Portugal’s capital of Lisbon has beaches and small city streets, and is one of Europe’s oldest and greatest cities. For history mixed in with sun, sand and sea, the southwest coast is loved by the Portuguese in summer and not nearly as well known by the rest of the world.
Portugal is easy to get around, packs a lot into quite a small space and is warm and friendly everywhere, so don’t resist the temptation to take your kids a lot further than the far south.
The Algarve has sunshine and temperatures up to 77˚F until late October.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Portugal has 15 World Heritage sites including the Alto Douro Wine Region and the prehistoric rock art in Côa Valley.
Great for Golfers
Portugal has over 90 golf courses: Quinta do Lago, Vale do Lobo and Vilamoura in the Algarve are a good choice for families with a golfer (or two) in the mix.
With 530 miles of coastline, Portugal has some of the world’s best beaches and best water activities. Southwest coast beaches regularly host major international surf competitions in autumn and winter – Navaré holds the world record for the highest wave ever surfed: 100 ft in 2015.
Where to Go
This region 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 activities, most of the Algarve theme parks and an almost limitless selection of family accommodations from large hotels to 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, movie theaters, festivals, events and the pretty town center.
Lagos in western Algarve has a charming, historic walled old town and relaxed, easy-going atmosphere – colorful and fun 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.
Lisbon is wonderful for family vacations. 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 hotels are a good value in Lisbon and the city’s Atlantic coast has a wide choice of hotels and rental apartments.
For big city excitement and seaside charm, 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.
If the Algarve’s popularity puts you off, have a look at the southwest 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.
What to Do
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.
A thrilling aquarium experience for kids – the sharks alone are worth a visit.
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 a 20 minute 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 37-mile 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.
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 fall 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-centered 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.
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 vacation. There are good rail services across most regions too and a direct train connects Faro Airport to the rest of the Algarve coast.