It is located on the Estoril Coast, in the Greater Lisbon subregion. It has an airport for general aviation serving the Lisbon Region in Tires, the Cascais Aerodrome, that also offers domestic scheduled flights by Aero VIP.
Human settlement of the territory today known as Cascais dates to the late Paleolithic, as indicated by remnants encountered in the north of Talaíde, in Alto do Cabecinho (Tires) and south of Moinhos do Cabreiro. It was during the Neolithic that permanent settlements were established in the region, their inhabitants utilizing the natural grottoes (such as the Poço Velho in Cascais) and artificial shelters (like those in Alapraia or São Pedro) to deposit their dead. The bodies were buried along with offerings, a practice that continued to the Chalcolithic.
Roman interventions in the area occurred with the settlement of the villae of Freiria (today São Domingos de Rana) and Casais Velhos (Charneca), evidence for which includes a group of ten tanks discovered along the Rua Marques Leal Pancada in Cascais, which was the location of a salting factory for fish. Roman dominion over the territory also influenced place names in the region, as was the case with the word "Caparide" (from the Latin capparis, meaning "caper"), as well as several inscriptions associated with funerary graves.
Similarly, Muslim settlers in the region left their mark on local place names, including "Alcoitão" and "Alcabideche", where the romantic poet Ibn Muqana al-Qabdaqi, who wrote of the region's agriculture and windmills, was born at the beginning of the 11th century.
The development of Cascais began in earnest in the 12th century, when it was administratively subordinate to the town of Sintra, located to the north. In its humble beginnings, Cascais depended on the products of the sea and land, but by the 13th century its fish production was also supplying the nearby city of Lisbon. The toponymy "Cascais" appears to derive from this period, a plural derivation of cascal (monte de cascas) which signified a "mountain of shells", referring to the abundant volume of marine mollusks harvested from the coastal waters. During the 14th century, the population spread outside the walls of its fortress castle.
The settlement's prosperity led to its administrative independence from Sintra in 1364. On 7 June 1364, the people of Cascais obtained from King Peter I the elevation of the village to the status of town, necessitating the appointment of local judges and administrators. The townspeople were consequently obligated to pay the Crown 200 pounds of gold annually, as well as bearing the expense of paying the local administrators' salaries. Owing to the regions' wealth, these obligations were easily satisfied. The town and the surrounding lands were owned by a succession of feudal lords, the most famous of whom was João das Regras (died 1404), a lawyer and professor of the University of Lisbon who was involved in the ascension of King John I to power as the first King of the House of Aviz.
The castle of Cascais was likely constructed during this period, since by 1370, King Ferdinand had donated the castle and Cascais to Gomes Lourenço de Avelar to hold as a seigneurial fiefdom. These privileges were then passed on to his successors, among them João das Regras and the Counts of Monsanto, and later the Marquess of Cascais. Meanwhile, despite its conquest and sack by Castilian forces in 1373, and blockade of the port in 1382 and 1384, Cascais continued to grow beyond its walls. By the end of the 14th century this resulted in the creation of the parishes of Santa Maria de Cascais, São Vicente de Alcabideche and São Domingos de Rana.
From the Middle Ages onward, Cascais depended on fishing, maritime commerce (it was a stop for ships sailing to Lisbon), and agriculture producing wine, olive oil, cereals, and fruits. Due to its location at the mouth of the Tagus estuary, it was also seen as a strategic post in the defence of Lisbon. Around 1488, King John II built a small fortress in the town, situated by the sea. On 15 November 1514, Manuel I conceded a foral (charter) to Cascais, instituting the regions' municipal authority. It was followed on 11 June 1551 by a license from King John III to institutionalise the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Cascais. The town's medieval fortress was inadequate to repel invasions, and in 1580 Spanish troops led by the Duque of Alba took the village during the conflict that led to the union of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns. The fortress was enlarged towards the end of the 16th century by King Philip I (Philip II of Spain), turning it into a typical Renaissance citadel with the characteristic flat profile and star-shaped floorplan. Following the Portuguese restoration in 1640, a dozen bulwarks and redoubts were constructed under the direction of the Count of Cantanhede, who oversaw the defences of the Tagus estuary, the gateway to the city of Lisbon. Of these structures, the citadel of Cascais, which was constructed alongside the fortress of Nossa Senhora da Luz, considerably reinforced the strategic defences of the coast.
In 1755, the great Lisbon earthquake destroyed a large portion of the city. Around 1774, the Marquis of Pombal, prime-minister of King José I, took protective measures for the commercialisation of the wine of Carcavelos and established the Royal Factory of Wool in the village, which existed until the early 19th century. During the invasion of Portugal by Napoleonic troops in 1807, the citadel of Cascais was occupied by the French, with General Junot staying some time in the village.
