Amongst the Portuguese, Cascais has a bit of a reputation.
Frequently compared to the The French Riviera, it is a home for the wealthy; a town where the uber-rich of Lisbon disappear to enjoy long weekends in one of the many grand holiday homes that cascade along the coast. Joined by vacationing families from across Europe, it is undeniably busy during the summer months.
And yet, this beautiful town of white-washed walls and pastel hues, still retains a lot of its old fishing village charm. Even as the streets swell and the beaches fill, they never lose their beauty; they simply become alive.
We spent a week there, and could honestly have spent much longer. With dozens of excellent restaurants, a wonderfully wild coastline and fantastic beaches, plus the likes of Lisbon and Sintra within an hour's drive, this may just be the perfect summertime vacation spot.
Here are all the very best things to do in Cascais, and much more.
Things to do in Cascais
Explore the Harbour
A 15th century fort still stands at the edge of Cascais' harbour. No longer required to deter would-be pirates, instead it has been converted into one of the town's fanciest hotels and a contemporary art space.
For many travellers visiting Cascais, a night in Pestana Cidadela Cascais will be a little (or a lot!) out of their price range, however on a sunny day, we'd simply recommend walking the fort's perimeter and enjoying the salty air!
Useful information | If you'd like to learn more about Pestana Cidadela Cascais, or make a reservation, click here.
Sample Cascais' best ice cream
Over at ADR, we really don't like to use the word 'best' to describe something. However, after lots of research (word of warning: do not read countless ice-cream parlour reviews on an empty stomach) and a multi-way taste test, we can feel pretty confident in describing the icy cold treat at Gelados Santini as the very best that Cascais has to offer - and based on the ridiculously long lines streaming out of their door night and day, most people seem to agree!
Find them at Avenida Valbom 28F, Cascais 2750-508, Portugal from 11 a.m until around midnight.
Take a Day trip to Sintra
Whether you're basing yourself in Lisbon or Cascais, a visit to the spectacular Sintra is an essential part of any itinerary. Home to fairy-tale palaces and age-old castles, it's a fascinating place to explore.
After a day spent wandering through the hills, it became clear that Sintra deserves an entire article all to itself - and we promise you it'll be out very soon, so watch this space!
Enjoy the city beaches
City beaches are rarely that great. Often lacking in beauty and frequently covered in litter, they're the beaches you head to when you get up too late, are too hungover to make it too far from your bed or for those whose flying visit means exploring beyond the city limits is impossible.
Whilst the beaches located in the centre of Cascais are undeniably busy, they're actually rather pleasant. Soft yellow sand, good facilities, sun-soaked for the duration of the day and litter free.
Praia da Ribeira de Cascais | Our least favourite city beach, namely because you're looking out at the harbour as opposed to open ocean, it's popular with families and those wanting to use the volleyball nets.
Praia da Rainha | Our personal favourite may be the smallest in town but it's perfectly formed, and with an abundance of brightly coloured parasols, from above it makes a picture-perfect summer scene. There are toilets and a bar, with sun-loungers available for rent.
Praia da Conceição | The largest of Cascais' city beaches, during busy summer days this large-ish stretch of sand is packed with visiting holiday-makers and locals alike. Sun-loungers are available for rent and there's an on-site bar.
Cycle to Praia do Guincho
As lovely as the city beaches are, we simply implore you to jump on your bicycle and head down to Praia do Guincho at least once during your stay in Cascais.
Sitting at the very limits of Serra da Sintra National Park, this vast beach is a popular choice for wind surfers and boarders (and James Bond fans), drawn to the area for the stonking breeze that blows in off the Atlantic. If however you prefer to be a little more stationary during your beach time, do not fear. Simply walk to the end of the beach where you'll find a pleasant sheltered area replete with a handy bar.
Further information | Bike rental from one of the many shops in town generally costs 10 Euro per day (really, don't pay any more than this), including helmet, lock and basket if you need it.
The route from the centre of Cascais all the way to Praia do Guincho is impossible to miss - simply head west along the well-demarcated red cycle path that extends all the way along the coast. The route itself is pretty flat, but that strong wind for which the beach is famous can make cycling incredibly difficult at times. The 405 and 415 local buses also run the 6km route to/from Cascais.
Get some shade at Marechal Carmona Park
Home to landscaped gardens, beautiful flowers and..... chickens. And peacocks, and turtles and all manner of wildlife; the Marechal Carmona Park, just behind the marina, is a wonderful spot to take a picnic or simply seek some shade beneath the canopy of trees on a hot summer's day.
The grounds also house the Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães, an beautiful 19th-century mansion replete with castle turrets and Arabic cloister.
Opening hours | 8.30 a.m. - 6 p.m. in the winter, with hours extending to 8 p.m. in the summer months.
Explore the pretty old town
Cascais' old town is beautiful.
Small cobbled streets, pretty buildings and pastel walls, and a smattering of the country's famous azulejos. But to truly appreciate it, you have to rise early. Rise before the holiday makers, before the restaurants open their shutters and before chatter fills the air.
Get lost amongst narrow alleyways full of fragrant blooms, and cute little houses all bathed in the most wonderful morning light.
On a warm summer's day, Cascais will always be beautiful, but take our advice and, even if it's just for one morning, venture out before the sun and the crowds.
Hit the waves
Whilst the Atlantic Ocean proved a little too chilly to venture in much past our knees, given its popularity as a surf destination, the frigid waters clearly don't bother everyone!
