Located on the Atlantic coast of Portugal, just a stone’s throw away from capital Lisbon, you’ll find picture-perfect Cascais. The town’s lively vibe and old-time charm are truly captivating and it’s location is perfect to explore the wider region. With so many exciting things to do in Cascais and beyond, this is the kind of place where you’ll want to linger. That’s exactly what we did: What was supposed to be another stop on our Portugal itinerary turned out to be much more interesting than anticipated. Cascais’ postcard views make it one of the most beautiful places in Portugal. We liked it every bit as much as Faro and Lagos in Algarve, one of the other gems that we got to explore during this Portuguese road trip. Let’s explore the highlights of Cascais.
Charming Cascais old town
In the late 19th century, the Portuguese royal family made Cascais its summer retreat. What was once once a sleeping fishing village along the Portuguese coast, quickly grew out to be a high-end destination along the Portuguese Riviera. Cascais’ architecture still reflects that grand history, with former aristocratic palaces, elegant mansions and converted fishermen’s houses lining the palm-shaded streets. The many pastel shades contrast beautifully with the blue hues of the ocean.
Our guide of things to do in Cascais historic center includes strolling around the picturesque Praça 5 de Outubro with its artistic patterned tiles, azulejos tiled town house and Dom Pedro I statue, admiring the Palacio Seixas, having a drink at the lively Largo Luís de Camões Square, shopping in one of the chic boutiques along the Avenida Valbom, hunting for souvenirs in the Rua Frederico Arouca (a.k.a. Rua Direita), finding the perfect book at the Jardim Visconde da Luz book market or soaking in the atmosphere at the Mercado da Vila. We loved wandering through the winding streets and exploring the cute residential alleys, soaking in Cascais’ uniquely delightful atmosphere.
Cascais beaches and coastal highlights
– In the heart of town
Praia da Ribeira is knicknamed Praia dos Pescadores or Fishermen’s Beach because of its bayside location next to the fishing harbour. It’s the most convenient beach when you’re making a pitstop in Cascais, Portugal and, despite of the local fishing boats, it looked surprisingly clean.
There are plenty of other beaches nearby as well. After all, this town is bordered by 30 km (18 mi) of Portuguese coast. Let us take you on a tour along some of the beaches of Cascais:
– Along the bike path to the east, direction Boca do Inferno
There’s a stunning coastal biking trail that leads active visitors from the Cascais marina to Guincho beach. The total distance is about 10 km (just over 6 mi) and the views are incredible. I didn’t any pictures of the bike path because I was too focused on the beautiful setting and my two mini-cyclists but I’ve found this drone photo to give you an idea of the bike trail.
Your first stop will be the Boca do Inferno or Hell’s Mouth. It’s a rock formation that was heavily eroded and where the waves come crashing in. At least that’s what we’ve read but it was not the case when we were there. If that’s what hell looks like then we might as well misbehave a little more often. Just kidding. 🙂 At high tide and on a windy day, you might see the spray from afar. Should you prefer to walk to this landmark, then you’ll get there in about 15 minutes from the marina.
A little further you’ll enter the Parque Natural de Sintra – Cascais. The further you go, the better you’ll see the coastline become rugged and wild. We loved our cycling adventure amidst this impressive landscape. The first remote beach you’ll encounter is windy Praia da Cresmina, immediately followed by the larger Praia do Guincho. Plenty of surfers here and, although not specifically family-friendly, we still had a great time at this Cascais beach. (Restrooms are available.) Just past this one, you’ll find little-known Praia do Abano.
– Along the paredão (boardwalk) to the west, direction Estoril
There’s a beautiful promenade going from Cascais to Estoril. Cycling is prohibited, it’s more of a pedestrian zone. You won’t get hungry during this 20-minute walk thanks to the many bars and restaurant that line the boardwalk. Some of the Cascais beaches you’ll encounter are Praia da Rainha and Praia da Conceição (a.k.a. Praia da Duquesa) before arriving at popular Praia do Tamariz.
The beaches between Cascais and Estoril are not as wild as the before-mentioned ones. They’re city beaches, that – to us – felt a bit cramped. We were there late May so you can imagine how it must be like in peak summer.
Tip: For a change of scenery when returning from Estoril to Cascais, you could walk via town and explore Parque de Palmela.
Art & Museum district
Within the walls of the Citadel of Cascais, the prolongation of the Nossa Senhora da Luz Fort fortification that used to defend the town from foreign invasions, you’ll find the elegant Cidadela Art District. It’s a hub for contemporary art, where you can see the artists working on their master pieces. The whole idea is to create interaction between artists and visitors, which works wonderfully well.
Also located in the Cidadela is the Presidential Museum, at the site of the royal family’s former summer retreat, and the luxurious Pestana Cidadela Cascais.
The Bairro dos Museus or Museum District is located in the center of Cascais, next to the marina. It’s home to the Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães museum, the Casa de Santa Maria (House of Santa Maria) and the iconic Museu de Farol de Santa Marta Lighthouse Museum. Even if you choose not to visit these museums, you’ll enjoy their picturesque setting. Have a break in the gorgeous Parque Marechal Carmona with its colorful flower beds and romantic lake. When you’ve finished feeding the resident ducks, you can continue your cultural escapade at the other side of the park. Learn all about Cascais’ fishing identity in the Museu do Mar Rei D. Carlos (King D. Carlos Sea Museum) or admire the modern Casa das Histórias Paula Rego building with its impressive collection by renowned local artist Paula Rego.
