Visiting the National Palace of Sintra

Visiting the National Palace of Sintra: 10 top attractions

The spectacular National Palace of Sintra stands in the heart of the old town and is part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage.

Built in the 14th century King Joao I in a place once occupied by a Moorish castle, the palace is immediately recognizable by its two conical chimneys – a distinctive feature and the hallmark of Sintra itself.

Wealthy, the palace quickly became the summer retreat for a succession of Portuguese monarchs and their retinue, and visitors today are spoiled for choice with one of the country’s most lavish former royal residences. With its lavishly decorated rooms, galleries and corridors, the interior dazzles with an eclectic flourish of Moorish, Gothic and Manueline architectural styles and some of the most talked about ceilings in the country – visitors spend much of their time admiring admiringly truly impressive medieval brushwork and craftsmanship.

Read also: Exploring Palazzo Vecchio (Palazzo della Signoria) in Florence

1 Sala da Brasoes

Sala da Brasões Luiyo / photo modified

A visually stunning manualine door frame sculpted with braided and voluptuous stonework invites visitors over the threshold and into the palace dazzling Coats of Arms Room. Housed in the Tower of Meca on the upper level, the vaulted ceiling of this majestic octagonal hall is decorated with deer holding the coats of arms (brasões) of 72 noble Portuguese families. The heraldic shield of King Manuel I, who had the room decorated in the early 16th century, is in the center of the ceiling, while those of his eight children are grouped around it. The gilded sheen of the hall is further illuminated by the deep blue tones of azulejos tiles with hunting scenes adorning the lower walls, added in the 18th century.

2 Sala dos Cisnes

Sala dos Cisnes Dave Snowden / photo modified
Sala dos Cisnes Dave Snowden / photo modified

The former great hall is the largest room in the palace where receptions, parties and banquets and major ceremonies were held. Built by King Joao I in the early 15th century it is known as the Hall of Swans for the 27 wooden octagonal panels painted with swans (cisnes) that adorn the ceiling. Each swan wears a gilded collar and the birds are in graceful repose in naturalistic backdrops. Checkerboard pattern green and white azulejo tile panels reinforce the walls. Among the decorative arts on display is a series of quirky animal-shaped Chinese porcelain tureens crafted in the late 18th century during the Qing dynasty.

3 Salads Pegas

Sala das Pegas sohrabah / photo modified
Sala das Pegas sohrabah / photo modified

The central patio and the stucco facade of the Water cave (Gruta dos Banhos) present pleasant photo opportunities before the Hall of Magpies. Built during the reign of Joao Idignitaries and foreign ambassadors were received in this antechamber. The name comes from the decoration painted on the ceiling – 136 jaunty magpies (pegas) painted on the wooden panels, each in its beak a shield bearing the king’s motto, “Por Bem– For Better, and, in one of his claws, a rose According to legend, the king reacted to his queen after being caught blatant with a lady-in-waiting could be mumbled for bem bem – It was the best. But angered by the ensuing whispers that went on behind his back, the descending monarch had painted the ceiling with chattering magpies as an indictment of the court ladies and their idle gossip. The majestic function of this room is illustrated by decorative pieces such as a beautiful 17th century Bargueño cabinet from Spain in walnut, gold metal, bone and ivory.

4 Sala dos Arabes

Sala dos Árabes ralmonline alm / photo modified
Sala dos Árabes ralmonline alm / photo modified

Used as a bedroom King Joao I in the 14th century, the Arabian room is packed in a strip of azulejo tiles of intriguing patterns with parallel tubes that give the salon a dynamic, three-dimensional quality. The room was once supplied with water seeping from the fountain sunk in the middle of the floor. Consisting of a white marble basin, the water gurgled from the gilded bronze stem sculpted as Neptunewith swans and mermaids around him and an artichoke at the top – all typical of the preferred decorative motifs King Manuel I who added the fountain at the beginning of the 16th century. This is one of the most intimate spaces in the palace and best appreciated in silence.

