The Irish Balance Guide To…Cascais (with a note on Lisbon!)

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As I write this, I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home from Cascais, Portugal. I’ve just spent an absolutely incredible week with my family here, and I could easily have stayed longer! In total I had a full week in Cascais with one day trip to Lisbon, and a day trip to a town called Sintra close by. Lots of you expressed interest in a little travel and foodie guide to Cascais so I’ve popped my favourite activities and things to see, plus places to eat and drink too! I’ve added a little paragraph on what we did in Lisbon too, though it’s by no means exhaustive – I think I’ll have to go back there again sometime to say I can write a comprehensive travel guide for it!

I’ve broken this up into activities (SEE and DO) and eating out (eat and drink), to make it easier for you all to read through! Cascais is a beautiful seaside town about 30-35 minute drive from Lisbon, and it’s accessible by a 35-40 minute train ride from Cais do Sodre station in Lisbon (which you can access from the airport via a different train line). It’s a great destination if you want a combination of a chilled out and active trip, as there’s the town itself to explore as well as fantastic places to see close by. We stayed in a villa found through Air BnB in a larger resort called Vila Bicuda, which had its own Sacolinha bakery café (a famous bakery chain in Portugal), a mini-market (handy for stocking up on water!) and a lovely pool too.

SEE and DO

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Explore Cascais – get in there and see it on foot! This town is just gorgeous – the pavements are covered in pretty tiles in unusual patterns, the houses are all different colours (especially pastel shades), it’s not jam-packed with tourists, there are several beaches to visit, and some fantastic restaurants and cafes to check out too, plus quite a few shops if you fancy a browse. Our villa was about a 10 minute drive outside the town, but there’s lots of options for staying in the town too. I would definitely devote a couple of afternoons to exploring the town and its beaches, or a day trip to check it out if you’re based in Lisbon. I’ve listed my favourite cafes/restaurants below in the main town. Unlike Lisbon, Cascais town is not really hilly, so it makes for very pleasant walking around, plus there’s a gorgeous and well-kept coastal path that runs from the town out all the way to Guincho beach (see below). The main beaches we came across were Praia da Ribera and Praia da Rainha, but there are a couple of others too.

About 10 minutes drive away is also a little town called Guincho and Guincho Beach, which is worth a cycle or drive to check out – we spent some time there watching the surfers ride the huge waves. You can rent bikes in Cascais from different sites around the town including right from the city centre – for the day it costs 6 euro and it’s a lovely way to take a trip along the coast and see the incredible cliff-face views. Look up Mobi-Cascais – you’ll see this company name around town and at a couple of bike stations just outside it, similar to the Dublin city bikes.

Estoril is the next seaside town over east of Cascais, which is a VERY short drive (about 10 minutes) or an equally short train journey. It’s known for it’s beaches and huge casino. We spent an afternoon walking the beach path which you can access just beside the train stop, and there’s some amazing views well worth a picture, plus you can dip your toes (or more!) in the sea to cool off. We went to a lovely café called Benedict Caffe to refuel after our long walk in the hot sun, which had quite a modern and overall affordable brunch-style menu with something to suit everyone. I had a Salmon Poke Bowl (see below) while my brother had an eggs Benedict dish (café namesake!), my sister had an omelette, and my parents had a funky Iberian ham dish. We didn’t go into the casino as that’s not really our thing, but the town was a fun little visit to while away an afternoon in the sun.

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Visit Sintra, a pretty town north of Cascais, about a 20 minute drive. There’s a bus you can take to get you there too. We drove to the carpark at the base of the Pena Palace, and hiked up to it from there. The palace (see photo below) is utterly incredible to look at, outside and in. It’s one of many sights to see in Sintra – we had planned to see some of the others but we under-estimated how intense the hike to Pena was, so instead we went down into the town itself to explore. It’s full of little streets of shops, local cafes and restaurants – we found a place called ‘Vila Velha’ which had lovely salads and toasted sandwiches. I brought home a miniature version of Pena Palace for my room!

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Two big sights worth a visit – Cabo da Roca, and Boca do Inferno. Boca do Inferno (‘Devil’s Mouth’) is an impressive hollowed out cliff arch (google a photo, you’ll see what I mean!) a few minutes outside Cascais town, and worth a trip for the photo, especially as it’s situated alongside the beautiful Cascais coastal walk and bike path. Cabo da Roca is the most westerly point in mainland Europe, a sheer cliff-face and lighthouse set up now as a tourist sight. It was pretty breezy the day we visited! But a breath-taking view, and it was only a 15 minute drive above Cascais.

