a building next to a body of water
Santa Marta lighthouse and Municipal museum of Cascais, in Portugal.

There’s a lot of hype around Lisbon. Anyone who’s been will quickly regale you with tales of Pasteis De Nata and tram rides up the scenic hills. With more and more direct flights, particularly from the US, it’s an exciting time to visit Portugal. But is it actually all that wonderful?

Yes, it is, but there’s an area nearby that offers the perfect counter balance to the busy life in Lisbon, and it’s the area of Cascais. Home to surf competitions, the actual Iron Man, regattas and homes of European kings, it’s the suburbs done very, very right.

Cascais Side Trips From Lisbon

There’s no question that the rugged terrain, artsy streets and delicious eats of Lisbon are worth a few nights, but side trips can make trips.

When that side trip is just a 20-30 minute car ride, or train ride away, there’s a lot to love. Cascais is situated to the West of Lisbon, nearer the edges of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Not far away, you’ll find the locations of the annual “Big Surf” challenges.

The paradise that is Cascais is known as the Portuguese Riviera, in part due to the upscale way of life that currently exists in the city and surrounding areas, but also for the laid back style and beach centric life. It’s a renaissance kinda place.

a building next to a body of water
Santa Marta lighthouse and Municipal museum of Cascais, in Portugal.

If you’re looking for “authentic” Portuguese food, more unique boutiques and a stretch of beach you have to see to believe, this is an absolute must. This charming area is also more about small hotels than mega chains, though you’ll find ample luxury staples.

The Villa Cascais happens to have some of the best Patatas Bravas in all of Portugal, if you happen to be walking along the waterfront. The views certainly aren’t sad, either. A chance to dine on the beach should never be passed up when in Portugal, and top eats spots like Porto Santa Maria put you in an inimitable setting.

More than anything, it’s just the perfect place to add a laid back element to a Portugal trip, without any added flights or long journeys. Cascais is like the Santa Monica to Los Angeles, or coastal Long Island to New York City.

You get a sense for people who actually live, workout and enjoy life here, rather than Lisbon where you must dissect constantly between tourist traps such as the Time Out Market — sorry, it kinda sucks — and more local areas.

The Beginnings Of Cascais

Speaking to a wonderful local, Andre of Shortcuts Tourism, Andre explained that it was the kings and Queens of Europe who made the Riviera what it is today. During WWII, a large number of European aristocrats fled to neutral Portugal to rule in exile.

Many set up shop in the Cascais area, protected by large plots of land, new houses and sandy beaches. As usual, the gentry followed along, setting up their own residences in the area.

Now, the area is home to the glitterati of Portugal, from Cristiano Ronaldo who owns at least one home in the area, to famed architects like Philippe Starck. The townhouses are almost as swoon worthy as the harbor and beaches.

Lisbon To Cascais: A Must

Travel between Lisbon and Cascais is as easy as it gets. You can just take the Cascais line from Cais Do Sodre in Lisbon directly to the city. It’s a quiet, pleasant coastal ride you can bring a picnic — or sneak a bottle of wine onto — and it’s under an hour.

By car, or with a great guide such as Andre, the journey is even easier. There aren’t many places where I feel like I instantly want to return just after leaving, including Lisbon, but Cascais is one of them.

If you’re headed to Lisbon, you simply can’t leave without a side trip.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Shhh – We’re trying to keep Cascasis a secret! As an American ex-pat living in Cascais for the past five year, you hit a bunch of nails right on the head. With all the craziness going on in the rest of the world, there is no doubt in our minds that we ended up in the best possible place. And BTW the Time Out Market is great fun with some amazing food.

    1. Barry, sorry to blow up your spot! Such an idyllic place to live and well done on that one. I’m generally a huge fan of mercados, the Time Out concept etc, but I feel like the pandemic did no favors to the Lisbon iteration. Almost everything I ate was a very poor version of the real version served in the original spots. Wine was good as always, albeit overpriced but there wasn’t any food that left me glad I came. In a city like Lisbon, that’s a travesty. Be curious to hear your thoughts if you’ve been recently.

      1. Ashamed to admit I haven’t been there for almost a year. Maybe because there are so many wonderful choices right here in Cascais (Shh). Sould be noted though that there are four food booths at Time Out associated with Michelen starred restaurants. Can’t imagine that any of them were mediocre, but you were there and I wasn’t,

  2. Don’t go to Cascais without stopping in and seeing Nick at Surfnpaddle – he’ll get you out on the blue waters on a paddle board – it’s a gas! So glad we met him when we were there!

  3. At 77 yo I’m old enough to recall it as a Fishing Village when I was a Teenager.

  4. André is a tour guide ? What is the cost for him to take him from Lisbon to Caiscais and introduce the city? how do i contact him?

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