Although being close in distance, these two towns running along the Portugal coastline do offer a fair number of differences.
Sintra, with its forested and mountainous backdrop, was once a sanctuary for the royals, and it’s easy to see why. The nature here is stunning, and now, thanks to those royals, it also boasts a selection of grand castles to feast your eyes on. While the once tiny fishing village, Cascais, boasts many similar attributes, it has been developed into much more of a tourist hotspot, and, therefore, has a more traditional beach vacation feel.
So, Sintra or Cascais? Which one would make for the more satisfying getaway? Well, taking into account some of the top vacation necessities, we aim to help answer that question for you, and have you jetting off to one of these stunning Portuguese settings in no time.
Sintra vs Cascais: Getting there
Firstly, just how easy is it to get to both of these destinations? Well, unfortunately, direct flight access is not possible, and both require starting out from Lisbon airport.
The cheapest way to get to Sintra is definitely the train and metro option. You can pick up the metro line directly from the airport to Oriente Station and from there a train will take you all the way to Sintra Station. Roughly an hour’s journey for under €5, this is definitely your most budget-friendly option. However, if you have the cash to splash, you may want to take the more convenient, relaxing option of a taxi. Costing roughly €35 ($41), this will set you back quite a bit more, but you’ll be Sintra bound in half the time, with a journey time of around 30 minutes.
The journey to Cascais is slightly longer and more expensive. Your cheapest option again is by metro then train, however, this journey takes around one hour and 20 minutes. Or, if you’re just not in the mood to stand around waiting on trains, by far the most convenient option is the taxi method. However, at around €40 ($47), you’ll be digging into that precious spending money fund before even arriving at your destination.
Winner: Sintra, for the cheaper, faster option
Sintra vs Cascais: Things to do
So, you’ve made the journey and arrived at your destination, eager to find out what awaits you there. Well, fear not, both have plenty to keep you occupied, but in very different ways.
In Sintra, prepare to be transported to a fairy tale dreamland, as stunning mountains, colorful castles, and ancient ruins surround you. So, with that in mind, there are plenty of nature treks and historic tours to fill your days. Top sights to be added to any Sintra itinerary are Penha Palace (the summer getaway for Portuguese royalty), the Historic Center, which was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, and the majestic Castle of the Moors, overlooking the town, which lights up at night for an even more phenomenal viewing.
In Cascais, you’re looking at having a more traditional seaside escape. A place where lounging on the beach takes up the majority of your to do list for the day. However, with the beaches that Cascais offers, that’s certainly not a bad thing. But, when you’ve had your fill of relaxation, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops on the palm tree lined streets of the old center to wander to. Or, if you’re in the mood for bit of culture, why not head over to the Casa das Histórias. This art gallery is not only one to see for the pieces inside, but also a place to marvel at the red pyramid structure that houses the gallery.
Winner: Sintra, for the variety
Sintra vs Cascais: Beaches
Well, the good news is that you won’t be short on beaches in whichever destination you choose. However, that’s not to say they are of equal caliber. So, let’s get dissecting.
The beaches of Sintra benefit from a less crowded, more secluded feel, making it the ideal choice for those searching for a bit of peace and solitude on their vacation.
For the ultimate in seclusion, Praia da Ursa is your best bet. Surrounded by cliffs, this beach is not the easiest to get to and requires a fair amount of treacherous effort. With a steep descent over many loose rocks, it’s not one for the faint-hearted. However, its unspoiled and wild feel may just be worth it. But, if you don’t mind sharing your beach experience with fellow tourists, there are several other beaches in the area that don’t require the fear factor to get to. Praia Grande is the biggest (hence the name) and the easiest to access, while Praia das Macas is one of the most popular, with its golden sands and powerful waves for good surf.
With four glorious sandy beaches within walking distance of central Cascais, you’ve never got far to go when you want to unwind by the rocky coastline. And if you’re after a little watersport fun, this is definitely the place to be. Kitesurfing, paddle boarding and surfing are some of the most popular things to do in Cascais, and with the variety of waves, it’s perfect for beginners and pros. But if you’re after a calm, picturesque beach, Rainha’s gorgeous blue waters and golden sands will provide. Once chosen to be the private beach of Queen Amelia in the 1800s, this small beach is now crowded with tourists admiring its beauty. So, getting there early to secure a spot is a must.
Winner: Cascais, for the choice
Sintra vs Cascais: The Nightlife
By far the easiest decision on the list if nightlife is what you are after.
Unfortunately, Sintra is not quite Albufeira when it comes to nightlife. Although, it’s not totally devoid of any form of evening entertainment. There are several wine bars, a club or two and even a karaoke spot.
