Planning a trip to Portugal with the little ones? Good choice! The country’s relatively small size makes it easy to get around by car or train, and the typical Portuguese friendliness to visitors means you’re more likely to be met with a smile than a glare no matter what the kids are up to.
There are hundreds of activities suitable for children of all ages, so you’re unlikely to run out of ways of to keep them entertained even on long vacations. Here are several of the best options, spread throughout the country.
Douro River Cruise
It’s hard to miss the Douro river when you’re in Porto—it dominates the downtown area, separating Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia, and spanned by several bridges both old and new. Those bridges are the focus for one of the most popular tourist activities in the city, the so-called “Six Bridges” river cruises offered by several companies operating from piers opposite the bars and restaurants of the Ribeira district.
The small boats cruise up and down the river all day, passing under the half-dozen bridges of various architectural styles that give the tour its name. The majestic two-level Luis 1 metal arch bridge dating back to the late 19th century is the most impressive, but all of the spans are interesting in their own right.
Don’t just look up, though—there’s plenty to see along both banks of the river as well. Crumbling stone buildings, port wine cellars, steep cliffs, and even a view out to the Atlantic Ocean as the boat turns around at the mouth of the river, there's enough going on that the 50-minute trip passes quickly.
Most of the tours offer either a brochure or recorded commentary in a variety of languages, which provide a little historical context for what you’re looking at.
Boats run all the time, so it’s just a case of checking a few reviews and picking the company you’d like to go with. You can also wander along the Gaia side of the river bank where the boats depart from—you’ll likely be approached by several ticket sellers within a few minutes.
Many of the tickets also include a free port wine tasting at one of the cellars afterward, and typically cost 12 to 15 euros for adults, and around half-price for children.
One of the must-visit attractions in the Portuguese capital for both children and adults is Lisbon’s Oceanarium, the largest indoor aquarium in Europe, housing around 450 marine species and 16,000 individuals.
The main highlight is definitely the huge 11,000-square-foot central tank, visible from much of the oceanarium. With a vast array of coral, anemones, smaller tropical fish, sharks, rays, schools of barracuda, moray eels, and even a large sunfish idly floating by, it's enough to keep the kids amused for hours.
There’s plenty to be seen in the rest of the permanent exhibition area, too, such as a family of penguins, giant spider crabs, and cute sea otters always drawing a crowd of onlookers. A smaller space near the entrance has housed a variety of marine-themed temporary exhibits over the years—check the details of what's being shown beforehand to decide if it’s worth the small extra fee.
Getting to the Oceanarium is straightforward, as it's within easy walking distance of Oriente, one of Lisbon’s main train, metro, and bus stations.
Tickets to the permanent exhibition cost 15 euros for adults, 10 euros for children aged 4-12, and free for those three and under. A family ticket for two adults and two children costs 39 euros. You'll pay an extra 2 to 3 euros per person to take in the temporary exhibition as well.
Expect to spend at least two to three hours inside, though you could easily spend longer. If you do take longer than expected, there’s a restaurant on site to stave off the hunger pangs, or choose one of the several other eating options nearby.
For something completely different, check out the Puppet Museum in Lisbon, located in a former convent in the historic downtown neighborhood of Santos. It’s one of those quirky museums you often find in European cities, devoted in this case to the culture and history of puppets and puppet theater.
Sound a bit unusual? It’s actually very well done, with quality curation and lighting that helps show a wide range of puppets and masks from Portugal, South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa at their best. Many of the exhibits are quite old and rare, but several of the newer ones can be played with—there’s plenty of scope for an impromptu show!
Short videos are often used to illustrate the puppets in action and to help put them in cultural context. The Puppet Museum is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets cost 5 euros, but admission is free until 2 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. The museum is closed Mondays and some public holidays.
Information labels and audio guides are available in English. Expect to spend 60 to 90 minutes inside.
Castle of Saint George
One of Lisbon’s most prominent landmarks, the Castelo de São Jorge (Castle of Saint George) towers above the historic center from its perch atop one of the city’s famous hills. It's worth a visit just to take in the unimpeded views of the downtown area and out over the Tagus River, but there’s more to this 11th-century castle than just postcard-worthy photos.
Once you’ve got past the lines at the entrance, there’s plenty of room inside for exploration. Cannons dot the ramparts, reminding visitors of the original defensive purpose of the building, and it’s easy to get up on the walls and walk around much of the perimeter.
Relax in the gardens, learn about the history of Lisbon in the museum, explore the various ruined and restored buildings, then grab a drink in the cafe to recover from it all! There’s not much shade or shelter in many of the outdoor areas, so bring appropriate protection from the weather.
Note that the walk up to the castle from the Alfama district is quite steep, and could be tiring for kids (and adults!), especially during hotter months. Consider taking a taxi or Uber to the entrance, or combine your visit with a sightseeing trip on the #28 tram that passes nearby.
Adult tickets cost 8.50 euros, and children under the age of 12 are free. Family passes are also available, at 20 euros for two adults and two children under 18. The castle is open seven days a week other than a few public holidays. It opens at 9 a.m., and closes at 6 p.m. in winter, 9 p.m. in summer.
If you’re holidaying in the Algarve, there’s likely one main reason why you’re there: the weather. Blessed with over 300 days of sunshine a year, it’s the beaches and blue skies that attract the crowds. If the heat’s getting too much, though, and the kids don’t want another day at the beach or in the hotel pool, take them to Aquashow Park instead.
This aquatic theme park covers a large area and is packed with dozens of rides ranging from the calm lazy river and wave pool to the adrenaline-filled roller coaster and free fall. You’ll easily fill most of a day there—food is available onsite, but is relatively expensive, so you may wish to bring your own. There are no restrictions on what you bring in, other than a ban on glass bottles.
Lockers are available (5 euros each, plus a five-euro deposit), and there's plenty of space to spread out a picnic blanket on the grass.
Aquashow is in the popular resort town of Quarteira, about 15 miles from both Faro and Albufeira, and is best visited by rental car or shuttle bus if you’re not staying nearby.
Tickets cost 29 euros for adults, 19 euros for children five to 10 years old, and free for kids four and under. You’ll get a 20 percent discount if you buy tickets online beforehand, however. The park is open between 10 am. and 6 p.m. seven days a week, from May 1 to September 30 each year.