As we were pulling together our Portugal itinerary, many asked us, “Are you sure you want to go to Portugal with kids?… 4 no less!” Not ones to shy away from a challenge, we were determined to take our four girls, ages 8, 6 and 18-month old twins, on our 10-year anniversary trip. Because nothing says romance like two strollers, several snack bags and a minivan, right? While it certainly wasn’t easy, we have no regrets – it was a family trip that will stay with us forever.
We broke up our Portugal itinerary into two parts. We spent 3 days in Lisbon and 3 days in Lagos with some stops in between.
What got us through:
Families who had traveled to Portugal with kids strongly advised against a double stroller given the narrow, windy and uphill roads of Lisbon. Some streets could barely fit one stroller! So this was a tip we are glad we followed. We opted against bringing carriers… The heat + squirmy toddlers, had us shy away from that solution.
We decided against using a car for the Lisbon part of our Portugal itinerary. Given that we’d need a minivan to fit us all, streets are narrow, and parking is at a premium. Instead, we had a company called Welcome Pickups, take us to our Airbnb that was super clean and professional. We used public transportation. The stations, trains and buses are clean and mostly accessible for strollers. For the second part of our Portugal itinerary, we did rent a minivan so we had more freedom to explore.
Staying outside the more frequented areas allowed us to get a bigger Airbnb within our budget that would fit our crew of 7 in Lisbon. We stayed in a cozy part of town called Barrio De Arroios, where we felt immersed in the local culture, yet close to all the key sights and places to visit. Our Airbnb was 5 mins from public transportation, supermarkets and restaurants.
The Wells pharmacy (a pharmacy chain) around the corner from our place, had a plethora of natural toddler fruit/veggie pouches and snacks. We were running low, so we stocked up.
Portugal Itinerary: Lisbon (Days 1-3)
What we loved:
1. Castelo Sao Jorge
Given the two strollers, we opted to take a bus from Praça Figueira (Green Line – Rossio stop) up to the castle instead of walking up. The bus took us right to the entrance. It was a breeze to enter the castle as families skip the line. The girls absolutely loved exploring – we spent almost 3 hours going up and down the castle and its surrounding square. And the views…a picture-perfect location. We opted to walk down the hill in the charming, picturesque cobblestone streets. It took us forever as we kept stopping at all kinds of little shops – the touristy and the artisan. We took a wrong turn but ended up at the most delicious restaurant called Audrey’s.
While it looked posh, being part of the Santiago de Alfama hotel, it was surprisingly kid-friendly. The girls devoured their meal (they even had a kids menu – which is not on their site). Bonus points: they had coloring pages and crayons, and the most dense, rich carrot cake we’ve ever had. Must try: the sauteed prawns for the appetizer, and the Piri Piri chicken for a main.
2. Oceanário de Lisboa
We’ve been to some gorgeous aquariums in our travels, but Oceanário de Lisboa makes the top 5 list. It’s the largest indoor aquarium in Europe and by the water. A bus stops right by the entrance and the metro (red line) is only a few blocks away. This one was particularly a success with my toddlers who seemed intent on climbing in the tanks with the sharks. It looked exciting in there; I don’t blame them.
3. Belem District
The girls loved taking the train from Cais do Sodré Station to the Belem District – it’s the same train line to Cascais and leaves every 20 minutes. The whole vibe of the area is super artsy, and vibrant and full of life. We decided this is where we would try the Pastais De Nata – the dessert everyone told us to have. We visited both the touristy Pastais de Belem with a line around the block and Manteigaria – the little gem of a place friends had recommended. Manteigaria won hands down – I still dream about that nugget of custardy goodness.
Bonus Hidden Find: Our dinner at Taverna de Lusa in Barrio de Arroios – minutes from our Airbnb, and full of character, this was a highlight of a meal. My often-picky older girls devoured the pork cheeks dish (!) and my toddlers loved the croquettes. The adults loved the house wine and house sangria.
