Just north of Lisbon, the beachside resort of Cascais is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, with plenty of things to do in Cascais – from amazing seafood, to nature trails, to castles and beach-hopping. Our quick travel guide to Cascais looks at some of the main reasons to visit this beautiful part of Portugal.
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A Quick Guide to Cascais, Portugal.
Cascais is to Lisbon what Brighton is to London. Except without the shingle, better weather, and arguably much more striking views. Oh, and a slightly more upgraded version of fish and chips 😉
Cascais, Portugal is located about an hour to the north of Lisbon and is often seen as the preserve of the wealthy as glitzy homes line the coastline. It has a definite riviera feel, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the 1870s (when King Luis I decided to make Cascais his summer residence and firmly position Cascais as a destination for the wealthy), Cascais was primarily a fishing town, and was a strategic port of call for ships on their way into Lisbon due to the town’s location on the mouth of the river Tagus.
Due to its accessibility from Lisbon (it’s an hour by train from the Cais do Sodre station) and its wealth of luxury hotels, spas, resorts (and even a casino) tourism has long been important to this seaside town; but we fell a little bit in love with it because of its wild coastal views and sea air.
In this quick guide to Cascais we’ll cover:
- When to visit Cascais
- How to get to Cascais
- Where to stay in Cascais
- Top things to do in Cascais
- Favourite places to eat in Cascais
- Tips for Responsible Travel in Cascais
When is the Best Time to Visit Cascais?
Being the beachside destination that it is, Cascais is at its most beautiful (and busiest and most expensive) in summer. We recommend avoiding July and August if your travel plans are flexible, and also avoiding weekends where prices hike and crowds surge into the Cascais.
We visited in June from a Sunday to Wednesday and got beautiful weather, plus the benefit of experiencing Cascais with far fewer fellow visitors once the weekenders went back to Lisbon.
During winter, many of the hotels and restaurants close down for the season, and the weather is chilly, but winter can be a time to have the Cascais to yourself if you are feeling the need of some brisk sea air.
How to Get to Cascais
If you’re travelling from Lisbon, Cascais is a beautiful and easy journey from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre station by train. Trains run as often as four per hour during peak times, we recommend travelling outside of commenting hours in the early morning and early evening – especially if you’re travelling with luggage.
From Lisbon Airport, unfortunately there is no public transport (you would need to go in and out of Lisbon). We took a taxi from the airport which cost 55 Euros including toll, and then found out that using Uber would have been half the price (around 27 Euros)!
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Where to Stay in Cascais
Travelling in June, not on a weekend, we were initially shocked by the prices of Cascais hotels. Put it this way: Cascais is not a budget destination. There are a few hostels in Cascais but they tend to be on the fancier end, and a private room will still often set you back upwards of 100 Euros per night.
Due to the influx of tourism to Cascais and rapidly increasing property prices and construction, we recommend choosing a hotel instead of Airbnb’s and apartment rentals, as staying at a hotel is usually more supportive to the local economy. See more on our responsible travel tips below!
Where you’ll want to stay in Cascais depends on your budget and also what you plan on doing during your visit. If you want to relax and take it easy, you could consider one of the resorts outside of Cascais town centre – there are plenty of these lining the coastal road, complete with pools, spas and even golf courses.
If, however, you want to be free to walk around town and try a number of restuarants, shopping, and generally potter around we recommend staying in Cascais town itself – there are a few options in the suburbs where you’ll be able to get a bus/taxi/uber into Cascais town centre. We stayed in the Fontainhas district of Cascais, but wouldn’t really recommend it as it was an effort getting in and out of town, with few eating options around.
Centrally located Eco Ljmonade Hostel is squeaky clean, centrally located, reasonable value and is vegan and vegetarian friendly, as well as providing eco-friendly shower products.
Mid Range Choice
We recommend the boutique hotel Pousada Pestana Citadela Cascais – beautifully designed and set just next to the historic citadel in the town. You can cool down in the hotel’s pool in summer months and enjoy being centrally located in the town, while away from some of the noisier streets. A great option for relaxing.
For an unforgettable Cascais experience, look no further than the Fortaleza do Guincho Relais & Châteaux, set outside of Cascais town about 10km to the north, on beautiful Guincho beach. The interiors are a little dated, but the hotel gets rave reviews for its unique views out to sea and is home to a michelin starred restaurant too.
