Are you planning to spend your holidays in Portugal? This southwest European country is located on the Iberian Peninsula, measures 35,000 square miles, and is home to a wide variety of landscapes. From long-stretched wine valleys and rocky coastlines to culturally fascinating cities, Portugal has all the characteristics of an exciting destination for the entire family. On top of natural and cultural sights, this country hosts some neat festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating its medieval and more recent traditions.
Tips and recommendations
- The capital Lisbon has the most significant international airport, where flights from major US cities like New York, Miami, and Boston arrive. Another important airport is Porto, which deals with flights between many European capitals like Paris, Rome, Berlin, and London.
- A sublime way of exploring Portugal is by rental car, but the country has an extensive bus and train network as well.
- The Algarve region is most popular amongst families, as it is blessed with magnificent beaches paired with numerous resorts.
- Portugal’s tap water quality has vastly improved over the last decades, and it’s safe to use it as drinking water now.
- Organize your stay in Portugal through Booking.com, one of the world’s largest providers of accommodations.
Where is Portugal?
Portugal is by far the westernmost country of continental Europe, with the only neighboring nation being Spain. Portugal covers 92,000 square kilometers of land area (or 35,600 square miles) and has just over 10 million inhabitants. The country also has a bundle of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, including Madeira and the Azores archipelago. While the capital Lisbon and Porto are the largest cities and real tourist magnets, the Algarve region and Douro Valley are equally popular amongst the traveling community.
What to do in Portugal?
Its diverse geography and long-established tourist industry have transformed Portugal into an inviting holiday destination. Are you a sun-seeker? Bask on the beach in resort towns like Lagos and Faro in the south. Places like Marinha Beach and the Benagil Cave captivate with their beauty, and they’re easy to reach from nearby resorts and campings.
Those looking for outdoor fun under the sun will also enjoy a full-day bicycle tour in the famous Douro Valley, including wine tastings at charming estates.
Culture lovers will feel more at home in Lisbon, the capital with its stunning architecture, rolling hills, beguiling museums, and drool-worthy food scene. Close to Lisbon sits the quaint town of Sintra, where you and the kids can discover fantastic castles, a medieval downtown area, and lush botanical gardens. Alternatively, Porto (nearly 200 miles north of Lisbon) is a fantastic spot to hang out for several days. The architecture, cafes, and cobbled streets in the old districts are worth venturing for Porto any time of the year.
The atolls in the Atlantic Ocean have entirely different trades. Thanks to the volcanic activity and landscapes these forces have created, the Azores are a paradise for hikers. But some of the Azores’ most incredible scenes lie beneath the sea’s surface. The island group is a prime destination for whale watching and diving. While boat excursions offer the chance to encounter dolphins, sperm whales, and occasionally blue whales, the diving here is exceptional as well. Get up close and personal with gentle giants like groupers, manta rays, and massive schools of other pelagics.
Madeira has the same volcanic structure as the Azores, but it’s mainly known for its flowers, fortified wine, and the cute town of Funchal. Get here in time to join the Flower Festival, or hike on the fantastic península Ponta de São Lourenço. Another cool thing to do on Madeira is taking the Funchal Cable Car, allowing you to look out over the island’s mountains and the orange-roofed houses of this coastal town.
Check out our guide to the 8 Best Events for Families in Portugal.
Where to eat?
From the Michelin-starred establishments in Lisbon to humble eateries in countryside towns, Portugal boasts a culinary treasure chest for first-timers and seasoned travelers. If you want to pamper yourself and your fellow travelers with a delightful feast in Lisbon, the wonderful restaurants Prado and Pharmacia are awesome options. For a cheap breakfast or lunch, try the legendary pastel de nata (a custard tart) available in bakeries throughout the country.
Porto has its fair share of upscale restaurants, including the Portuguese restaurant Cantinho do Avillez, with its modern take on local classics and sharing platters.
The Azores and Madeira are dotted with less pompous but equally authentic eateries serving delectable stews, freshly-caught seafood, and vegetables harvested from the fertile volcanic soil.
Especially in the Algarve region, you’ll find Western fare – if you crave that while away from home. In Faro, Lagos, and other resort towns on the southern coast, you’ll also find heaps of beach restaurants with traditional Portuguese restaurants and cocktails.
Best family hotels in Portugal
Striking hotel in Lisbon’s center with family rooms, a complimentary buffet breakfast, and a fitness center. Furthermore, the accommodation offers easy metro access, perfect for exploring the city thoroughly.
The quadruple rooms are attractively priced and fitted with a fridge, TV with streaming services, and a balcony or patio. In the relaxing common area, you can challenge your travel companions to a game of billiard or table tennis.
The suites here can accommodate up to 4 guests, and they’re furnished with an ensuite bathroom, a TV, plus a kitchenette with a microwave and kettle. Outside the rooms, the hotel has a 24-hour reception where you can arrange excursions and car rental.
These big apartments in Estoi come with a fully-equipped kitchen, a furnished private balcony, an ensuite restroom with a soaking tub, and a large outdoor swimming pool.
Splendid resort with family-friendly suites, several pools, a spa- and wellness center, along with a snuggly bar and restaurant. The rooms look beautiful and boast features like a coffee machine and a flatscreen-TV.
Remote resort on the northwestern edge of Madeira with stylish family rooms. Benefit from trades like an own balcony, a lounge area, and a bathroom with a tub. Aqua Natura Bay has a continental buffet breakfast and a restaurant serving lunch and dinner for culinary cravings.
A special mention goes out to this wonderful resort hotel in Sagres in the Algarve. Check out our ultimate guide to this hotel.
Where to go shopping?
Obviously, the largest cities in Portugal contain the most substantial malls and shopping streets. Shopaholics should add Lisbon to their itinerary, as this city is home to the most impressive mall in the country: Colombo Shopping Center. This multi-storied shopping haven houses roughly 350 shops, department stores, delis with high-quality food and beauty parlors. Porto is evenly interesting for shopping fanatics, thanks to its boutique clothes stores, authentic souvenir venues, and culinary shops like Terroir Gourmet.
While the island groups have compelling options to stock on souvenirs and artworks, the Algarve region is focused on tourists with its larger malls. One of the best examples is Algarve Shopping in Guia.
Best time to go to Portugal
Climate-wise, it’s attractive to travel to Portugal during the European summer, late June to late September. The sun is shimmering throughout the country, causing temperatures to go up above 30 degrees, especially in the Algarve. This is also the best time to explore the islands, as the weather is generally sunny and precipitation is limited. The best time to go diving at the Azores is June to October when the water is the warmest and the visibility is excellent.
For a city trip to Lisbon or Porto, the springtime (April, May, and June) is perhaps the perfect time in the absence of the burning sun.
How to get around?
A comprehensive road network and scenic routes cause Portugal to be a prime road trip target. The E1 highway connects the south coast with cities such as Setubal, Lisbon, and Porto. If you’re not planning to rent a car, the bus and train infrastructure is fabulous, enabling you to travel from northern Braga to southern Faro in just over 7 hours by train and only over 8 hours by bus. In cities like Lisbon and Porto, the tram, metro, and bus are all excellent and low-budget ways to get around. For connecting between the islands, ferries and flights are recommended. The best way to discover the islands is via a rental car.
How to get to Portugal?
TAP Portugal operates nonstop flights to Lisbon from US cities like New York and Miami. Is Portugal part of a longer European travel itinerary? Lisbon and Porto receive flights from major cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, London, and Paris. By train, you can reach Lisbon from the Spanish capital Madrid. Lisbon and Porto can also be reached via long-distance buses, for instance from Bordeaux and Paris in France.