Looking for a colourful coastal escape for your 2017 holiday? Cascais, 30km west of Lisbon, Portugal is the ideal choice. Once a vibrant fishing village and summer getaway for the Portuguese Royal Family, Cascais is still a holiday hotspot for sophisticated travellers looking for unparalleled beaches, culture and entertainment. A sparkling new marina is a home to a host of impressive yachts and equally impressive restaurants and bars. The crystal blue waters off the coast are home to pods of dolphins and other marine life, while the town itself is set within the protected Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Inhabitants include rare eagles, foxes and falcons.
With an expanse of unspoiled countryside on your doorstep, Cascais offers an eclectic mix of activities alongside the usual coastal pursuits you can expect from a beach holiday. The town’s ancient castle ruins and many museums are ideal for holidaymakers looking for a cultural fix beyond Cascais’ fine coastline. With so much to do on a holiday to Cascais, you may want to simply relax by the pool and enjoy the views while you decide which Portuguese adventure to try next.
At a glance
- Currency: Euro
- Language: Portuguese
- Time Zone: GMT +0
- Average flight time: 2h 55m
When to go
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While the beach might be the main draw on a holiday to Cascais, there are plenty of other things to do. The old town is a great place to start exploring. A maze of winding alleys and lanes lead to cafes, quaint museums, well-kept gardens and boutiques.
The new marina has spurred a wave of regeneration around the water's edge, with the new crop of restaurants and bars catering to a sophisticated crowd. Admire the yachts, belonging to Cascais’ glamorous visitors, or take to the waters on one of the dolphin and whale watching tours. Seeing a pod of dolphins racing through the water or breaching and playing will be a memory to treasure.
Back on land, the Condes de Castro Guimarães museum offers the chance to explore some local history. An imposing building, the museum is a mock gothic castle set within the Marechal Carmona gardens. A shady spot in summer to relax and watch the ducks swim on the pond. Well-manicured lawns surround the pond, dotted with shrubs, plants and palm trees, the park offers a tranquil atmosphere away from Cascais’ bustling town and beach crowd.
Wine and Dine
Don’t expect to find too many restaurants serving Piri-Piri chicken in Portugal. Made famous by the South African restaurant chain Nandos, Piri-Piri is a Portuguese dish, but it’s rarely eaten here. Instead, expect to feast on salt cod - bacalhau, salmon etc - red mullet caught off the coast and pastel de nata - a Portuguese custard tart. Cheese lovers will definitely want to try São Jorge - a unique cheese. Made from cow’s milk, it’s aged for seven months to create the strong flavour.
Cascais has an eclectic mix of restaurants with everything from authentic Portuguese dishes to international flavours from Europe, India, America and beyond. Whether you’re looking for cheap eats to snack on by the beach or fine dining for an evening to remember, Cascais caters to everyone.
To try some of Cascais’ newest restaurants, head to the marina. This rejuvenated part of town has seen some swish establishments move in to woo the well-heeled yacht owners moored nearby. The sushi uses the freshest of the day’s catch and comes highly recommended.
A Cascais holiday offers families so much more than a beach escape. From exploring the old town to heading out into the surrounding Sintra-Cascais Natural Park - there’s plenty to discover for inquisitive families. At the marina, kids will love hopping aboard one of the dolphin and whale watching trips. While one of Cascais’ surf schools will get budding surfers riding the waves in no time. For a change of beach scene, active families can hire bikes in Cascais and peddle to the nearby resort of Guincho. The 8km cycle lane hugs the coastline and offers plenty of places to stop on route and enjoy the scenery. With museums, parks, lighthouses and family-friendly restaurants: what’s not to love for the whole family on the coast of Cascais?
Action and Adventure
Cascais is set right in the heart of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and is home to some truly magnificent hiking and cycling trails. Head to the park to trek through forests and sand dunes. Discover lagoons or scale the heights of Monte da Lua for spectacular views. Bring your binoculars, as the park is home to foxes, kestrels, peregrine falcons, badgers, weasels and the rare Bonelli eagle.