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Visit Lisbon! This is a must for at least one day trip if you’re based in Cascais. We made it there with the full squad of my family for a busy day trip. We caught the train (about 6 euro each for a 24 hour train pass, but there are other tickets you can get which give you access to other forms of transport so look into that too!) which took 35-40 minutes from Cascais to Cais do Sodre. We hopped off at Belem first (two stops separate this one from Cais do Sodre) to see Belem Tower and the Monument of Discoveries, as well as the infamous Paisteis de Belem bakery to try their Pastel de Nata, which you 100% should do (the take-away queue moved quick and the Pastels were the best I’ve had)! We didn’t pay into the tower or monument given we only had one day but you can do that for both – there’s lots of other sights in Belem too I’m aware, but we had to pick and choose the big ones! It was also raining heavily during our visit, which thankfully eased off by the time we hopped back on the train to Lisbon city centre.

In Lisbon, I acted as our navigator and travel guide, since I kinda love mapping my way around to explore new locations and had done a little background research from travel blogs on what to try and see in this city. We started with Time Out Market which everyone recommended checking out – it’s essentially a MASSIVE food hall full of vendors that range from small-scale food items to full dishes produced by famous chefs who’ve set up a little section in Time Out to display their creations. There’s also bars too and a food product market. We arrived at 1pm, PEAK lunch hour, so finding a seat for six was tricky, but worth it. We also ordered something different – I had a tasty warm sweet potato salad, while others in the family tried tasty pizzas, a burger and a Pad Thai. I enjoyed the market BUT it was being honest a little crazy, so be prepared for that!

We made our way along the seaside coast passing Placa de Comercio into the old town Alfama district afterwards, to see the Se Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral), which was beautiful, and then hiked up the old hilly streets to explore Castelo de Sao Jorge. There are beautiful panoramic views of the city from the spot and it’s not too harsh a walk up – you even get to spot the famous yellow Tram 28s whizzing by! We then wandered back down through Alfama to a coffees spot called Fabrica Coffee Roasters which had GREAT mo-town vibes, a funky menu of snacks and lunch type dishes and decent coffee.

Finally, we stumbled onto Rossio Square and the main shopping streets of Lisbon on our way back to the train station – so of course, about two hours of browsing and further exploring ensued! We spotted the Elevator de Santa Justa too, which is an impressive sight. We didn’t go up it, nor did we queue for a ride on the Tram 28s, simply because we didn’t have the time to do it all in one day, but both were recommended to me to check out. The Barrio Alto district was also mentioned in emails of recommendations I got for Lisbon, as was the Lx Factory centre and area, but again, time constraints! All in all, we clocked up an impressive amount of activity and sights of Lisbon in one day, and most importantly, we did it at our leisure and loved it.

Back to Cascais! Let’s move onto EAT and DRINK!

Okay – this could be a whole other blog post, so I’m going to list the different places we visited and give a couple of lines for each to give you an idea of why I loved them and why they’re worth a visit!

Cafes

Café House of Wonders

This was the most recommended spot I had heard of before I left – people knew I would love it! It’s a really funky café which is an ideal visit for a lunch or brunch. When my sister asked for the menu, the charismatic owner told her it was a ‘visual menu’ at their café, and talked us through their dishes – shakshouka and various mezze plates. They also have an amazing rooftop section – ask to sit their if they have space! It was our first visit for a late lunch, and we tried a selection of their dishes among 5 of us – they also do great fresh juices too! It was a hit among all of my family and I especially loved their creativity with the dishes, all of which were vegetarian. Overall reasonable prices too given the portions and quality.

Chez Ma Pomme

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This spot is only open 4 weeks at the time of writing – the owner is French, and absolutely lovely. It also has a fabulous rooftop section which is a MAJOR suntrap, and we managed to get a table for all 6 of us for lunch. This café’s specialities are their galettes (savoury buckwheat crepes) and sweet crepes (made with traditional white flour). We all ordered different galettes – I had the La Nordique, a galette with smoked salmon, fresh cream and chive. It was DIVINE. Again, reasonable prices and decent portions too!

