europe

How to plan the best holidays in Portugal for your family

Arrow Discover more

western-algarve-beach-portugal-cristiano-pinto

Portugal ticks every box for family holidays, even scoring high for easy long weekends and city breaks with kids in the middle of winter.

Naturally the glorious Algarve earns the top spot for summer holidays in Portugal, but don’t ignore Lisbon in July and August, because you’ll find spectacular Atlantic beaches close to the historic Portuguese capital too. And the south west coast of Portugal is under an hour’s drive from the centre of Lisbon for the likes of UNESCO World Heritage Sintra as well as beachy Cascais.

Porto might be Portugal’s second city, but many families would claim it as their favourite, and again, it’s not far from the coast so you can mix up beach time with exploring medieval Ribeira, arty Cedofeita and city’s lively riverfront districts.

vila-nova-de-gaia-portugal-pedro-de-sousa

Of course, golf is big in Portugal, particularly in the Algarve where golfers will be delighted to find that many of the resorts with spectacular courses are also very family friendly.

Surfing is another sport that Portugal has made its own, not least of all because it holds the world record for the highest wave surfed, taken by Sebastian Steudtner at Nazaré in February 2020. The good news is that waves are wonderful but not quite as boisterous in summer and Algarve surf schools are some of the best in Europe, so it’s perfect to get kids popping up for the first time.

alto-douro-portugal-rui-alves

Although Portugal isn’t all about the coast. The beautiful Alto Douro wine region is another UNESCO World Heritage site and a lovely area for family road trips, or holidays plain and simple, especially in autumn.

And speaking of road trips, the size of Portugal makes it one of the best places in Europe for family road trips. A firm favourite with the Family Traveller team is the route from Porto in the north right down to the southerly Algarve, taking in elegant Coimbra, as well as Lisbon and landing in Lagos in just seven days. Hiring a car in Porto for a one way trip and flying back to the UK from Faro is the way to this journey at a leisurely pace with plenty of non-driving time for car averse kids.

Why go on holiday to Portugal

  • Direct flights

    Direct, low-cost, flights are available year round from many UK airports to Faro in the Algarve, as well as to Lisbon and Porto.

  • Warm weather

    Portugal is hot and sunny in summer, and the Algarve often enjoys average temperatures of 25˚C until late October.

  • UNESCO World Heritage sites

    Portugal has 15 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Alto Douro Wine Region and the Côa Valley prehistoric rock art.

  • Great for golfers

    Portugal has over 90 golf courses, the most famous are in the Algarve which is also known for its beachy and family-friendly golf resorts.

  • Beautiful beaches

    With 850km of coastline, Portugal has some of the world’s loveliest beaches from Praia da Falésia in the Algarve to Senhor da Pedra in the north.

  • Sweet for surfers

    Navaré in south west Portugal holds the world record for the highest wave ever surfed, and some of Europe’s best surf schools are in the Algarve.

  • Road trips

    Compact Portugal is great for family road trips. The route from Porto to the Algarve is a classic, can be easily done in seven days, even with kids in the car.

  • City breaks

    Direct UK flights to Porto and Lisbon take from 2 hours, 20 minutes year round so both are ideal for easy city breaks or even a long weekend with kids.

Where to go

Algarve

Portugal’s all-rounder is popular with just about everyone, compact enough to explore and still capable of surprising after all these years.

  • Lively and over-developed Albufeira isn’t the choice for traditional Portuguese charm but it has a fantastic town beach, great water sports, most of the Algarve theme parks and an almost limitless selection of family accommodation from large hotels to self-catering apartments and villas.
  • Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura are purpose-built resorts, more upmarket than Albufeira and good for golf courses, large family villas and access to Faro Airport.
  • Faro is the Algarve capital. Visit for shops and restaurants, cinemas, festivals, events and the pretty town centre.
  • Lagos in western Algarve has a lovely, historic walled old town and relaxed, easy-going atmosphere – charming and colourful to wander around with younger kids, especially on summer evenings.
  • Don’t ignore rural Algarve, the unspoiled countryside and hills are fun for adventuring and away from the coast is where to find authentic towns and villages and interesting local events. Family villas with pools are better value too and the beaches are never far away.
tab image 1

Lisbon

Lisbon is wonderful for family holidays. Easy-going, charming and irresistibly beautiful it’s one of the oldest cities in Europe, heartland of the Age of Discoveries, home to medieval Alfama and even has a string of brilliant, beachy resorts on the gorgeous Costa da Caparica.

