What to do in Cascais, Portugal

History, scenery, sun, sand and sea – Cascais has it all.

Just a short distance from Lisbon, the historical fishing town of Cascais in Portugal (pronounced cash-ki-sh) has much to offer in the way of dining, history and adventure.  The old town is a small and winding maze of whitewashed alleys with hidden restaurants and shops waiting to be discovered.  There are also wide cobbled avenues, and a market square with stalls brimming with local wares.  Cascais is a coastal town and miles of beaches stretch out in either direction: there are rocky outcroppings with private coves, and vast swathes of broad sand.

Cascais is one of the wealthiest municipalities of Portugal; since the late 1800’s it has been the summer residence of royalty and that tradition has long since continued – with Ronaldo currently building a mansion there so large that it is frequently mistaken for a hotel. The cobbled streets of the old town are littered with beautiful architecture and grand houses built by former kings and noble families, many of which have since been turned into museums and can be visited easily and at little cost with a single museums pass which includes entry to the town’s nine museums.

With an average five hours of sunshine per day in winter, there is a lightness to the place even in the cooler months.  Off season the town is bustling but not at all overcrowded.  As such it is a perfect winter sun destination for explorers and adventurers if not sun-seekers and sunbathers.  For families in particular Cascais should be a first choice destination – children are warmly welcomed in every outlet.  Museums and restaurants in particular were a joy to visit, there was no shushing or covert glares but rather warm smiles and welcoming gestures for my three year old.

Cascais hotels

There is no shortage of hotels in Cascais and the winter offers no end of hotel deals to be had.  We stayed in the Martinhal Cascais, a wonderful family hotel located a short distance outside the town centre.  It is an absolutely outstanding choice for anyone with kids with a plethora of thoughtful touches for families.  The rooms are contemporary and spacious: tastefully decorated with large family-sized bathrooms, plus generous balconies overlooking the hotel grounds.  There are also villa accommodations for larger families or groups.

The hotel has three pools (although only one is heated during the quieter winter months), and one of the best outdoor playgrounds I have ever seen.  My son spent hours occupied outdoors, so much so that we had no need to take advantage of the hotel’s outstandingly equipped Kid’s Club which offers daily supervised activities.

The hotel also features three restaurants, one of which overlooks the fully fenced play area, so that parents can enjoy a leisurely lunch with one eye on the kids.  The O Terraço restaurant offers breakfast and fine dining in the evenings. The breakfasts are excellent, as is the dinner menu. The Lounge is a much more low-key affair, while the M Bar restaurant offers fare somewhere between the two.  I would highly recommend the seafood skewers which were outstanding.

cascais hotel

There is also a spa and gym on site, as well as bike hire, and the concierge can organise several off-site activities including horse riding, sailing, tennis or golf to name only a few.  This is one of the most child-friendly hotels I have ever been to and yet it manages to maintain an upmarket and luxury feel.

Cascais restaurants

There are almost unlimited meal options in Cascais, from the diverse market vibe of Rua dos Navegantes, to the promenade of seafood restaurants at the seafront – you are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating and drinking.

I would recommend taking a longer stroll along the beach front to a hidden gem with some of the best ocean views in the area, where you will find the incredible fare of Azimut.  Perfectly positioned for an unfettered view of the sea, and away from the bustle of restaurants closer to town, Azimut offers diners a dazzling array of seafood dishes.  The breaded shrimp with basil sauce were to die for, and you will not regret trying a traditional Portuguese Cataplana.  It’s a kind of seafood stew absolutely bursting with flavour and overrun with fresh fish.  If you have any room left at all then treat yourself to their Portuguese “cookie cake” – a truly decadent, crunchy and moist coffee treat.

If you fancy a lighter dessert fare then you absolutely must visit one of the Santini Gelaterias.  The Santini family moved from Italy to Portugal over seventy years ago and have been serving up Italian quality gelato ever since.  Be brave when choosing your flavours!  The unlikely combination of sweet egg and pine nuts was a delight!

Cascais: What to do

When it comes to activities the options are endless: aside from the aforementioned museums and beaches, of which Cascais offers endless options, just a short drive or cab ride away you will find the incredible Palaces of Pena and Monserrate or the UNESCO world heritage town of Sintra.

cascais sintra

Monserrate Palace and Gardens have a wonderful laid back vibe for relaxed exploration of botanical gardens and intricate stone carvings.

Pena Palace is magical pop of colour: a Romanticist fairy tale castle come to life and filled with decadent decorations and sculpture.  Wrapped around it is an equally enchanting and sprawling botanical garden.  This is truly a must see destination.  A word of advice: Pena Palace can no longer be reached by private vehicle so save yourself hours of frustration by booking a cab direct from your hotel, or by parking in Sintra and catching a taxi or tuk-tuk up the hill.  It’s walkable but it is a considerable distance.

cascais what to do

For more active adventures there are miles of cycle paths and incredible forests to be explored across the entire region.  For a safe and easy cycling adventure I would highly recommend hiring a bike from SLAM in the marina and taking a cycle directly down the coast where 9 miles of safe coastal bike routes can be easily navigated.  For those who need an extra hand with the hills they have both electric and traditional bikes, plus trailers for small children.

Best for:

Family fun, sun and adventure

Clara was a guest of Visit Cascais and the Martinhal Cascais hotel where prices start from 160 euros per night.