I visited the Douro Valley (3 nights), Algarve (3 nights) and Lisbon (2 nights) with my wife and two young kids (3 years old, 9 months old) in late August 2018 – peak time in Portugal where the weather is wonderfully warm yet nowhere was too packed with visitors. It was our first trip as a family of four to Europe and our longest flights with our kids. We led off with the Douro Valley because from New York, one can fly nonstop from NYC to Porto (and the drive to Douro is about 90 min). We then flew down to Algarve (you can go direct although the flight is late at night, or two quick jumps via lisbon) and then rented a car and drove to Lisbon (2 hour drive) where we easily dropped the car off in the city center next to our hotel. We finally flew directly back to NYC from Lisbon. Each location was great for its own uniqueness and it fit our ideal longer trip type of City (Lisbon) + Beach/Leisure (Algarve) + Local Culture Scene (Porto/Douro Valley). In Douro, we chose to skip Porto itself as we are not such Port wine fans that we needed that specific experience. The Douro Valley had a few wonderful wineries that we went to and specifically tasted some great ports. We also wanted to relax and didn’t want to spend full day trips between the Valley and Porto itself. Algarve was the perfect coastal escape and it was made better by our dear friends joining us for the three days. 2 days in Lisbon was perfect to hit the main sites as we left some of the outer city excursions for a future visit. In Douro, we rented a car which is inexpensive and convenient as Uber/Taxis are less prevalent and car services can get very expensive every time you want to leave the hotel. Uber is prevalent/cheap in both Algarve and Lisbon so no need to rent a car. The flights were manageable (for being US/Europe – 6 hours there, 7 hours back), the country is super friendly and welcoming and everything is chill.
In the Douro Valley, we stayed at the wonderfully boutique-feeling but branded Six Senses Douro Valley just outside of the town of Lamego. It is a beautifully renovated 19th-century manor house set on a hill, nestled among vines overlooking the Douro Valley and Douro River. The hotel has an awesome spa, great restaurants, a wine library where you can taste wines for free all day, a great outdoor infinity swimming pool and organic garden which lends to farm-to-table.
In the Algarve region, we stayed in the town of Albufeira (20 min from Faro airport) at the Pine Cliffs Resort complex but specifically the Pine Cliffs Ocean Suites – perfect for families and a great place (yield-wise) to use some of my last remaining Starwood SPG points. The complex is very family friendly with many restaurant options, kids activities, beaches directly accessible from the hotel, multiple pools etc. The staff is friendly – but a special standout was Pedro who was wonderful throughout our stay.
In Lisbon, we stayed at the iconic Four Seasons Lisbon which has an older feel in line with the city. My research indicated there were not many great hotels in the city – it is a very boutique-hotel town. We debated between the Sofitel (due to the location) and the Four Seasons and went with the Four Seasons. We loved it.
- Douro Valley
- Activities: Our favorite activities in the North included wine tastings at some of the finest local spots (make reservations ahead) - Quinta das Carvalhas and Quinta do Bomfim; doing a chill water excursion on the Douro River via a Douro River Cruise organized by the hotel; and pure relaxation at the hotel Wine Bar (with free tastings everyday), the Infinity Pool and the Spa at the Six Senses
- Dining: Dining options outside the hotel are quite scarce. While my wife is vegetarian in a region where the local Portugese dining is very meat/seafood heavy, we managed to find some great options. The hotel restaurants - Six Senses Restaurant - Vale de Abraão and Terroir – Organic Restaurant - were great and had wonderful views. We ventured into town to a very local, homely pizza place called Pizzaria Limonete and also enjoyed an amazing waterfront restaurant which is the hotel's favorite - DOC by Rui Paula. The hotel highly recommendated a few places that we didn't have time to visit but in case there is interest in more options, consider Castas e Pratos and Aneto & Table ... we took the kids with us everywhere and they had a great time with us but keep in mind that everything happens late and restaurants take their time so order quickly and try to go early!
- Activities: The region has a lot of activity options but coastal water activities are the best - our favorite was the excursion with X Ride Algarve where we saw dolphins and amazing caves (most notably the famous Benagil cave). I took my son swimming in the ocean for first time and it was awesome - we jumped right off the boat and swam amongst the caves! Make sure to go during the morning time slot because it gets very hot midday and reserve the trip in advance (but not too far because trips may get cancelled due to water conditions). The beach at the Pine Cliffs - Praia da Falesia - was wonderful, especially later in the day when the waters are calmer and the weather is cooler. Other recommended beaches included Marinha, Dona Ana and O Camilo. While we didnt do this because we chose the caves/dolphins trip, our hotel recommended going with AlgarveXcite for water sports and jet boating which we will save for next time! Finally, the Pine Cliffs had a nice game room which my 3 year old son and I loved so much - air hockey, billiards, arcade games are just the simple fun activities that make a lil boy so so happy. This is the perfect place to take kids and go with friends because there is something for everyone to enjoy!
- Dining: The Pine Cliffs had a number of awesome restaurants - Piri Piri Steakhouse (steak), Corda Café (international), Zest (healthy sandwiches) and Mare at Pine Cliffs (beachfront bar). Every restaurant has an extensive kids menu so kids will be good everywhere and every place makes good vegetarian options. We did venture into the beautiful marina for dinner one evening to Nosolo Italia - Marina de Albufeira. Other great suggestions that we didnt get to on this trip - Clay Oven (top-rated Indian), Casa del Mar (Seafood + beautiful views), Cabaz da Praia (local Portugese favorite). Remember, go early and order quickly if you are going with kids!
- Activities: The best way to visit this small big city is through a Tuk Tuk Tour (basically a "scooter car" as my son describes it. Over 3 hours, we visited most of the key neighborhoods - Alfama (Old Town), Baixa (Downtown), Avenida da Liberdade ("Champs Elysee" of Lisbon), Chiado (shopping area) and Barrio Alto (bars/nightlife). We spent an evening in the Belem neighbhood where we visited the Torre de Belém, Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the majestic Jerónimos Monastery. We visited the Castelo de São Jorge and Sé Catedral (Lisbon Cathedral) in the old town and these are must visit sites. On our next trip to Lisbon, we will take two day trips to the close by waterfront town of Cascais and the beautiful castle-esque escape of Sintra
- Dining: There are many wonderful options in Lisbon - our favorite dessert stop was the famous pastry shop Pasteis de Belem (which has a huge following kind of like the Cronut shop in NYC). We loved Forno D’Oro for Italian - the pastas and pizzas are wonderful. We also spent an evening at the renouned food hall Time Out Market Lisbon - our favorite options there were Asian Lab (SE Asian), Zero Zero (Pizza) and Santini (Ice Cream). The place is always packed but the best time to go for dinner is between 6-8pm before the dinner rush starts.
As discussed, the country is very warm and friendly and did not feel expensive. I think of Portugal like Croatia 10 years ago – it has good accommodation / visitation infrastructure but it is not heavily traveled to so the crowds aren’t overwhelming, especially in the North. In Lisbon, much of the city is away on holiday in August so the city has a buzz but is not too busy. I think of the places we went in Portugal (Douro, Algarve, Lisbon) to be like a much more chill version of their France equivalents (Bordeaux, French Riviera and Paris - we have been to the latter two). Next time when we go back to Portugal, we will likely visit the neighboring towns to Lisbon (Cascais and Sintra). Have an amazing trip!