The Algarve, Portugal with a Toddler
The year is 2022, the month is August. We’ve traveled 18 hours from San Francisco and finally step foot onto a new country’s soil. Here we are in Portugal! We’ve made it international again and man – it feels good! Kinda felt surreal to be able to fly international again.
We’ve been planning on going to Portugal for a while now, ever since watching season 1, episode 4 of Somebody Feed Phil. I swear I could travel to Europe every other month but Kenny’s been ready for somewhere new. After watching this episode though, he told me if I wanted to go to Europe again that we could go to Portugal. Almost immediately I started planning. Portugal was never really on my radar, but it has quickly become a fan favorite in our books.
This would be Ru’s first time international so we decided on a slower pace in one country as opposed to our normal bouncing around. From everything that I had researched, Portugal is an extremely family friendly destination. It was all that and more. The people are the most friendly I think we’ve ever encountered, so warm and helpful. They were obsessed with Ru! People were constantly coming up and patting her little head, waving and chatting with her, wanting to hug her. We were so impressed with how accommodating everyone was for kiddos! I can’t tell you how many hours of lines we skipped because we had “family priority”. It was not expected, but so appreciated!
Our friends Jess and Andy were also planning on Portugal next year so we invited them to just come with us now. We made a big ole family affair of it and it was so much fun. We decided on 3 different regions, about 5-7 days each and an itinerary full of adventures. Since it’s a pretty small country, we knew that we could cover a lot of ground in about 2.5 weeks. This felt like adequate time in each region.
I’d say this was the “slowest travel” we’ve done thus far. It was a much different experience getting to immerse ourselves so much in the culture and really soak in the places we visited. It was also our first time visiting in the high season. This meant warm weather, less clothes to pack and way more people than we were used to seeing in Europe!
If Portugal isn’t on your list, it should be. We absolutely fell in love with this beautiful country – its culture, its people and of course its Port! This trip will always hold a special place in my heart. It was Ru’s first time in my favorite continent, traveling with some of our chosen family, and finding out on our last day that I was pregnant! We brought home the sweetest souvenir after having a miscarriage in May. We couldn’t have planned it any better if we tried. So many sweet memories and ones we will cherish forever!
Hope you enjoy our photo journal of our time in Portugal. ❤️
First Stop – Tavira, Algarve
Knowing it would be hot in Portugal this time of year, we started our journey in the Southernmost part of the country. They call this whole bottom part of the coastline the Algarve. This is where all of the Portuguese people take their vacations since this is where all the best beaches are.
As flights across the United States have continued to stay obnoxiously expensive, we were so excited to score a pretty great deal to Portugal. We found flights about 3 months in advance for $445 roundtrip out of San Francisco. My dad lives about an hour and a half outside of the city so we were able to spend a couple days beforehand on “vacation” already and then he drove us to the airport. We also got to leave our sweet Nitro boy with my family there, so he got a little vacation of his own.
Rueka has been on a decent amount of flights and traveled quite a bit at this point. Even still, I was curious to see how a 10+ hour flight would be with a 20 month old. I’m happy to report that she traveled that far and that long like an absolute champ. I was so proud of her! She slept basically the whole plane ride over to Lisbon. It helped that I was still nursing her but she did so great. We got a nonstop over to Frankfurt with a nice layover to refresh and then a quick flight down to Lisbon on the way there. Then on the way home we had a long layover in Washington DC . With both super long travel days we never had any meltdowns and you could hardly even tell she was onboard. Gold star to Tiny Tav!
We got in fairly late to Lisbon so we spent the night and grabbed our rental car the next morning. Then we headed to our first stop, Tavira. We only kept our car for our time in the South which proved very helpful for us. We ended up driving quite a bit around the Algarve towns.
Trav Tav’s Tip
We’ve only rented a car on a whim in person in Israel, so I was a little bit leery about doing it online for Europe. After reading some blogs about car rental in Portugal (which there are so many good ones to choose from), I decided on biting the bullet and using discovercars.com. We got a pretty good deal, even booking last minute. The boys picked up the car, inspected everything, and signed our contract. We were also able to rent a car seat for Ru since we weren’t traveling with one. Portugal has an insane amount of tolls, so make sure to have your rental agency deal with them after your car’s return as opposed to having to pay them all yourself later.