Top Things to do in Cascais
You’ll find plenty to keep you busy in Cascais – many come here for a weekend (which we don’t recommend due to the crowds unless that’s your only option – choose a couple of days mid week to visit instead) – some come for the day (possible, but you’ll wish you could stay longer!), and others come for a week and rent an apartment or holiday let and use it as a base for exploring the surrounding area including Sintra, Estoril and even Lisbon. Ultimately, if you have a couple of days it will be enough to at least get a taster of what Cascais has to offer.
Enjoy the Amazing Seafood
As a former fishing port, it’s no surprise that Cascais is home to some of the best food in Portugal. Most of the fish transported to Lisbon comes through here and is caught by Cascais boats, meaning that this seaside town gets the freshest of the catch.
Bear in mind that restaurants at Cascais’s tourist hotspots (such as Boca D’Inferno) and in the town centre are catering to a captive and often transient market, meaning that prices can be high (especially if there’s a sea view involved) and the quality can vary. Two of our favourite places for fish & seafood were the beautiful Grelhas at the Casa da Guia in Guia (about a kilometre north from Boca D’Inferno) and also the Restaurant Paixao in Cascais town itself.
Relax on Cascais’ Beaches
There are plenty of beaches to choose from, and many of the best beaches in Cascais are a little out of the town itself. Here are some of the main options:
In Cascais Town you have the Praia da Conceição on one side of town, which is larger, and the Praia da Ribeira which is right in front of the town square. We weren’t fans of this second option as it’s right in front of what seems to be the main fishing harbour, and recommend avoiding at weekends because of the crowds.
Praia do Tamariz is the main beach of Estoril, just one resort along from Cascais. We didn’t have time to make it here but have heard good things about this beach and its rock swimming pool. The beach is easily accessible from Cascais by taking the train one stop and walking from the train station.
For surfers and sports enthusiasts, or those in search of dramatic scenery, the Praia do Guincho is hard to beat. Located about 10km north west of Cascais, we don’t recommend Guincho for swimming (there are strong currents as well as winds here) but if you want to take to the waves or admire the view it makes for a great cycle ride from Cascais town (see below).
Visit the Cascais Citadel
Sometimes referred to as a palace, sometimes a Fort, the Cascais Citadel is unmissable due to its prime position in Cascais overlooking the marina and sea beyond. The Citadel was built between the 15th and 17th Centuries to defend the entry to the Tagus River (and upstream Lisbon) from oncoming attackers. As well as being a defensive fort, this was also where the Royal Palace was located, used during the months of September and October when the royal family came to stay in Cascais each year.
The Citadel Museum is open from Tuesday – Sundays from 10am – 6pm and you can look around the grounds as well as parts of the former royal palace.
Santa Marta Lighthouse & Museum
One of the postcard views of Cascais, the Santa Marta Lighthouse was built in 1867 to help guide ships away from the treacherous rocky shores here. The lighthouse still runs automatically, and there’s a small house and museum open which shares the history of the lighthouse. In theory, you can also climb up the lighthouse, but when we visited we were told the lighthouse was closed. We’ve since read online that climbing the lighthouse is possible between wednesday – friday between 12pm and 1pm (only). There’s a nice swimming inlet area in front of the lighthouse from the road.
Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães
If you’ve ever dreamed of a swim-up palace with its own private beach (during low tide) then this is your place. Located just across from the Santa Marta Lighthouse, this museum – the former “Torre de S. Sebastião” was built in the 1900s by Jorge O’Neil, a Portuguese – Irish aristocrat, as his summer house in Cascais. It was converted into a museum in 1931 and contains unique design, furniture and jewellery among its collections.
Literally meaning “Hell’s Mouth”, Boca D’Inferno is a formation of jagged cliffs and pools at the water’s edge which is located 2km to the west of Cascais. It’s a popular sunset spot and viewpoint for the surrounding coastline. You can walk here in about 30-40 minutes from Cascais town, past the Santa Marta Lighthouse and along the Coastal Road, or you can rent bikes and cycle along the coastal paths to here. There are some (touristic) restaurants and ice-cream stalls here if you’re feeling hungry.
