Family activities in the Algarve

The best family holidays in the Algarve give the water parks and city beaches a swerve. Instead, they look to rural retreats and experiences where you can enjoy a laid-back take on one of Europe’s most popular family holiday destinations.

That’s not to say, of course, that the Algarve’s many beaches are not deserving of your attention. On the contrary, there are some sublime stretches of coast here where, besides sunbathing and burying grandparents in the sand, you can try everything from surf lessons and sea kayaking to boat trips and roaming sea stacks and caves.

But there are some really exciting things to do with kids in the Algarve that will take you well away from the busier spots and into areas that are favourites among local people.

Inge Keizer and husband Theo run Quinta Alfarrobeira, in the countryside near Lagos. It’s one of our best Algarve holiday accommodations for families. “Our family really likes to go to Olhão early in the morning, take the ferry to one of the car-free islands such as Culatra and spend the day there,” says Inge. “There are some wonderful restaurants. I’d also recommend taking the ferry over a water taxi; it really is a lovely day out. Another nice outing is a boat trip from Portimão to Silves on the Arade River.”

Pair donkey sanctuaries with vineyards

“In Aljezur (north of Lagos and close to the border with Alentejo) there is a little donkey sanctuary where families can have guided tours with the animals and take part in art workshops,” says Inge. “There are some vineyards in the neighbourhood too where parents can do a little tasting.” Worth keeping in mind, perhaps, when the children begin insisting that their next pet has to be a donkey.

Explore the lagoon of Ria Formosa Natural Park

Explore the Ria Formosa Natural Park, a lagoon protected from the Mediterranean Sea by five barrier islands. Within its marshy landscapes many species of bird nest and pause for a breather along their migratory routes. The park is easily accessed by boat from Tavira as well as Faro and Olhão, and while there you can walk or cycle along marked trails, kayak, or simply relax on beaches that are markedly quieter than those in other parts of the Algarve. Nature reserves are among the best places to visit in the Algarve for families if you want a relaxed and scenic day out.

Walk or cycle the Rota Vicentina

If your kids are a little older, then pack trainers and a few water bottles, and embark on a day’s walking around the Rota Vicentina, a network of trails along the western coast that encompasses the coastal Fisherman’s Trail. There are mountainous trails to be tackled in the Serra de Monchique, or you could walk a section of the long distance Via Algarviana which stretches from west to east along the length of inland Algarve and into Spain.

Short, undemanding cycling tours are suitable for families that take you through varied scenery, from coast to cork plantations. You follow clearly marked routes, with maps and GPS supplied along with the bike hire. Consider the spring or autumn for walking and cycling with kids, when it’s substantially cooler than summer.

Boat tours

As you might expect from a region so renowned for its coastline, there are many different boat tours in the Algarve to choose from. Depart from Lagos to see the famous Ponta da Piedade rock formations, or to see the spectacular Benagil Cave. Take a family-friendly catamaran cruise out to deserted beaches where the crew whip up a tasty BBQ lunch. Or do some responsible dolphin-watching, where the boat skipper puts animal welfare first and knows how to avoid disturbing or endangering the dolphins with the engine.

Explore a medieval castle

Silves, a 30-minute drive inland from Lagos, has a fascinating Moorish history that it celebrates every August with a huge festival. Many of those events centre on the city’s well-preserved medieval castle, which dates back to the Roman occupation of Silves and perhaps even beyond that. If you want to keep young children entertained for an hour or two you can’t beat having a wander round the castle, letting them play at knights and dragons.

Travel back in time while zip lining

Amaze the kids by travelling back in time with one of Europe’s longest zip lines. Limite Zero starts in the small village of Sanlucar in Spain, and zooms 720m across the Guadiana River into Portugal, and a new time zone, at speeds of up to 80km per hour. By the time you come into land in Alcoutim on the Portuguese side, though you’ve only been in the air for moments, it’s now an hour earlier. Minds = blown.

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Tips for travelling with children in the Algarve

Adapt around sizzling summer temperatures

The midday sun can get scorching on summer family holidays in the Algarve. Temperatures often easily reach 30°C, so look for shade between 12pm and 2pm. (A good excuse for a nap by the pool.) Sun protection is essential but look for marine-friendly sunscreen products that aren’t harmful to the environment and marine wildlife.

Stick to lifeguarded beaches

When it comes to what to do in the Algarve with kids, the obvious answer is always the beach. But not all are suitable for children. Look for lifeguarded beaches (many are monitored only between June and September) and keep in mind that some have to be accessed by quite steep steps which may not be ideal if you’re carrying buggies, babies and lots of bags.

Algarve holidays with kids – need to know

Is the Algarve good for families?

The Algarve is very family-friendly – over 50 years as one of Europe’s most popular summer holiday destinations attests to that. Sunny weather pretty much year-round, golden beaches, and stacks of activities mean the Algarve is very easy for families.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to opt for a city stay, or one of the all-inclusive mega resorts. By holidaying a little way inland your family can enjoy a relaxed stay in the Algarve with lots of enjoyable things to do nearby but without the crowds.

Where can I take the kids in the Algarve?

If you’re new to holidays in this region of Portugal, then you may be wondering which part of the Algarve is best for families. Popular Algarve resorts include Lagos, Faro, Portimão and Albufeira, but their beachside hotels and resorts can get very busy in high summer. There is a lot more peace and quiet in rural areas, where you can stay in a family-run quinta villa within easy walking distance of the beach and village with a fresh produce market.

The west coast has plenty of family-friendly beaches, but is also well-known for surfing, and you get some very big waves. Families tend to stick to the south coast of the Algarve, and if you have a hire car then everywhere is easily reachable. The beautiful town of Tavira in the east of the Algarve is just a 90-minute drive from Sagres in the far west corner. Our holiday partners may be able to help you arrange hybrid cars, which are more environmentally friendly than petrol or diesel vehicles.

What can toddlers do in the Algarve?

The Algarve is fantastic for families with toddlers. With over 100 beaches across the region, there are plenty that are safe and suited to little legs where you can happily build sandcastles all day, have a paddle or do a spot of rockpooling. Many toddler-friendly Algarve beaches have restaurants and bars where you can gently introduce toddlers to fresh seafood such as clams and prawns.

On calm days, boat trips set out to explore sea caves, or responsible dolphin watching tours are a brilliant way to encourage young children’s interest in wildlife.

Find a toddler-friendly accommodation in the Algarve, and you can feel more comfortable about letting them wander around without the need to have them in eyesight at all times. At a family-run villa, young children might enjoy helping to make pizza or bread in an outdoor oven or collecting eggs from ducks and chickens.

What are the best beaches in the Algarve for families?

There are many Algarve beaches suitable for families, but we’d suggest always looking for beaches that have lifeguards during the summer months and being aware of what different flags mean, as rip currents are not uncommon in some areas.

“Our guests with younger children like Salema and Burgau,” says Inge, “but Meia Praia is also a favourite despite being quite built-up.”

Salgados, close to Armação de Pêra, is also among the best beaches in the Algarve for families. This long beach is very child-friendly, with a restaurant, toilet block and large car park.

Responsible Travel would like to thank VisitAlgarve for their sponsorship of this guide.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Melanie Arouk] [Intro: Tomas Evaristo] [Walk or cycle the Rota Vicentina: Algarve Bike Holidays] [Adapt around sizzling summer temperatures: Cassia Tofano] [Is the Algarve good for families?: Kyle Taylor] [What are the best beaches in the Algarve for families?: Elio Santos]