Where we stayed
When we first started planning our itinerary, the boys only request was nice places to stay wherever we went. We rounded up a list of places in the Algarve that had balconies or terraces and landed on a cute Airbnb in Tavira. In hindsight, we should’ve stayed in Lagos or Faro because of how much driving we did to either place.
We really loved the town of Tavira itself, but it was decently far away from all the attractions we wanted to see in the Algarve. When we first started looking at things in the area, we thought all these towns were a lot closer to each other. Lagos is about an hour from Tavira, while Faro is about a half hour so the driving and the tolls did add up. If we had to pick between the two, I think we might go with Lagos next time. It gave off Split vibes from the little time we spent for dinner one night!
Anyways, we really did enjoy our Airbnb in Tavira. It was so centrally located to everything we wanted to see and had an amazing rooftop terrace that we played games on every night! You can check it out here.
We found parking to be a major disaster in Tavira. There really wasn’t any spots around our little area of downtown. The boys dropped our car in a neighborhood that was about a 10 minute walk from our house. Having a car was imperative for our time in the Algarve, but fair warning that parking may be a doozy!
What we did
Tavira itself is a pretty small, walkable town separated by the Gilão River. We mostly stayed in “our side of the river”, the southern side where most of the attractions are. I wouldn’t say there’s that much going on as far as events go. However, there was a cute summer concert series happening while we were there. Tavira was our home base for all our Algarve excursions but we also found our area to have a few fun things to do.
This was a highlight of our time in the Algarve! We booked a dinner class at Taste Algarve and had an intimate class with us 5 and one other couple. Our hosts walked us through the garden to pick some veggies and meet the wildlife. Then we prepped and cooked our appetizers, dinner, and desserts. We finished the experience by enjoying our creations in the outdoor dining area.
We learned a couple new cooking tips and still got to be very involved in the learning process with Ru. None of us had ever done a cooking class like this before so we didn’t know what to expect. It was so much fun and unique. I enjoyed it so much that I just booked one for our babymoon in Mexico City in a few weeks!
On the menu was fried goat cheese with herbs, chicken cataplana and veggies, and fig and almond truffles. We ate all our food with our new friends, enjoyed unlimited wine, port, and beer, and watched the sun go down over Tavira. It was truly a chef’s kiss experience! If you’re interested in just enjoying dinner, you can book a reservation for half the price of the class. You get to show up and just partake after all the hard work is done.
We tried all 5 days in Tavira to have a proper beach day at some of the well known Algarve beaches. It did not happen the way we expected, but we did at least make it to the water finally. We found Praia do Barril on a whim one late afternoon and decided to make the most of the sunshine we had left. I am not kidding when I say that every beach goer was making a mass exodus when we arrived. It seemed like we missed some memo that beach time was over. But we were determined to have a picnic on the beach and trekked the almost mile walk to the actual sand.
We enjoyed our time eating our charcuterie board and drinking our beers while watching the beautiful sunset over the water. Since we were so late, we managed to be some of the last people on the beach. We called it a night as we started getting eaten alive by bugs. As we were walking back, we decided to take the train back to the entrance, which proved to be the right decision as it started getting colder and very dark! The tickets were $1.50 one way and I would just recommend getting the round trip ticket so you can save yourself the walking.
I think there are plenty of good beaches to choose from in the area but this one did seem to have a lot of amenities like a restaurant and bar and umbrellas to rent if you find yourself spending a good chunk of day!
Explore the historic area
One of the days we decided to just explore the little town of Tavira. We started on our side of the river and found the Castelo and garden grounds, the Graca Monastery and took pictures of the all the beautiful handmade tiles. There wasn’t much to see, but we also journeyed across the river to see what we could find.
Where we ate + drank
Tavira actually had some of our favorite restaurants of our trip! We had wanted to use the kitchens in our apartments a little more, but eating out was honestly very affordable and its just sometimes more fun to try the local haunts. We found that inflation hasn’t quite hit Portugal yet (besides insane gas prices!) so a lot of things were very cheap across the board! Here’s our recommendations for places to try in Tavira.
