Think of a family holiday in Portugal, and probably the first thing that springs to mind is a fly and flop trip in the Algarve. For the more adventurous family holiday, we’re here to tell you that our Portugal with kids trips can offer SO MUCH MORE.
Yes, there are sun-dappled beaches that are justifiably famous, but step away from the usual resorts and you’ll discover gorgeous historic towns, UNESCO World Heritage sites, fairytale palaces, characterful villages, and quiet lanes to cycle through.
As if Portugal with the kids didn’t already sound appealing, there are also two autonomous Portuguese islands (Azores and Madeira), closer to the Canaries than the mainland. Their dramatic volcanic landscapes don’t just offer an adventure playground for a whole host of activities, but their waters provide some of the world’s best whale and dolphin watching opportunities.
That’s us sold. Read on and find out more about Portugal family holidays. You’ll be amazed!
Our top 10 activities to do in Portugal with kids
1. Go sea kayaking and wild beach camp overnight
Of all the amazing, adventurous things there are to see and do in Portugal with kids, it’s this experience that we think packs the greatest, most memorable, punch. Just south of Lisbon lies Arrabida National Park, a wild stretch of coastline where beaches and hidden inlets are largely inaccessible by foot but you’ll have them to yourselves if you travel by sea kayak. After a few hours exploring these coastal waters, you’ll choose the perfect place to wild camp on a private beach, go swimming, watch the sunset and sleep under the stars. The early start for a pre-dawn swim to watch the sunrise is more than worth it. Camp and kayak in Arrabida on our two-week Highlights of Portugal itinerary.
2. Explore the fascinating capital city, Lisbon
Europe’s westernmost capital city is fascinating to explore with something on offer to excite all ages. Unlike many capital cities, Lisbon is comparatively compact, so you can easily wander around for a few hours, along the cobbled streets of the Bairro Alto, one of the oldest and most picturesque parts of the city. Other sightseeing options on offer are taking a tram up to the hilltop castle in Alfamar for stunning views or if you want to take it easy enjoy a sunset cruise on the River Tagus. Explore further, and you’ll discover an edgier, much more modern side, one where its vibrant youth culture thrives evident in its street art.
3. Cycling in Evora
Portugal is steeped in history and nowhere is this more evident than in Evora, a city that dates back to Roman times. Older children and parents will be fascinated by this UNESCO World Heritage site. In its heyday, in the 16th century, it was home to the Portuguese royal family and boasts the largest medieval cathedral in the country, public gardens, and a number of Roman ruins to explore. If younger children prefer to be more active, taking a guided cycling tour along the Roman aqueduct following quiet roads and trails is the perfect balance to a morning of culture!
4. Learn to surf
Portugal is a magnet for the world’s best surfers. Nazare is where the largest wave ever ridden was a stomach-churning 80ft by Brazilian Rodrigo Koxa in 2017. We’re not suggesting for a moment you learn to surf off the breaks here (although it’s fun to watch the pros) but further north along the coast there are much more family-friendly waves at the uncrowded Cabedelo beach. It’s here where the whole family can take a 1½ to 2-hour lesson before using the loaned board to master the art for the rest of the day at leisure. So! Much! Fun!
5. Enjoy café culture and take a culinary tour in Porto
Located along the Duoro river estuary in northern Portugal, Porto, the country’s second city is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It’s a one-time outpost of the Roman Empire and an absolute delight to explore as a result. At its heart, you’ll find the historic centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the city is also known for its Port wine production (the clue is in the name) stately bridges, and maritime culture.
One of our favourite activities, though, after a day of culture-vulturing, is simply to sit in a café in the medieval Ribeira district and watch the world go by, maybe sipping a port (parents) or nibbling on a Pastéis de Nata, Portugal’s best-known sweet delicacy, egg custard tarts.
6. Go Canyoning in Peneda-Geres National Park
Although Portugal was practically built for lovers of the great outdoors, there’s actually only one national park in the country, which is located in the remote northwest bordering Spain. Home to the country’s only holly forest (who knew?), this little-visited spot boasts spectacular, imposing jagged peaks, offering amazing white-water rafting as well as world-class canyoning. If you’re new to the activity, think leaping down waterfalls, abseiling into pools and ad-hoc swimming as your family makes its way down the watercourse.
7. Tour vineyards in the Douro Valley
Is it cheating to include wine tasting and a vineyard in a ‘top 10 things to do with kids in Portugal’, blog? Yes, admittedly you may enjoy the experience *slightly more* than the kids, what with the country (and this valley in particular) being a wine-producing hot spot but once you’ve wandered around or actually based your stay in a beautiful, characterful and wallet-friendly villa here, you can take canoes or kayaks on the river for a few hours, too. Truly fun for all the family.
8. Get moving in Madeira
Just 250 miles north of the Canary Islands, this Portuguese outpost (the Azores being the other) offers a myriad of active options against a backdrop of dramatic volcanic scenery. Spend a week in Madeira and you could easily do a different activity each day to keep even the most energetic family happy. Canyoning! Hiking! Walking coastal paths! Kayaking! Mountain biking! Snorkelling! (You get the picture). If you’re wanting some downtime, though, the island is also famous for whale watching and dolphin spotting. Want to know more? Take a look at our Madeira short break itinerary.
9. See dolphins and whales up close in the Azores
Like its Portuguese sister island, Madeira, the Azores is a natural playground, home to spectacular windswept landscapes and, thanks to its waters teeming with fish, phenomenal marine wildlife spotting options too. Whale watching here is outstanding as the islands lie on the main migration route for different types of whales including the blue, sperm, and humpback whale. You’ll find out more by joining a whale watching tour accompanied by a marine biologist. Dolphins also make the waters around the Azores their home and you’ll not only see them on a boat tour (watch out for flying fish darting across the boat’s bow) but go swimming with them as well. Take a look at our 8-day Azores itinerary to find out what else you could be doing.
10. Kick back on Portugal’s fabulous beaches
What top ten would be complete without a mention of the country’s blissful beaches, the perfect R & R antidote to so many adventurous activities?! Whether you prefer the uncrowded wilds of the Atlantic beaches or something much more ‘fly and flop’ along the Algarve’s more developed resorts, there’s something for all here, including accommodation options that offer everything from kids’ clubs and golf to more boutique, barefoot-chic affairs. Pass the sunscreen and….relax.
More about holidaying in Portugal with kids
For more information about what there is to see and do (there is loads), take a look at our Portugal family holidays section. And check out our sample itineraries: Highlights of Portugal (2-weeks), Azores Family Short Break, or Madeira Family Short Break.
Of course, we can create your own, mix and match itinerary from all the above. Call us on 01728 752 751 or get in touch using our enquiry form to find out more!
We always love to hear from families who have travelled with us, so please do send us your photos and reviews of holidaying in Portugal with kids.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel