10 Reasons Why We Loved our Portugal Family Vacation (and went 2x in a year!)

Portugal Family Vacation Main

We loved our Portugal family vacation so much that we returned! Portugal is one of our favorite countries to visit with kids because of its ease, near endless family-friendly activities, sun, and safety. Below are 10 reasons with more about the 2 trips that we took in 2022 and 2023.

Table of Contents:

  1. Easy Proximity
  2. Safety
  3. Budget-Friendly Groceries
  4. Budget-Friendly Ubers & Rental Cars
  5. Budget-Friendly Airbnbs
  6. Kid-Friendly Activities in Lisbon
  7. Kid-Friendly Activities in Sintra & Cascais
  8. Kid-Friendly Activities in Porto
  9. Weather
  10. Nature
  11. Bonus: the people!

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Family holiday to Portugal Sintra

Enjoying the Cascais beach in January!

Portugal is easy for families on vacation!

Portugal Family Vacation

One of the best airline kids goodies bags! Also included a kids inflatable plane pillow and socks.

We flew direct on TAP Air Portugal on both of our trips to Portugal and it could not have been more seamless! The direct flight from Dulles International Airport to Lisbon’s airport was less than 7 hours on the way there and 8.5 hours on the way back. The low price of round-trip, non-stop tickets to Europe was the number one reason we returned to Portugal this year!

TAP Air Portugal is part of Star Alliance (with United) and had the nicest flight attendants, a great clean plane, and some of the best kids’ treats. The food was good for airline food (better than United in my opinion) but my kids didn’t like a lot of it so we brought a lot of snacks. It’s amazing to be in Europe in less than 7 hours!

2 Tips for Flying to Portugal with Kids

  1. Portugal is so kid-friendly that airport staff told us to go in the priority lane multiple times even though we have a 6 and 9 year old now! In customs coming into the country and leaving and they allowed us to board the plane before first class. In the US that is usually only reserved for infants!
  2. The airport is inside the city of Lisbon! You can be downtown after a quick (and cheap!) uber ride in 15 minutes or take the metro for even cheaper. Lisbon is also a great starting point for other European travel. I saw tickets for Paris for $80, and London for under $100 and if taking Ryan Air, you could get deals for as low as $30!

Portugal is a very safe vacation spot for families

portugal playgrounds on the beach

The Global Peace Index for 2022 ranks Portugal as #6 in the world behind Iceland, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, and Austria. Other lists have put Portugal as number 3 in safety! It’s important to have situational awareness whenever you travel but we never felt unsafe traveling in Lisbon or Porto.

We talked to Portuguese families who said they don’t worry about the young kids’ safety when going to the neighborhood grocery store to grab eggs. However, they mentioned that you need to be extra aware of roads as they can be very narrow and sometimes do not have sidewalks.

Portugal is the Budget-Friendly European Destination

Having traveled to Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK with our kids, Portugal is the most affordable. Of course, in the touristy areas you will pay a higher price but in neighborhoods, shops, grocery stores, and even the big mall, we were constantly amazed at the low prices!

Groceries and Restaurant Costs

delicious food in portugal

I purchased most of our basic food needs for breakfasts and some lunch items at Lidl and it was only 41 euros! Also, the quality of the produce was incredible. Even though we last went in January, the strawberries (morganos) and of course Portuguese citrus fruits were just delicious. We ate oranges from the Algarve, and passion fruit from the Azores every day!

Prices from our January 2023 trip:

- Espresso from 1 to 2 euros

- Pastel de Nata (famous egg tart pastry) 1 to 2 euros

- Pork Sandwich 3 euro

- Fish & Potato dish 8 – 14 euros depending on how touristy

- Glass of wine 3 – 5 euros

Ubers and Rental Cars in Portugal

Ubers are so affordable in Portugal! We took one with 6 people for 5 euros about 15-minute drive in the mountains of Sintra.

We rented a car twice in Portugal. During our January trip with Sixt, it was 35 euros a day and we ended up only using a ¼ tank over the 9 days. However, gas in Europe is more expensive than the US. I believe it came out to about $6 USD per gallon.

Where we Stayed in Portugal: Airbnbs & Booking.com

airbnb estoril Portugal

We really like staying in places with a kitchen or kitchenette so we did not stay in any hotels on these trips. It helps when traveling with kids to be able to have some meals not in a restaurant!

We stayed in the off-season this past month and perhaps the shoulder season in April so I cannot speak to peak summer pricing but all of our Airbnb apartments were more reasonable than when we used Airbnb in Virginia and West Virginia. Below are the ones I can recommend (there are 2 Airbnbs that I don't want to recommend because they were not 100% clean)

  1. Cascais Airbnb - 10-minute walk from downtown and the beach. Great location and price but our host did say she might raise rates soon as the construction next door is ending. Did not bother us!
  2. Belem (Lisbon) Famous Crows Lisbon Suites are very small but so affordable and next door to the famous Pastéis de Belém and Jerónimos Monastery. Very clean and great for a 1 night stay on our way out of Lisbon.
  3. Estoril Airbnb - 2-minute walk to the beach! Beautiful interior.
  4. Porto Apartment via Booking.com - Downtown and had everything we needed. Nice and clean but a little small. Great café across the street that we went to everyday!