Drink coffee at the hip Originato Cafe. Lunch and sangria at Sitio Cafe. Please order the prawn toasties and a pitcher or two of sangria. Then have the owner make you a to go cup of sangria to drink while you explore the rest of downtown. Eat $16 all you can eat sushi at Umi Sushi. Order one of everything on the menu! Eat the pesto ravioli and buffaline pizza at Acqua E Sale. Of course you must order an Aperol Spritz and a Mediterranean salad to compliment your Italian food. End your nights with gelato at Tavira Romana. Push your way to the front counter and order any delicious flavor of gelato to cap a beautiful day!
If you do choose to cook more or need any other supplies, there is a great mall complex across the river that has a grocery store tucked inside. We went to pick up snacks, drinks and diapers and ended up also grabbing a delicious kebab lunch from the food court. There was also this liquor store a block from our apartment that we bought some wine from that was also doing free tastings!
Second Stop – Faro
I’m actually glad that we didn’t stay in Faro, our initial first impression wasn’t a great one. It’s a pretty big, normal city and the area that is more historic and quaint is quite small. There was also so much graffiti! And not the pretty street art kind – the kind that looks like toddler scribbles ruining a historic building or pretty picture backdrop. That was really a bummer. Parts of Faro actually reminded me of Playa del Carmen, especially some of the pedestrian streets full of little eateries and peddlers trying to sell you things as you walked by.
We only stopped for lunch in Faro at La Forchetta but we really enjoyed the pizza, white sangria and our sweet servers!
Go carts racing
One thing the boys were really jazzed about in the Algarve was seeing the Formula 1 track in Faro. We headed to the Autodromo do Algarve one afternoon so that they could race some go karts on the slick track. Jess, Rueka and I hung out in the snack bar overlooking the track while the boys spent about 30 minutes racing around. It was a very legit experience and really not that expensive at just under $50 for a half hour of racing. I think this was definitely a favorite of the trip for the boys.
This was actually our first trip using Airbnb experiences and we had a really pleasant time with every one we booked. Jess found this boat tour to Bengali Cave, a local well known attraction only accessible by water. Our host Vitor took us down the coastline telling us stories about certain beaches, rocks, and landmarks for the morning. He took us into little caves we wouldn’t have been able to see on our own. He even let everyone jump in the water if they wanted on our way back to the marina. We only had one other couple on our boat so we got a really intimate experience compared to some of the other tour boats we saw driving by full of dozens of people.
It was a really fun and affordable way to spend a morning. Especially since I was not about to find us kayaks to rent. I think we paid $30 per person and Ru was free.
Last Stop – Lagos
We had a little bit of a crazy experience in Lagos and I do not recommend trying to get a car around the main area – especially at night time. We basically got stuck down a little side street because the main street was filled with people and restaurant tables. Somehow we managed to back out and find a parking garage for the night. I would’ve liked to see it more in the day time to see how different the vibes were but we enjoyed dinner and walking around for a little during the evening. They were also doing a little summer concert series in Lagos. There was a big stage in the historic district and quite a crowd enjoying the summer warmth and music.
Jess found us this incredible lookout spot on one of our first afternoons in the Algarve. It was some of the most beautiful scenery. We didn’t know what to expect so we didn’t bring much to hang out but there was people picnicking, doing photoshoots, and just taking in the incredible sunset with the most beautiful backdrop. There’s a myriad of walkways to explore the coastline from above and I actually think there was a few very long staircases that took you all the way down to the water. 10/10 recommend checking out, especially to see the sun go down.
All in all, we really enjoyed our time spent in the Algarve. Logistically we could’ve maximized our days a bit more by staying in a different town but I am glad we got a chance to chill in the quaint town of Tavira. I think it was a nice place to relax and get acquainted with the area. Plus I just loved watching Tiny Tav walk around the cobblestone streets like she owned the place! It’s definitely worth a stopover if you’re in the region. Especially if you’re looking for a a quieter place to stay compared to the loud nightlife of Lagos or Faro.
No matter where you stay, Portugal should be put at the top of your travel list this year. Especially if you’re traveling with a baby! I really can’t talk enough about how welcoming they were to families. Need help packing? Check out our list of our favorite travel items for a baby and toddler.
We’ll see you next time for another installment of this beautiful trip. I am so excited to document every area that we got to see and experience. Thanks for coming along!
Til next time,