In part 2 of my journey with the family I’ll be telling you about my favorite little city in Portugal, Aveiro. This little city is also known as the little Venice of Portugal and is known for it canals and it’s Art Nouveau monuments and buildings. After we stopped in Aveiro, we took a much needed adult break in the Douro Valley. A place where pictures do not do it justice and the wine is just so fine. Finally I can’t wait to share my experience in the Algarve with you. If you are looking for some of the most beautiful beaches and a simple place to relax, this is it.
Aveiro “Little Venice”
Aveiro is not only one of my favorite cities, it’s the city that encompasses the towns that my both my parents grew up in. One parent growing up in a small farming town just outside the city and the other a ferry ride away in a small fishing village which has now become a popular tourist destination. So you might say I’m a little biased but I would argue that anyone with a love for European culture could only fall in love with this little city.
So let’s begin, Aveiro is located about 50mins south of Porto or about 72.5km south. It is not only a beautiful city full of small alley ways and canals, it’s also surrounded by some of the most amazing beaches on the European Atlantic Coast.
When traveling with families to Aveiro here are come fun things to do for mom and dad as well as the kids. First and for most a tour on a Barrco Moliceiro will give you a quick history lesson on the city and you can get a feel of what area of the city you’d like to explore most. Kids love it and so do the adults. Be sure to bring a hat and sunglasses, on sunny days. After your ride, I’d suggest just exploring the city by foot. Every little turn down an alley you will find little hidden treasures. Either a cute little cafe or restaurants serving delicious appetizers and wine. One of my favorite little treasures is the Art Nova Museum which hold a little cafe at the bottom called Casa de Cha. Here is there site: http://www.casadechaartenova.com/default.htm
This little cafe is so yummy and has fun beanbag chairs to lounge around when sitting outside. It’s shaded so you can enjoy it even on a hot day. And then if you’re into art an history you can take a quick tour of the museum.
Once you ventured there you might want to grab a bite to eat. I can’t say I have a favorite place, but I can almost guarantee that any little restaurant you go into you’ll find some amazing food. Items to look for that I love are pica pau, which is a pork appetizer dish usually accompanied by bread for dipping or Moelas (aka chicken gizzards). These are really tasty don’t let the gizzard part prevent you from trying them. Meals that I like to get are usually anything with bacalhau (cod fish) or sardines. If you’re going to eat sardines, this is the general area to get them. After lunch you might want to stop any get some dessert. The kids will of course love any selection of Ola ice-cream but for the adults, I’d suggest ovos moles. Aveiro is the only place in the world you can find real authentic ovos moles. These little treats are an egg cream usually inside a wafer shell. But it you really love them you can buy the cream inside of mini barrels to enjoy by itself or however you choose. Aveiro is known for is sweet delicacies, now matter what dessert or pastry you try, you’re guaranteed to fall in love.
After all this the kids may start to get antsy for something to do. You’re in luck, right in the center of town near Aveiro’s mall (called the Forum) is an amazing Pirate Ship shaped playscape. It’s completely enclosed so you can let the kids go and sit by on a near bench and watch them.
After about a day or two when you’ve seen it all you can make your way to the beach. Probably Aveiro’s most famous beach is Costa Nova. I personally have not spent much time there but it is beautiful and I know there are lost of fun things to do like paddle boarding and jet skiing. However if you are looking for something really low key take a ferry ride over to a little town called Sao Jacinto. If you haven’t driven on the ferry, you can pick up a jeep tour that will take you down to the main beach where you’ll find endless miles of sand and ocean. Try and call head, especially if it’s off summer peak season. This beach is not as heavily populated as other and there aren’t as man activities other than enjoying the sun. They do have a public restroom and a cafe near by so just bring your towels and beach chairs and enjoy a quiet afternoon. If you’re not much into sitting around and enjoying the sun, Sao Jacinto also has a large nature reserve where you can go bird watching or just enjoy the natural surroundings. Or you can check out the local pool and hang out with the kids all day. You will need a swim cap but they also sell them there. The rates are very affordable and it’s a nice day spent. For those will toddlers, the do have two little kiddy pools that are perfect for little ones. At the end of the day I suggest you try out some amazing seafood at A Peixaria, but get there early if you can because the lines go out the door.
If you’re looking for something a little more dynamic you might also want to try Torrerira. While it’s technically not part of Aveiro, it’s still a great little beach town with lots to do, but it’s definitely more touristy.
Here we are on a tour through the canals of Aveiro.
The Ferry Ride to S. Jacinto
Morning coffee and sweet croissant at the local bakery.
Taking a much needed adult break, we got a sitter (aka my mom) and took a trip down the Douro Valley. The only work that comes to mind when I think of Dour is “Breathtaking.” I highly recommend that if you can find a sitter or have someone along to help with the kids that you take a break and go check out Douro Valley. I also strongly encourage you do it with a tour guide because it can get overwhelming to decide where to go and it’s a bit scary to drive around. We used a company called Viator who hooked us up with an amazing local tour guide. We had the most astonishing time and we got to experience smaller family owned wineries instead of the usual big names. The experience felt personal and unique. It gets very hot in Douro wear so lots of sunscreen. I also recommend take the 20 min tour boat tour in addition any of the tour options. We picked up our tour from Porto which was about 2 hr drive so keep that in mind should you be coming from the Porto area. On our way back we stopped Villa Nova de Gaia and had dinner at the restaurant inside Graham’s Winery – Vinum. A must to order here is the prosciutto on their starters menu. It’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s so delicate that it melts in your mouth. If you have a chance or time to do a tasting, I suggest the vintage tasting. We didn’t get to do it this time around but we did a few years ago and it was so nice. This part of our trip was literally a whole day we left our apartment in S. Jacinto at 7am and did not return until 11pm so prepare yourselves for a full day’s adventure. So worth it if you ask me.