5 cape



Founded in the 14th century King Dinisthe medieval Palatine chapel of the palace is characterized by a carved oak and chestnut ceiling with detailed radial and star-shaped compositions characteristic of Moorish art. The unbroken symmetry of the latticework is stunning and rich in detail. Likewise, the cobbled ceramic floor is also composed of a Moorish-style geometric design, although this was probably later during the reign of King Afonso v. From the chapel’s upper tribune, visitors can gaze up and down at this twin decorative feast – one of the oldest examples of Mudejar work in Portugal. The high perch also offers a nice view of the 15th century wall paintings depicting an endless flock of white doves, each holding an olive branch in its beak and symbolic of the Holy Spirit.

6 Quatro de Dom Afonso VI

Hang out outside King Afonso VI’s room and contemplate the fate that befell the hapless king. The ailing king, beset by madness, was imprisoned here for nine years until his death in 1683 after losing the throne to his brother, Pedro II. It is the only room in the palace with iron bars. Simply furnished, the floor of the bedroom-prison is a mixture of Islamic mosaics and tiles from the first half of the 15th century.

7 Kitchens

Kitchens Bobo Boom / photo modified
Kitchens Bobo Boom / photo modified

The kitchen of the palace is monumental in size, not least because of its two enormous ones conical chimneys, each about 33 meters high, which form the ceiling. Their size and appearance make them unique in Europe and they remain emblematic of the palace and Sintra itself. From the kitchen floor, visitors can peer up at the tapered vents in the chimney, and if it’s stormy outside, listen for the growling of the wind down the hallway. Built by King Joao I, the kitchen was used for preparing royal banquets, and the original roasting spit and various copper and iron utensils are on display. Interestingly, one of the utensils is a 17th century Ming dynasty martan jar made in sandstone. The royal coat of arms of Portugal and the House of Savoy on the wall dates back to the beginning Queen Maria Ithe palace’s last royal seat.

8 Sala da Gales

The rounded wooden ceiling of the Galleon room is appropriately illustrated with paintings of assorted ships in full sail representing the major naval powers of the period: Portuguese, Dutch and Ottoman flags and pennants are clearly visible fluttering in the wind. Several maritime cities are also depicted. Dating from the 17th century, the long and narrow rectangular hall is effectively a small museum, with Spanish and Portuguese 18th-century pottery particularly well represented. A few beautiful ones Bargueño cabinets can also be seen, one from the 18th century, the other probably made in the 17th century. Both are beautifully crafted in wood, tortoiseshell, ivory, velvet and wrought iron.

9 Sala de Dom Sebastiao

During his frequent visits to the palace, King Sebastianwho reigned from 1554-78, would use this bed chamber as his sleeping quarters. However, the luxurious four-poster bed dates back to the 19th century. Italian in origin and made of rosewood inlaid with ebony, it is decorated with silver-plated brass, copper and glass. The headrest is embroidered with the coat of arms of the Counts of Sabugal. The dazzling celestial sphere of yellow metal and iron by the window was made in Augsburg, Germany by Christopher Schissler circa 1575 and may very well have been used by the monarch.

10 Salads Sereias

Once used by King Sebastian like a wardrobe, the small one Chamber of the mermaids (sereias) is a charming anomaly. After the wooden ceiling was painted with mermaids playing musical instruments in the 18th century, this elegant salon was renamed and given its own identity. However, the standout feature remains the original azulejos tiles on the walls, which date back to the early 16th century. In fact, the unusual thickness of the walls has led historians to speculate that the room could be a surviving portion of a turret from the original. Moorish fortress.

More magical attractions in Portugal

Taking the time to thoroughly explore a particular building or museum helps define Portugal’s cultural heritage. It also adds an extra dimension to the sightseeing experience. Spend an hour at the beautiful Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and you’ll begin to appreciate just how illustrious the incredible Age of Discovery became. Also, browse the unique collection of tile wear and ceramic art at the Museu Nacional do Azulejo-Convento da Madre de Deus and you’ll appreciate the intricate technique behind their fabrication and the aesthetics surrounding their design. In fact, it’s worth getting acquainted with as many of Portugal’s top-rated attractions to better understand the history of this extraordinary country. Use our travel page to plan your trip.

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