The best independent guide to Cascais
The best independent guide to Cascais
Cascais and Sesimbra are two of the finest towns situated along Portugal’s stunning Lisbon coastline.
Both of these exciting holiday destinations boast glorious beaches, fascinating sights and an abundance of Portuguese charm.
The many varied attractions and activities of each town make them also some of the best day trips from Lisbon, and are highly recommended to visit if you are on holiday to Lisbon.
While both towns are popular summer holiday destinations, they tend to cater for very different types of visitors. The easiest way to summarise the difference between Cascais and Sesimbra is:
'Cascais has more sights and a livelier atmosphere, while Sesimbra is more traditionally Portuguese'
Cascais has been a popular holiday destination for over 150 years. Today it attracts visitors from all over the world, many of whom are younger – as well as families with younger children.
In contrast, Sesimbra is a favourite holiday destination with the Portuguese, which until relatively recently was seldom visited by foreign tourists. This gives the town a more authentic Portuguese atmosphere, with outstanding seafood restaurants and a calmer ambience. It also tends to be less expensive than Cascais.
If you're comparing Cascais and Sesimbra for their beaches, then know that both towns have equally glorious sandy beaches, with very little to separate them.
For a day trip from Lisbon, Cascais has more to see and can be easily reached using public transport. The sights of Sesimbra are spread out between the town and the surrounding region, which means a car is needed to get the most from a trip here.
Cascais grand 19th-century villas - Cascais is Portugal's original beach resort, ever since King Luís I decreed it to be his summer residence in 1870. The 19th-century Portuguese elite who followed the King constructed grand beachside villas, of which the 'Condes de Castro Guimarães' is the most impressive.
Cascais' holiday atmosphere – Cascais is a vibrant and lively holiday destination. The town welcomes a mix of nationalities and ages during the summer, all here to simply enjoy themselves. By day, the beaches are a hive of activity, while at night, the bars and restaurants are packed with tourists having fun.
Paredão de Cascais – The scenic coastal promenade between Cascais and Estoril that passes many of the town's small sandy beaches. On a summer's day, there is no more enjoyable short walk than this.
Marisco seafood restaurants – Sesimbra is famed for its seafood restaurants that serve up the fresh catch from the town's fishing fleet. The region's speciality is Arroz de Marisco, a delicious rice/broth dish that incorporates fresh seafood and is designed to be shared. This is an authentic taste of Portugal, and Portuguese nationals travel from all over the region to come and eat in the family-run restaurants lining the backstreets of the town.
Castelo de Sesimbra – The medieval castle that stands high above Sesimbra, originally constructed by the Moors and greatly strengthened during the 14th century. This is one of the best and least visited castles of the Lisbon region, which offers amazing views over the Sesimbra region from its battlements.
Cabo Espichel – A dramatic, windswept headland with towering cliffs and powerful Atlantic waves. Along the cliffs you’ll find a series of dinosaur footprints, while positioned at the top of the headland is a sprawling pilgrimage-church complex.
Insight: The Cabo Espichel is much more impressive than the better-known Cabo da Rocha (the most westerly point of mainland Europe) near Cascais.
Insight: We haven't mentioned the beaches in these highlights, as both Sesimbra and Cascais have equally impressive beaches to enjoy.
The Praia da Duquesa beach is the main beach of Cascais
Sesimbra has as equally beautiful main beach, the Praia da Califórnia
When comparing Cascais and Sesimbra as potential day trips from Lisbon (and travelling by public transport), Cascais is the better location to visit.
This is because there is more to see and do within the town itself, which offers a delightful blend of fishing heritage, 19th-century royal patronage and the excitement of modern tourism.
The town contains many excellent attractions, including the Cidadela de Cascais, the Boca do Inferno cliff formation, the fishing harbour, the Paula Rego art gallery and the Condes de Castro Guimarães villa. In addition, its historic and pretty town centre is a joy to explore, or you could enjoy a stroll along the Paredão de Cascais beachside promenade.
Cascais is connected to Lisbon by a direct train service, and there are sufficient sights to easily fill a whole day's sightseeing.
Related articles: The best sights of Cascais – A day trip to Cascais
Insight: The best day trip from Lisbon is Sintra, and a guide to Sintra can be found here.
