Castelo dos Mouros: The Complete Guide

This Ruined Castle on a Hill Is Well and Truly Worth Visiting

Castle of the Moors, Sintra
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The ruins of the Castle of the Moors are one of the highlights of any trip to Sintra, the jagged walls and crumbling ramparts starkly contrasting with the extravagant, fairytale-like Pena Palace that stands nearby.

With fewer visitors than some of the other sites in the area, it's a good place to get a little respite from the crowds and appreciate what makes Sintra so special.

If you're thinking about a visit to the castle yourself, there's plenty to consider to make the most of the experience.

From ticket prices to opening hours, history to transportation options, and much more, we've put together this complete guide to Castelo dos Mouros for visitors.

History

The Castle of the Moors is the oldest historical site in the area, dating back to at least the eighth or ninth century. As the name suggests, most experts agree that it was built by the North African Moors who ruled over most of the Iberian peninsula at the time, constructed high on the mountainside to help protect the town of Sintra below.

It performed that task for around 200 years, until it was taken in 1147 by the Crusader armies of Alfonso I, the first Portuguese king. The castle was initially strengthened and expanded in the decades following the Reconquista, but fell into disrepair over the following centuries as the strategic importance of Sintra slowly waned. A lightning strike caused a major fire in what was left of the castle in 1636, while the huge Lisbon earthquake destroyed the rest a little over a century later.

It wasn't until the reign of King Ferdinand II in the 1800s that an attempt to restore the Castle of the Moors was made, an effort that was only mildly successful.

What to Do There

Castelo dos Mouros neatly fits the stereotype of what a ruined castle should look like. With a pair of sprawling stone walls that hug the contours of the steep hillside, crumbling battlements and the surrounding dense forest, it's not hard to get a picture of how the site appeared a millennia ago.

That's especially true if you visit during one of the misty mornings that Sintra is famous for!

While the ravages of time have caught up with much of the castle despite the extensive restoration work, it's possible to wander along the walls and ramparts. The view from the highest sections is particularly breathtaking, and it's immediately obvious why the castle was built in that location. Note that the walking surface is steep, uneven, and broken at times, and several parts of the wall don't have guard rails, so be careful if you have small children or aren't steady on your feet.

On a clear day you can see as far as Peniche, 50 miles to the north. To the west lies Cabo da Roca and the Atlantic ocean, while to the south you can see over the Tagus estuary to Arrábida. In the foreground lies the town of Sintra, plus Pena palace and its extensive grounds, and the castle walls are one of the best places to take photos of the colorful scenes from.

Once you've finished exploring the perimeter, be sure to stop by the small interpretation center that sits alongside. Formerly a church, it houses many artifacts from as far back as the Bronze Age, as well as more recent Moorish and medieval Christian objects, that were found during recent excavation work.

How to Visit

It’s logical to visit the Castle of the Moors immediately before or after a trip to the nearby Pena Park and Palace, as it lies only a few hundred feet away. It gets far fewer visitors than its neighbor, so is a good place to go when the crowds roll into Pena from mid-morning onward.

Adult tickets cost 8 euros, with seniors and "youths" aged 6-17 paying 6.50 euros. Children under that age are free, and there's a family ticket for two adults and two youths for 26 euros.

You'll save 5% if you buy your tickets online in advance, and combination passes for attractions in Sintra are available at the ticket offices or online. You can also buy tickets at the Sintra train station, which can help avoid long lines onsite during peak periods.

The castle is open seven days a week, between 9:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. in summer, with last entry an hour before closing.

As with the other sites in Sintra, hours are restricted in winter, with the castle opening at 10:00 a.m. and closing at 6 p.m.

Expect to spend around 90 minutes at the site, perhaps somewhat less if the weather is bad.

Facilities

Castelo dos Mouros had minimal facilities until a recent upgrade program, but even so, the focus is on the castle itself. Toilets are available, and there's a simple cafeteria onsite. Limited access is available for those with restricted mobility.

How to Get There

Sintra is one of the most popular day trips from Lisbon and is easy to get to by train or car. Like all the best castles, Castelo dos Mouros sits on top of a hill—in this case, one that's over 1300 feet above sea level.

There are several ways to get up to the castle, depending on your finances and energy. Three different hiking trails start in Sintra town, snaking up the side of the hill to the castle. It's a strenuous climb but is mostly shaded to avoid the heat of the sun.

Expect to take 45 minutes or more, depending on the trail and fitness levels. You can return by any of the trails, or walk down the road which is less steep, but also less pleasant due to traffic.

The 434 bus service runs throughout the day from Sintra train station, through the town, and up the hill to Pena Palace and Castelo dos Mouros, on a one-way loop. You'll pay 6.90 euros for a hop-on, hop-off pass, but it can get very busy in high season.

It's possible to drive to the castle if you have your own car, but the road can get extremely congested, is narrow in parts, and has limited parking at the top. Taxis, Ubers, and tuk-tuks are available from Sintra town and are well worth considering for one or both directions.

If you've got restricted mobility and plan to visit both the castle and Pena Palace, consider visiting the latter first. That way, the walk to Castelo dos Mouros is downhill.