Exploring the Moorish Castle of Sintra

Sintra, Portugal is a popular day trip from Lisbon. It’s a charming and magical town of royal homes, parks and ruins. One of the most visited attractions, along with the colorful Pena Palace, was the Castelo dos Mouros also known as The Moors Castle or Moorish Castle. Surrounded by the verdant forest and park, it was easy to see why visitors make a trek here. Come along with us as we tour the stone walls and explore the ruins of this unique Portuguese attraction with some fantastic views.

Castelo dos Mouros or The Moors Castle

North African Muslim Moors built the original castle during the 10th century as a military fort. Its mountaintop location looking over the Tagus River made it an ideal strategic place to defend the town of Sintra and an outpost for Lisbon. This became one of the region’s most important castles.

When the Christian crusaders conquered Portugal, this castle was abandoned. A fire in the castle keep and the huge earthquake that hit Lisbon in the 18th century pretty much left the castle in disarray. King Ferdinand II restored most of it in the 19th century as an ancient ruin. He enjoyed seeing the castle from where he stayed across the forest at Pena Palace.

This was declared a National Monument and was part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape that became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. From the ticket building, it was a beautiful walk along parts of the forest and the Palace gardens. It’s a paved path that was easy enough even for visitors with strollers.

Moorish Castle path to entrance

We came across an archaeological investigation site before the entrance. This was once the location of the medieval Islamic quarter and the Christian graveyard. There were some glass areas where you could see some makeshift skeletons.

There was also an Historical Interpretation Centre housed in a small building which had various exhibits of what they have found around the castle’s archaeological digs.

Moorish Castle Archaeological site

Much of what remains of the Moors Castle were its “high fortified stone walls” and some towers. Like the Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, there are no interiors or palatial rooms to gawk at here. Sintra’s other stately royal homes serve that purpose.

We enjoyed walking along the stone walls that connected the lookout towers. Some were much narrower than the other walkways. The fortification consisted of two major wall rings that wind itself along granite boulders and cliffs to the top of the mountain.

Castelo dos Mouros or The Moors Castle walls

As you can see, most of the walls don’t have any safety railing guards. The steps were uneven and there were a lot of steep inclines. My kids loved it here. It’s not often you could pretend to be a soldier on a lookout for enemies on a remarkable fort.

Sintra Moorish Castle with kids

But, just make sure you keep a close watch on the younger kids especially active toddlers. There was a lot of walking and climbing steps. So, it’s not an ideal place for people with mobility issues.

Moorish Castle stairs and stonewalls

It was interesting to imagine the people living here and all the activity during its heyday. There was so much history. Look closely at the architecture and the layers of stone that has lasted for thousands of years. It was amazing to think how they were able to assemble all of these on top of a mountain with rough terrain and without the use of modern equipment.

Moorish Castle Sintra

While it was so much fun to explore the castle walls, the highlight for us were the beautiful panoramic views. It was a stunning landscape as it spanned across forest, parks and the amazing architecture and rooftops of the town of Sintra. There were some lookout areas to fully enjoy the views.

Sintra Moorish Castle wall

This was the best place to see the National Palace of Sintra, with its distinguishing two smoke stacks, which is the oldest Portuguese palace. I’ll be writing more about this later.

National Palace of Sintra

The climb to the Royal Tower was steep but so worth it. King Ferdinand II used this place to paint. Who could really blame him with its impressive background and panoramic view? This was also the best place to see the Palace of Pena from afar. It was a bit hazy during our visit but the unmistakable colorful turrets couldn’t be missed. I love how it sits on top of Sintra Mountain just how I would have imagined a fairytale castle to look. Given its location, it was very windy here too.

Pena Palace Sintra

Like many castles and towns, there has to be some sort of gathering place or square. Arms Square was the castle’s largest area. This was where the military barracks were assembled. It now looks like a peaceful garden.

Arms Square Moorish Castle

The Castle of the Moors is a unique attraction in the almost fairytale looking town of Sintra. Its architecture and history reminded visitors that there was more to Sintra than a delightful old town, parks and royal homes. We loved walking and exploring the castle walls and especially admiring the town from above. We were only here for a little over an hour so it’s worth a quick stop. If you’re on a day trip to Sintra, don’t miss this attraction.

Moorish Castle Sintra

Basics and Tips for Visiting Moorish Castle

  • Getting There: While it’s possible and doable to walk up the steep hill from the old town of Sintra, we recommend using the Sintra tourist bus (#434) especially if you’re traveling with kids. It cost 5 Euros per person. You can catch the bus from the railway station or by the Sintra Tourism Office. It’s also easy to walk here from Pena Palace which is less than 200 m (.12 miles) away.
  • Price: Entrance fee to the Castelo dos Mouros/Moorish Castle – €8.00/€6.50/€6.50 (Adult/Child/Senior) as of June 2016. For the best deal, get the combined ticket to see the three main sights of Sintra (The Pena Palace, Moors Castle and National Palace)  – €25.00/€20.00 (Adult/Child) as of June 2016.
  • Hours: The Moors Castle is open between 9:30-20:00 (summer) or 10:00–18:00 (winter). Last admission is 1 hour before the closing time. The castle is open 7 days a week.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • There are restrooms/WC, gift shop and café on the site.

*Have you visited Sintra and the Moorish Castle? 

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Moorish Castle Sintra with kids

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