First holiday with a toddler

We recently spent a week in Portugal where we rented a villa just outside Caldas da Rainha, a mid-sized town, an hour’s drive north of Lisbon.

For our first family holiday, we’d decided to play it safe and booked a somewhere child-friendly on Holiday Tots. It was great! It had a gated pool, and all the toys the child could ever want. It was also close to beaches, restaurants and interesting places to visit.

The weather was a bit of a mixed bag, we had a few nice days, but if you like it hot (Like I do) then mid-October isn’t really the time to visit Portugal. It certainly wasn’t warm enough to heat the solar-powered pool heater. I went in a few times, but it was too cold for Katie and Roo.

Striking a balance

Every now and again I have a moment where it dawns on me that we have a child now, and our lives will never be the same again. Our first family holiday was one of those moments. Gone were the late night meals-out and morning lay-ins of holidays gone by. We could no longer plan days out that consisted purely of thing that Katie and I wanted to do. We had a little head to consider.

Things we liked

I think we managed to strike a balance, and found activities that we all enjoyed. Roo (for the most part) was happy to go with the flow, and enjoyed exploring new places.

Here’s some of the things we liked in and around Caldas da Rainha.


The Portuguese all seemed to love children, so made eating out at lunch extremely easy. There were excellent restaurants almost everywhere we went, but a personal favorite was the vegetarian restaurant Maratona in the centre of Caldas. They were brilliant with Roo, rushing through an order of chips to prevent the inevitable mealtime meltdown.

My family enjoying some lovely food at the Maratona Café


We were delighted to find that Roo didn’t mind mooching around villages and towns. She was fascinated by the shops full of (mainly tile-based) gifts. As long as she was fed and could enjoy the occasional ice cream she was happy.

The monastery at Albobaça was a particular favourite, with it’s large stone rooms. She loved hearing her footsteps and voice echoing down the corridors, “echo, Mummy!”

A panoramic shot of Katie and Roo exploring the monastery at Albobaça

We also really liked Óbidos, a fortified city that dates back to the 13th century. She loved the shops, castle and ice cream. We loved exploring the castle walls, the wonderful weather and the local cherry liqueur that you drink from a chocolate cup.

Lisbon Oceanarium

She loved the Oceanarium in Lisbon. We did have to queue a little for tickets (top tip: book online before you go) but the efficient staff meant our wait was fairly short.

I would love to know what she was thinking as she stared up at the double-floor height tank full, packed to the gills with all kind of fish. Its difficult to know what goes through that little head, but she chatted about “fsh” all the way back to the Villa.

Buddha Eden

The Buddha Eden in Bombarral is an amazing place. Set in 30 acres of beautiful gardens are hundreds of sculptures from all over Asia. Roo loved the wide open spaces and all the huge sculptures. There’s also some well times cafés where we were able to refuel while Roo had a sleep in her push-chair.

Beaches, parks and gardens

Besides all the things we paid money for, there were plenty of free things that we enjoyed too. There is a beautiful park in Caldas that was a big hit with Roo, full of amazing green spaces, a lovely play-park and a couple of nice cafés.

There’s also some really great beaches in this area, which were deserted when we visited, it being so late in the year. The sea was freezing, but that didn’t stop Roo enjoying a paddle.

Things we didn’t like as much

The flight home was a bit rubbish. We’d stayed in a hotel at the airport the night before, but hadn’t really thought through the night sharing a room with Roo. So, between a disturbed night in a strange room and the 4:30am start to get our early flight its fair to say that Roo wasn’t in the best of moods.

Halfway home, in order to placate our struggling child, Katie had taken her on a walk down the isle to visit the cabin crew. While there she decided to vomit over the side of the plane and several unsuspecting passengers. Tiredness had gotten the better of her.

In summary

We had a brilliant time in Portugal, we’d thoroughly recommend it as a holiday destination with a small child. It was different, for sure, but I think we made it work, and made some more happy memories with the Roo.