Roots Café

We stopped in here for a coffee and juice pick me-up while spending an afternoon wandering around the little old town streets of Cascais. They also apparently do great salads and vegetarian dishes, as well as vegan cakes and bakes. Sit outside if you can!

Restaurants

Masala

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WHAT a spot. This Indian restaurant was worth the 30 minute wait we had for our table of 5. We chilled out at a bar called The Tasting Table just opposite, which has the same owners so they know where to find you when your table is ready! We had appetizers and drinks while waiting. The food at Masala was absolutely incredible – we each ordered a main dish, and then two naan breads and two rice dishes to share (on the waiter’s recommendation, and he was 100% right, it was just the right amount of food). The korma in particular was incredible. The cherry on the cake is how reasonable the prices are – I won’t use the word ‘cheap’ but many of the main dishes were less than 10 euros each, and the naans and rices were 2-4 euros each. Make it your mission to try here – we didn’t book but were happy to wait, so perhaps look into booking in advance, depending on your party size.

Gordinni

Gordinni is an Italian restaurant recommended to me for it’s great thin-based pizzas, and it was our first restaurant of the trip. We went to Gordinni at the Cascais marina, which was a beautiful setting, and a little quieter than the bustle of the main town centre. My sisters and mom loved the pizza, my brother enjoyed a spinach and prawn gnocchi dish so much that he ordered it again on our second visit, and I loved their Salmon Gordinni dish (roasted salmon with baked potatoes, capers and vegetables) so much I had it again on our second visit! Prices were reasonable overall and we had two really fantastic meals here.

5 Sentidos

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We booked 5 Sentidos as a celebratory dinner for my sister’s birthday, who joined us for a long weekend in Cascais. It’s the fanciest of all the places we ate out in in Cascais, and while not the fanciest of the Cascaisu restaurant scene, it was a little more expensive than others we went to, but is very popular and was recommended to be worth it. You definitely need to book to eat here for dinner, but I can vouch it was absolutely worth the visit. My parents and brother shared an impressive seafood paella, which my sister and I tried the special of the day Nero Spaghetti with seafood, and my other sister loved her vegetarian spaghetti with feta. It’s a lovely restaurant with a pretty little attic space where we sat, and the staff were friendly. All in all, a win.

Bakery/Gelato

Santini

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GO HERE FOR GELATO. That’s really all I need to say about Santini, but I’ll elaborate a little. Santini is a gelato chain in Portugal, and I had heard it was a must-visit when in Cascais/Lisbon. We went here twice after dinner and tried different flavours each time – I loved the chocolate mousse, hazelnut and caramel flavours especially. The gelato is smooth, creamy, flavoursome and it’s a really nice post-dinner walk to find it.

Weeel Fro-Yo

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I couldn’t leave Portugal without trying their fro-yo! I saw a Weel spot in Cascais and found other pop-ups in Lisbon too, so I gave it a go on our way home from our day trip to the city. Verdict – they only have one flavour (natural yoghurt, frozen), and I tried a toppings combination of fresh mango chunks and caramelised seeds. While it was tasty, it definitely wasn’t anywhere near as good as other fro-yos I’ve tried (the best to date is Snog fro-yo in London!), so I’m glad I gave it a taste-test but probably wouldn’t rush back. More flavours of fro-yo please Weeel!

Sacolinha

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Sacolinha is a bakery chain, and well worth a visit for a coffee and pastry combination – even if, like me, you’re not a major pastry fan, their mini pastels de nata especially (warmed up!) were fantastic. My mom and sister tried some of the others from the extensive range of creative baked treats they sell, and really enjoyed them. They also do croissants of different types if you’re looking for a quick breakfast on the go – which you can pair with freshly squeezed orange juice too! I popped in here to pick up a coffee and sometimes the croissant order for the family each morning on my way back from my morning walk along the coast – a lovely ritual!

And that’s a wrap folks! I really hope you enjoyed reading this travel and foodie guide to Cascais (with a hit of Lisbon in there too!). If you have any questions just leave a comment or pop me a message on Instagram, or email – you know where to find me, @theirisbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook! All in all, if you’re deciding where to go on your next holiday adventure and were thinking of the Portugal direction, I would absolutely recommend a trip to Lisbon and Cascais – it was a dreamy week, and I loved every moment.

Ciara 😊 x

 

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