Portugal is a fantastic country to visit with the family, offering everything from beautiful beaches and amazing natural landscapes to enchanting buildings that allow tours and themed amusement parks. From the bookworms in the group to the adrenaline-lovers, there is something for everyone. Here are the Culture Trip’s suggestions of the top family-oriented activities in Portugal.
A main attraction for the whole family is undoubtedly the country-long stretch of coastline and its stunning beaches. Which beach you choose will depend on your kids’ ages and temperaments. A few favorites among Portuguese families include Tavira Island beach, Comporta Beach at the base of the Troia Peninsula, Praia da Franquia, and the Praia da Mira located between Figueira da Foz and Aveiro. From picking seashells to trying some water sports (like surfing and kite surfing), there are activities for everyone.
Are you spending time with the kids in Lisbon? Don’t miss the Lisbon Oceanarium, home to Europe’s largest indoor aquarium. The Oceanarium takes visitors on a spiral journey around the large center aquarium filled with fishes and sharks (and 5 million liters (1.32m gallons) of seawater) and into other exhibits showing sea otters, birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. Lasting roughly 1.5-2 hours in duration to explore the entire aquarium, it’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon or morning and can segway into walking along the Parque das Nações boardwalk for some sun, exercise, and a snack or meal. Tickets for children from 4-12 years old and senior citizens (65+) costs €10.80 ($13.36) each and regular adult prices cost €16.20 ($20) per person.
Esplanada Dom Carlos I s/nº, Lisboa, Portugal +351 21 891 7000
Families visiting Lisbon may also enjoy the Jardim Zoológico, or Lisbon Zoo, located across the street from the Sete Rios train/metro/bus stop. First opened in 1884, one of the zoo’s main aims is in education and conservation regarding animals and plants and the species’ natural habitats. Watch out for the dolphin show in addition to native and exotic species plus many exhibitions.
Praça Marechal Humberto Delgado, Lisboa, Portugal +351 21 723 2900
Portugal dos Pequenitos
Located in Coimbra, in the center of the country, visiting Portugal dos Pequenitos is an excellent way to teach kids about Portugal’s heritage and history. This miniature park shrinks many of the country’s important buildings to child-sizes and has been a family favorite park since it opened its doors in 1940. There are also miniature replicas of landmarks from Madeira, the Azores, and Portugal’s ex-colonies.
Largo Rossio de Santa Clara, Coimbra, Portugal +351 239 801 170
Castle hop in Sintra
Don’t miss exploring Sintra, a fairy tale town covered in castles, palaces, and enchanting woods. The whole family will love touring the different buildings such as the mysterious Quinta da Regaleira and its enigmatic caves and tunnels to the historic Pena Palace that nearly resembles a Disney palace with its turrets and different colors. The center of town is also worth wandering through and the traditional sweets are a must-try.
Pena Palace: Estrada da Pena, Sintra, Portugal +351 21 923 7300
Quinta da Regaleira: R. Barbosa do Bocage 5, Sintra, Portugal +351 21 910 6650
Natas, francesinhas, and bifanas, oh my! There are so many amazing traditional dishes and sweets that it may be difficult to know which to try first. Plus, the cream, cheese, and different sandwiches are likely to tempt little appetites too.
Walk on Óbidos’s city walls
Ever wish you could pretend to be Jon Snow standing on top of the Wall? Depending on where you’re traveling from, it may be everyone’s first time seeing a town wrapped within fortified walls and in Óbidos, it’s possible to walk around the town from the top of those walls. The difference from Game of Thrones is that instead of seeing Castle Black below and snow and ice beyond, you’ll see the charming flower-covered and white-washed traditional town of Óbidos below and stretches of green land beyond.
Tip: Although this is a fun and unique experience, the high walls lack side barriers/protective rails, so it’s best to go with older children who are more likely to pay attention to their footing. It may also not be the best activity for anyone with vertigo.
Hiking is another popular activity in Portugal and there are paths at different altitude levels providing drastically varied experiences. Near Lisbon, visit the Serra da Arrábida mountain range that stretches from Setubal to Sesimbra and includes paths past weathered windmills and small, semi-secluded turquoise beaches. The Serra da Estrela is a rugged range in central Portugal that offers the highest peak on the mainland past awe-inspiring natural landmarks and remote, traditional towns; Pico Island in the Azores is where hikers will find the highest mountain in all of Portugal and a top experience for regular hikers. Peneda-Gerês National Park is a popular destination in Portugal with both short and long trails that take trekkers past more traditional towns. Of course, there is also always the beautiful Madeira Island and its levada walks.
In central Portugal, a few caves are among the “hidden treasures” that may render visitors awe-struck. Among the most popular are the Grutas de Mira d’Aire, a short drive south from both Tomar and Leiria.
Buy a book from the “Harry Potter” Bookstore
Without a doubt, the centennial Livraria Lello & Irmão is a top landmark for many travelers ranging in age from pre-teens to adults and its connection to the legendary Harry Potter series is only one reason why. The amazing Art Nouveau decor makes this an ideal place to snap photos and it has been named among the most beautiful bookstores in the world on multiple occasions. Plus, how cool would it be to buy a book from a location believed to have inspired JK Rowling’s literary masterpiece?
R. das Carmelitas 144, Porto, Portugal +351 22 200 2037
This list only scratches the surface and it’s best to decide which area to visit first before making a plan. Here are more suggestions in the Algarve, parks to see around Lisbon, and country-wide road trip ideas.