Tips for Exploring Portugal’s Algarve Region With Kids

Aug 22, 2019

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Portugal‘s southernmost stretch of coastline, the Algarve, is known for its beautiful beaches, charming fishing towns, excellent surfing and delicious seafood. The Algarve region, which is just a two- to three-hour drive from Lisbon, is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. It’s also the perfect destination for families. If visiting Portugal is in your future, here are some tips to help you explore the Algarve with your family.

Kid-Friendly Activities

What’s so great about the Algarve region is that it really caters to all age groups: There are beaches and boat tours, waterparks and historical villages, adventurous off-roading tours and surf lessons.

Plan a Beach Day

Thanks to the Algarve’s stunning, picturesque beaches, spending a day on the sand is one of the most popular activities in the area. With more than 100 beaches, you are bound to find a stretch of beach that fits your family’s needs. It wasn’t possible for us to visit every single beach along the coast, but some of my favorites included: Praia de Dona Ana, Praia da Marinha, Praia da Falesia and Praia de Odeceixe. All of these beaches have bathroom facilities, restaurants nearby and decent parking options, making your family trip to the Algarve much easier.

Praia de Dona Ana (Photo by Jennifer Yellin / Deals We Like)
Praia de Dona Ana (Photo by Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

When figuring out which beach to visit, keep in mind that many are located below the cliffs and can only be reached after a hike down a wooden staircase. If you are traveling with a stroller or someone with limited mobility, this could pose a problem — so opt for a beach that’s a straight shot from the road or has another easy access point. At the Marriott Pine Cliffs Resort, for example, there’s an elevator to the Praia da Falesia beach.

If you want to give surfing a try, you’ll want to head to Sagres, or the western coast, instead.

Take a Boat Ride

Being on the Atlantic means there’s no shortage of boat tours, and the best way to explore the region’s towering cliffs and numerous caves is by getting off the sand and onto the water. You can select the best tour depending on your age, physical ability and overall desire: There is everything from a quick, 30-minute tour to a full day adventure. You can pick from a speedboat or a slower, scenic cruise. For more adventurous travelers, there are also kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding tours.

Boat tour to the Benagil Caves (Photo by Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Whichever way you decide to go, make sure seeing the Benagil Caves is on your itinerary. There are many tours that visit the site, but we opted for the quick 30-minute tour from Benagil Beach. No advance reservation was required: We just showed up and there were plenty of boats available with Taruga Benagil Tours. (You can make reservations in advance if you prefer.) With that being said, if you visit during a peak summer day, I suggest arriving earlier in the day so you don’t have to wait long.

This tour was perfect for us because we have young kids, but for travelers with older children and teens, a longer tour with snorkeling or swimming in the cave could be great. After our boat tour we went to Praia da Marinha, just a few minutes away, because Benagil Beach was definitely not our favorite beach — or even one I’d recommend going to, if it weren’t for the boat tour.

Of course, if you have extra time during your vacation, there are other caves to see, dolphins to watch and numerous beaches to explore.

Visit a Waterpark

Waterparks are by far one of the more popular activities in the Algarve, the three most popular being Aquashow, Slide & Splash and Aqualand. There’s also Zoomarine, which falls more into the theme park category, although it does have a water park component.

Slide and Splash Water Slide Park in Algarve. (Photo courtesy of Algarve Pass)
Slide and Splash Water Slide Park in Algarve (Photo courtesy of Algarve Pass)

All the parks offer everything from splash pads for the younger kids to black hole shoots for the more adventurous members of your family. Aside from the rides, there may also be hot tubs, lazy rivers and live entertainment.

Pricing at all the parks was comparable, with only a few euros difference per guest. For example, the Aquashow park costs 29 euros (about $32) for guests between the ages of 11 and 64, while seniors 65 and up and juniors (6 to 10 years old) get entry for 21 euros (roughly $23). Kids 5 and younger get free entry.

Where to Stay with Kids

There are a ton of accommodations around the Algarve region — everything from cute little inns to full-blown resorts. Renting a house or condominium is also popular among families. Typically, you’ll spend more with accommodations on or within walking distance to the beach versus a location where you have to drive.

Related: The 7 Best Starter Travel Credit Cards

Using Hotel Points

If you’re hoping to redeem hotel points for your trip to the Algarve, you don’t have many choices. There’s the Hilton Vilamoura, but standard rooms are limited to just three guests. To book a room for a family of four, you’ll be required to book a premium room that can cost anywhere between 105,000 and 267,000 Hilton Honors points a night. (The average rate during the peak summer season is about 150,000 Hilton Honors points a night.)

Then there’s the Pousada Palacio de Estoi, a Small Luxury Hotel property where you can use your World of Hyatt points. But in addition to being far from the beach, this property does not have any rooms that can accommodate a family of four — even their suites are capped at three guests.

Fortunately, Marriott has three different properties on the Pine Cliffs resort, all which are part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection. For families, the Pine Cliffs Residence is ideal. Base rooms using points are two bedroom, two bathroom villas with a kitchen. You’ll have one king bed, two twin beds and a pullout sofa.