Have a taste of Cascais
When visiting a seaside gem such as Cascais, you can look forward to a dazzling selection of seafood, from sea to plate. And if you’re anything like us – torn between the octopus, the shells and the cod – you’ll probably end up indulging in a seafood cataplana. We skipped desert but walked over to Santini’s to try the best gelato in town.
Lovely trips beyond Cascais
Many exciting places to see and wonderful things to do in Cascais, Portugal, but the city’s direct surroundings are just as appealing. Here are some options for (half) day trips:
– Estoril (20-minute walk or 5-minute drive)
Estoril is just as upscale as Cascais, Portugal, but – in our honest opinion – lacks charm. It’s more of a fancy entertainment destination, evolving around the Casino Estoril which is one of the biggest in Europe. Also, the roads are congested any time of day. It just didn’t enchant us like Cascais did.
During WW II, many foreign leaders found their way to this prestigious town along the Estoril coast as well, in an attempt to find some tranquility. Espionage thrived in the region at the time and this intriguing setting formed the inspiration for Ian Flemming’s iconic James Bond series. 007 fans might recognize the Palacio Estoril Hotel from various scenes in the movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
– Cabo da Roca, the end of the world (30-minute drive)
During the Middle-Ages, the impressive Cabo da Roca cliff, was believed to be the end of the world. Today, it marks the westernmost point of mainland Europe. Portugal’s oldest lighthouse towers the cliff, which offers some dramatic views over the Portuguese coast. (Do note that you’ll have to share those vistas with busloads of tourists.)
– Sintra palaces (40-minute drive)
Sintra, one of the most beautiful places in Portugal, is located near Cascais. In fact, Cascais makes for a great base to visit these enchanting castles, especially when you’ll be spending more than one day in Sintra. The Cultural Landscape of Sintra is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the most famous Sintra castles such as the Palacio da Pena (Pena Palace), the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), Quinta da Regaleira and Palácio de Monserrate (Montserrate Palace) to less frequented sites such as the Vila Sassetti, the Convento dos Capuchos and the Palácio Nacional de Sintra (National Palace), you’ll find them in these magical surroundings, located just a stone’s throw from Cascais, Portugal.
You can get to the castles by car but parking can be a problem in the Sintra mountains. The bus is a great alternative if you’re coming from Cascais. Two bus connections can take you there: the speedy line 417 and the scenic 403.
– Parque Natural de Sintra – Cascais (20-minute drive)
The Sintra – Cascais Natural Park is one of the 13 Natural Parks of Portugal. It includes the Serra de Sintra mountain range and a long section of Portuguese coast. It’s rocky yet leafy and dotted with several fishing villages where time stood still. Active travels love this diverse area and consider a visit to this Natural Park as one of the most exciting things to do near Cascais.
The Parque Natural de Sintra – Cascais boasts several impressive hikes. Here are some suggestions:
- Educational tour of the Guincho and Cresmina sand dunes, that starts from the Duna da Cresmina Visitor Centre.
- Coastal hike from Praia da Adraga, one of our favorite beaches in Portugal, to Praia das Maças. You could also hike southwards from Praia da Adraga to Praia da Ursa but this is known to be a highly challenging hike.
- Mountain hike along the Vila Sassetti trail in the Sintra mountains.
- Lake hike around the Lagoa Azul.
– Day trip to Belém (30-minute drive)
Belém is the Lisbon district closest to the Estoril coast. It’s way less crowded than the vibrant capital and very spacious with a gorgeous park, a majestic fountain and several impressive sights such as the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Convent), the Torre de Belém (Belem Tower) and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). Oh, and let’s not forget the delicious pastries Pastéis de Belém that are locally produced since 1873.
– Cascais to Lisbon day trip (40-minute drive)
The Portuguese capital counts as one of the most lively European cities. Explore bohemian Chiado and Bairro Alto, listen to Fado in Alfama, go shopping in the central Baixa district or escape the crowds in the cable car at the Park of the Nations (Parque das Nações).
Where to stay in Cascais
A sophisticated town calls for a range of stylish accommodation options. Here are some of the finest hotels in Cascais:
- Villa Casais
- Farol hotel Cascais
- Grande Real Villa Itália Hotel & Spa
- Pestana Cidadela Cascais
- Martinhal Lisbon Cascais Family Resort
Cascais Portugal map
For your convenience, we’ve created this map indicating all of our favorite things to do in Cascais and beyond:
Getting from Lisbon to Cascais
From Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré you can catch the Comboio de Portugal train for a 20-minute ride along the Lisbon coastline to Cascais. If you prefer to rent a car, then you can reach one of the most beautiful places in Portugal in just little over half an hour. You’ll find some ticket options here.
Best time to visit Cascais in Portugal
Thanks to its microclimate, the Estoril Coast is an attractive destination during spring, summer and autumn. The mild climate ensures summer days with a cooling ocean breeze and a not too rainy winter season. Spring, early summer and early autumn are perfect for a combination of exploring and relaxing. July might be better spent at the beach and August is the Portuguese vacation month during which many Lisbon residents choose Cascais as their holiday destination.
Tempted to visit Cascais yet? Or, have you already visited this picturesque seaside town and explored the surroundings? Then we want to hear all about your favorite things to do in Cascais and beyond!
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