Portugal is an increasingly attractive option for families looking for a European holiday — it has beautiful, historic cities, amazing food culture and plenty of coastline for any sort of beach vacation you could want. While you could easily spend 10 days in and around Lisbon or Porto, the largest two cities, it is a surprisingly easy drive along the coast to the south to the Algarve. Given the reliably sunny days, a Portugal road trip is worth it to experience the world-class beaches, surfing, cultural sites and food.
Lisbon should be the first stop on any Portuguese holiday. The history of the Age of Discovery is a big draw, but the beating heart of the city is really in its beauty: tile-fronted buildings and sidewalks, arts centers, vibrant outdoor cafes and Portuguese fado music playing from kiosks in the streets. Read our post on the best things to do in Lisbon with kids for tips on local sightseeing and accommodations.
TIP: When arriving in Lisbon, note that the airport is surprisingly small for a larger European city; be prepared to have a wait at passport control. After an overnight flight from the U.S., have a coffee on the plane before braving the line with small children.
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On your last morning in Lisbon, pick up a rental car for the next leg of the trip. Driving in Lisbon is difficult, with narrow, winding streets and a network of one-way roads that only a local could understand, so it’s best to choose a rental agency on the outskirts of town.
The A2 motorway, the main highway from Lisbon, meanders all the way down the coast and inland to the south of Portugal. If you crave the beach after your city break, you need only to drive about an hour and a half to Comporta. Quiet and uncrowded, but with a stylish soul, Comporta has been compared to the Hamptons for its fishing-village-turned-hip vibe, and for all of the local restaurants and chic shops with a Portuguese twist. Parents will love the beaches with lifeguards; kids of all ages will enjoy the Sado Estuary Nature Reserve, which has its own colony of dolphins and flocks of flamingos. There are a number of family-friendly cruises with guides through the estuary as well.
The Algarve region in southwestern Portugal is famous for its beaches and its abundant luxury accommodations. Family-centered resort chain Martinhal has two properties in the Algarve that go above and beyond meeting families’ needs — one in Sagres and one in Quinta do Lago. Both are about a two-hour drive from Comporta, and you can’t go wrong with either as a home base to explore the region.
Sagres is at the southwest tip of Portugal, near the westernmost point in all of continental Europe. Looking out at the sea from here gives a sense of the bravery that Portuguese explorers needed to venture out into the unknown. With plunging sea cliffs, crashing waves and sometimes-high winds, the landscape is dramatic from every angle.
Martinhal Sagres Beach Resort, located directly on the beach here, offers a front-row seat for the striking setting. Sagres is a surfing paradise, and the local village abounds with surf shops and lessons (not to mention seaside cafes and Henry the Navigator’s navigation school). For more of a taste of Portugal’s wild west, take a day trip to Cape St. Vincent National Park, an untouched natural region with abundant options for hiking and canoeing with the family.
Base at Martinhal Quinta Family Resort, which features private villas, for a taste of the Quinta do Lago region on Portugal’s south coast. Known for its golfing, it also offers an impressive art scene and numerous options for fine dining. On your “go” days, explore the local villages, their Moorish architecture and the plethora of churches. Every town in the Algarve has its own market day, so plan accordingly — it’s worth it to see the local produce and arts, such as basketmaking and weaving. For a day off the beaten path, Ria Formosa National Park has a nature trail walk that leads to ancient Roman salt pits, and boat trips for island hopping to snorkel and admire the ocean life, especially the seahorses.
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