As a self-described professional wanderer, our Senior Editor, Nancy Deane is constantly on the go. From her frequent visits to their vacation home in Palm Springs and weekend excursions in and around New York, she’s always looking for her next big family adventure. Recently, the foursome jetted off to spend Spring Break in Portugal and the family, including their twins who turned 6 on the return flight home, loved every minute of it. Read on to see what adventures they had and pick up a few tips for making your trip as memorable as theirs.
Name: Nancy Deane
Destination: Portugal! Lisbon and the Algarve
Trip Duration: 10 days
Travel Companions: Ryan, Hudson (6) and Harlow (6)
How did you decide upon your destination?
We wanted a Spring Break adventure in Europe that was reminiscent of Spain, since that is one of our favorite locations. We were open to going almost anywhere but when we received an issue of Travel & Leisure declaring Portugal the Destination of the Year, our decision was made.
What was your most memorable moment from this trip?
One afternoon, we set out on a drive near the coast of the Algarve with no particular destination in mind. As luck would have it, we ended up stumbling into Sao Rafael beach, one of the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen. With miles of sandy beach, limestone archways and not another sole in sight, we ran up and down the beach playing for hours as the sun set and seagulls soared overhead. It was absolutely dreamy.
We also worked with Flytographer to capture some candid moments exploring the streets of Lisbon and we couldn’t have been more thrilled with the experience. We pre-booked our photographer, Orsi, who was incredible at capturing the kids and using their energy to her advantage. She was well-versed in little cafes and streets to explore and was so easy to work with. I had never heard of Flytographer before this trip but they have photographers located in over 200 cities worldwide so I’ll definitely be adding them to our upcoming trips. Who doesn’t want professional photos with all family members in them?! Our selfie skills are pretty strong, but this takes the cake.
Where is your favorite place to go sans the littles?
The LX Factory is this amazing industrial area near the 25 de Abril bridge (a near replica of the Golden Gate Bridge!) that has been transformed into a must-see destination with great shops, an amazing bookstore, restaurants and even a club. Even though we took our daughter on a “date” here one night (our son didn’t want to leave his new friend at the kids club!) and we had a great time, it may have been more fun for us had we just gone alone. (Sorry Harlow!). We could have spent hours exploring and hanging out in the tapas bars but we still managed to do a little shopping and had a fantastic meal with our little lady in tow.
Another “must see” place is Park Rooftop Bar which is located on the 6th floor of a parking garage. There are no signs or markings leading you to the bar which is part of the thrill because when the graffitied elevator opens up onto the top floor of a parking garage and you round the corner into this incredible oasis, you’ll be amazed that all parking garages don’t sport rooftop patios.
And where do you like to hang with the littles?
Everywhere we went in Portugal was extremely child friendly and we brought them with us all over the country and city. One of our European travel tips is to keep the kids on New York time. Everyone goes out to dinner very late and nobody seems to mind when you have little people in tow and then everyone can sleep in till mid-morning. You avoid dealing with jetlag on either side of the trip and the kids think it’s pretty cool to stay up as late as a grown up.
Did you notice any style trends on the locals?
I didn’t notice any particular “style” trends per se but I did notice the attitude of the people. Everyone seemed to be relaxed, happy and stress-free. Cafes were spilling over with people having lively conversations, a few people were tucked away with a book and nobody was on a laptop or on a conference call. It was refreshing to see people interacting and living and a nice reminder that I should do more of that here in New York.
Is there a local delicacy or something we must try?
Omg, yes! Pastel de Nata’s are these little individual cream pies with a flaky crust and decadent creamy custard filling that tastes like a fresh out of the oven donut. I’m not usually a fan of custard, or creamy things, but these are out of this world.
The deserts are found at most coffee shops and bakeries and every one we tried was delicious. From the famed Pastéis de Belém tourist destination to a chain coffee shop, they were all perfection. If anyone knows where to find them in New York City, let me know!
What are your 3 “must have” travel items for the kids? Yourself?
For the kids, I wouldn’t go anywhere without:
- ipads: we allow the kids to each choose 1 new movie, 2 new shows and a few new apps before our trip so they have something new to explore on long flights or airport delays.
- Backpacks: I fill their backpacks with little surprises and art supplies such as Wikisticks, Silly Putty, Water Wows and a few small toys like Lego and Shopkins (or whatever the latest collectible craze is. Mermicornos?! The kids LOVE opening up their backpack once the plane takes off to see what’s inside and the backpack comes in handy when we are traveling around so they can carry their own stuff.
- Super hero capes: seriously. You’d be surprised how much fun two little ones can have by just throwing on a super hero cape. Suddenly a “boring” lawn becomes a battle field and their imaginations ignite. We’ve been traveling with capes since the kids were three and they are still a favorite activity when we’re on the road.
- Noise canceling headphones: I love my giant Beats by Dre headphones and they come in handy on noisy flights or using to zone out when trying to relax in an unfamiliar hotel or apartment.
