Portugal is an amazingly beautiful country we have been to in Europe. It was a great decision to visit Algarve with kids during our Christmas and New Year holidays. The weather was nice and warm, and we actually had a chance to avoid crowds making our Portugal family holidays unforgettable.
Of course, there is a lot of things to do in Portugal. Algarve, in particular, has to offer gorgeous sandy beaches. It is also a great place for food lovers and wine tasters. It is generally considered that the best time for the Algarve family holidays is in spring (from March to May) or autumn (from September to the beginning of November). The weather is perfect during these months for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying various water sports. Also, you will be able to save some money compared to the peak-season deals (from June to August).
However, if you are planning to visit such places as Lisbon, Sintra, Porto, Braga, Amarante or any other city that excludes beach time, we strongly suggest Christmas and New Year season. Portugal got so popular in recent years as it is, indeed, a fantastic place to be. But this is one of the main reasons for kilometer-long queues to get into one palace or castle, especially if we are talking about Sintra.
If you are traveling to Portugal with kids, it would be probably a bit difficult to wait for a couple of hours to visit one sight. But! If your kids are under two, you have got a free priority entrance in the whole of Portugal!
We have made a 16-day trip across Portugal with our 2-year old toddler and our family friends with a 1-year old baby. Check our full itinerary with the best places to stay in Portugal with kids, including tips and important information. You will know about
- Driving across the Algarve coastline (you are reading this post now!)
- Wandering around beautiful Lisbon;
- Taking the train to magical Sintra;
- Enjoying medieval and baroque Porto.
The Algarve is the southernmost region of continental Portugal. This coastline reminded me Dorset region with its gorgeous coasts and cliffs all along the coastline. Indeed, Algarve is famous for its epic rock formations, numerous caves that have reached their climax in their popularity on Instagram and worldwide in the last few years, such as Batman and Devil caves; it is also well-known for its sandy coves, low cliffs, golf resorts, fishing villages, and absolutely stunning sandy beaches. Not to mention food, wine and one of the friendliest cultures of Europe.
Let us share our itinerary to Algarve with a toddler all along the coast and leave you with the very important tips of what you would like to avoid doing in the Algarve region and what is a must-to-see.
Getting to Algarve
The best way to get to Algarve is by plane. The nearest airport is situated in Faro and is only a 10-minutes’ drive from the Faro city center.
If you are going to Algrave from Lisbon, you can think of either taking a train, a bus r driving 2.5hs by car.
Getting around Algarve
I would definitely recommend renting a car. This way you will be able to drive through all the coastlines, visit different cities and towns without depending on public transport. It is a huge time saver, reasonable price and, of course, great comfort, especially if you are traveling with kids and friends.
It took us an hour to do all the paperwork with a rental company and finally get going, even though we had a priority as we were traveling with a toddler. Be cautious with the rental companies and read reviews carefully of every single one. There are usually a lot of hidden charges included in the agreements, so you want to make sure you are purchasing the deal online with the specific note: “No hidden charges included”. But even this doesn’t stop managers from trying to sell you the additional insurance packages on-site when all you need to do is just to receive the keys. Stay strong unless you feel you need extra cover.
The roads in Algarve are of great quality, wide, and what is most important is that all drivers are extremely patient, relaxed, and calm. Comparing to other countries, nobody will signal you the first thing the green light is on, nor I have seen crazy drivers passing by racing at great speed.
One important thing you must know is tolls. Algarve coast has a specially constructed highway that has tolls – A22. If you would like to use the tolls you must purchase special permission with the rental company at the time of renting the car and pay around € 1.50-2.00 per day for permission. On top of it, every time using the toll, you will be charged the distance you have driven of that particular highway.
Instead, you can avoid tolls, set the filter on your Google maps navigation, and use the main road N125 to move from one city to another. Trust me, you won’t lose anything on time spent or the quality of the roads. In this case, make sure you always avoid the tolls, otherwise, you will be charged the fine of € 200.00 as we have been advised.
Parking in Algarve
Parking is free on Sundays and during holidays. Also, it is free during the off-peak season which starts from the end of November to the beginning of March, so we never paid for it. If the machine has a sticker on it or is not working, then most likely, you don’t need to pay for parking at all.
Things to do in Algarve, Portugal
City breaks with kids are nice. As has been mentioned above, the Faro city center is just a 10-minute drive from the airport. This is why we decided to make a stop there first to relax and grab some lunch. It has a nice promenade with the possibility to sit outside and enjoy some typical Portuguese morsel, such as traditional Cataplana or chicken Piri Piri. The center is quite small and cozy to walk around. We found a store devoted to selling canned fish, primarily Portuguese sardines. Seafood and fish are very important to Portuguese, especially in Algarve. Locals usually eat fish 5 days a week where meat is just one-two days meal. It drove to our attention as we have never seen so much canned fish in one store with a special design. You can get here a customized can with a year of your birth too.