Wildlife fans can also take the water to spot sea life off the Portuguese coast. Whale and dolphin watching trips leave daily from the Cascais marina and boast a high chance of spotting dolphins and potentially more. Learn to surf, kitesurf or windsurf at one of Cascais’ many experienced surf schools or take to the water for some snorkelling to discover the vibrant sea creatures in the shallows. An easy way to explore part of the coastline is to hire bikes in Cascais and cycle to Guincho. A purpose-built 8km cycle path carries you the whole way there.
After working up an appetite peddling along the coast, you can relax on the beach in Guincho and grab a bite to eat before peddling back to the hotel for a well-earned dip in the pool.
Life's a Beach
A holiday to Cascais gives you the option to try one, or all of the three beaches close to the town. Ribeira beach is the closest to the old town. While it is lively, the beach is fairly small and can get busy. Protected by a breakwater, the calm waters and lifeguards ensure the beach is safe for families.
Behind the beach, there’s usually a bustling market or craft fair selling locally made souvenirs. If you’re looking for a secluded and, at times, a shaded spot in the sand, seek out Santa Marta Beach. This small inlet sits below one of Cascais’ palaces and the famous Santa Marta Lighthouse. The lighthouses never dim their lights and blink constantly, day or night. Cascais’ main and most popular beach is Duquesa Beach. The long stretch of golden sand has plenty of umbrellas providing welcome shade. The warm, calm and clean waters are ideal for swimming and popular with windsurfers.
The town benefits from a varied mix of nightlife, guaranteed to keep you entertained on a Cascais holiday. Those wanting to dance the night away should head to the marina. Coconuts are the top destination in Cascais for dance music. With a terrace overlooking the marina and a karaoke room where brave crooners can entertain fellow revellers.
Holidaymakers looking for a more chilled out vibe can check out the panoramic views and stunning sunsets at the Hotel Baia. The ground floor houses an excellent restaurant, while the roof terrace serves up drinks at their famous sunset parties.
If you think lady luck might be shining down on you, roll the dice at Casino Estoril. Just a short journey away in Estoril, it’s the largest in Europe. With slot machines, shows and gaming rooms, plus free concerts in summer, there’s always fun to be had at Casino Estoril.
A holiday to Cascais is made for couples looking for a romantic escape in the sun. From the beautiful golden sand-filled beaches to the old town’s cobbled streets, Cascais is a place where you can get lost in each other’s company while exploring the charming town. Top up your tans on adjacent sun loungers, or book a day on a luxury yacht at the marina for the ultimate romantic day at sea.
With the glamour of the casino just a short drive away in nearby Estoril, it’s easy to escape Cascais and try your luck at the roulette tables before an intimate meal in the restaurant. Cascais’ charming street market is the perfect place to put together a romantic picnic before heading into the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and finding a scenic and secluded spot. Back in Cascais, the panoramic views over the ocean from the marina are the perfect setting for an intimate meal before heading to a nightclub to dance the night away.
A small, yet sophisticated town, Cascais has some of Portugal’s most beautiful museums and historic ruins. Famous for its lighthouses, the blue and white lighthouse at Santa Marta beach is home to a museum detailing the history of the buildings. With other museums dotted among the old town’s winding lanes, there are many places to learn about Cascais’ past.
The summer months bring a festival spirit to Lisbon, Cascais and Estoril. A Jazz festival in July draws international musicians right into the heart of Cascais, where they play packed crowds of locals and holidaymakers.
Estoril hosts the oldest craft fair in Portugal during July and August. Craftsmen sell their intricate wares amidst a feast of music and entertainment. The end of summer is marked by two events, the Festas de Viana and the Sea Festival. Both bring music, dancing and fantastic food to Cascais’ streets, along with a whirlwind of colour.