It was so awesome to drink directly from the barrel. Something I’ve never done before.
Having a blast with our tour guide here.
A night time view of Porto from Graham’s in Villa Nova de Guia.
Moving down the coast our next major stop will be the Algarve, specifically Lagos. But before we get there I wanted to include one more destination that I have not mentioned before. If you’re into history or medieval times, you’ll want to stop in Obidos and check out their medieval fair. It’s really fun for you and the kids. You can also eat there so forget the local restaurants surround the castle. They aren’t very good and extremely overpriced. If you are going to get the experience, you may as well get the whole experience. Also a quick tip, I do NOT recommend touring the very top of the castle along the wall. It’s usually open to the public but people have fatally fallen there and therefore I do not recommend it.
Now finally we have reached our final destination, the Algarve.
Our family got together with 4 other families who we love and decided to make this a trip of a life time. We rented a house through Airbnb and had the most fabulous time. First off let me just say that with large groups anything can happen so plan a little and be a lot open minded. In Lagos the city we stayed in we found that many restaurants were very small so if you plan on going with with group or a have a larger party with you I’d say to plan ahead and plan out your dinners out. If your up to staying home, there are several supermarkets in town including an Aldi. Most of the food is reasonably priced although I found the Algarve prices to be a bit more pricey then many other parts of the country. This is no surprise since the Algarve is such a tourist area.
Now if you’re looking to splurge a little and would love a unique experience I suggest hiring personal chef. Yes, a personal chef! It was the best thing we did for almost the same we’d cost of a restaurant, our only regret was not hiring them for multiple days. When I did my research there were lots of personal chef options, however not many actual cook traditional Portuguese food (ironic isn’t it.) But I did find one gentleman and his wife who do an amazing job. If you’re looking for traditional Portuguese cuisine contact the The Chef Affairs. Roberto and his wife are just spectacular and the food is like a delightful party in your mouth. We did the BBQ option and his chicken was juicy and delicious and the sardines were cooked to perfection – probably the best I’ve ever had. And the best parts that they clean up after you. Score!!!
While I love talking food, I must move onto the local beaches. First off, it gets really hot in the sun so plan to bring an umbrella or pay for a lounge chair. All the beaches in Lagos have options to rent a chair for the day but if you don’t want to spend the money, make sure to bring your own and pay attention at the beach. Most beaches are divided so you’ll have to pay attention as to wear to put your umbrella. I also found that most beaches had a cafe with food and bathrooms, which was really nice especially with kids. We explored different beaches but our favorite was just down the road from where we stayed, Praia Porto De Mos. It’s a small beach but it was near by and it was beautiful. On the calm days, the water was like a lagoon and we could go out ver far however there were days with rougher waters and the waves did scare me but that was on any beach. Just be careful the undergoes are dangerous. But when the water is calm, you can rent a waterslide and life jackets and bring them out to the water. It looked like fun and I’d recommend for an older crowd probably not for little kids. But we did have boogie boards which the kids loved.
Two other beaches that were really nice was Meia Praia and Praia Dona Ana. Media Praia is smaller but has amazing photo opportunities. The waves can get a little rocky so take caution as always.
Praia Dona Ana, is very large and you can rent a cabana bed and some bean bags for about 20 euros. It’s a pretty beach but felt like something you could experience in the USA.
I’m not sure you can go wrong with any of the beaches in the Algarve but these were the ones we explored.
Lagos also has a cute little downtown area. There are lots of cafe’s and shops if you’re looking for something to do after hours. I even noticed that some restaurants had jumpy house to keep the kids occupied. Unfortunately we noticed those at the end of our trip. In the middle of the downtown square is a carousel which all the kids really loved as well. I just find Portugal in general to be so family friendly but I’d say Lagos was especially.
If you’re going a while and don’t thing the beaches will be enough for you, about 30 mins east you will find several water parks. We tried out ZooMarine. To me, it was just ok. It’s not super big but for kids it does the trick. They have a sea lion show and you can swim with the dolphins. We thought swimming with the dolphins was a bit pricey because the kids couldn’t go alone with an instructor, an adult had to accompany them so we opted for the next best thing, petting the dolphins. LOL! The kids were so excited to touch a dolphin and get their pictures taken. They said the dolphins feel rubbery (so cute.) All in all I wouldn’t go there again but it was good for the kids after a long week at the beaches.
In terms of the night life, sadly I don’t know what it’s like. Our house was so amazing that we stayed home most nights. We did go out to dinner a few times and that usually completed our night. One quick note, dinners in Portugal start later than we are used to in the USA. Don’t expect many places to be open for dinner before 7pm. With that said, going to dinner was often like a night out. By the time we were done it was usually pretty late, especially with the large group we had. Sadly I’m having some trouble remember the places we ate at. But we used trip advisor for recommendations and in some cases we just stopped in where we saw they could accommodate our group. We had good experiences everywhere we went so I’m sure you’ll be able to find some amazing spots to eat.
Portugal is amazing little country with so much to see and do. My blog doesn’t even begin to touch on the vast options of things to do and cities to see. Perhaps another time I can tell you how amazing Lisbon is and the beauty of Viana do Castello. But for now I leave you with my 2016 Portugal experiences and encourage you to visit this beautiful little country.
If you found this helpful please let me know. Or if you have any other questions relating to Portugal, I will do my best to answer them based on my personal experiences.