The Casa de Santa Maria and the lighthouse of Cascais
The Praia da Ribeira is one of Cascais’s many small beaches that will be extremely popular during the summer
The Cidadela de Cascais towers above the fishing harbour
Sesimbra town has fewer sights than Cascais, and can be fully seen in a half day of sightseeing (Cascais takes a whole day). The main sights of Sesimbra include the castle, the beachfront, the Forte de Santiago and the fishing harbour.
However, having access to a car opens up opportunities to explore the surrounding area, which for many visitors could provide an even better choice of day trip than Cascais.
With a car, you could visit the Cabo Espichel headland, then drive along the spectacular N379 as it crosses the Serra da Arrábida hills. This is one of the best driving routes in Portugal.
During the day, you could also include the picturesque beaches of the Portinho da Arrábida coastline or the deserted beaches of the Lagoa de Albufeira, or try wine tasting in the wineries of Azeitão.
Sesimbra may have less to see within the town itself, but the surrounding area has lots more to offer - and is one of the hidden gems of the Lisbon region.
Related articles: Sights of Sesimbra – The Serra da Arrábida and N379
The N379 as it winds through the Serra da Arrábida hills – this is a stunning driving route
The Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel, church with its accommodation wings for pilgrims
The Portinho da Arrábida coastline and the Praia do Creiro beach
Cascais is one of the best holiday destinations in the whole of Portugal. It offers the perfect blend of Portuguese character and modern tourism, with outstanding hotels, a huge variety of restaurants and a buzzing nightlife. If you are new to Portugal, then Cascais is the town to head to during the summer.
Cascais is a fantastic holiday destination that offers both beautiful beaches and great sightseeing, and from here it is easy to travel to both Lisbon and Sintra. In the morning, you could be exploring the Baixa district of Lisbon or the Pena Palace in Sintra, and in the afternoon you could be relaxing on the Praia da Duquesa beach.
Insight: Cascais is a fantastic choice for couples, where one person prefers the beach, and the other gets restless.
The Paredão de Cascais passes the Duques de Palmela palace and the Alberto Romano sea swimming pool
Sesimbra offers a more authentically Portuguese holiday experience. During the summer, Sesimbra will be buzzing with an equal mix of Portuguese and foreign tourists, while outside of the peak season (August) it takes on a calm and relaxing atmosphere. This makes it a great choice for older visitors, especially in June and September.
Generally, we would recommend Sesimbra after you have been to Portugal a couple of times.
Insight: If this is your first beach holiday to Portugal, we would recommend Cascais, Lagos, Albufeira (which is party focused town and not suitable for all) or Tavira.
If you have been to Portugal a couple of times and want a beach holiday somewhere a bit different, we would recommend Vila Nova de Milfontes, Sesimbra, Alvor, Ericeira (for surfing), Costa Nova, or São Martinho do Porto.
Sesimbra and Cascais are situated on two beautiful but very different coastlines. The main difference is that Sesimbra lies on a single large stretch of sand, while Cascais has many smaller sandy beaches.
Sesimbra sits on a wide bay that is sheltered from the power of the Atlantic Ocean. Along the entire 1.7km length of this bay is a sandy shoreline, which is divided into the Praia do Ouro and Praia da Califórnia.
The main beach of Sesimbra is marginally better than the many small beaches of Cascais, and will be significantly quieter during the summer.
To the east of Sesimbra is the Portinho da Arrábida, the idyllic beaches of the Serra da Arrábida. Found within this coastline are some of Portugal's most picturesque beaches, such as the Praia do Creiro and the Praia de Galapinhos.
The Praia da Califórnia is the main beach of Sesimbra
Cascais lies on the Portuguese Riveria, a coastline of sandy beaches, clean seawater and characterful resort towns, including Estoril and Oeiras.
The beaches within walking distance of Cascais town centre are much smaller than those in Sesimbra, but tend to be more lively - offering sea inflatables, boat rides and beach sports.
To the north of Cascais is the Serra de Sintra coastline, which faces the might of the Atlantic Ocean. These beaches are characterised by huge waves, strong winds and powerful currents and are popular for surfing and kite surfing.
Related articles: Sesimbra beach guide - Cascais beach guide
Cascais’ beaches can be very busy during the summer
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