This is a Category 8 property with the standard rate costing 85,000 points a night. While this is on the higher end of the number of points required within the Marriott family, keep in mind that your fifth night is free. Marriott is also introducing peak and off-peak points, so the number of points required for your stay might vary. If you are low on points, both the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card and Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card can help you increase your point balance.

If you are looking at cash rates, there is a huge range depending on the season you visit. During summer months nightly rates average around 350 euros a night (close to $389), but during the winter, you can find rates as low as 120 euros, or $133, a night.

Two-bedroom villa at the Pine Cliffs Residence (Photo by Jennifer Yellin / Deals We Like)
Two-bedroom villa at the Pine Cliffs Residence (Photo by Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Using Flexible Points

Because there are so few chain hotel properties, many families will find themselves at hotels where they cannot use traditional hotel points. This is where flexible points really come in handy.

One of the most family-friendly properties in the Algarve is the Martinhal Algarve Beach Family Resort — it even has “family” in the name. This resort isn’t cheap, but has “luxury family vacation” written all over it. There are many different accommodation styles depending on the number of members in your party, and there are a ton of playgrounds and pools, as well as plentiful family-friendly restaurants and five different kids clubs.

If the price tag is out of the question (last-minute reservations for a two-bedroom “ocean house” this summer cost nearly 780 euros, or $860, per night), this is the perfect opportunity to redeem your Capital One miles or Barclaycard Arrival miles. With both of these programs, you are redeeming at 1 cent per point, so an $800 nightly room, for example, will require 80,000 points.

You can also reduce your cost by getting your fourth night free with the Citi Prestige® Card. This benefit is going through some changes in September, so you’ll want to make your reservation now to get the best rate possible.

Renting a House

Airbnbs can sometimes be the perfect answer for a family, since many hotels have a limit of just two or three guests per room. One TPG contributor was able to stay at a villa in the Algarve that included three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a pool, a grill and was only a few minutes drive to the beach. The cost? Just $250 per night.

(Photo via Airbnb)

If you do find yourself staying in an Airbnb, there are few ways to reduce your overall cost:

  • If it’s your first time booking an Airbnb, new members receive $40 off their first reservation of $75 or more.
  • Purchase discounted Airbnb gift cards on Raise or eBay to maximize your spend.
  • Purchase an Airbnb gift card at Staples and maximize the number of points, miles or cash back you earn by using the right credit card. For example, the Ink Business Cash Credit Card will earn you 5% cash back at office supply stores (up to $25,000 each account anniversary year).
  • Earn Delta miles on your Airbnb stay by registering your Delta SkyMiles number

Getting to the Algarve Region

While you cannot fly nonstop from the US to the Algarve, getting there is still quite easy. Whether you are coming from Lisbon or another destination in Europe, you can get to this dreamy region in Portugal by train, plane or car.

Take the Train or Bus From Lisbon

While I recommend renting a car and driving from Lisbon, taking the train is also a possibility. The high-speed Alfa Pendular train takes just under three hours, while the Intercidade ride is slightly longer, lasting three hours and 30 minutes. The cost of the train is generally between 11 and 23 euros ($12 to $26), with the Intercidade costing a bit less. Book far in advance, and you might receive special offer pricing.

The Rede Expressosbus might be a better choice depending on your final destination. The bus stops in more locations throughout the Algarve and ultimately could save you time (and a long taxi ride). The length of the trip is about the same, and the cost is comparable.

Fly Into Faro

If you are coming from Porto or another city within Europe, you might be able to fly nonstop right into Faro. Faro is the southernmost city in the Algarve and can put you in close proximity to your hotel or vacation rental. Faro to Sagres, for example, is less than an hour and a half away — about half the time it takes to drive from Lisbon. Lagos is about an hour away, and Albufeira, where the Marriott Pine Cliffs Resorts is located, is only 30 minutes away.

Drive From Lisbon

I personally find driving to be the easiest way to get from Lisbon to the Algarve. In Lisbon, they drive on the right-hand side of the road and steering wheels are on the left-hand side. For those accustomed to driving in the US, that means there’s absolutely no difference. The roads are very safe, signs are very clear and we found traffic to be pretty minimal. If price is a concern, rent a manual car, which will be much less expensive than an automatic.

The main reason I recommend driving over the train? You’ll have a car for the duration of your vacation in the Algarve. I highly recommend leaving your accommodations and exploring different areas and beaches, making a rental car a necessity. With a family, I would not want to solely rely on taxis to take me to different areas, especially if my activity for the day is 45 minutes away.

If you opt to drive, you can also follow along the coast. It might not be the most direct or fastest route, but it’s certainly the most scenic.

Driving along the coast allowed us to visit Praia de Odeceixe Mar which is on the western coast of the Algarve (Photo by Jennifer Yellin / Deals We Like)
Driving along the coast allowed us to visit Praia de Odeceixe Mar, which is on the western coast of the Algarve (Photo by Jennifer Yellin/Deals We Like)

Bottom Line

For families who love the beach, but also want a cultural experience, the Algarve is truly the perfect place to visit. With short and inexpensive flights from the US, getting to Lisbon is extremely doable, and making your way south from there is painless. You can always combine a visit to the Algarve with a stay in Lisbon and Porto to fully experience the best the country has to offer.

Continue planning a trip to Portugal:

Featured photo by © RAZVAN CIUCA/Getty Images.

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