Cascais was a fishing village that was forever changed when the Portuguese royal family established it as their favorite location for a summer retreat. This heritage is apparent in its elegant 19th-century architecture of palaces and elegant mansions. Nowadays, Cascais is a charming and affluent community that attracts locals and tourists year-round. Most travelers venture on a day trip to Cascais because it is easily reached by a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon.
We arrived in Cascais in the early afternoon. Looking forward to a relaxing visit in this small waterfront destination, we booked one overnight stay. To our surprise, Cascais was hosting the 28th Annual European Harley Davidson Rally and more than 50,000 people gathered on the streets of this picturesque town. I don’t blame them for choosing such a lovely place, but for travelers who want to experience the local culture and laid-back atmosphere, that was the wrong day to visit. We barely had a chance to see the façades of the buildings. Motorcycles were everywhere.
Certain of our return in the near future, we left Cascais on the next day with the bitter awareness that we didn’t see its true colors. Yet we made the most of our shortened visit. If you’re planning a trip to Lisbon, a day trip to Cascais (stay overnight if you can) is an excellent option. Find below what we experienced in this lovely town plus a list of things we wish we had a chance to do.
Day trip to Cascais: Cabo da Roca
We traveled to Cascais from Sintra, which are approximately 11 miles apart. The Uber ride would take about 30 minutes, but after a short chat with the driver, we added a stop at Cabo da Roca. Despite being a little bit out of the way (about 11 miles west from Sintra and 9 miles north from Cascais), it was so worth it.
Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca) is the westernmost edge of the European continent and up until the late 15th century the Portuguese believed that Cabo de Roca was the edge of the world. After a short stroll along the coastal trails we understood why. From above we had a stunning view of the dramatic landscape of 500-foot-high cliffs, unobstructed sights of the coastline, and the Atlantic Ocean. The scenery was breathtaking!
Note: You can visit Cabo da Roca by bus taking line n. 403 which travels between Cascais and Sintra via this site. The journey takes about 20 minutes.
Day trip to Cascais: what we experienced
Boca do Inferno cliffs
Boca do Inferno (Hell’s Mouth) is a chasm in the limestone cliff formation. It received this name due to the rough ocean waves that crash against the bluffs, forcing their way into a cave, and bursting forcefully from an opening above.
Boca do Inferno is a 20-minute walk from the city’s historic center. Although it has a fascinating view from above, we walked along the pathway to reach the viewing platform. From below, we took an up-close look at how the forces of nature slowly carve and shape new forms.
The Santa Marta Lighthouse
From our hotel, we walked along the coast towards the historic center. Despite the crowd, heat, and heavy traffic, the views along the way were still worth it.
Santa Marta Lighthouse’s distinctive blue and white striped tower stood over the mouth of the Tagus River. We walked down the bridge to have a better view of the lighthouse and for a moment of quiet. Big and small rocks lay along the shore where we sat and stayed for a while. A few other visitors came while we appreciated the view of one of the most recognizable postcards of Cascais.
The lighthouse was built on the site of a 17th-century fort in 1868. The site now incorporates a small museum which covers its own history as well as the development of the optical devices used in Portugal’s lighthouses. Another topic covered by the museum is the lighthouse keeper’s profession.
Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães
Museu Condes de Castro Guimarães is considered one of the greatest treasures of Cascais. This eye-catching mansion, whose construction began in the twentieth century, is the setting for a museum, which holds a library with 25,000 volumes, extraordinary paintings, personalized jewelry, porcelain, and a vast collection of Portuguese furniture. In addition, the museum is inside the Marechal Carmona Park which contains immense trees, beautiful gardens, lawns, and fountains. Needless to say, both the museum and the gardens became our escape from the hustle and bustle of the city that day.
Cidadela Art District
Trying to stay away from the busy city center, we meandered through the streets until we encountered the Nossa Senhora da Luz Fortress, aka Citadela by locals. This Citadela was built in the late 1600s to overlook and guard the Atlantic entrance to Lisbon through the Tagus River. It was a delightful surprise to see the old fortification renovated into an Arts Centre that combines the old and new, plus history and art. It is the Cidadela Art District. Likewise, the main square is a peaceful pedestrian area that has impressive artworks and sculptures.
The grounds of the historic site includes the 5-star Pestana Cidadela Hotel, studios, galleries, and museums.
Santini ice cream
Although we heard that Santini Gelati has other stores in Lisbon, we wanted to have it in Cascais. Want to know why? First, it was the best thing to do on a scorching hot day. Second, it all started right there. In 1949, an Italian immigrant produced handmade ice creams with the freshest and highest-quality ingredients to serve to beach-going Portuguese during the summer season. It immediately became a success.
Today Santini Gelati produces the same quality gelato with 100% natural products. The attendant told us that the selection of flavors changes with the seasons. But we had no difficulties finding something we loved. From the classic strawberry and chocolate flavors to refreshing mango, peach, lime, and passion fruit, I guarantee you will be delighted with whatever flavor you choose.
Day trip to Cascais: what we missed
Here is a list of things we would have loved to have seen and done:
Stroll on the streets
Stroll around the historic center and its winding streets and cute alleys, and appreciate the azulejo (characteristic ceramic tiles) adorned buildings and sidewalks with mosaics in different patterns.
Walk on the boardwalk between Cascais and Estoril
Walk along the coastline between Cascais and Estoril. It is known for great vantage points of Cascais beaches, including the acclaimed Praia do Tamariz.
Bike on the beachfront
Bike 6.2-mile (round trip) from Cascais to Praia de Guincho. The route follows the dramatic cliff coastline and passes multiple interesting sights. Bike rental shops are available in the marina.
Enjoy the beaches
Cascais has a remarkable reputation since the 1870s when the Portuguese royal family and upper-class Lisbon residents established this seaside town as their residence during the warm months. Nowadays, Cascais is still best-loved by locals and travelers for its beaches.
Cascais is known for its wide array of restaurants that serve everything from traditional Portuguese dishes to international cuisine. Nevertheless, due to its proximity to the sea, seafood is the winner.
Where to stay in Cascais
Note: Hotels in Cascais have a high occupancy rate during the high season. For this reason, if you want to visit the destination between June and August, book your hotel in advance.
Top-notch: Hotel Cascais Miragem Health & Spa
This luxurious 5-star hotel offers rooms and suites with a view of the romantic village of Cascais or the endless Atlantic Ocean. The Miragem Water Lounge, located on the sixth floor, is a phenomenal space with pools, a salt lake, sauna, and Turkish bath. Certainly, this is a superb place for families.
Mid-range: Eurostars Cascais
The hotel has an excellent location for those who want to be close to town but away from the hustle and bustle. The promenade right outside the hotel stretches several miles along the coast in both directions, passing attractions such as Boca do Inferno and Farol de Santa Marta. Similarly, accommodations with balconies offer stunning views of the sea.
Budget: Hotel Baia
This 3-star hotel is right in the center of town. Most of the rooms have a balcony overlooking the sea with breathtaking views of the Cascais Bay. Great value for money. In addition, other rooms face the town of Cascais and the mountains of Sintra.
Visit Booking.com to check out other options.
How to get there: a day trip to Cascais from Lisbon
Traveling between Cascais and Lisbon is easy, inexpensive, and quick. Trains run frequently from Cais do Sodré Train Station in Lisbon to Cascais Station, centrally located in the town. The journey takes about 30 minutes along the coastline, and costs no more than a few euros. There are no reserved seats, and you cannot buy tickets online.