Family travel: What to do in the Algarve

This white-sand Portuguese destination is a must-try, even if you don't plan to spend all your time on the beach. Here's our pick of what to do with the kids.

By Jo Fletcher Cross
Published 8 Apr 2019, 23:55 BST, Updated 19 Jul 2021, 13:58 BST
Praia de Vale Centeanes
Praia de Vale Centeanes.

1 // Beaches
"I don't like the beach," comes the wail when we break the news that we'll be spending an afternoon on the coast. We can't come all the way to the Algarve, with all these lovely beaches, and not even build a sandcastle, I plead. So, we head for Praia do Castelo, a small, pretty beach surrounded by sandstone cliffs. Daddy has the brainwave of hunting for fossils so off they go, while I read my book under a parasol. Eventually they return, having had such a good time that my daughter, Rowan, happily sits for ages playing with shells on the shore. "I don't want to leave the beach," comes the wail when it's time to go. I think that's a success.

2 // Buggy tour
I can't drive, so I'm in seated in one Polaris RZR (a small, tough, off-road buggy) with a driver, while my husband, Tim, and Rowan are in one behind. We've all got helmets on, but I don't figure out why we need the visors down until we stop and I go to see how Tim and Rowan are doing. They're covered in the red dust kicked up by our buggy. Fortunately, they've also having an absolute blast, too. We see lots of incredible countryside not visible from the main roads, and get absolutely filthy. Half-day tours from €100/£88 per person.

3 // Pool time
I've never been very good at just hanging out by the pool but from the moment we arrive at our hotel (the very charming Tivoli Carvoeiro) Rowan is desperate to spend the whole time there. In fact, this proves to be an excellent way to cajole her into heading out on adventures: we split the time into activities and relaxation. A morning scrambling around the cliffs surrounding the hotel = an afternoon splashing around the pool. 

4 // Dolphin spotting
Rowan loves all animals but two of her favourites are dolphins… and pigeons. Imagine her happiness as we zoom along the coast of the Algarve in a rigid inflatable boat, marvelling at the incredible rock formations and sea stacks before making a turn into an otherworldly cave — which just happens to be full of nesting pigeons. This is already her dream morning. Then the boat points out to sea and we speed out to deeper waters. Everyone makes the same involuntary noise when dolphins appear: a kind of amazed-enchanted 'aaaaooooo'. For about 20 minutes we watch them play and jump and swim. Two-hour tours from €35 per adult/€25 per child (£30/£22).

5 // Jeep safari
"Mummy, why do you keep saying: 'Oh, God'?" Rowan asks me. "And why are you holding me so tight?" Because I'm so excited, I tell her. It's only half a lie; this is exciting. We're at the highest point in the Algarve, having bounced all the way up here in a jeep. Our driver expertly weaves his way up and around some astonishing paths as we hang on in the back — Rowan wanted to sit here because he told her it was bouncier, and he wasn't wrong. The views are incredible and we have an amazing day: swimming in a stream running through a picturesque little town, examining the famous cork trees and trying local honey. Half-day tours from €33/£29 per person.


Jo and Tim, with Rowan (7)

Best for
If you've got small kids who love the beach, then this is an ideal destination from any age.

Rowan: "Portuguese pigeons. And I liked the seagulls too. And the dolphins. All the animals."

Rowan: "We can't get the same orange juice as at home."

Getting there & around
Ryanair flies to Faro from 16 UK airports. British Airways, easyJet and other airlines offer flights to Faro from around the UK.

Car hire is available from Faro Airport from various firms including Auto Rent

How to do it
Ryanair Holidays offers seven nights staying at the Tivoli Carvoeiro from £628 per person, B&B, including flights from London Stansted and transfers. 

Published in the Family 2019 guide, distributed with the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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