Calling all first-time-as-a-family-travelers, experienced travelers, and anyone who likes amazingly easy, beautiful and relatively inexpensive getaways. If you haven’t been to Portugal with the kids–GO! Europe is huge and there are so many great places to visit, but having just spent a week and a half in Lisbon and Lagos (a coastal town in Algarve) with my husband and two-year-old daughter, Portugal has my vote.
Portugal was the perfect family vacation.
- The weather in the summer is incredible. During our stay from the last week of June through the first week of July, the temperature was a steady 75 degrees. In the sun, it felt warm enough to know it was summer (but without sweating) while exploring the city, and at night it was cool enough to throw on pants and a sweater to enjoy a nice dinner al fresco.
- If you’re coming from the NYC area, the trip is a quick six hours and bam, you’re there. Essentially, it’s like flying to LA. The good news: if your little one decides not to sleep (like ours did), you’re not battling the toddler-on-an-airplane situation for too long. And if you’re lucky enough to get your kid to sleep, it’s nice and quick, which makes for an excellent nap before you arrive. We opted for a 10:00 P.M. red-eye, but I’ve heard there is an early morning flight as well.
- It’s pretty inexpensive! Granted, we’re expecting our second child so drinking wasn’t in the cards for me, but most of our dinners (food for three, plus a few drinks for my husband) hovered around 35-60 euros.
- The fish (and most food) is so fresh, you will crave it as soon as you leave!
- Most importantly, we found the whole experience to be extremely kid-friendly.
- Most of the Ubers/taxis we took offered us a carseat that they pulled out from the trunk.
- The trolley system in Lisbon makes getting around without a carseat super easy and worry-free.
- All the restaurants we dined at offered us a “baby chair” right away, and waitstaff loved entertaining our daughter. Her food was always brought out quickly and exactly how we asked for it–and trust me, we had some odd requests for our ketchup-loving picky eater.
- The best part? When you have a little one in tow, you get to cut a lot of the lines for attractions, rental cars, etc. What did I tell you? The people of Portugal just love little kids!
Where to Stay:
- In Lisbon, we stayed at Le Consulat, the old Brazilian embassy that is now an art gallery and a hotel with a well-known restaurant and trendy bar. The hotel offers apartment-style suites; we stayed in the Consulaire Suite, which had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchenette and a living room that overlooked a beautiful square ustling with people and amazing street musicians that we could enjoy even when inside. (Don’t worry, the bedrooms didn’t face the square, so we were able to sleep when we wanted.) The hotel bar brought milk up when requested, and the front desk coordinated airport transfers with a carseat. They even offered to arrange our day trips for us! Right outside the front door was an excellent breakfast spot, one of the more well known Pastelerias, and Trolley #28 which was the main route to take you just about everywhere. Our room was in pristine condition, and the amount of space was more than we could have asked for when traveling with our toddler. See more @hotel_leconsulat.
- In Lagos, we stayed at the Cascade Wellness Resort, where we were greeted with a wine tasting upon arrival. It offers both hotel and apartment-style accommodations. We chose an apartment and ended up with a flat that had 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a living room, full kitchen, and multiple outdoor areas with private lounge chairs and a dining area. It was a dream come true! The highlight of this hotel was the pool (a two minute walk from our door) with a sand entrance. Our two-year-old entertained herself with some beach toys we purchased at the grocery store and was able to splash around happily in the very shallow part of the pool. The chairs and umbrellas around the pool gave us a great place to relax, and we didn’t even have to leave for lunch as the pool bar served excellent food. We enjoyed a very impressive breakfast (kids are free) at the buffet restaurant, a bar, and two more restaurants onsite. One was a little fancier while the other had a kids menu and was a great place to eat with a two-year-old. We dined in the bar area while sitting on couches, which allowed our daughter to eat at a “coffee table” setting, giving her some much needed freedom from a highchair. The hotel had an awesome play area for kids with a daycare and babysitting services too. If you want to explore, the town of Lagos is only ~1 mile from the hotel; there you can find Gelato, tons of delicious restaurants, cute shops, and beautiful, quintessential narrow, windy streets with tiled buildings. See more @cascaderesort.
