THE PERFECT LONG WEEKEND IN CASCAIS, LISBON’S BEACHY SUBURB

[CASCAIS, PORTUGAL] — About a half-hour outside of Lisbon, Cascais is a great little beach town along the coast and the perfect long weekend base to explore the entire Lisbon coast. What to do in Cascais. Where to stay in Cascais. Where to eat in Cascais.

It’s hard to picture such a cool little beach town as a suburb of Lisbon; it feels like a world away.  Where Lisbon opens onto the Targus river, Cascais is further out on the peninsula, just past the Monaco-like wealth enclave of Estoril. Out here, you are more open to the blue waters of the Atlantic.

[Note:  a lot of people think that Portugal is a Mediterranean country, but it actually doesn’t even touch the Mediterranean Sea, it opens up to the chilly big waves of the Atlantic.]

 

Cascais is the perfect long weekend place to stay to explore the Lisbon coast.

 

Cascais main square

Like Lisbon, it’s amazing how much Cascais has changed since my first visit in 2013. then it was a little run down, with a lot pubs and chip shops appealing to what was then a predominately UK tourist and expat community. Now, the streets are bustling, there are more restaurants and better ones.

There are a lot of cool wealthy villas with walled gardens, a tight Centro Historico. A lot of wealthy people live here and work in Lisbon. You can rent a car or the commuter train from Lisbon can drop you right smack in the middle of the town and the beach. The best of which is its location, easy to ride a bike or taxi out to the killer Guincho beach or shoot up to Sintra, about 40 minutes away in the inland mountains. The in-town beaches aren’t the best, more convenient than pretty, but easy to get to the awesome Western coast of the European continent. I could live here. And hope to one day.

 

Villa in Cascais the perfect place for a long weekend.

A lot of the town was developed at the turn of the century and a lot of the buildings reflect that era. Some old flowery mansions and buildings are mixed in with more modern office buildings and business hotels.

 

Cascais is so close to Lisbon, almost seems to close, that you wouldn’t think of staying here. But I always recommend to friends to stay in Lisbon for a few days, then tour around in Portugal and then end up here on your final day or two before flying out — it’s only 38mins from the Lisbon airport, so easy to shoot to the airport for an early morning flight.

 

Cascais beach at sunset

The main town beach isn’t the most scenic — overlooking the fishing boats and harbor — but is certainly convenient. How cool would it be to live here and walk down for a nice swim at sunset?

 

Take a dip in the beach right in front of the Centro Historico or take a short walk along the sea, a nice paved path winds its way past the old Portuguese fort, then out to the Boca do Inferno, a sea cave that’s more of a destination than the coolest thing in the world.

 

The Best Beach in Cascais

 

Rent a bike for the short 5km flat ride out to Praia do Guincho — Guincho Beach. One of the best beaches in Portugal and on some Top Ten lists. Here’s a link to another post I did on the incredible beaches of Guincho. Or you can drive out and find a spot to park along the road, or even take an Uber or taxi.  Very easy to go to.

 

Praia do Guincho cliff

A Magical Day Trip to Sintra Outside Cascais

Sintra Pena Palace steps

Definitely plan to go to Pena Palace in Sintra, one of the coolest places in Portugal. An elaborately colored palace inland. It’ll be crowded, so go early or late in the day. You can take day tours from Lisbon, or it’s an easy half hour or forty minute drive from Cascais, with picture stops in between.

 

Definitely plan at least a half a day to go see the Pena Palace in Sintra, about half and hour inland. It’ll be jammed with tourists, but worth it, so go off-peak. The light is best in the morning or later afternoon — which is also when the tour buses aren’t there. You can arrange for a guided tour, or can explore on your own (which I did).  Here’s another post I made on Sintra.

Where to Eat in Cascais

Furnas do Guincho best at sunset

You just can’t find a much better place than this. Furnas do Guincho.

 

I’ve only spent a few nights in Cascais on my two short trips here, so only got to eat out at a few restaurants. A couple of nights eating in the hotel restaurants. Another meeting friends I met in Brazil who live here at Entraguas seafood restaurant, which was fantastic and highly recommend, but I don’t have any pictures of it. It’s right along the small road that leads to Guincho.

