Traveling to Portugal: 7 things to know before you go
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Chances are you know someone who recently traveled to Portugal and is raving about it. After spending two weeks exploring Portugal with my family, I wholeheartedly recommend the country as a great destination for kids. But even the best places have pitfalls that come with the highlights, so here is what I encountered while visiting Portugal with kids in tow.
Lisbon is a no-go for strollers
There’s a lot about Lisbon to love. It’s clean, safe and fun to explore. However, its streets are paved with cobblestones and it is remarkably hilly. Young kids might have trouble keeping up. Consider that one of Lisbon’s major neighborhoods is named “Bairro Alto,” which literally means “high neighborhood.”
This is from a two-hour walking tour of the city, and only records stairs, not hills:
Of course, you don’t need to take a two-hour walking tour, but if you are visiting Portugal with an infant, I highly recommend a carrier over a stroller. With a toddler, you might want to limit your plans to neighborhoods that have public elevators and/or bring a stroller that is good with uneven terrain. On the upside, some of the elevators in Portugal, such as the Santa Justa Lift, are attractions in themselves.
Naturally, if an adult in your crew has limited physical abilities, some of these same terrain concerns would transfer to those situations — so plan logistics accordingly.
We did discover that Ubers were cheap and plentiful. Most rides within the city were less than 6 euros for Uber X and many were under 10 euros for Uber Black.
Don’t miss the Maritime Museum
A popular Instagram spot in the Belem District of Lisbon is the Monument of Discoveries. It’s worth seeing for the view alone.
But our favorite spot was actually across the street at the Maritime Museum (Museu de Marinha). It appealed to our kids much more than other museums as it took visitors through the adventures of Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese explorers. It even had artifacts from da Gama’s voyages among its extensive collection. As a traveler, I was obsessed with the historical maps and globes displayed throughout the museum.
Younger kids will especially love the Galliot Pavilion at the end of the museum. There’s a huge exhibition hall that houses royal yachts and brigs, fishing vessels and Portuguese ships with lots of room to explore.
Admission to the Museu de Marinha is 5 euros for adults and 2.5 euros for kids 4–12. The museum is open daily, 10am to 6pm, in summer; 10am to 5pm in the winter.
Lisbon’s famous trams are crazy crowded
If you have seen photos of Lisbon, you probably know about the iconic yellow trams weaving through the city’s distinctive neighborhoods. That’s not what we encountered.
What we saw was a bit more crowded than the postcard image.
I’m not sure when the photos of empty trams are taken, but during an entire week in June, we never saw a tram that wasn’t standing room only.
Visit Sintra on a sunny day
Prior to visiting Portugal, everyone we asked told us that we must visit Sintra, mainly because of views like this:
This is another case where our reality was much different from our expectations. I mean, fog happens.
Our moderately cloudy day obscured the views as a misty fog bank enveloped Sintra. We couldn’t see the ocean even when we drove just a few yards away. In retrospect, I should have paid more attention and realized that Sintra was a weather-dependent destination because of its location about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Lisbon near the ocean.
The Algarve’s water is Colder Than the Mediterranean
Something to keep in mind if you’re an ocean swimmer: Average water temperatures in the Algarve in southern Portugal top out in the low 70s in mid-August. In late June, when we visited, the ocean was 67 degrees according to Sea Temperature, which felt too chilly for more than a toe-dip for us. Those degrees made a huge difference in our ability to swim in the ocean.
If your kids are into building sand castles and chasing seagulls, the beaches along the Algarve are ideal — sandy compared to the rocky ones in Mediterranean hot spots. Just keep in mind that you might have to descend a long flight of stairs to get to a spot for your beach towel. Here are some more tips for navigating the Algarve with kids along for the fun.
A house with a private pool is surprisingly affordable
TPG recently wrote about the Pine Cliffs Resort, a great hotel for families or groups of friends. Although it’s definitely worth considering, so is renting a house with a private pool. We rented this one for 30% less than a room at Pine Cliffs for a week in June. With three bedrooms, including one in a turret, two patios overlooking the ocean and furnishings that look fresh out of an HGTV shoot, I’d say $254/night (before discounts) was a steal.
It’s easier than ever to get to Portugal
Portugal’s popularity has not gone unnoticed by the airlines. TAP Air Portugal has a number of new routes including nonstops from Washington, DC, Chicago and San Francisco. TAP is a member of Star Alliance and I’ve found great availability using United MileagePlus for 30k each way in coach or 70k each way in business class. United is a Chase transfer partner. Air Canada’s Aeroplan is another good option if you want to transfer from American Express. TAP tickets include a free stopover in Lisbon or Porto, which can help maximize your travel budget.
Believe the hype: Portugal presents tremendous opportunities for a great vacation, though that doesn’t mean it is perfect for every single traveler. My teen, who is notoriously hard to please, recently listed Portugal among his favorite countries. When I asked why, his understated response was simply, “I liked the vibe there.” I understood what he meant: Between the maritime history, the expansive vistas and the friendly people, I liked the vibe there, too — though I’m sure having a private pool didn’t hurt.
Read more about planning a vacation to Portugal:
- Why Every Family You Know Is Flying to Portugal — And Why You Should, Too
- Tips for Exploring Portugal’s Algarve Region With Kids
- Why Families Will Love Marriott’s Pine Cliffs Resort in Portugal’s Algarve Region
- Why the Lisbon Coast Is Europe’s Next Hot Spot
- Portugal Hotels on Points for Families of 4
- Go Here, Not There: European Cities Edition
- The Best Bucket List Points Trips to Beach Destinations
Featured image by Knowles Photography / Getty Images
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