If you're an old hat amongst the waves, surf board rental can be secured from many operators for around 10 Euro for half a day, or 20 Euro for a full day - as always, prices can be negotiated for longer stays. For many visitors, Cascais is the ideal spot for a surf camp, with several recommended providers in the area.
Take in a sunset at Boca Inferno
Between the colourful parasols of the city beaches and the rough winds at Guincho, the Cascais coast rises up into beautiful cliffs lined with wild flowers and long grass. Whilst beauty can be found the entire way along this coastal path, it is at Boca Inferno (literally the Devil's Mouth) where the most spectacular views can be savoured.
Tame waves in the summer months may have you questioning whether it really deserves its name, but spend a mid-summer's eve watching the sun disappear behind the ocean and you'll soon understand why this particular location is so special.
Useful information | There is a small carpark here, as well as a snack bar and slightly fancier restaurant.
Where to stay in Cascais
Given Cascais' popularity as the summer destination, it won't surprise you to discover that the city is full of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hostels and simple guest houses to extravagant hotels and, our favourite, hundreds of Airbnb listings.
Ljmonade Hostel | Located around ten minutes' walk from the train station, this hostel is a fantastic choice for those that appreciate quiet surroundings and a homely feel. Excellent breakfast, nice communal areas (although these are closed at 11 p.m.) and the prettiest female dorm room we've ever seen. They also arrange all sorts of tours and activities.
Cascais Bay Hostel | If location slap-bang in the city is important, then it doesn't get more central than this hostel. It helps that they also have lovely communal areas, a great kitchen, good breakfast and friendly staff. Check availability and prices here.
The White House Cascais | For those on a bit of a budget but not into hostels.
Located a little out of the town, this is by far the best quality budget option in town. With a great pool and garden area, small but perfectly formed rooms, a guest kitchen and plenty of communal spaces it's a great choice for families or couples. Prices start at £65 per night for a double - check availability here.
Villa Vasco da Gama | A wonderful base for £100/night.
Located only minutes from Rainha beach, this delightful hotel is furnished to a high standard and has a large pool in the grounds. Also provides free bicycle rental to guests.
The Albatroz Hotel | If you want to splurge
Okay, we're not saying that this is budget accommodation. What we are saying however, is that it is pretty incredible the you can book a room in this stunning 5* hotel for less than £140 a night. Fantastic location right on the beach (yet still only few minutes from the centre of town), beautiful rooms, landscaped grounds and all the facilities you'd expect from a luxury hotel. Tempted? Check out availability here.
Airbnb | We've said it once, we'll say it again - we ❤ Airbnb. It allows us to stay in fantastic little apartments for significantly less than hotels and live in a lovely part of a city. Unsurprisingly, Cascais is full of them. Not signed up yet? Use this link to get up to £30 off your first Airbnb booking.
Booking.com | Apartments are becoming increasingly popular, and as such, traditional hotel sites are filling up with self-catering options. For a more independent holiday, take a look at these holiday home rentals.
Where to eat in Cascais
With a location next to the ocean, Cascais unsurprisingly has an amazing selection of seafood restaurants - but it doesn't finish there.
Here are a selection of our top picks:
Aroma | An unlikely combination of Thai and Indian, this place served up the best Pad Thai Emily has ever had - and she's had more than a few. Lots of excellent veggie (and even a few vegan) options plus wonderfully authentic Indian cuisine.
Conceito Food Store | Sleek surroundings and modern design set the backdrop for this excellent contemporary Portuguese restaurant. Be sure to visit their gourmet store afterwards to pick up some treats.
Cafe Galeria House of Wonders | The best vegetarian restaurant in town, House of Wonders does excellent mezze style food and has a fabulous rooftop bar with views over Cascais. Better for lunch than dinner in our opinion.
A Nova Estrela | Fabulously chintzy deco, a friendly environment and an excellent (but budget-friendly) menu make this a top recommendation. Don't expect any frill, but instead enjoy wonderful home-cooked simple Portuguese food.
Bijou de Cascais | Looking for possibly the best pastries in town? Head here.
How to get from Lisbon to Cascais
Factoring in a long-wait for hold luggage to reach baggage collection and a fair bit of dilly-dallying on trains and transport, from when your plane touches down in Lisbon to your front door in Cascais should take you no longer than two and a half hours - travel with hand luggage and it'll be even quicker.
Although it involves a few changes, the public transport from Lisbon airport to Cascais is affordable and relatively easy to follow.
1. Head into the metro station at the airport (it's well sign-posted) and buy a Via Viagem card from the ticket office. These cost 50 cents, and can be topped up with the required amount at the same time. If you only require the card to get to and from the airport, you won't need any more than 10 Euro, but should you plan on venturing back into Lisbon for a day trip you might need to top up again.
2. Take the red line heading to Säo Sebastiäo and ride for 9 stops, getting off at Almeda | 16 minutes
3. Change onto the green line towards Cais do Sodré and ride until the end | 9 minutes
4. At Cais do Sodré you want to pass through the entrance gates but do not exit the building. Instead head up to the next level where you'll find the train to Cascais | 4 minutes
5. These trains go up to four times an hour during the day, and are usually on platform two. Ride the train to the end of the line | 40 minutes
6. Cascais train station is located in the centre of the town, with a taxi rank outside the door.
In Cascais, Uber very much reigns supreme. Of course, there are still traditional taxis everywhere, and it's very easy to flag one down, but Uber is significantly cheaper. A regular Uber that can hold four people will cost you between 25 and 35 Euro from Lisbon airport to the centre of Cascais, dependent on traffic.