The trick to planning an itinerary for your family is choosing attractions that'll amuse young ones, but balancing those with some museum hopping and church going (kids might just marvel at the art and architecture). Below are some suggestions on how to achieve that happy balance between so-called adult attractions and amusements for kids.
Day 1 Lisbon: Gateway to Portugal
Arrive early in the morning, if possible, for a full day of sightseeing. After checking into a family-friendly hotel, head for Castelo de São Jorge, crowning the historic Alfama with its narrow, winding streets. Allow at least an hour to visit the castle (which might remind your kids of the one at Disney), followed by another hour walking around the district -- perhaps even getting momentarily lost in the narrow streets of the old Alfama.
After lunch, take your kids by train to the suburb of Belém where the entire family should be fascinated by the flamboyant Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Allow an hour. This can be followed by two kid-pleasing attractions, Museu de Marinha, the maritime museum, and Museu Nacional dos Coches, the national coach museum, which will hold fascination for adults as well. Return to your hotel in the heart of Lisbon for the night.
Day 2 Sintra: Glorious Eden
For a change of pace, take the train to Sintra, only 29km (18 miles) northwest of Lisbon where the very town itself, with its parks, palaces, and gardens, is a treat for people of all ages. In the morning, visit the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, where kids should delight in wandering around the former palace of the Moorish sultans.
Later in the afternoon, visit Castelo dos Mouros, a former Moorish stronghold dating from the 8th century. Return to Lisbon for the night.
Day 3 Another Day in Lisbon
In one very busy day you can visit the Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa in the morning, with its 2,000 animals roaming a 26-hectare (64-acre) setting. You can also rent a rowboat for an hour or so and take your kids for a ride across the lake. Later, you can visit the Oceanário de Lisboa, the second-largest aquarium in the world. Kids delight in coming within arm's length of such critters as penguins, sharks, or playful sea otters. The Oceanário lies within the Parque das Nações, which is a virtual playground for children, with rides, an interactive science museum, and fairgrounds.
In the afternoon you can visit the Planetário Calouste Gulbenkian, with astronomical shows throughout the day that should appeal to the entire family. You can spend the rest of the afternoon at Jardim da Estrela, which is perfect for a family outing. It boasts duck ponds and lush flora, as well as playgrounds for children.
Day 4 Beach Fun along Costa do Sol
While still based in Lisbon, you can plan Day 4 at the beach along Lisbon's Riviera. Sunny days are almost guaranteed here in July and August. A train from Estação Cais do Sodré will put you in Estoril in only 30 minutes, with continuing service to the former fishing village (now resort) of Cascais.
You can get off the train in Estoril and wander its Parque Estoril in the center of town (it's been called "a corner of Africa") before descending on the beach for 2 hours or so.
After time on the sands, take the train's continuing service to Cascais, where you can have a seafood lunch in one of the town's affordable taverns. Cascais is a far more architecturally intriguing town to explore than Estoril, and parents and their children can spend at least 2 hours traversing its narrow streets and taking walks along the harborfront where fishing boats bob. Kids will also be fascinated by the Museu do Mar, with its marine artifacts and model boats.
Later in the day, you can rent a car to Cabo da Roca, at nearby Guincho, to see some of the most turbulent and dramatic Atlantic Ocean scenery in Portugal. After a day of sightseeing, you can drive back to Lisbon for the night.
Day 5 Óbidos, Alcobaça & Nazaré
On the morning of Day 5, leave Lisbon and drive north to Portugal's most enchanting village, the walled town of Óbidos, a distance of 93km (58 miles). Again your child may think this medieval city, with its golden towers, crenellated battlements, and ramparts, a creation of the Disney factory. Spend 2 hours exploring the town, climaxed by a lunch at the Castelo de Óbidos.
After lunch, continue northeast to Alcobaça, a distance of 38km (24 miles). Although it's one of Portugal's grandest monuments, and is certainly an adult attraction, kids often stand in awe as they wander through Mosteiro de Santa Maria, one of the most impressive Gothic monasteries in the country. Allow an hour to explore it.
Afterward, head 13km (8 miles) northwest to the fishing village of Nazaré. Nazaré isn't blessed with a lot of family-friendly inns; your best possibility is Hotel Praia, rising six floors and overlooking the port's best beach.
Spend some time on the harborfront, watching the fishing boats pull in for the evening with the day's catch; or head to the Sítio, the upper town, to wander through its narrow streets. By early nightfall, a family seafood dinner is in order.
Day 6 Coimbra: Youthful Exuberance
The crown jewel of the three Beiras, this is a city peopled in part by backpackers and students (many of whom appear in medieval costumes on the street at night as singing "tuna," as their groups are called). From Nazaré, it's an easy drive to the northeast, a distance of 110km (69 miles) to Coimbra. Plan to overnight here, perhaps at the moderately priced Hotel Astória.
You can walk with your kids through the Velha Universidade, and duck into the Igreja e Mosteiro da Santa Cruz, but they'll probably be most interested in Portugal dos Pequenitos. This is "Portugal for the Little Ones," a re-creation of buildings from every province in miniature, including everything from windmills to castles and palaces, even an Indian temple.
Day 7 Porto: City on the Douro River
In the morning of Day 7, leave Coimbra and continue north for 116km (72 miles) until you reach the city of Porto. Then take the family on our walking tour of town. After you finish, you can have lunch in one of the local taverns (most serve seafood).
After lunch, visit Torre dos Clérigos, dating from 1754 and rising to a height of 76m (249 ft.). You can climb the 225 steps to the top for one of the finest views of a cityscape in the north of Portugal.
You can fly back to Lisbon in the early evening, or you can overnight in Porto (returning your rental car, of course) and fly back to Lisbon the next morning for an onward connection. Flight time is about 40 minutes.