Given my complete lack of experience of travelling in Portugal with young children, I have asked Cátia Lima, blogger at Beyond Lisbon, to share her advice. Not only is she Portuguese, and therefore super knowledgeable of how the Portuguese treat families, she’s travelled widely around Portugal with her little girl, who is now a curious pre-schooler.
Read on for her expert tips on making your family holidays to Portugal go as smoothly as possible.
Over to Cátia…
Travelling with small children can be daunting. More often than not, they’ll need to take more stuff than the adults: from clothes, to shoes, nappies, toys, snacks… you know what I’m talking about. When you’re travellling to another country there’s the added trouble with everything that’s related to a different culture, from food to how strangers approach kids.
If you’re travelling to Portugal with kids, especially young ones, you don’t need to go for port wine tastings every day to make the whole thing bearable. As a mother to a fidgety know-it-all 3 year old, who’s travelled from the north to the south of the country, I’ll be sharing with you some tips and tricks to make your travel smoother.
And the best news? Portugal is a child-loving country!
Note: This article focuses on the practicalities of travelling to Portugal with kids. For family-friendly activities, see this article.
Sleeping arrangements for family holidays in Portugal
From my experience all accommodations in Portugal provide baby cots, whether they are 5-star hotels or bungalows in camping sites. Some are better, some worse, of course, in the same logic that applies to adult beds.
In most lodgings if the child is more than 2 years old, you’ll be in a family room, i.e. with one double bed and a toddler bed or a single bed (or more, depending on the case – some family rooms sleep 4).
If you are travelling with more than two young children, you’ll probably be better off in an apartment or villa rather than a hotel.
Eating out in Portugal with kids
Eating out in Portugal when you have small children can be a bit of a challenge but staff are generally very accommodating. In restaurants that usually cater for families, before you even ask for anything waiters will often inquire if you need an extra napkin, a spoon or if you want them to warm up that jar of baby food for you.
On vegetables, or the apparent lack of them
In many places (mostly in towns and villages rather than big cities) you won’t find a big variety of vegetables on the plate – instead, they’ll be in the soup! A lot of restaurants actually serve a creme de legumes, which is basically a pureed vegetable soup, and if the restaurant where you’re at doesn’t have this you can always ask them to blend a chunky vegetable soup for your child.
Child-friendly food in Portugal
Imagine you happen to be in a restaurant with a very specific type of food, let’s say hearty regional foods or the only-grilled-seafood type, and your toddler doesn’t like any of it. Most places will be happy to serve fried or scrambled eggs that are not on the menu, even sometimes small restaurants which you’d think would frown at the idea of having to go the extra mile.
While the vast majority of Portuguese restaurants have fresh fruit as an option for dessert maybe you have a picky eater and decided to bring a specific fruit your child prefers or a couple of snacks. If you’re an adult the restaurant staff will obviously frown at the idea but when you’re a kid you can get away with it. Besides, let’s be honest: nobody wants to deal with a hungry tantrummy child and, above all, not with their mother!
How to deal with your child’s food allergies in Portugal
For parents of children with severe food allergies travelling can be a real headache, even more so when there’s a different language involved. I suggest you print out a card briefly explaining the situation and show it to the waiter before ordering. I found a website with a few examples of simple sentences and plenty of vocabulary: https://allergyaction.org/translations.
For some reason they didn’t add the Portuguese word for gluten (it’s glúten) and soya should be translated as soja. Apart from that I think it’s a wonderful resource. Be aware, however, that outside of cities and bigger towns it can be very difficult to find a restaurant (let alone a neighbourhood café) that provides 100% gluten free options.
How to get around in Portugal with kids
Babyseats in taxis and Uber etc.
If you’re going to need a taxi bear in mind that in Portugal they are not obliged to have car seats for children, although if you call a taxi on the phone you can ask for a vehicle with a baby seat. Some taxis may keep a baby seat in the car trunk, which the drivers can quickly place in the back seat.
