As Portuguese society largely revolves around family life, the country is very child-friendly and families will find it one of the easiest European destinations for a holiday. The two main worries for parents in Portugal are cars – which are usually fast moving – and the strong sun. Keep young children covered up between 11am and 3pm, make them wear a hat, and always apply a high-factor sunscreen. Be aware, too, that many castles and monuments are unrailed and may have very steep drops, while sea bathing – especially on the west coast – can be hazardous, with dangerous undertows. Cobbled town centres and stepped alleys are also difficult for anyone with a toddler and a pushchair.
Most hotels and guesthouses can provide an extra bed or a cot (um berço) if notified in advance. There is usually no charge for babies and small children who share their parents’ room, while discounts of up to fifty percent on accommodation for older children are not uncommon. Babysitting and child supervision are available at most four- and five-star places, though you’ll have to pay.
Children are welcome in all cafés and restaurants at any time of the day. Indeed, waiters often go out of their way to spend a few minutes entertaining restless children; tots may even find themselves being carried off for a quick tour of the kitchens while parents finish their meals in peace. Highchairs (cadeirinha de bebé) are normally the clip-on-table variety. Specific child menus are rare, though restaurants will nearly all serve half-portions (meia dose) as a matter of course – these are still too much for most children to finish, but the Portuguese often simply order a dose or two between the family. Note, however, that restaurants rarely open much before 7.30pm (so British children may need to adjust to eating later than they are used to) and local children are often still up at midnight.
Specific changing facilities in restaurants, cafés and public toilets are largely nonexistent, and when you do find them – such as in larger shopping centres – they are usually in women’s toilets only.
Fresh milk (leite pasteurizado) for babies is sold in larger supermarkets; mornings are best as it tends to sell out by mid-afternoon – gordo is full-fat, meio-gordo half-fat and magro skimmed milk. Mini-mercados, smaller shops and cafés generally only stock UHT, which is what most Portuguese kids drink. Nappies/diapers (fraldas) are widely available in supermarkets and pharmacies, as are formula milk, babies’ bottles and jars of baby food – though don’t expect the full range of (or indeed any) organic or salt-free choices you might be used to at home.
Most museums, sights and attractions don’t usually charge for small children, while under-12s get in for half-price. On public transport, under-5s go free while 5- to 11-year-olds travel half-price on trains but pay full fare on metros and buses.