We just returned from our first European getaway as a family and had the BEST time… a trip for the memory books. We went into this adventure assuming and expecting it to be challenging with two toddlers, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well they did the entire trip. They were great and thoroughly enjoyed the traveling as much as we did. This was such a relief and has greatly inspired us to do more big travels down the road as a family.
Since we live in Denver, we knew that direct flights from here were not the best option. Not only were they twice the price, they were also at least 15 hours long, so that was a big no, no. Therefore, we decided to break up the trip both ways and stop in NYC. On the way there, we only stayed one night at an Airbnb and flew out the following evening to Madrid, Spain. While in NYC, we did a quick trip to the Central Park Zoo, had lunch at the Plaza (so yummy and so many options!!!), and took Ella Rose to the “Eloise” shop there. She absolutely loved that, and the store is darling. For any little girl that has read, “Eloise at the Plaza,” it is a dream come true. After an amazing first leg of the trip in NYC, we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Madrid that evening.
We brought our travel stroller, which is the lightest double umbrella, and it was perfect.
These are Ella Rosie’s favorite shoes, she wears both pairs she has with everything. They’re so nice to dress up or down with.
On the flight to Madrid (which was an overnight flight), Ella Rose slept the entire way which was a life saver! Owen also did pretty well and slept for the first half of the flight. One piece of advice for the longer flights…try to let the baby sleep with the parent in the window seat…he was continuously woken up by the food carts that came up and down the aisles. Cue the kid’s Tablet! This was a wonderful option to have for the kids which they used the entire trip whenever we were on a long car ride or on an airplane. Before the trip, I had to make sure I downloaded the games off wifi though to ensure they worked on the airplane. This is a big MUST with this product and I’m glad I happened to call amazon to discover this. The kids each have their own page with all of their videos and games which is really nice as well.
We brought Owen’s sleep sack to wear for the Red Eye flight to Madrid in order to make him feel as comfortable and routine as possible. We also brought sleep masks because they turn the lights on and off to adjust you to night/day time.
When we arrived in Madrid, we were greeted by the VRBO’s arranged driver who took us straight to the condo we would be staying in for the next four nights. Wow, did it feel good to be back! I had been dying to get back to Madrid over the past ten years since I studied there as a sophomore in college. We stayed in a great condo right across the street from El Palacio; a perfect location where we were able to walk to everything- SOL, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Espana, Retiro Park, all of the major hot spots. Here are some pics of where we stayed.
Since we arrived in the morning and our jet lag hit us like a ton of bricks when we arrived, we broke the rules and took a long, much needed nap. That way we were able to adjust the kids to the later schedule they have there. When we woke up, we walked across and toured the Palace. This was one of my favorite things we did in Madrid. Ella Rose absolutely loved the Palace and kept comparing all of the rooms to Anna and Elsa’s and Belle’s castles, which was fun to observe.
The following day we took a cab to my old apartment that I used to live in with my Señora, Esperanza. I was really hoping to see her, but I had heard she passed away recently so I was not able to do so.
After snapping a few pics in my old stomping grounds, we also did a quick shopping stop at my FAVORITE store in Madrid, Zara. I got a few things, but like usual, ended up buying the kids more ;-). I adore Zara in Europe because it is so much cheaper and so cute; plus they’re always a bit ahead of the trend. Love it. By the third day, we were better adjusted and were able to take the kids around for the day through lunch and early afternoon, take a siesta, and then go out for a late dinner between 8-9pm. We found that because of the every day “siesta” there, many restaurants were not even open until after 8pm, so we had no choice but to adjust to their schedule which was kind of neat getting really accustomed to their culture. By this night, we stumbled upon a great restaurant in Plaza Mayor, Restaurante Gustos Madrid, which served a terrific and authentic Paella, combined with an outstanding pitcher of Sangria…so good! This was one of my favorite evenings where we ate outside in the Plaza and stayed out past 10pm with the kids spinning and dancing to the music playing.