Cycle to Guincho Beach
One of our favourite experiences, recommended by a local friend, was our cycle ride from Cascais Town to the Praia do Guincho (beach) around 10km to the North West of Cascais – making a 20km round trip. You can hire bicycles from the tourist information booth opposite the train station and MacDonalds in Cascais for 6 Euros per bike for a whole day. We were warned to get the green (not the yellow bikes – very heavy) and these bikes come without gears. If you want to go further or prefer a mountain bike, you can rent these inside the train station for 10 Euros per day.
The route to Guincho is largely flat and we didn’t need gears, and is largely on a separated bike path from the road, making it safe and pleasant to cycle along. Just remember to apply sunscreen – even on a windy / overcast day! (We may have got burnt…)
Along the way, you can stop at Boca D’inferno and the small town of Guia for lunch, before heading on to Guincho for beautiful views. The cycle takes about an hour – an hour and a half each way – depending on how often you stop. Bikes have to be returned by 7pm if you rent them for today, but we recommend doing this cycle outside of the midday sun.
Visit the Duna da Cresmina
This nature reserve and interpretation centre was opened in 2013 and is a wonderful spot to admire and learn more about the natural diversity of Cascais, Sintra and the Estoril. There’s a planked walk way leading through the dunes where you can walk off a tasty lunch at their on-site cafe that serves crepes and salads, too. You can get here as a stop off on the cycle to Guincho (above) or you can get here on the 415 bus from Cascais Town.
Day Trip to Sintra
For those who love a good castle, they don’t come much better than Sintra. Sintra rises up like a colourful dream from fairytale mountains and forest mists. Located inland to the east of Cascais, and a former royal sanctuary, Sintra is a resort town in the Sintra foothills. There’s more than one palace in Sintra – the most famous (and colourful) is the Pena Palace.
Sintra can be accessed by bus from Cascais (Numbers 417 and 403) and it’s possible to do a day trip here to see a couple of the palaces – we recommend getting an early start and arriving before the doors open at 09.15 to beat the crowds and starting at Pena Palace and then working your way down hill. You could also do a one night stay in Sintra for a more leisurely approach to castle viewing.
Ride the Coastal Train to Lisbon
One of the highlights of any trip to the Cascais (or Lisbon) has got to be the train ride to / from Lisbon. The railway line runs along the coast the entire way, with plenty of views out to sea. Trains leave as often as every fifteen minutes and take an hour between Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre station (Alfama district) and Cascais town. There’s no better way to begin or end your Cascais adventure. You can connect on to the airport through Lisbon by taking the Aero 2 Airport bus from outside the Cais do Sodre station – they run every 20 minutes – if you’re tight on time though (or have heavy bags) it is easier to take an Uber direct from Cascais to the Airport.
Tips for Responsible Travel in Cascais
Since the 1900’s, Cascais has been attracting tourists, and just like neighbouring Lisbon, recently Cascais has been starting to feel more pressure. As you wander around the town, English is more widely spoken than Portuguese, and it’s easy to see that many services cater to tourists as opposed to locals. We were happy to see investment in environmentally sustainable tourism initiatives such as the Duna da Cresmina which celebrate Cascais’ natural beauty and rich biodiversity too.
Because of the high volume of tourists coming to Cascais, here are a few things to do to help alleviate the overtourism situation:
- Visit outside of Peak Summer (July and August) if you can. Cascais is beautiful during spring and autumn too, and wherever possible visit outside of weekends – you’ll get much better value.
- Avoid Airbnb’s and apartments in Cascais town centre (these drive up prices for locals and make the housing market very tricky for those who live in Cascais long term) – stay in hotels to support the local economy and existing infrastructure.
- Understand that Cascais is not a super cheap destination. It’s not a place that’s full of budget accommodation even off-season but we think it’s well worth a visit, even if you have to spend a bit more.
- Try to support locally owned places (hotels and restaurants) and eat local food – smaller hotels and guest houses tend to be locally owned.
- Avoid using single use plastic – tap water is safe to drink in Portugal and is available in restaurants if you ask for it, and take a re-fillable water bottle with you. Be especially careful not to leave any trash behind on beaches.
- Relax, take in the sea air, and enjoy the beauty of Cascais!
Read more about Portugal on Soul Travel:
48 Hours in Lisbon.. and a Warning (Alternative Lisbon Guide)
Learning to Surf in Portugal
Night Train to Lisbon – Amsterdam to Lisbon by Train
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Have you been to Cascais, Portugal? What Cascais travel tips would you give? Let us know in the comments below!