Kid-Friendly Activities in Lisbon

castle Lisbon portugal

This could be an entire website! I will write separate blog posts for about 10 of these but for now, just linking their English websites here so you can see a taste of all the family activities Portugal has to offer. (And this doesn’t even include the Algarve with its beaches, cliffs, and water parks!)

Lisbon Kid-Friendly Activities

  1. *São Jorge Castle (pictured above, lovely views, and free roaming peacocks!)
  2. *Santa Justa Elevator (outdoor elevator with beautiful views! 5 euros to go up or we just went from the top and didn't need to pay!)
  3. *Belem Pasteries and St. Jeronimos (the original egg tarts since 1837. Beautiful cafe and I may have shed a tear when tasting for the first time!)
  4. *Fado Café (found one that started ‘early’ at 8:30 PM, will update when I find it!)
  5. Pavilion of Knowledge Science Museum/Pavilhão do Conhecimento (We really wanted to check this out but just ran out of time!)
  6. Gondola Lift Lisbon (Would be a great combo with the Pavilion of Knowledge and Aquarium)
  7. Lisbon Aquarium/Oceanário de Lisboa (one of the largest in Europe!)
  8. Kidzania – Children’s museum where kids can dress/act as different professions. So big and cool!

Sintra & Cascais Family Activities

family holiday Portugal Sintra
  1. Pena Palace (Colorful fairytale castle that we all loved! Will write up our whole day itinerary because there are some tricks to avoid the crowds)
  2. *Quinta da Regaleria (We actually all loved this more than Pena! We went twice, once in April and once in January. The inverted tower/initiation well is one of a kind!)
  3. *Cabo do Rocha (Western most point of Europe with a lighthouse and gorgeous sunset views! We were lucky to be taken here by a friend for a perfect sunset)
  4. *Casa da Guia in Cascais (We loved it so much we went twice in 2 days! It's a villa and beautiful grounds with shops, restaurants and cafes all with sweeping views of the ocean!)
  5. Cascais Market/Mercado da Vila (One of my favorite spots. Beautiful market with everything from produce, flowers, meat, breads etc. and cafes, restaurants and some days artisan stalls!)

Beaches are listed below in Nature section

Kid-Friendly Activities in Porto, Portugal

porto family vacation Portugal
  1. *Ribeira, Ponte Luis I Bridge and Jardim do Morro Park (The main area near the water, famous bridge and a great sunset park across the river. The bridge is so tall but my kids felt safe even though a tram runs on the top level with people.)
  2. *Livraria Lello Bookshop (The most beautiful in the world and probably inspired Harry Potter as the author lived in Porto for a while. Very busy though and wasn't as I expected. Will write more.)
  3. Douro River Boat Trip (Ran out of time but you can book as short as 1 hour or all day)
  4. Treetop Walk Serralves (Looks amazing but ran out of time)
  5. Matosinhos Beach (Kids liked the playground on the beach but there was some sort of refinery nearby.)

The Portuguese Sun and Weather is a Top Reason We Love Portugal

boco do inferno portugal

Boco do Inferno in Cascais in January

“There is just something about that light!” – my husband when we talked about returning to Portugal twice in one year. The sun is truly special, even in January! I will say that before we arrived, Lisbon had 2 weeks of lots of rain.

Also, since you are near the ocean, it can get very humid. I didn’t believe it until we went but it's true what they say about some of the buildings; it can be warmer outside than inside! At the coldest, it was in the 40s but during the day it would be in the 50s and one time the 60s. April was perfect weather and depending on where you are in Portugal, the summer can be pretty temperate in the 70s and 80s.

Nature in Portugal is never Far and always Stunning!

portugal family quinta pisao

Quinta do Pisão, free farm in Cascais

There were so many places in Portugal that we just fell silent at their beauty. I need to write more about below are some of our favorite places in addition to the lists above for Lisbon, Sintra and Porto.

  1. Quinta do Pisão – free farm run by the Cascais Council
  2. Gardens below Pena Palace - Parque da Pena. Kids had so much fun finding the little ruins, ponds, ferns and interesting plants.
  3. Guincho Beach is stunning, looks out of a magazine.
  4. Boco do Inferno - Portuguese for Hell's Mouth is a hole in the cliffs where waves crash in. They have built some stairs and bridges so you can safely watch the ocean and its just beautiful. Picture above.
  5. So many beaches in Cascais, Parade, and Caracavelos (Will write a whole blog post but the kids played almost every day in the sand and touched the water in January and April but of course haven’t been when its peak summer)

Bonus reason, the Portuguese people are some of the friendliest we have met!

In two separate incidents, the police at the airport took time to chat with my kids! Everywhere we went, the saying that “Portuguese people love kids” rang true! I asked if the kids would bother our neighbors below us in our Airbnb apartment and our host said, “oh no! they are kids and we know they make noise!”

We had a lady at the bank share about their favorite parts of the town and a tuk-tuk driver take us in his private car because it would be cheaper for us.