Lagos vs. Cascais: Which is the Best Beach Town?

For the past few months, my senior researcher, Margaret Summerfield, has been touring her way through Europe, test driving promising destinations and searching for real estate deals.

And she’s been sharing what she has found.

Earlier this year she spent some time in Portugal. Here, she compares two of her favorite beach towns there.

Read on to find out how they stack up.

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How Do These Two Beach Destinations in Portugal Stack Up?

By Margaret Summerfield

I’m on the road, seeking a new base in southern Europe. It’s a weird journey—complicated by travel restrictions, cancelled flights, and ever-changing rules.

The New Year threw a spanner in the works with Brexit. I’m Irish, and Ireland is still part of the European Union (EU). So, I can come and go as I please, travel, and work around Europe. As of January 1st, however, my English husband is classed as a non-EU citizen. Like Americans and Canadians, he is now restricted to a maximum 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen Zone. Once we pick a place to base ourselves, he has rights as the partner of an EU citizen.

For now, the journey continues…with a comparison of Cascais and Lagos.

They’re two seaside locations in Portugal that on the surface look similar. They both have marinas, beaches, walking trails. But in some ways, they’re polar opposites.

Size

With a population of 200,000 or so, Cascais is a small city. It’s a half-hour drive from Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city, so it’s a popular weekend and second-home getaway with folks from Lisbon.

Sunday in January in Cascais on the beach—not crowded, but still lively…

Lagos on the other hand is much smaller—30,000 population or so at the last count in 2011. It feels lower density than Cascais, more relaxed, more easy-going. Cascais has a busy city feel and gets even busier at the weekends. I’m declaring Lagos the winner here because I prefer the more relaxed vibe it offers.

An in-city beach in Lagos, Meia Praia, on a December weekend…

Style

Cascais is cosmopolitan, sophisticated, chic. The marina is packed with expensive boats and pleasure craft. You see Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens, and Maseratis driving around here…as well as vintage cars and motorcycles. The marina hosts events like the Americas Cup. It’s a popular spot for brunch or lunch, with Italian and Portuguese food, sushi, and a café if you just want a coffee and pastry.

The Ferris wheel, a big attraction in downtown Cascais…

There’s a museum neighborhood, home to a couple of the historic homes I wrote about last week. And, a Ruta de Arquitectura that leads you around the city to its notable buildings. That’s something that’s lacking in Lagos.

When I called a Latin friend and mentioned I was in Cascais, she was immediately impressed and confessed that she’d love to live there herself. Its glamour is very appealing to a certain set of buyers and renters.

Lagos is very different. You see the odd Ferrari, and there are some big luxury yachts in the marina…but nothing on the scale of Cascais. And, it attracts a very different set—lots of perpetual travelers, some in scruffy trailers…retirees, surfers, and sunseekers. It’s much more low-key than Cascais.

The tranquil heart of Lagos…the marina and promenade.

There are some great walking, cycling, and running trails around Lagos, along clifftops and bluffs, and wild, untamed beaches. Cascais too has good routes but they’re much more developed, and you’ll come across more people using them. I went to Ponta de Piedade lighthouse and nature reserve in Lagos and met a handful of people on a two-hour walk. That never happened in Cascais.

When it comes to dining, both Cascais and Lagos have a good range of options, along with nice cafés and pastry shops. Lagos has fewer blingy clothing and jewelry stores than Cascais…but some nice local options instead. And I much preferred the supermarkets in Lagos. They were all in walking distance of where I stayed, and stocked lots of imported goodies (Irish butter, curry pastes, English cheddar, Swiss chocolate) alongside local products.

At the start of this trip, I would have told you that I’m a city girl…needing access to culture and amenities. But despite its lack of cultural offerings, I’m voting for Lagos again, as the quality of life there is so fantastic.

Airport Access

Lagos is two hours from Faro airport, with lots of flight connections (at very low cost) across Europe. Cascais is a half-hour from Lisbon airport, with a broader global reach. But, Lagos is less than three hours’ drive from Lisbon airport (or a short connecting flight). Cascais just inches ahead here.

International Destination

This one surprised me, as I thought that proximity to Lisbon would mean a strong international presence in Cascais. But it’s the Algarve…which includes Lagos…that has more of an international influence. There are foreign language online newspapers…supermarkets stocking international brands…many expat groups. And lots of Dutch, Belgians, French, Swedish, Austrian, German, Irish, North American, and British tourists and part-time residents. If this is important to you, then Lagos ticks this box.

Real Estate Prices

This is where Lagos really comes into its own. The top end of the market—luxury real estate in prime locations—runs around €3,000 per square meter ($335 per square foot). You can get a spacious two-bed condo, for example, with a nice terrace, on a budget of €300,000 to €400,000 ($361,020 to $481,360).

Something similar in Cascais could cost close to double the price.

That’s a huge difference that has a significant impact on your real estate budget.

If you’re committed to Cascais and want a location on the doorstep of Lisbon, you’ll pay that premium. But if you’re looking for more bang for your real estate buck, Lagos wins out.

Overall, Lagos is the clear winner. It’s a place I’d happily go back to—and one that is now top of my shortlist of potential bases.

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