About Pena National Palace
The Pena National Palace is one of the most expressive and beautiful examples of 19th century romanticism in the world. This whimsical multi-coloured creation, sitting high on a peak among swirling mists, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sintra’s Cultural Landscape. On a clear day it can be easily seen from Lisbon.
History of Pena National Palace
Although the site of Pena had been in use for several hundred years – as a church (allegedly constructed after an apparition of the Virgin May in the Middle Ages) and then an important monastery – it was not until the 19th century that the area was transformed into the palace we see today.
It was King Ferdinand II of Portugal who undertook the construction of the Palace at Pena, with works beginning in 1838. The palace was built in a grand romantic style by Prussian architect and engineer Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege (who took some of his inspiration from the Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria).
Preserving some of the existing structures (including the ruins of an old hieronymite monastery erected in the 16th century by King Manuel I) and developing the entire site around them, the new palace was a grand fusion of Bavarian, Manueline Gothic and Moorish architecture and became one of the most prominent romanticist buildings of its time. Indeed after visiting Pena, the composer Richard Strauss wrote: “Today is the happiest day of my life. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen…”.
King Ferdinand II also planted the Park of Pena, using native forest species from every continent. This has become the most important arboretum in Portugal today.
After Ferdinand II’s death, the palace passed to his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, who later sold the palace to King Luís, who wanted to retrieve it for the royal family. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum. (The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night at the palace before leaving the country in exile).
By the end of the 20th century the palace was repainted and the original colors restored, and the palace was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pena National Palace today
Millions of tourists flock to Sintra each year to see the palace, now one of the most recognisable tourist attractions in Portugal – so expect it to be very busy in the summer peak season.
Today the Pena National Palace is open to visitors and combines an almost fairy-tale-like exterior with ornate and remarkable décor. And if the palace itself was not draw enough, the beautifully maintained park includes an array of gardens, grottoes, ponds and fountains with statues and sculptures dotted amongst them. Small wonder then that it’s one of our picks for Portugal’s best historic attractions.
Visitors can buy either a ‘Palace and Park’ ticket (which gives you access to the Parque de Pena grounds, the terraces that surround the palace and the staterooms), or just the cheaper ‘Park’ ticket (just the Parque de Pena and the terraces – the parts most visitors want to see).
Getting to Pena National Palace
The Pena Palace and Park make a fantastic day trip from Lisbon. The Palace is situated on top of a steep 480 metre hill (one of the highest in Sintra – a 50 minute uphill walk from the train station), so unless you fancy a strenuous hike then take the 434 tourist bus.
Alternatively, the palace is 45 minutes by car from Lisbon along the main roads (take the A5 out of the city and then the A37). The scenic coastal road along the N6 takes 1 hour 45 minutes on this route without stops. Sintra is 40 minutes by train from Lisbon. From Sintra station, take the 434 bus.