Another attraction and national heritage of Faro is a catholic church made in baroque-rococo style “Igreja do Carmo”. It is not only amazing from the outside having a traditional Portuguese tiled side facade, but also it is very beautiful inside. Unfortunately, it is closed on Sundays, so please plan your itinerary accordingly in case if you want to get inside. Here is more information about Faro.
Tavira is another small city in Algarve. It is located on the east side from Faro, since it was the furthest one, we decided to explore it first before reaching Portimao and Lagos.
Among all the things to do in Algarve, it was worth visiting Tavira. Tavira is a gorgeous town! It has an amazing city view, medieval Tavira castle, nice bridges, and narrow streets to wander around. It straddles the Gilão River, which reaches the sea through the inlets and lagoons of Ria Formosa Natural Park – one of the fabulous attractions to visit for the sunsets or sunrises if you have got some extra time.
Portimão is a port city in the Algarve region of southern Portugal and the best place to stay in Algarve, in our opinion. Portimão seems to be located in the center of all the main sightseeings and places to visit, including Lagos, Vila do Bispo, Albufeira, and many more.
It is also quite a small but very cozy city. From here, it is a good idea to book a boat tour to see numerous caves which we did on our last day in Algarve. You can also find the tour to see dolphins, but the best season for them would be September-October.
To book the tours you can go straight to the port area where you will see around twenty different kiosks offering similar deals. A good chance to bargain!
As for visiting the caves, make sure the boats are small for the boat to be able to enter the cave. The tour lasts 1.5hs, including half an hour to get back. You will be taken along the coast where you can see about twenty different caves and cliffs.
Portimão also offers great beaches, one of the main ones is called Praia da Rocha that is backed by ochre cliffs, and the medieval Fort of Santa Catarina de Ribamar. Right down the fort, you will find the port.
There are lots of cafes and restaurants along the beach. It has a special promenade that will lead you to the other side’s viewpoints of the Three Castles. Visiting the city center is a nice idea to find authentic little houses and narrow streets.
If you have got extra time, visit Castle of Silves (Castelo de Silves), which is very convenient to get to from Portimão. It’s believed that the first fortifications were built upon a possible Lusitanian Castro, by the Romans or Visigoths.
Our third day in Algarve with a baby was marked by a trip to one of the most famous attractions, Ponta da Piedade, an epic rock formation that is located in Lagos.
If you look at the map, you will find quite a few viewpoints and beaches that are absolutely worth of visit in Lagos. Start with Praia do Pinhão, go to Praia do Camilo, Praia dos Pinheiros, and get all the way down to the magical Ponta da Piedade.
You can easily spend an hour or two there hiking around. Apart from Ponta da Piedade, it is a very easy 10-20 minute walk to other viewpoints, such as Farol da Ponta da Piedade and Praia do Barranco do Martinho.
The best place in Algarve for a family holiday and our favorite viewpoint was Praia de Porto de Mos. You can hike there for hours.
Vila do Bispo
From Lagos drive 45 minutes to Vila do Bispo primarily for two main attractions:
- Cape St. Vincent (Farol do Cabo de São Vicente) and the lighthouse
This is the southwesternmost point of Portugal and of mainland Europe. The lighthouse became the main attraction of Algarve, however, for us, the favorite treats were Churros and Puras – fried-dough pastries.
- Sagres Fortress (Fortaleza de Sagres)
Unfortunately, it was closed during the Christmas holidays when we happened to travel there, but the views and the cliffs were amazing to walk around. Perfect spot for meditation!
Just keep in mind, that both places are quite windy.
We passed Albufeira on our way to Lisbon. If there is extra time, one of the nice places to visit for the hike and walk, which is the main attraction too, is called Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos.
Also, just a few kilometers away from Albufeira, there is Zoomarine located in Guia. It is the greatest family theme park with a huge variety of aquatic amusements, roller coasters, educational entertainment, and various performances. There is an aquarium too. It is closed during the off-peak season and re-opens at the beginning of March. What a shame we missed it this time.
More suggestions to do in Algarve
Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina
If you are willing to drive along the southwest coastline, Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park are a must to visit. It is one of the 30 Natural Park areas which are officially under Portuguese protection in the country. You can spend the whole day hiking and choosing different trails to explore.
Serra de Monchique
The Serra de Monchique is about a one-hour drive from Lagos. It is a chain of mountains clad in heavy forest. This is exactly why it is so worth visiting. Here is the highest point of the Algarve called Foia standing at 902m (2,959ft). It is a trip for the day and you can even stay there for the night enjoying the town and little theme park nearby. If you visit in March, you would definitely want to pay a visit to the Serra de Monchique as you don’t want to miss the biggest of all events – a traditional sausage fair (Feira dos Enchidos Tradicionais), where you will be able to try all kind of local dishes.
Enjoy Your Stay in Algarve!
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Also, check out:
- Portugal with kids: Lisbon with a baby and toddler (+Itinerary & Tips).
- Portugal Family Holidays: Sintra With Kids.
- Portugal Family Holidays: Things To Do In Porto With Kids.
- Things to do in Mar del Plata Buenos Aires with kids.
- 15+ must-see and FREE things to do in London with a baby.
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