Portugal has everything you and your family could wish for on holiday — beautiful beaches, stunning nature, enchanting architecture and themed amusement parks for fun days out. From bookworms to adrenaline-lovers, there really is something for everyone. Here’s our pick of top family-oriented activities.
Spend the day at the beach
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The whole country stretches along the coast, which means there’s a wide range of stunning beach options. Which beach you choose will depend on your kids’ ages and temperaments. Favourites among local families include Tavira Island Beach, Comporta Beach at the base of the Troia Peninsula, Praia da Franquia and the Praia da Mira, between Figueira da Foz and Aveiro. From gathering seashells to trying watersports like surfing and kitesurfing, there are activities for everyone.
See local marine life at Lisbon Oceanarium
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The Lisbon Oceanarium is home to Europe’s largest indoor aquarium, filled with fish and sharks that get to swim around in 5m litres (1.3m gallons) of seawater. It’s also where you can watch sea otters, birds, amphibians and invertebrates. It takes about two hours to explore the whole place, so it’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon or morning before heading to the nearby Parque das Nações boardwalk for some sun, strolling and snacks.
Come to face to face with wildlife at Jardim Zoológico
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If you’re visiting Lisbon, you may enjoy the Jardim Zoológico, Lisbon Zoo, which sits across the street from the Sete Rios train, metro and bus stop. Opened in 1884, the zoo will educate the whole family about the conservation of plants and the natural habitats of different species. Arrive early to catch feeding time, and keep an eye out for special exhibitions.
Stroll through Portugal dos Pequenitos
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Located in Coimbra, in the centre of the country, Portugal dos Pequenitos is a great place for kids to learn about the country’s history. The miniature park, home to models of many of the country’s important buildings, has been a family favourite since it opened its doors in 1940. There are also mini replicas of landmarks in Madeira, the Azores and Portugal’s former colonies.
Go castle-hopping in Sintra
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Sintra, a fairytale town dotted with castles, palaces and enchanting woods, is a must-visit for families. Step inside buildings such as the mysterious Quinta da Regaleira and descend into its enigmatic caves and tunnels. Or wander through the historic Pena Palace, which resembles a Disney palace with its turrets and different colours. The centre of town is also worth exploring, and the traditional sweets are a must-try.
Walk along the city walls of Óbidos
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Ever wished you were Jon Snow standing on top of the fabled wall? The fortified walls of Óbidos are open for visitors to walk around in order to get the best view of the town down below. Think whitewashed buildings with bright flowers hanging over doors and along window frames, and acres of green land stretching to the horizon 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.
Go hiking in the Serra da Arrábida
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Hiking is another popular activity in Portugal, and there are paths at different altitude levels providing drastically varied experiences. Near Lisbon, you can 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. Elsewhere, the rugged Serra da Estrela in central Portugal holds the highest peak on the mainland amidst awe-inspiring natural landmarks and remote towns.
Explore the twisting caverns of Grutas de Mira
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In central Portugal, there’s a network of caves that will leave you awe-struck. Located in the Portuguese Maciço Calcário Estremenho, the Grutas de Mira d’Aire are the nation’s largest cave system, and twist and stretch for about 9km (5.6mi) underground. They are just a short drive south from both Tomar and Leiria.
Buy a book from the Harry Potter bookstore
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The Livraria Lello & Irmão opened in 1906 in Porto and has been a top destination for visitors of all ages ever since — and especially Harry Potter fans. JK Rowling lived in the city in the 1990s and was a frequent visitor to the bookstore, and the art nouveau decor is said to have inspired her as a setting for the series. No surprise that it has regularly been named one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
This list only scratches the surface, and it’s best to decide which area to visit first before making a plan.