Portugal is one of the hottest destinations in the world right now and poised to get more popular. Thanks to an incredible shoreline, delicious food right from the sea, friendly locals, and still affordable prices for tourists, it’s no wonder more and more tourists are choosing Portugal for vacations. It’s not just for jet-setters and beach-going nightclubbers, though. With awesome food, a delightful local wine cuisine, and plenty of affordable and family friendly accommodations often in charming historical houses right in the center of cities, Portugal is perfect for families too.
Last summer, when our twin boys turned one, we took them on their first major vacation to Norway on a cruise out of Amsterdam. As our first trip out of the country with the boys and their first flight, we learned a lot about how to travel with young children. The cruise was perfect with infants because we could get up early with them, have a quick and convenient breakfast, get out for sightseeing, head back on the ship for lunch and their nap, then head out again before dinner and getting them to bed early. Since the sun didn’t set in Norway until after 11, and above the Arctic Circle, not at all, we had plenty of time to enjoy some wine out on our balcony while the boys slept in fold up cribs the cruise line provided inside. After learning what we actually needed to bring and what we’d missed on this trip, we felt more ready to be adventurous this summer for their second birthday.
We decided on Portugal as a destination after reading constantly how popular it was becoming and figured if we didn’t get there soon, it would get expensive and overrun, just like Croatia was starting to get when we visited a few years ago. We learned that having a consistent location to come home to at night helped the boys stay on schedule and get to sleep more easily on our cruise. We figured the small country would allow us to stay in a central location with a single base of operations while we took short day trips out and around the country. We even thought we might just stay on a winery villa and for once, take a relaxed vacation rather than running around from destination to destination every day.
Instead, we did end up booking across the country for two reasons. First, the entire country is beautiful and we didn’t want to miss any of it like the beautiful seaside of the south at Lagos, the Venice-like canals in Aveiro, the historical charm of the old University in Coimbra, or the wineries around the Duoro region. Plus we’d send several days in Lisbon and Porto too of course. Second, the entire country seemed populated with charming and ancient houses for rent by the owners. Some looked like medieval death traps for toddlers with wooden spiral stairs with no railings or literal medieval stone walls, but a huge number were perfect for families with multiple bed rooms, a kitchen, and great views over the cities. With our desire to see as much of the beautiful country as possible and live like locals, we decided to set out to Portugal with our boys for two weeks.
These are the 12 reasons why it’s the perfect place for families
1. Delectable food from sea to mountains
It’s a crime that Portugal’s cuisine gets overlooked because of Spain and France. Similar to Spain’s cuisine especially, Portugal has variants of paella and tapas, but they look even better. On the coast, the seafood is seriously right out of the sea and brings a Mediterranean flare to the fish and crustaceans found just off the coast. Restaurants feature daily menus with specials on whatever fishermen brought in that morning. This is typically prepared with some veggies on the side and grilled up on a charcoal grill. Further inland the cuisine is pork heavy, with tender meat featured in stews and rice dishes. Then there’s the famous Pasteis de Belem, an egg tart with sugar that exemplifies, but is just the tip of the iceberg for Portuguese pastries. Kids will love the flavorful food that is always a new adventure throughout the country.
2. Wine heaven
With kids that go to bed at 7:00 normally, we need something to do at night where we can still keep an eye on the boys. We like to book places with balconies or at least separate rooms because the boys don’t like to sleep if they can see us. Portugal has no shortage of places to stay with balconies, often overlooking historic parts of town. The country, though mostly known for port wine, also has a great wine region along the Duoro river with great white and red varieties. Since the wine is still fairly unknown, it mostly stays local and prices are very cheap. We’ll be able to pick up great local wine each day and enjoy it on.a balcony overlooking the historic cities every night while the boys slumber soundly inside.
3. Wine from the source with a view
Around the Duoro river is the spectacular wine region with tons of small family run wineries and world-class wine. Many of them have fantastic views over the valley and river. Families can bring food like the great cured pork and bread to picnic while enjoying the scenery and wine. Even better, outside in a winery, there’s not much a toddler can get in trouble with while running around, so it’s a great opportunity to burn off some energy while parents enjoy the sun and wine.
4. A surprising craft beer scene
Portugal, like much of Europe, and especially the Mediterranean south isn’t known for much of a beer scene, especially craft beer. Until very recently, there were only two beers to find across the whole country, both fairly watery lagers standard in warm countries. Recently though, a few small craft brewers have popped up, especially in Lisbon, offering more flavorful styles of brew. There are full bodied stouts, hoppy IPAs, and spicy saisons inspired from Belgium. A few are right in the downtown, perfect stops to relax while enjoying a walking tour of the town’s landmarks and enjoying a view of the water.