  • One of Europe’s most inexpensive capitals. Family self-catering is good value in Lisbon and the city’s Atlantic coast has a wide choice of hotels and holiday apartments.
  • For big city excitement and seaside in the mix, few of the European greats even come close to Lisbon. Buy a Lisboa Card – it’s one of the few city cards to include free entry to major attractions.
  • A very cool city for teens with great shopping, endless cute cafés and lively districts like Bairro Alto to wander round in the evening – use the Elévador Santa Justa at least once.
tab image 2

South West Portugal

If the Algarve’s popularity puts you off, have a look at the south west coast between Lisbon and Porto. Some of the country’s most spectacular beaches are here. Historic seaside towns and villages are charming. And it’s often considerably less expensive than its more famous southern counterpart.

  • Nazaré has acres of golden sands and enchanting Aveiro is described as Portugal’s Venice.
tab image 3

What to do and see with kids in Portugal

  • Hills Tramcar Tours, Lisbon
    Lisbon’s old fashioned trams are just as enchanting as the city hills and ancient quarters on this family-friendly tour.
  • Lisbon Oceanarium
    A thrilling aquarium experience for kids – the sharks alone are worth a visit.
  • Sintra
    A World Heritage site, Sintra Old Town and the fairy tale collection of stately homes, palaces and historic monuments is magical.
  • Slide & Splash, Lagoa, West Algarve
    One of the biggest and best waterparks in Europe covers a massive 16,000 acres just 20 minutes drive west of Albufeira.
  • Ria Formosa Natural Park, Faro
    Take a break from central Algarve’s resort action for the day and explore at least part of the 60km long protected coast stretching east of Faro.
  • Alentejo and Vicente Coast Natural Park, West Algarve
    Portugal’s Atlantic beaches are famously dramatic but the sea cliffs and coast in this incredible park make everywhere else look tame – another good reason to head west in the Algarve.
  • Dolphin Watching, Safo Estuary
    Less than an hour’s drive south of Lisbon, the Sado Estuary Natural Park is where to go to see dolphins.
  • Fiesa Festival, March-August, Central Algarve
    The world’s biggest sand sculpture exhibition and festival has been held all summer long in Pêra since 2003.
  • Luso Aventura, Algarve
    Three huge forest rope and climb parks in Albufeira, Lagos and Figueira da Foz – fantastic for older kids and teenagers.
  • Belém, Lisbon
    Along with lovely Alfama, Belém is Lisbon’s most historic district and where to really discover the Age of Discoveries – and the city’s best custard tarts (Pasteis de Belém).

Educational value for kids

  • Visit in early autumn and families can help with the grape harvest, stay at vineyards and experience local life in Alto Douro. The legendary winemaking region is a World Heritage site and an easy drive from Coimbra and Porto.
  • Take kids to see the awe-inspiring Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon. Vasco de Gama’s tomb is here, it’s another World Heritage site and finding out about the ancient Order of Jerónimos and the symbolic meaning of the nautical carvings all over the façade is an amazing adventure.
  • Visit Lisbon for the Sardine Festival in June. The city’s biggest annual event is packed with ancient customs, great food and traditional Fado music.
  • Mountain biking is a passion in the Algarve and a fun way to introduce kids to the beautiful, unspoiled countryside beyond the resort-centred coast.
  • Visit Peneda-Gerês, Portugal’s only national park. It’s in the far north Minho region bordering Spain and dedicated to protecting a unique landscape and way of life – a fascinating place to stay with children.
  • If you’re in Lisbon go to Castel san Jorge at the very top of Alfama and let kids explore the amazing building, run around the ramparts and hear the bloodcurdling tales – it’s also the best view in the city.
  • Take a walking tour of medieval Alfama or visit the gorgeous 13th century fortified hill towns to the east of Lisbon – good for local festivals during the summer.

Getting around with kids in Portugal

Portugal isn’t a big country – you can be in Lisbon from Lagos in under two hours – but driving is still the best way to get around on a family holiday. There are good rail services across most regions too and a direct train connects Faro Airport to the rest of the Algarve coast.

Get travel news and competitions sent to your inbox