We haven’t travelled around Christmas in years, probably last time we went away in December it was on our honeymoon. I’ve never been to Portugal but I’ve heard a lot about how laid back and children friendly most of the places are. So booked a week and stayed in the Pestana Sintra Golf Hotel which was a great choice.
As we stayed near Sintra – we needed a car to rent anyway as the hotel was located outside of Sintra in a posh residental area with golf clubs – we mostly explored this area, which had a lot to offer. We went to visit a different place every day and we’ve been lucky with the weather too: it was 22 Celsius just after Christmas (which, I suppose is a little too warm even for Southern Portugal at that time of the year though). But it meant we spent a lot of time outside and whole afternoons on the beach (not going in the water, it was definitely too cold for that but playing in the sand and getting sandy toes).
So here are the things we enjoyed the most:
Located on the Portugese Riviera, Cascais in only 15 minutes drive from Lisbon and the airport. The area is the most popular and the wealthiest in Portugal given it’s beautiful seaside location, between the Sintra mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a lovely town filled with cute restaurants and cafes, a pretty old town (with all the touristy bits like souvenir shops) and its coastline is home to 17 beaches. There’s quite a few museums and galleries that worth visiting: The Museum of the Sea, The Lighthouse Museum, Casa de Santa Maria (lovely Portugese tiles), Museo de Vila or Casa Sommer. We also went for a fantastic walk along the coastline, rode the “Cascais Eye”, the classic merry-go-round in a small park, went souvenir shopping, picked oranges from trees and marvelled the wonderful Christmas lights. There are a lot of good places to eat out, classic seaside restaurants with traditional and local food as well as kid-friendly pizza chains. We did not try the chocolate sardines in the speciality Sardine Shop – but it was tempting.
Sintra is beautiful – bit of a trek with two small children as it’s just so much to do and see! In itself, about it would take about 3 days to explore all . the interesting sights. Apart from all the beautiful buildings, palaces (like the Royal Family’s summer residence) gardens and nature parks (including the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park and the Sintra Mountains), the historic passage in Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our favourite time was when we went on a ride on the Sintra Atlantico, which takes you from Sintra to the ocean – it’s about 40 minutes ride. The railway line connects the mountains to the sea through the town to Maçãs Beach. The beach was beautiful and we found all the seaside restaurants and cafes open (some of them further into the village were shut for winter). The waves are though completely crazy, we have got washed off our feet on the dry bit of the beach where also other people were sitting. A big wave came in suddenly and we all had to run. The power of the ocean.
Also, we have found the lovely little cafe with the best Pastel De Nata!
Technically part of Lisbon, Belém is famous as a museum district, lots of exciting and modern museums can be found here, like MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). There’s the famous Belém Tower (we have only marvelled from outside), the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) where you can also get great views of the Ponte 25 de Abril Lisbon Suspension Bridge (that looks like and was constructed by the same company that built the San Fransisco bridge).
As I mentioned, we have been incredibly lucky with the weather, strolling around in t-shirts in the afternoons. So, we also had to go to the beach and we chose Carcavelos as it’s quite popular with surfers, so we figured we will find a beach bar or restaurant to eat. Which we luckily did – although half of the venues were closed for winter. However the beach was lively and it had a good playground with wooden pirate ship. We ended up staying for the whole afternoon there. Carcavelos is 20km from central Lisbon and the drive follows the scenic N6 coastal road and takes around 25 minutes, there is free parking, or there is a cheap direct train service too.
We only went to Lisbon on our last day (we had a flight back to London in the evening) because we enjoyed so much being outside, the beaches and . the small sea side villages. We will be back for sure. We did however went to the Aquarium because the children love aquariums. The Lisbon Ocenarium does an outstanding work in conservation, conservation medicine, breeding programmes and assessing the risk of extinction of marine species. In 2017 they launched the Ocean Conservation Fund, with the aim of addressing critical challenges related to the conservation of marine ecosystems. Furthermore, together with the National Geographic Channel they have created the “InAqua” (Marine Ecosystem Conservation Fund), with a view to supporting innovative projects, to be developed in Portugal, that may contribute decisively to preserving threatened species and protecting marine biodiversity.
The Ocenarium though, also great fun for children and educational as well. Well worth the visit and every penny! We spent about three hours there and really enjoyed it. Even the shop and the cafe promotes plastic free lifestyle!