5. Everywhere has an outdoor patio and views
It seems like every restaurant or bar in Lisbon and Porto has an outside patio. In these cities especially where the town sprung up around the river, many of these are right along the water. To me, there’s nothing better than a fresh-grilled fish right along the water paired with a local wine or beer. Beside the great food which will delight them, the boys will love being able to watch people, boats, and possibly even animals along the water while we eat. Keeping their attention for an entire meal so we can eat in peace is a critical part of a successful trip.
6. Great family friendly places to stay with history
All across the country are vacation rentals offered by the actual owners since the big rental companies haven’t moved in much yet. These apartments are often small by American standards, but make up for it in character and location. Many offer small kitchens for making food and multiple rooms so we can get the boys to bed without feeling like they are missing something because they can see us. When we need to head back to the place for the boys’ afternoon nap, a location right in the middle of town will be perfect.
7. Fun in the sun on the beach
Picture European beaches and pebbles probably come to mind. Portugal has endless miles of beaches with actual sand though. Some are rocky, but it’s not little pebbles. In Lagos, there are majestic rocky columns erupting from the sea along the coast, sheltering the beach and providing quite the dramatic backdrop. Others are huge sandy beaches where the sun blazes down. Our boys are still a bit afraid of the waves, so we probably won’t get much swimming in, but we will get some sun and let them run around to expend energy before it gets too hot. We might even get some relaxing family time sitting on the sand together, perfect for getting more of that family time we never seem to get in our daily lives.
8. Everything is close
Portugal is a fairly small country, one that can be traversed in just a few hours by car or the efficient train system. Even going across nearly the entire country over two weeks, we never have a car drive over two hours. Though the boys are good in the car and were fine on trips to Chicago and Charleston from New Jersey, each over 12 hours, we don’t want to risk a long drive going south with hours of tantrums while on vacation. With short drives, the boys can get some naps in or we can take a few stops to explore the countryside. Renting car seats along with the car rental wasn’t a problem at all.
9. A country of sun and outdoors
Driving around, eating, and drinking from town to town is great, but there is so much more to do in Portugal. Cities like Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra have a ton of interesting sites to visit and they’re super walkable. Lisbon has a historic trolley to capture the imagination of your children, but walking through the city is the best way to really see it all. Further out in the countryside, there are great hiking trails and reasons to get outside and into nature. Along the shore there are paths to follow with great views of the sea as well. The country practically begs to stay outside in the fresh air and get some exercise in, all perfect for entertaining and tiring out toddlers to keep them behaving.
10. The weather
Portugal gets more sun than any other European country. While it does get hot in the middle of summer, it’s moderate most of the year yet warm and sunny. Temperatures are most often in the 60s and 70s. Rainy days and even overcast ones are rare. Vacation plans aren’t likely to be affected by poor weather. It also makes it easy to find great outdoor activities to share with the whole family.
11. It’s a short flight from the East Coast
On the west coast of Europe, Portugal is a fairly short flight from the U.S., especially compared to other international destinations. After flying last year and encountering multiple delays and difficulties, we knew a short flight was less likely to end in disaster. Flying overnight should also give the boys the chance to sleep the majority of the flight and give us a break. Plus. A shorter flight means less time on a plane and more exploring the sights and culture of the destination.
12. It’s still affordable – for now
Portugal is poised to be the next hot travel destination. For now though, it’s still affordable to stay and eat. The rentals are typically under 150 euros a night for great accommodations and locations. The food is often under 15 euros for a delicious and massive meal. The EU may struggle to support Portugal’s economy, but that means great deals for tourists, especially now while many cities are trying to compete for tourism to help the economy. As more and more tourists find this great country though, prices are set to sour, so it’s time to get there now.
Portugal is a perfect destination for families with small children. Thanks to a beautiful landscape and historic scenic cities, there’s a ton to see and do across the country. Getting there is easy thanks to direct and quick flights and getting around is simple since nothing is too far apart. Kids will love the magic feeling the old world towns inspire and cultivate and will have plenty to see and do with tons outside. Parents will love the delectable food and wine across the whole country. Portugal is a top destination for families with kids, and with so many great activities, may even help bring them closer together.