The citadel decayed gradually until King Luís I decided to make Cascais into his summer residence. From 1870 to 1908, the royal family repaired to Cascais to enjoy the sea, turning the somnolent fishing village into a cosmopolitan address. Thanks to King Luís, the citadel was equipped with the country's first electric lights in 1878. Cascais also benefited with the construction of better roads to Lisbon and Sintra, a casino, a bullfight ring, a sports club, and improvements to basic infrastructure for the population. Many noble families built impressive mansions still to be seen in the town centre and environs. The first railway arrived in 1889.
In 1896, King Carlos I, a lover of all maritime activities, installed in the citadel the first oceanographic laboratory in Portugal. The King himself led a total of 12 scientific expeditions to the coast; these ended in 1908 with his assassination in Lisbon.
Another important step in the touristic development of the area was made in the first half of the 20th century with the building of a casino and infrastructure in neighbouring Estoril to support luxury vacations for the wealthy.
Due to Portugal's neutrality in World War II and the town's elegance and royal past, Cascais became home to many of the exiled royal families of Europe, including those of Spain, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria.
Nowadays, Cascais and its surroundings are a popular vacation spot for the Portuguese as well as for the international jet set and regular foreign tourists, all of them drawn by its fine beaches.
Cascais is easily reached from Lisbon by car on the A5 Lisboa-Cascais highway, or alternatively on the scenic "marginal" road, as well as by frequent inexpensive commuter trains. Taxis are also a common and inexpensive mode of transport in the area. The city has the ruins of a castle, an art and an ocean museum, as well as parks and the charming cobbled streets of the historic centre. The town has many hotels and tourist apartments as well as many good restaurants of varying cost. It is a fine base to use for those visiting Lisbon and its environs who prefer to stay outside of the city yet in an equally urban and sophisticated environment.
Cascais is surrounded by popular beaches. Guincho Beach to the northwest is primarily a surfing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing beach because of the prevailing winds and sea swells, while the calm waters of the beaches to the east attract sunbathers. The lush Sintra mountains to the north are a further attraction. The shoreline to the west has cliffs, attracting tourists who come for the panoramic views of the sea and other natural sights such as the Boca do Inferno. It is also becoming a popular golf destination, with over 10 golf courses nearby.
A large marina with 650 berths was opened in 1999 and has since hosted many important sailing events. It was the official host of the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships for dinghies and racing yachts. The municipality also hosts international tennis and motorcycling events and for many years hosted the FIA F1 Portugal Grand Prix at the Estoril race track. The famous Estoril Casino is one of the largest in Europe. Near the casino is the "Hotel Palácio" (Palace Hotel), a 5-star hotel where scenes of the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service were shot.
Cascais is situated on the western edge of the Tagus estuary, between the Sintra mountains and the Atlantic Ocean; the territory occupied by the municipality is limited in the north by the municipality of Sintra, south and west by the ocean, and east by the municipality of Oeiras.
Administratively, the municipality is divided into 4 civil parishes (freguesias), with municipal authority vested in the Câmara Municipal of Cascais:
The Estoril community hosts a kindergarten and elementary school campus of the German School of Lisbon.
Today, there is a large yacht harbour and several small sandy beaches in and around the town. Cascais is easily reached from Lisbon by car on the A5 Lisboa-Cascais highway, or alternatively on the scenic "marginal" road, as well as by frequent inexpensive commuter trains. Taxis are also a common and inexpensive mode of transport in the area. The city has the ruins of a castle, an art and an ocean museum, as well as parks and the charming cobbled streets of the historic centre. The town has many hotels and tourist apartments as well as many good restaurants of varying cost. It is a fine base to use for those visiting Lisbon and its environs who prefer to stay outside of the city yet in an equally urban and sophisticated environment.
Cascais is surrounded by popular beaches such as Guincho Beach to the west, and the lush Sintra mountains to the north. Some of its shoreline has cliffs, attracting tourists who come for the panoramic views of the sea and other natural sights such as the Boca do Inferno. It is also becoming a popular golf destination, with over 10 golf courses nearby. Surfing, sailing, windsurfing, and kitesurfing are also popular in the region due to favourable weather, wind, and sea conditions. In 2007, Cascais was the official host of the ISAF World Championship in sailing for dinghies and racing yachts.
It has an airport for general aviation serving the Lisbon Region in Tires (S. Domingos de Rana), the Cascais Aerodrome, that also offers domestic scheduled flights by Aero VIP.
The Carcavelos community houses the Saint Julian's School, a British international school.
The Estoril community hosts a kindergarten and elementary school campus of the German School of Lisbon.
Outeiro de Polima (pt), São Domingos de Rana in Cascais houses Saint Dominic's International School.
The municipality also hosts international tennis and motorcycling events and for many years hosted the FIA F1 Portugal Grand Prix. The famous Estoril Casino is one of the largest in Europe. Near the casino is the "Hotel Palácio" (Palace Hotel), a 5-star hotel where scenes of the James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service were shot.
King Umberto II of Italy, the last Italian monarch due to the result of a referendum ending the Italian monarchy in 1946, lived the rest of his life here in exile following his being deposed as king.