Only a short drive west of Lisbon is the popular coastal resort of Cascais. With its beautiful beaches, recreational activities, seafront restaurants, shops, and historical centre, this charming town makes for an enjoyable day trip from the city or an excellent base to stay whilst exploring the surrounding Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and rocky Atlantic coast.
History of Cascais
From the ancient Phoenicians and Romans to the Moors and the Spanish, traders and invaders have long been a feature in this region of Portugal. By the 12th and 13th century, Cascais was a busy trading and fishing village, and during the initial period of the Discoveries and Expansion in the 15th century, its importance grew into a fortified town with its strategic position in defending Lisbon.
Cascais became known as a popular seaside resort in the 19th century when the Portuguese royal family made it their summer residence. In 1870, King D. Luís transformed the Citadel governor’s residence into a royal palace, where the court was installed, and subsequently the nobility followed and the “Portuguese Riviera” became a cosmopolitan holiday destination for wealthy ‘Lisboeatas’.
Beaches around Cascais
Today, Cascais is a relaxed destination that offers something for everyone. Most appealing is the series of beaches located close to the town centre, where the Serra de Sintra helps to shield the Estoril Coast from the Atlantic winds maintaining a moderate temperature and calm sea. The Praia do Pescador, also known as Praia do Ribeira, in front of the Praça de Outubro is popular with local fishermen and provides a great spot for sunbathing and people watching.
Along the seafront to the East is the Praia da Rainha which accessed via steps feels a little more private. The beaches of Praia da Conceição and Praia da Duquesa which join at low tide are popular for sailing, fishing and windsurfing, also featuring a diving school. A walkway connects the two beaches with bars, shops and restaurants, some serving freshly caught fish, making it an idyllic place to enjoy a relaxed lunch, sunset drink or dinner.
Cascais' Historic Centre
Enjoy a stroll through the historic streets beautifully lined by Portuguese “calçada”, traditional mosaic paving. Just off the Praia dos Pescadores is Praça 5 de Outubro, a beautiful old square featuring a statue of King Dom Pedro IV and the 18th century Camera Municipal (town hall) that survived the 1755 earthquake.
The Largo Luis de Camões Square, named after the acclaimed Portuguese poet, is a central hub with many restaurants, bars and live music in the evenings. The pedestrianised street of Rua Frederico Arouca, or its old name Rua Direita, is full of many local boutiques, street vendors shops and restaurants.
The Mercado da Vila is the largest market in Cascais selling fresh produce every Saturday morning. You can enjoy a seafood lunch at Marisco na Praça located inside the market or come back in the evening for a drink.
Sights of Cascais
The Santa Maria Lighthouse, known locally as the Ponta de Santa Maria Farol, built in 1868 now houses a small museum and offers wonderful views. The beautiful Marechal Carmona Park is a popular picnic spot, featuring the two former gardens of the Palace Condes de Castro Guimarães and the viscount da Ganarinha’s residence, with its many exotic trees, flowers, ponds and art sculptures and a mini zoo.
The Museum Condes de Castro Guimarães and the Casa de Santa Maria close by, is a beautiful house from the late 19th century built in a sea cove with transparent waters, former private residence of the aristocrat Jorge O’Neil. A mix of architectural styles including castle turrets and an Arabic cloister, it was sold to the Count Castro Guimarães in 1910, and then donated to the Municipality of Cascais when he died.
The Cascais Citadela was constructed in the 16th century as a military fortress to defend the Bay of Cascais and Lisbon, featuring a central park and four buildings: Santa Catarina or Royal Palace, São Pedro, Santo António and the São Luís hospital. In the 19th century, King Dom Luís converted the site into his private summer residence and in 1910 the Palace of the Citadel of Cascais was assigned to the presidency and continues to be the President's summer residence. Today it also houses a small cultural centre with art galleries, restaurants, a hotel and the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic.
For a full cultural immersion, you can explore the Museum Quarter, a cluster of 16 museums spread around two urban parks, featuring Portuguese and international contemporary art and historical museums. Highlights include the 17th century Cascais Cultural Centre, former convent and then summer palace of the Gandarinha Viscount, which hosts several exhibitions, concerts and cultural events throughout the year.
The Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, features many works of the great Portuguese artist. The Duarte Pinto Coelho House occupies the former House of the Guards of the Castro Guimarães Count’s Palace, where today you can visit the collections of the famed “Cascaense”, interior decorator Duarte Pinto Coelho.
Also worth visiting is the 19th century library, Sommer House, formerly the Sporting Clube de Cascais, now dedicated to oceanography, and the Portuguese Music Museum with its pleasant garden. The Memorial Space of the Exiles displays pictures and documents from Portugal during World War II, as the region was the exile destination for kings and aristocrats, and a crossroads for spies.
Art lovers will enjoy the Citadel Art District featuring regular exhibition openings and events in a series of galleries, art studios and a project room where artists display their works.
Coastline and Surroundings
The neighbouring town of São João do Estoril is connected to Cascais by a big wall, “paredão”, offering a beautiful walk along the ocean from Azarujinjha beach in Estoril all the way to the Conceição beach in Cascais, a 2750 metres stretch with several restaurants and beaches.
Cascais is a great base for exploring the surrounding area: in addition to the Estoril coastline and Lisbon, you can easily reach Sintra and the national park around it.