- A book: I’ve been pretty lucky and my kids are amazing travelers. We had some tough flights when they were really little but now that they’re six, they entertain themselves (they have ipads, remember?) so that I’ve literally been able to read a book cover to cover on a flight.
- A giant scarf: I’m always cold so a scarf comes in handy from the flight to the beach and everywhere in between. I’ve even used it as a picnic blanket when on the go.
Do you travel with a set itinerary or are you more of a “go with the flow” traveler?
For this trip we used a company called Journy, who gave us a 3-day itinerary for a small fee. The recommendations were amazing and we even had them make some dinner reservations for us, but we found we preferred to just wander from one area to the next instead of keeping to a structured plan. Normally we have a few “must see” things on our list but with Portugal we were pretty open to whatever came our way. I think that’s what made this trip so magical, we had very little expectations and so nothing couldn’t go as planned.
There are so many options for car seat/no car seat, stroller/no stroller etc. How did you get your kids through the airport and flight? What worked for you?
Now that our kids are bigger, we don’t have any special “gear” – thank goodness! When they were smaller however, we’d check out car seats with our luggage and gate check our stroller at the door of the plane and transfer the twins into an Ergo carrier that they could sleep in during the flight. It was always pretty seamless, except for maybe when I insisted we travel with our Bugaboo Donkey and my hubby would have to break it down and get it into it’s travel case while the babies were crawling in two different directions throughout the airport lounge. Sorry honey! It’s still my favorite stroller out there and I don’t regret taking it on the road.
What are your top picks for…
Shopping: I loved wandering through the concept store, Embaixadalx, housed in a former palace. You’ll find everything from kids clothing to natural skincare to local clothing designers and can even stop on the ground floor for some wine and tapas.
I could have bought everything in Mini by Luna. From luxuriously soft loungewear to dreamy decorative pillows to darling dresses and accessories for the kids, this store is perfectly curated and worth a visit while you are in Lisbon.
Dinner at Cafe Lisboa was an absolute treat. Famed local chef Jose Avillez runs this jewel of a restaurant with a delicious menu and darling decor. I wouldn’t call it child-friendly per se, but staff were all exceptionally friendly to my children so it ranks high on our list.
Sights: Our littles are obsessed with castles so Belem Tower was a highlight. Built in 1515 as a fortress and nestled right along the river, this World Heritage Monument is a must see.
The Arco da Rua Augusta is an impressive archway and bright yellow building opening up to a sprawling plaza that was a great spot for the kids to run free.
You can’t leave Lisbon without riding on the iconic tram 28. This 1930’s trolly rumbles along the streets in some of the most picturesque neighborhoods and is the perfect way to see the sights when your feet get tired from all the walking.
Stay: In Lisbon, The Martinhal Chiado Family Apartments is the way to go. Each apartment is stylishly decorated and includes a kitchen and washer/dryer and made our stay in Lisbon an absolute delight. The on-site kids club is open from 9am – 11pm and you can come and go as you please. The kids loved the breaks from the sightseeing and we loved being able to include them in activities but leaving them to play and rest when we wanted to sit in a cafe and chill.
In the Algarve, we instantly fell in love with the Vila Monte Farm House and highly recommend it for a stay with kids. From the gorgeous white-washed room and balcony overlooking the countryside, to the sprawling lawns, multiple pools, rustic farm-to-table restaurant and friendly staff, I can’t recommend this hotel enough. Rumor is they’ll be adding a kids club in the summer months ahead, so check it out, it’s worth it.
Kid-approved must-do: The Oceanario Lisboa has been voted the best aquarium in the world by Trip Advisor and is by far one of the best we’ve ever seen. We were blown away by the quality of the facility and the access to some of the most incredible sea creatures; from 6 ft sharks to neon jellyfish, the kids could get eye-to-eye with all of the fish on display. It was pretty spectacular and well worth a visit.
What is the one thing we absolutely must do on this trip?
Add in a day trip to Seville! Since Spain is one of our favorite family destinations and since we were less than a two hour drive away while in the Algarve, we decided to do a little side trip one day to check it out. Once again, with no agenda other than to explore, we had the most magical day roaming the tiny cobblestone streets, riding in a horse drawn carriage and playing in the parks and plazas. Don’t be intimidated by not knowing where you’re going, that’s half the fun of it!
What’s next on your travel wish list?
There are so many places I want to go with the kids, the list can sometimes feel overwhelming. Luckily they love to travel almost as much as we do and are starting to request certain places that they’ve learned about in school or books. We’re heading to Canada, Mexico and California in the next three months and I’d like to start planning a trip to Copenhagen. Any recommendations?
Anything else you want to share with us about the trip?
Even though we went in the “off season”, we still had a wonderful time. The weather was a little unpredictable but we managed to explore and have a great time despite that. So long as there wasn’t ice and snow coming from our winter weather in New York, we were happy. The streets and cafes weren’t crowded and the biggest surprise was that the orange trees were all in bloom so we were constantly surrounded by the most intoxicating scents wherever we went. Anytime I smell an orange blossom now, I’ll instantly be transported back to our vacation in Portugal.
Do you have any must-have places to visit in Portugal? Let us know!