As for Uber, right now they are not allowed to take children without a baby seat, so if you request in advance you can make a note asking for it. Uber and other similar companies seem to be changing some of their rules regularly, so it would be wise to do a little research ahead of your travel to see if these rules have changed in the meantime.
Babywearing in Portugal
Perhaps you have ninja skills with a baby stroller and, if you do, kudos to you. But with the uneven traditional Portuguese pavement and all the ups and downs of so many villages, towns and cities in Portugal, you may want to consider babywearing.
I’ve worn my child many times while travelling and it has often been a sort of life saver. In situations like queues, naps, tantrums, hikes, breastfeeding, protection from cold or sun, keeping my hands free for taking photos – you name it, babywearing surely helped with it!
If you haven’t already got a baby carrier, there are lots of options available on Amazon.
Although we do have cold rainy days in Portugal (amazing, I know!) you’re more likely to have problems with the summer triad of sun, heat and bugs. Remember to always pack a hat, a water bottle, sunscreen and to pay special attention to the possibility of ticks or mosquitoes.
Baby changing facilities in Portugal
Shopping malls and service stations will have baby changing rooms and high chairs.
The bigger facilities of this kind will also have microwaves to warm up baby food and the baby changing rooms will probably have a comfy chair or small sofa to make breastfeeding more comfortable. I’ll be talking about breastfeeding in public again towards the end of the text.
Dealing with the unexpected when travelling with children
Where to get supplies for babies in Portugal
If you run out of baby food or formula, diapers or baby wipes, make a run for the closest supermarket. Pharmacies and health food stores (like Celeiro, which you can find in cities and bigger towns) also sell baby formula, baby cereal and some sell diapers, too.
Emergencies and health concerns
If you’re facing a real emergency the Portuguese emergency phone number is 112, the same as in the rest of the European Union. The same logic applies for the missing child emergency number, which is 116 000.
If your child is dealing with some minor ailment and you’re not sure what to do, call Saúde 24 (808 24 24 24), which functions 24/7. After answering a few questions a nurse will advise you on what to do, whether that means over the counter medication or going to the nearest hospital for observation and/or doctor-prescribed medication.
Cultural differences for family travel in Portugal
Like I said in the beginning, the Portuguese love children. From my experience, people will go out of their way to adjust to children’s needs and, sometimes, whims. Obviously, however, I can’t promise you that everyone you meet here will be like that.
You might not always appreciate their well-meaning gestures but if you know what to expect, you are at least forewarned.
Some of the things you can expect involve waitresses trying to playfully pinch your kid’s cheeks, people in shops and restaurants giving your child candy and lollipops ‘just because’ and old ladies struggling with the concept of personal space. Personally, I hate it when people give candy to my child but, since I know they do it with a good, caring intention I usually just say she’ll have the candy after lunch or later in the day – which means they either end up being eaten by dad or glued to the inside of the glove compartment.
The other side of this child-loving attitude can be summed up in one of the sweetest memories I have from last summer’s vacation when we were having lunch in a restaurant somewhere in the depths of Alentejo. My daughter was a bit restless in her seat and not caring much for her food. Just then I noticed two elderly couples in a table near ours and one of the ladies smiling and waving at my kid, encouraging her to eat (“Quick”, I thought to myself, “shove some food in her mouth!”). A few minutes later, and because we were playing along, one of the men started clapping his hands and cheerfully sort of singing so my daughter would eat another spoonfull of food and another and another. Consider them a sort of spur-of-the-moment grandparents!
Breastfeeding in public in Portugal
Last but not least, breastfeeding in public. I breastfed my child virtually everywhere without ever having had fingers pointed at me or old ladies giving me the stink eye. The beach, the park bench, the suburban train on rush hour (a bit hardcore, I know): you name it, I probably breastfed there too.
Again, if you do breastfeed in public here in Portugal I can’t guarantee everyone will be understanding and cooperative but, generally speaking, I don’t think you’ll face a lot of problems.
I hope you enjoy your travel in Portugal and your time together as a family, creating wonderful new memories!
If you’re wondering if Portugal is the place for you, read my Why Visit Portugal? 15 Reasons To Make It Your Next Destination post.