We started our trip in Lisbon, where we stayed for four nights. On the morning of our departure to Lagos, we set up a transfer back to the Lisbon airport where we picked up our car. (We wanted the drop off to be as easy as possible.) We then drove about 2.5 hours south to Algarve (you can take the coastal route but it definitely takes longer). Four nights in Lagos was perfect, and then on the morning we were set to fly home, we drove straight back up to the airport, returned the car, and were on our way! Again, easy peasy.
What to Do:
- Visit the Oceanarium.
- Eat (many times) at the Time Out Market.
- Enjoy a treat/drink at one of the many little “stands” surrounded by tables in most squares.
- Stop and play on one of the many playgrounds throughout the city.
- Visit the castle São Jorge Castle and explore the Alfama district.
- Ride Trolley 28 around town, hopping on & off when a street musician’s tunes catch your ear.
- Take a day trip to Sintra to see the castles, especially the Pena Palace. Stop in Cascais on your way and enjoy the beautiful beach town. Stop in the town of Sintra on your way back and enjoy a quaint lunch.
- Spend a day in Belém where there are numerous museums and attractions. Don’t miss a stop at Pastéis de Belém for their world famous pastries.
Insider Tip: We met a wonderful Uber driver the day before named Rui and ended up asking him to drive us to Sintra. He had a luxuriously spacious car, and offered to let us hop in and out whenever we wanted to see something. He was super knowledgeable about everything so we felt like we got a private tour. We originally agreed on 150 euros for 4 hours, and when we ended up taking over 5 hours and tried to give him more money, he told us we were giving him too much. He even bought us a little treat in Sintra. I would highly recommend him! (+351 915191378 or [email protected])
- Spend plenty of time relaxing in luxury under the bright blue sky at the hotel pool.
- Visit Praia do Camilo, just a few minute drive (or walk) from Cascade Wellness Resort. Bring a blanket, some beach toys and an umbrella; you can pick up inexpensive beach necessities at the Intermarche in Lagos.
- Drive about 35 minutes to Benagil and take a boat tour to see the caves. There is a great 30 min tour for 15 euros per person (kids are free) that is just enough to see what you want without feeling cooped up on a boat for too long with a toddler. They have life vests for babies & toddlers. Spend some time on the beach, and then enjoy lunch on the pier after.
- Visit a water park that has plenty of attractions geared towards kids.
- Enjoy a delicious dinner, cliffside, at Mar Restaurant and Bar.
Be sure to bring…
- A carrier. Lisbon is very hilly and many of the sidewalks are made of tile that can be uneven at times. We didn’t take our stroller out at all here. Instead, we used this backpack which was nice because there’s plenty of room for diapers, water bottles, etc. and offers a great place for our daughter to nap as we’re on the go. (We did use the stroller in Lagos, but we would have been fine without it too!)
- A travel crib. We worried about this so we lugged ours with us, but didn’t open it once. Both of our hotels provided us with a perfectly suitable crib, with bedding, a pillow and a blanket. Our daughter (who sometimes struggles in unknown cribs) slept soundly for naps and nighttime.
- A car seat. If you rent a car to go to Algarve like we did, ask them to throw in a car seat. I believe it added ~8 euros/day, but that was so worth not having to lug around our heavy seat. We rented from SixT, and the carseat was a Britax, a brand we’re very familiar with.
There is actually so much to do, our trip was just the tip of the iceberg. We loved it so much, we will definitely be returning. Our two-year-old has been traveling with us since she was just a few weeks old, and while we tend to be go-with-the-flow people, we found our whole Portugal experience to be delightfully easy and fun. We hope you will too!
About the Author: Lacey is a special education teacher and the mother of a little girl named Olivia. When she isn’t traveling, you can find her snowboarding, hanging at her local beach, or cooking homemade pasta and drinking Italian wine. Follow her adventures @lacey.ramsey.