The Best Things to Do in Cascais, Portugal
The Santa Marta Lighthouse sits just south of the town centre in the marina of Cascais | © Jan Wlodarczyk / Alamy Stock Photo
Cascais is where the hip young things of Lisbon head for some well-earned leisure time, meaning the seaside town is packed with fun things to do.
This coastal resort town just west of Lisbon combines world-class beaches with historic architecture, royal retreats, a buzzing marina and one of Portugal’s 13 Natural Parks. From visiting hidden coves and discovering prehistoric dinosaur fossils, to rolling the dice at one of Europe’s largest casinos, this is our pick of the best things to do in Cascais, Portugal.
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Fancy playing James Bond for the evening? The flamboyant soirees and glamorous atmosphere of Casino Estoril is said to be the inspiration behind Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, the first of the James Bond novels. It’s not only the largest entertainment complex in Portugal but is one of the world’s largest working casinos. Alongside the gaming rooms, you’ll find a sprawling show and dining hall, an art gallery and an auditorium for performances ranging from jazz concerts to theatre. There’s also the acclaimed Estoril Mandarim Chinese restaurant, which serves authentic cuisine from the Guangdong province.
Boca do Inferno
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The coastline to the west of Cascais is defined by its dramatic cliffs shaped by the forces of the Atlantic Ocean – and Boca do Inferno (Portuguese for Hell’s Mouth) might just be the most impressive formation of them all. The chasm and sea arch are formed from a collapsed cave and the waves relentlessly crash into the opening and explode upwards making it a popular tourist attraction. Fun fact: Boca do Inferno was the first cave to be depicted in a film. The 1896 British short silent film A Sea Cave Near Lisbon shows waves crashing dramatically at the mouth of the cave
Praia do Abano
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Praia do Guincho might be Cascais’ most famous beach, but the neighbouring Praia do Abano is equally as pretty – and much less crowded. This hidden gem is found by following a dirt track through the pine woods off the Sintra coast road and, if you’re planning on swimming or sunbathing, it’s best visited on a calm day. The best place to take in views of the small cove is the terrace of Restaurante Abano, which serves up an unpretentious Portuguese menu and tasty homemade desserts.
Casa das Pedras
The imposing Casa das Pedras is an impressive summer house constructed entirely from stones and pebbles collected from nearby beaches. Designed at the turn of the 20th century by architect Nicola Bigaglia for Portuguese commander and frigate captain Manuel de Azevedo Gomes, the fantastical home is located in the village of Parede, less than 8km (5mi) from Cascais. It overlooks Avenida Marginal and the pretty beach of Praia das Avencas and is one of the region’s finest examples of late-romantic architecture.
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Delve into the 650-year history of Cascais at the former house of Portuguese industrialist Henry Sommer, which has been transformed into the Municipal Historic Archive and the Cascais Municipal Library. Built in the late 19th century, the home also has a reading room and exhibition space. The white, three-storey building itself is also impressive and is one of the most important examples of neoclassical architecture in the city – think fluted pilasters, triglyphs and a portico framing the entrance to create a first-floor balcony.
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In search of adventure near Cascais? Nestled into the southern foothills of the Serra de Sintra mountain range, the Pedra Amarela Base Camp offers high octane nature-based activities – think mountain biking, tree and rock climbing, archery, abseiling, zip-lining and orienteering – in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. If you want to explore the area on foot, take on the near 5km (3mi) loop trail. All activities are supervised by qualified instructors, so it’s ideal for kids of all ages, as well as the young at heart!
Praia da Torre
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Looking for a family-friendly beach close to Lisbon? Head to Praia da Torre, a sandy beach overlooked by the imposing 17th-century Forte São João da Barra. The beach is sheltered by the headland, making it safe for swimming, whilst there are plenty of amenities including shops and restaurants nearby. You’ll find the Piscina Oceânica de Oeiras here, an enormous outdoor swimming pool with diving towers and sun loungers.
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This rocky cape on the coast of Cascais has been shaped into a dramatically sculptural landscape by the relentless wind and ocean. Perched on the edge of the cape, in the Fort of São Brás de Sanxete, is the bright red Cabo Raso lighthouse, which stands at 13m (43ft). It’s also a popular spot for diving and professional big-wave surfers.
Praia da Rainha
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Who says bigger is better? Praia da Rainha might be one of the smallest beaches in Cascais but it packs a punch with golden sands surrounded by dramatic rock formations overlooking the Bay of Cascais. Praia da Rainha translates to Queen’s Beach, a reference to its former use as a private beach for Queen Amélia in 1889. The beachside Bar Praia da Rainha offers a selection of simple sandwiches, salads and drinks, while the Largo da Praia da Rainha square – which overlooks the beach – is home to the popular Music Bar Restaurante.
Sintra-Cascais Natural Park
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Located on the Portuguese Riviera, this 14,500ha (36,000 acres) park stretches from the mountains of Sintra to the coastline of Cascais and Cabo da Roca, continental Europe’s most westerly point. It encompasses both historical and natural wonders, from the hilltop Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) to rugged cliffs, sandy bays, pristine forests and crystal clear lakes. The cliffside village in Azenhas do Mar and the collection of dinosaur trails and footprints in the South Cliff of Praia Grande are just two of the unmissable attractions to be found here. For watersports and lazy beach days, head to one of the park’s many strips of sand, which include Praia Grande and Praia Guincho.