But the Furnas do Guincho was one of my favorite places. Smack on the water, the perfect place to watch the sunset.  Portuguese people eat late, so this is the one place to act like a tourist and go early to catch the sunset — there’s not too much fun for me to look at an ocean at night. Although the sound of waves is great at any hour.  The concierge at my hotel said “The service is not that great, a little busy, but the food is perfect and views, world class.”  I agree. We arrived at the perfect sunset time. At first, our waiter was busk and hurried and inattentive, but I was with my best buddy Tim and soon he had the waiter laughing with us and making a great evening.

 

Furnas do Guincho ocean view

If you get there at sunset, the place seems empty, but the later it gets, the busier. This definitely felt like a special occasion place for local Cascaisans, with birthday parties and anniversaries being celebrated all over.

 

Furnas do Guincho is about five minutes outside of town, a bit too far to walk, but an easy Uber. The views are incredible and the food was really excellent. You can book your own reservation on The Fork, which I found very helpful throughout Lisbon for a hassle-free booking site.

Furnas do Guincho best restaurant Cascais

Another recommendation from my hotel concierge was Mar do Inferno, which is right near the Boca do Inferno. The concierge said, the service was fun and great, but the food not as good as Furnas.

 

 

DON MANOLO Cascais

When I first came here in 2013, Cascais was much different. The economy had collapsed, so there were fewer restaurants and shops open. My Cascais friends suggested Don Manolo for lunch. “The BBC said if you go to Cascais, you must get the Piri-Piri chicken at Don Manolo.” I tried it then, then retried it on my second visit. It’s great for lunch, but kinda like a busy Rome tourist restaurant, with brusk service trying to turn tables. The chicken was good, not amazing. But good for a lunch stop in the Centro Historico.

DON MANOLO rotisserie chicken

Don Manolo piri-piri chicken. You can tell by the butter packet how the service level is.

Where to Stay in Cascais

Grande Hotel Villa Italia

Villa Italia Cascais best hotel

Another great hotel in Cascais, is the Grande Real Villa Italia, just outside of the town, and right along the rocky coast.  Within walking distance of of the Centro Historico and all the restaurants and shopping, it is a perfect location to serve as your base of operations for exploration all along the Lisbon coast.  You’re right along the water, so easy to go for a walk along the paved footpath, or rent a bike a jaunt out to Guincho beach.

This was my second visit to Villa Italia, I came here as a default as the Farol Design Hotel was booked. I was expecting the outdated decor of my first visit, but it looks like they remodeled the whole place. Back in 2013, Portugal was still waking up from its slumber, but this time Cascais was jammed with people. The hotel, too.  The pool lined with people hanging out in the sun. The giant pool is what makes the whole hotel. The perfect place to come back for a post-hike/post-beach dip and nap. Everyone was supremely nice and amazingly helpful and attentive. Loved this place, can’t wait to come back.

Grande Real Villa Italia Cascais ocean view

The Villa Italia is a Leading Hotels of the World hotel, so you know they have all the nice details dialed in.

 

Best pool Grande Real Villa Italia

As a Pool Freak, this is what I live for. A great big pool I can swim underwater laps, end to end.

 

 

Villa Italia Cascais pool at night

There are a couple of restaurants and outdoor bars to enjoy the cool evening breeze. There was a private dinner being held on the terrace on the upper left. I want to do that next time.

The Rooms at Villa Italia

Villa Italia Cascais suite terrace

The Retreat is the prominent stand-alone building that dominates and overlooks the pool. Highly recommend you get a room in this building. As for this corner suite, with views of the pool and ocean.

 

On this second visit, I decided to splurge on a Seaview Suite in the separate Retreat building. HIGHLY recommend. This one of the best hotel rooms I’ve ever had, Worth every penny. A gorgeous corner room suite, with big veranda, overlooking both the pool AND the ocean. We just sat out on the veranda and had cocktails and snacks. It was just perfect.  Loved the decor of the room. Wish I had stayed more nights, but will be back.

Villa Italia Cascais suite view

This is about as good as it gets. A breezy corner suite with views out to the ocean, people watching of everyone heading to the beach and a big terrace overlooking the killer pool.

 

The first time I stayed here July 2013, on a quick overnight stay, and surprisingly they upgraded me…and not to just a suite, but the entire $3,000/night presidential penthouse!  A two bedroom, several thousand square foot sprawling series of rooms at the top of the hotel, with its own hot tub overlooking the pool, ocean and the coming and going boats. Thank you!

