I could give you the answer right now, but what about you decide for yourself and we give you as much information as we can? We visited Portugal with children during February half-term. Hugh is 7-years-old and Zaza 18-months-old. They both enjoyed themselves immensely but that is what kids do, isn’t it? It is us, parents, who have the responsibility to ensure all goes as smoothly as possible. We were based in Porto but travelled a few hundred miles back and forth by public transport to see as much as possible. Yes, with a small child and I can assure you, she was absolutely fine! There are a few things to consider when you travel to a foreign country:
- Attitude towards children
- Car hire
- Public transport
- Tourist information centre
- Highchairs and changing facilities
- The cost
Portuguese attitude towards children
The first thing we noticed was how much people love children there. Right after landing in Porto, at the passport check-out, we were called in and had our passports checked ahead of everyone else. My eyeballs almost fell out! I thought it was a very kind gesture but that was not all. I can’t even remember how many times people smiled at us or patted children’s hair. Some tried to talk to us in Portuguese and my silly ‘I have no clue what you are talking about’ smile would not stop them. Mostly, though, they wanted to talk to our boy. They tried to teach him a few phrases such as ‘What’s your name’ or ‘How are you’ or even had a ‘conversation’ about football teams! To my surprise, Hugh (perhaps because he is learning Spanish) was able to pick up a few words and replied with words he knows :).
In a couple of occasions on the train, people would give our kids biscuits and when we were heading back from Aveiro on a pretty busy train, a kind man (older than us) and his daughter offered us their seats and would not take no for an answer. In the bus in Porto, when we were going home, I was not sure where is our bus stop. I asked a young girl who replied in English with the information I needed. We were overheard by some of the commuters and as we were approaching our bus stop a lady patted me on the shoulder directing me to get ready. When the bus stopped, a number of people shouted at the driver I guess asking him to wait till we get out.
There were many more instances when I was overwhelmed by the kindness.
Delicious! Soups, Franchesinha, Octopus, Fish… all so very tasty! Suitable for small children? Our Zaza ate everything including the octopus dish. The only thing she was not so keen on was the Ovo Moles we tried at Aveiro but understandably not everybody is so keen on eating yolk with sugar (I love it tough, brought some back with me). So from our point of view, this is another reason why visiting Portugal with children is a good idea.
Our initial plan was to make weekly food shopping and have breakfast and dinner at home and perhaps bring packed lunch with us on our day trips. That didn’t happen.
Firstly, we could not find a grocery shop in close proximity to our apartment. Only the next day we managed to find a small shop where we got some essentials including nappies.
Secondly, Portuguese make delicious croissants and other tasteful pastry which they sell in the little ‘cafes’. These ‘shops’ can be found in almost every corner. I would describe them as something between a bakery and cafe. They sell bread, buns, muffins, croissants, cakes… and make coffee as well. Some have tables and chair at the back or outside and in some cases (where I went for our fresh breakfast and coffee every morning) the coffee is served the little at the counter. I was amazed to see a lot of people standing there every morning around 8 am drinking their little life-giving shots before heading to wherever they went.
Lastly, we wanted to learn about the culture and food as well. So having a packed lunch just wouldn’t cut it.
We looked into hiring a car for a week and it seemed not expensive especially if we were to book well in advance. A small car such as Renault Clio costs around £24 per week! Sounds good? Well, then we started adding child seats (around £8 per day for each child), insurance, GPS (nope, we don’t have smartphones :)) and soon the price added up. Remember that you also need a deposit on your credit card and debit card is not accepted. Also, parking in Porto can be challenging and expensive. Suddenly, hiring a car was not that appealing and we decided to use public transport instead.
In Porto, you can move around by metro, buses, vintage trams or sightseeing buses. If you want to travel further afield then you can choose between a train or bus. We took a train to Braga, Aveiro and Guimaraes which are all about 1-hour drive from Porto and about £7 return adult ticket. Children travel free on buses and have a 50% discount on train tickets. Tram in Porto is £3 and charges, same children and adults. We found the public transport very reliable and frequent. I would recommend picking up train tables from the information centre at the train station. It is very handy to have it in your pocket. Once you buy a ticket to your place, you need to activate it. Don’t worry, nothing difficult, just watch other passengers and do the same :). You can travel to your chosen destination and back by any train. That’s when the pocket timetable comes handy.
Tourist information centre
In Porto, you can find a tourist information centre almost on every street in the historic centre. People are very friendly and try to help with everything they can. They usually speak English and French. There is also one in Braga, Guimaraes and Costa Nova near Aveiro and I’m sure that’s the case for all places which are visited by tourists. We always visit these centres as soon as we come somewhere to find out about the place and pick up a free map.
Highchairs and changing facilities
This could be a stumbling block for some families. From our experience, only a few restaurants had high chairs for kids and there were no changing facilities in toilets at all. It did not bother us much as Zaza sat on the normal chair or in my lap and we changed her nappy in the park, on the bench or on the beach and nobody even looked at us. It was nice and warm so I did not see it as an issue.
Pram or baby carrier
Unless you are coming to relax at some nice seaside resort I would leave the pram at home. A baby carrier is the best option, trust me, especially if you are planning on exploring places. If you are new to babywearing, try some first and get used to them to make sure it is comfortable for you and your baby. In our case, it was a lifesaver. We left our apartment at 9 am and got back at 7 pm. Our baby was able to sleep in it so we had no overtired screaming child to look after.
How much did it cost? (2017)
Food is slightly cheaper in Portugal than in the UK. A meal in a smaller restaurant can cost £6 – £10 and it usually includes soup and drink or coffee. Although the falling value of the pound means that European destinations are now that much more expensive. Public transport is affordable and if you have children I would even argue that it is cheaper than hiring a car. We didn’t shop for clothes although I was very tempted especially when I saw the shoes and scarfs.
So this is what we spent:
Flights from Liverpool to Porto: £182 (Ryanair)
Accommodation in the 2-bed apartment: £177 (booked through airbnb.com)
Transport: £160 (including a 2-day ticket for the sightseeing bus and a boat in Aveiro)
Parking at the airport: £50
So what do you think, is visiting Portugal with children a good idea?