Days 3-6: Lagos, Portugal with Kids & Surrounding Areas
After Lisbon, we set off towards the Algarve region and Lagos. We knew we wanted to break up the 3-hour trip with some stops along the way, and boy are we glad we did.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
Our main stop was a beach town called Vila Nova de Milfontes, a little more than halfway to Lagos from Lisbon. Walking around this beachy quaint town was a highlight for my girls (and loads of cute little boutiques made their mamma happy). We ate at one of the best restaurants of our trip – Tasca do Celso. Get the chicken, and the squid! (and a slice of their scrumptious sericaia – aka Portuguese egg pudding – for dessert).
Arriving in Lagos, we pulled into a gorgeous hotel resort, perfect for our moderate budget. The whole place had a Spanish hacienda feel, and rooms were on the ground floor – we got two rooms to fit our crew, and we each had a lovely patio with chairs. The resort had a few areas, each with its own pool. Known for their breakfast, Costa D’Oiro did not disappoint.
Portugal Itinerary Part 2: What we loved in the Algarve Region
1. The Old Town in Lagos
Walking around Lagos felt like we stepped into another time. Whitewashed buildings interspersed with pops of bright color, cobbled laneways and hidden treasures in every turn, made for a highly sensory experience. We ate at a super-kid friendly restaurant called Trattoria Vecchia Milano – all four of my girls polished their pasta, and we did it all on a terrace overlooking the old city.
2. Praia de Rocha
A true beach resort town, this was a fun stop for us. The beaches were wide, the boardwalk was vibrant and colorful, and there were plenty of playgrounds along the way for my girls to spend some energy. Known for hosting incredible outdoor summer concerts, it was fun to see another side of Portugal. If you can, stop at the Gelateria Sorbetto across from the hotel Oriental – gelato heaven!
3. The Benagil Caves
There are countless boat tour options to take to visit the stunning Benagil Caves. Some include kayaking, lunch, sunset cruises, diving, etc. With 4 kids in tow, we opted for a simple, 2 hour cruise with a stop at the Caves. The views were breathtaking. And we would’ve enjoyed it much more if my toddlers didn’t choose this cruise to have their one massive meltdown of the trip. I’m sure it was a relief to all the passengers when they finally fell asleep in our arms halfway through the tour.
4. Sand City
Sand City was an unexpected stop for us, thrown in at the last minute after seeing a brochure. I was prepared for it to be a little kitschy and my expectations were low. Well, this sand sculpture park, the biggest known one in the world, broke through my cynical self and impressed both my kids and us. Only 20 mins or so from Lagos, and a great family activity for when you need a break from the beach.
O Camilo in Lagos – this happened to be around the corner from our hotel, and I had heard ramblings of its excellence in travel blogs. Apparently, reservations need to be made months in advance. A combination of dumb luck, naivete, and showing up at 12, early for the Portuguese, had us finding a table at the last minute. The manager made us promise to dine and go by 2pm, as the table was reserved after that. We vigorously agreed and got to experience the best octopus I’ve ever had, and a finger-lickin’ chicken dish that all my girls passed around to share. The restaurant was also right next to beautiful views of the shore – the pictures don’t do it justice.
Our trip concluded with a must-stop at Sintra, where unfortunately Pena Palace and Quinta de Regaleira were closed due to fire hazards. Since we only had a few hours, we made the most of it by getting to know all the hidden little corners of this colorful, magical town. We even got to sample the ginja (a sweet cherry liquor) at A Ginjinha – an open standing-room only bar in the center of town. But one of the highlights had to definitely be the travesseiros (a puff pastry delicacy) at Casa Piriquita – we ate 2 each, AND got a pack for the airport. My toddlers preferred the queijadas de Sintra and devoured them in their stroller.
We sadly bid adeus to Portugal, but know we’ll be back. This is the kind of trip that warrants repeating, and as toddler- and kid-friendly as the country promises. Put on your walking shoes and set off to this striking part of the world full of culture and mouthwatering dishes and desserts.
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