The following day we went to Retiro park, grabbed some bocadillos to go, ate lunch in the park, played hide and go seek, and enjoyed some much needed popsicles. We then walked over to El Prado museum. While you might expect little kids to be bored out of their mind in a museum, to our surprise Ella Rose really thoroughly enjoyed this experience. She found this one particular painting of a fake doctor carving a rock out of a man’s head and made us go by it at least 30 times, haha. We also saw the famous painting by Vasquez and Brendan enjoyed touring around the museum solo for a bit. It was a really fun day.
The final day in Madrid we toured around Sol and Plaza Mayor, ate lunch at the oldest restaurant in the world “Sobrino de Botin,” and had some yummy Churros at the famous Chocolateria San Gines. When we were here in Madrid, we happened to luck out with the weather and it ended up being high 80s, rather than the normal 100s at this time of the year, so that was great. It was also nice to use my Spanish again. I found myself more confident this trip, maybe because I’m older and don’t care as much; it came back fairly quickly which was fun to use again.
Here are some other pics of the kiddos exploring in Madrid…
Love these two pics of Ella Rose becoming besties with a mime ;-)…
The following day we headed to Faro, Portugal to explore the Algarve region of Portugal. We discovered this area by simply googling, “best family vacation spots in Europe,” and this popped up! I also have a friend here in Denver who is Portuguese, so when I got the OK from her that this was a wonderful family spot, we decided this would be the second leg of our trip. OMG it was so perfect for us. Since the first half of our trip was “go, go, go” in two huge cities, this second half of exploring the beaches along the Portuguese coast was an absolute dream. We rented a car from the Faro airport in order to beach hop in this area, I was so happy we did this. On our drive in we swung by Albufeira, a neat, lively beach town, to have lunch. We then continued our drive to our stay in a hidden gem called Salema, Portugal. A charming, quiet beach town, and our favorite along the Algarve coast.
Here we rented a villa which had a pool and was so accommodating to our family. We were able to walk down the big, steep hills for a ten minute walk to the town and beach. This area reminded me of Greece, white buildings, steep, skinny cobble stone streets and breathtaking views. The first day there, we decided to relax and explore Salema itself.
This has been my go-to sun hat for little girl’s, so cute on a baby and toddler.
We went to the beach all day, played in the pool, napped, then had dinner in the town. The following day we drove to Lagos and took a boat tour of the grottos and cliffs in the ocean. This was by far our favorite activity of the entire trip. Ella Rose and Owen both “ooooohhhhed and ahhhhhed,” at the cliffs and caves, and we ended up with some really neat videos and pictures. It was great. Because we did an earlier tour that day, we ended up being the only family on the boat, which was extra special. Our boat driver didn’t speak any English, so that made it even more authentic. It was stunning and we had spectacular views of the crystal clear waters. Along the boat tour, we saw some gorgeous beaches and picked one to spend the rest of the day at. We went to Praia de Santa Ana. This was such a fun, relaxing day and the kids loved playing in the shallow, clear waters here.
We got these aqua shoes because some of the beaches are all shells/rocks. Highly recommend for this case and splash pads!
The following day we decided to enjoy our beautiful beach in Salema and then drive to Sagres, an ancient surf town, to see Cape Saint Vincent. This is the most Western point in all of Europe which at one time was believed to be the “end of the world” physically. This was so neat and full of history and beauty. It was extremely windy here, but the views were unbelievable.
On our way out to Lisbon, we stopped by Sintra, a quaint town full of castles and charm. The castles are nestled upon these enormous cliffs/hills, while the adorable town full of bakeries and shops rests at the bottom. A must see for anyone traveling near Lisbon.
Here are some more pics from Portugal…
On our way home we flew back to Newark, stayed at the Marriott across the street, had an early dinner, and went to bed by 4:30pm to catch our 5am flight back to Denver. We figured since we were already on European time, this would be the best option. While it is nice to be home now, we certainly miss the adventures of our first big trip together as a family. We had the most memorable time, and since the kids behaved better than we would have ever expected, we are so inspired do many more big trips like this. I’m already planning our next adventure…Kruegers do…?
Thank you for reading! XOXO, Jillian