Most Portugal travel itineraries include stops in Lisbon, Porto, Sintra and the Algarve, but there’s another spot well-deserving of a visit: Cascais. Despite its location just outside Lisbon, the charming town seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of the country’s capital, thanks to its sun-soaked beaches, palm-fringed mosaic sidewalks and ocean viewpoints. Best of all, many tourists overlook this spot, making it a great place to get away from the crowds.
Here’s why you need to travel to Cascais, and what to do while you’re there.
Relax on the beach
Cascais’ perch on the North Atlantic coast means it’s teeming with beaches, including a few found right in the city centre. Praia da Conceição, Praia da Duquesa and Praia da Poça are in the heart of the action, and are great for swimming since the still bays are protected from ocean waves. Framed by winding promenades, sparkling golden sand and dazzling azure water, they’re the perfect spot for soaking up the sun.
Walk through the old town
The town centre in Cascais simply oozes with charm. Patchwork patterns combine to make artful pedestrian walkways, vibrant flowers drip out of window boxes perched on wrought-iron balconies, and sunshine casts a glow over the pastel-hued storefronts. There are plenty of souvenir stalls and a la carte restaurants popular with day-trippers, along with winding laneways which are perfect for getting lost in.
Explore the fortress and Cidadela Art District
A 15th century fort guards Cascais’ picturesque harbour, making it a favourite spot for photographers and history buffs alike. While there’s not too much to see inside Cidadela de Cascais, it’s well worth walking around as it leads straight into the ultra-modern art district, which features white-washed walls which are the ideal backdrop for the colourful murals and sculptures scattered around the sun-soaked plaza.
Tip: If budget allows, book a room at the Pestana Cidadela Cascais, a trendy, artsy hotel built right into the fortress. Despite being close to the action it’s a surprisingly quiet spot—perfect for enjoying unobstructed ocean views from the rooftop pool deck.
Marvel at Boca do Inferno
It’s safe to say Boca do Inferno is one of Portugal’s most underrated attractions. Jutting out of the rocky cliffside against a pool of aqua-marine water, this spectacular natural phenomenon was created by the sea and spray hammering into the rock and carving an archway out of a collapsed cave. Its name means “mouth of hell”, but there’s nothing hellish about the gorgeous scenery.
Boca do Inferno can be seen from the boardwalk, or on one of the many viewing platforms that grant unobstructed views. There are also a few restaurants nearby for those needing a mid-day break, as well as a handicraft market.
Wander around the Museum District
Art lovers may want to head over to the Museum Quarter, which houses works from famed Portuguese artists. A popular spot is Centro Cultural de Cascais, a bright pink building that was formerly a convent and now hosts a variety of exhibitions.
One that’s not to be missed is the Castro Guimarães museum, which dates back to the 1900s and is a great example of so-called “summer architecture.” Today it holds an art museum and public library, but most visitors are wowed by the grounds themselves. The castle-like estate is surrounded by fountains and gardens, and borders a shaded public park and quiet cove, which is a peaceful spot for soaking up both the sun and scenery.
Cascais most famous and postcard-worthy spot also happens to include a museum, called Casa de Santa Maria. The Mediterranean-style villa was built in 1902 as a summer home for royalty, and features touches like traditional painted tiles, arches and an oil-painted ceiling. It shares the coastline with a towering blue and white, red-topped lighthouse overlooking the turquoise bay, combining to create a dreamy view best seen from the adjoining stone bridge.
Cycle along the bike path
There’s truly no better way to explore a place than on two wheels, and Cascais makes it easy thanks to its ocean-front bike path. The Ciclovia begins just outside town past the marina on Avenida Rei Humberto II de Italia, and hugs the coast for five kilometres all the way to the Guincho beaches. The best part is that visitors can borrow a bike for free (!!) compliments of the municipality, so there’s no need to try and line up bicas in advance. There are multiple pick-up areas, including at the main tourist office in the town centre.
Head down the road to Estoril
Got time to spare? Then walk, bike or drive down the road to Estoril, which boasts more beaches (though not quite as nice as the ones in Cascais) and an ocean boardwalk perfect for cycling or jogging. It’s famous for its palatial casino which is framed by a labyrinth of perfectly-manicured gardens, and is the place to be for those who have Lady Luck is on their side!
Where to stay in Cascais
Grande Real Villa Italia: If you want a hotel that embodies Portugal, then this is it. Adapted from the old houses where King Umberto II of Italy lived when her was exiled to Portugal, this elegant, historical hotel also has a private beach and stunning view of the coast. Click here to book
InterContinental Estoril: This beachfront property has received rave reviews ever since its renovation, and staff will make you feel pampered during your entire time there. Facilities include an outdoor pool, sauna, steam room, and a fabulous breakfast. Click here to book
Casa Vela Guest House: If you’re looking for somewhere private and intimate, then Casa Vela is your spot. This hotel feels like a sanctuary with its extensive outdoor gardens, waterfalls and lakes. Each room is uniquely styled and breakfast is included. Click here to book
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