Salla de Estar is one of the more popular spots in town, serving a variety of top-quality cocktails and the best of Portuguese wines and beers, all in a traditional laid-back setting. However, a great spot to hear a bit of the famous Fado singing is the Taverna dos Trovadores, which hosts live music nights every Friday and Saturday night.
But for that nightlife buzz, Cascais is the place to be. With a good variety of lively clubs and bars, there is no shortage of places to party the night away here. If dancing by the sea is what you’re after, then look no further than the Tamariz Beach Club, located right at the top of the beach, for an epic vacation club night. However, if hardcore partying is not your thing, perhaps Cascais Jazz Club may be more up your street. With live music four nights a week, it’s the perfect place to sit back, relax, and listen to the best of the Portuguese music scene.
Or, if a little gambling is what you crave, then the nearby Casino Estoril will do the trick. Earning the title of one of the largest casinos in Europe, this might just be worth venturing a little further out for.
Winner: Cascais, for the buzz
Sintra vs Cascais: The vibe
Sometimes, no matter how much there is to see or do, it’s just all about that vibe.
Often described as Disneyland for grown-ups, Sintra definitely has that enchanted vibe. Feel like royalty as you venture around the many palaces and castles dating back to the 15th century, or channel your inner adventurer as you hike the scenic trails. However you choose to spend your time in Sintra, one thing for sure is that it won’t feel run of the mill.
So how does the vibe compare with Cascais? Well for one, you will be sharing this place with plenty more tourists, as Cascais is now a thriving resort, known for its beautiful beaches, large marina, and abundance of amenities. But if you don’t mind a bit of crowding, the vibe here is definitely fun. With a mixture of modern meets old, it is a place for all the family. And with some of the best conditions for watersports, it’s perfect for the thrill-seeker also.
Winner: Sintra, for something a little different
Sintra vs Cascais: Accommodation
Picking accommodation is almost always a task. Do you go for cheap and cheerful or splash out for a bit of vacation VIP treatment?
Well, seeing as Sintra is all about that royal feeling, it might just be the perfect place to go that extra mile for lodging. And there are plenty of chateaus, hotels, and villas to choose from, including the Tivoli Palácio de Seteais, offering elegant rooms in a reformed 18th-century palace or the hillside Sintra Boutique Hotel, offering stunning city and mountain views. But don’t worry, if the bank account doesn’t allow you to live like a king or queen on this vacation, there are plenty more budget-friendly options to choose from. Places like the Casa da Pendoa or Glamping Sintra will still give you plenty of comfort after a long day of sightseeing.
So how does Cascais compare for a place to unwind after a long day of…perhaps more unwinding? Well, being a popular resort, accommodation choices are certainly not lacking in these parts. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to venture too far from the beach, you’re in luck here. With plenty of beachside digs, you can choose from a variety of trendy suites, guesthouses, or hostels. Just 500 yards from Ribeira Beach, a popular choice is the Art 4 You Cascais Suites, with its stunning interior design and central location. However, there are also plenty of other places to rest your head closer to the center of town if being beachside isn’t top priority.
Sintra vs Cascais: Food and drink
Often the highlight of any trip – the food and drink. And in Portugal, you’re sure to find some fine dining.
With a booming culinary scene, Sintra boasts plenty of top-notch eateries to please any foodie. For an authentic choice, be sure to head to Apeadeiro, which offers the best in traditional cuisine, from sopa Alentejana (Portuguese soup) to bacalhau (salted cod). Or if you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, Casa do Preto serves up some of the best queijadas and travesseiros (sweet pastries) in town. And there are also plenty of cafes to enjoy the signature Portuguese style coffee, galão, when you need that hit of caffeine.
With plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes on your doorstep, Cascais has no shortage of fine wines, tasty treats, and flavors of the sea to get your taste buds going wild. For the best in seafood options, Monte Mar is your go-to. Located by the sea, the food doesn’t get much fresher than here. However, if you’re in Cascais on a family vacation, A Nova Estrela is one of the better kid-friendly options, even offering a jigsaw for the little ones to complete. How is that for keeping the kids satisfied?
Winner: Cascais, but a very close call
Winner: Sintra, for something more unique
So, there you have it, Sintra takes our pole position in the battle of Sintra vs Cascais. While Cascais is equally beautiful and great for nightlife, it offers something a bit more similar to other beach towns. Not offering as much variety, it may struggle to please a party of people. The storybook setting, Sintra, on the other hand, has a lot more going for it in terms of things to see and do, allowing a greater chance of a harmonious vacation. However, if you have the time, why not take in both, and be your own judge in the Sintra or Cascais showdown.
Be sure to check out the battle of Portugal’s other coastal destinations, Porto vs Faro.