two duck-houses of the Valley of Lakes were inspired by the architectural style of the two most imposing buildings in the Sintra Mountains (the National Palace of Pena and the Moorish Castle)? See if you can find the similarities in shapes and colors through the photos I’ve shared!
The Pena Farm is located in the westernmost part of Pena Park, a few meters from the Garden & Chalet of the Countess of Edla. Founded in 1843, its main objective was to provide country walks, framed in the picturesque forest of the National Palace of Pena.
Currently, the Pena Farm comprises the Stables (a building that served as a barn, warehouse, and stables), a Rabbit Hutch, an Aviary, the Lake House (which functioned as a shelter), and a series of greenhouses, where King Ferdinand II and the Countess of Edla planted several plant and botanical species.
Garden & Chalet of the Countess of Edla
The last stop in this guide about the National Palace of Pena is so stunning, that I thought it deserved an independent article! I’m talking about the Garden & Chalet of the Countess of Edla, built by King Ferdinand II and Elise Hensler (the countess and his second wife) between 1864 and 1869!
Designed in the style of alpine chalets, the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is a much more modest residence than the National Palace of Pena. Therefore, it served as a small refuge for the King and the Countess, who could thus celebrate their first days as newlywed, far from the gaze and comments of the Portuguese Court.
WARNING: As it happens with Pena Park, the visit to the Chalet of the Countess of Edla is included in the ticket price for the National Palace of Pena!
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