Back then, Portugal was just coming out of its slumber and so the hotel was a little dated, like the Asian decor of this suite. I didn’t get a chance to check it out on my second visit, to see if they redecorated it similar to the Sea View Suites, but I’m sure they did. Either that, or it’s designed to appeal to Chinese tourists. But still, the suite was gigantic, with its own huge terrace, complete with dipping pool.

Villa Italia Cascais Presidential Suite terrace

The presidential suite they upgraded me toon my first visit  had a huge terrace, with great views of the ocean and it’s own hot tub/dipping pool.

 

 

Farol Design Hotel

I still have never stayed here, but always wanted to. It was booked both times I tried to stay here, except for expensive suites. But does come highly recommended on both Tablet Hotels and Mr & Mrs Smith. Also prominently featured on the Design Hotels website, where I got these pictures.

 

Farol Hotel pool

I’ve tried to stay here before, but was always booked. Right on the water. [Photo from the Design Hotels website.]

Farol Hotel Cascais room view

[Photo from the Design hotels website.]

Pestana Cidadela Cascais

Pestana Cidadela Cascais

One of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken.

 

Pestana Cidadela Cascais fort walls

The hotel is literally inside a hundreds years old Portuguese fort, complete with fortified walls. Just steps from the Centro Historico.

 

When I booked this hotel, it was 2013 and right after it opened. I saw tons of articles about a cool new design hotel in Portugal. I saw pictures like this and I was so excited to come here… It was my first trip to Portugal in 2013, so everything was new and I was so excited to stay in this cool boutique hotel inside an old fort.  I drove my Mini Countryman thru the thick walls and was in awe of the fortress perimeter. Okay, I’m here! So excited…I was giddy when I pulled in and saw this scene.

 

Pestana Cidadela Cascais entrance

The entrance courtyard of the Pestana Cidadela.

I’d seen this cool pool shot similar to this one I took and it looked like a cool James Turrell sky view installation… so I was so excited…

 

Pestana Cidadela Cascais pool skylight

It’s like a poor man’s James Turrell sky view. But in reality, it felt more like a Holidome.

Alas, when I checked in, the cold feeling lobby sucked the life out of me. Bad, modern chairs in a soulless lobby. Nothing cool at all. Felt like waling into an Orange County Ramada Inn business hotel. Coporate. Cold. Sterile.

The rooms were the same. I didn’t even take any pictures, they were so generic. So disappointed. And it was priced like a cool design hotel, way overpriced for what it was. I stayed for two nights, but ended up checking out early to find a cooler hotel (Villa Italia).

You can stay here, but I’d pick it last. When I revisited in September 2019, I took my buddy on a tour it reconfirmed my initial impressions. Make sure you book a room with a harbor view, the inside rooms are a bit cold; my first room opened up onto the inside of the fort and faced the glass-walled workout room, so you kinda have to keep your drapes closed…which is what you don’t want to do in a seaside resort. But once a room opened up on the harbor the next night, I jumped at the chance and it made all the difference in the world. Fairly reasonable price. The room photos below show the harbor view room.  But it was really bumming my mellow, so I checked out early and found a great room at the Villa Italia a few blocks away.

 

More Information on Cascais

Location Cascais Map

Cascais is basically a suburb of Lisbon, but feels world’s away. It’s a 38 minute train ride into Lisbon, or even less by car. But the nearby beaches, the sea and everything feels like a completely different city. I could live here.

 

Cascais city map aerial

Everything in Cascais is very compact. you can take the train station in and walk to the city center or the three hotels I’ve highlighted here. It’s a quick 38 minute commuter train to Lisbon. Only 5km from the roaring Guincho beach.

Here’s a review from The Telegraph of the Farol Hotel, a design hotel right on the water. I’ve tried to stay there several times and it was always book. You should check it out, too.  Here’s a great guide from The Independent on all the top things to do in Cascais — much more thorough than the two short overnight trips I’ve spent here. And another guide on the best hotels and things to do in Cascais from Culture Trip website. And here’s Frommer’s guide on Cascais, which looks sparse, but click on the links on the left.

Here’s a great resource for the Visit Cascais website.  And the TripAdvisor page for Cascais.  Here’s some detailed information on taking the train from Lisbon to Cascais from Rome2Rio.

 

— Last Visited July 2013 and September 2019 — 

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“THE PERFECT LONG WEEKEND IN CASCAIS, LISBON’S BEACHY SUBURB”

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