Lisbon is a beautiful, colourful and lively city by the sea. It’s been on my travel wish list for years (ever since I first visited Rio de Janeiro and fell in love with the Portuguese tiled pavements and colourful churches), and it didn’t disappoint.
We visited with our two boys (aged six and nine at the time of travelling) during the October half-term holidays. The 9yo has declared it his favourite city (out of Paris, Berlin and Venice) and here’s why.
Fish and Seafood – as well as the ubiquitous bacalhau (cod) there’s mussels, prawns and cuttlefish galore. Served up in a paella, fried, grilled or deep fried in a little pasty of deliciousness (pastéis de bacalhau), the choice is yours.
Beaches – jump on the train at Cais do Sodré in the centre of Lisbon, enjoy a stunning journey along the coast for 30 minutes then disembark at the final stop, Cascais, for a perfect day at the beach. The colourful streets behind the beach are worth exploring too.
Colourful buildings – the first things that hit us as we walked, blinking, out of the metro from the airport into the bright, coastal light were the colours and azulejos (tiles) on the buildings. Pinks, greens, blues and yellows greeted us at every turn. Creative and thought-provoking street art decorated walls which might otherwise have been left unadorned.
Transport (trams, boats, metro, bus, train) – one should never underestimate the joy of going on public transport when you’re a child. For our country-living kids one of the best things about visiting a city is going on different forms of transport. In Lisbon that not only includes the bus and metro but also trams, trains and even boats.
Aquarium – blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks and even guitar sharks (yes, really!) were our top fish spots swimming around Lisbon’s showstopper Oceanário, but our favourite residents had to be the sea otters.
Tinned sardines – even if you’re not a fan of preserved fish it’s worth a visit to the flagship shop of Comur – A Conserveira de Portugal on Rua da Prata. It’s bright and colourful with surprises downstairs (which I won’t give away). The tasting station was a hit. The 9yo loved it all, the 6yo was less keen on the sardines but loved the smoked mussels and the snails (who knew?).
You may not need more reasons to add Lisbon to your bucket list, but in case you’re not yet convinced, here’s why the grown-ups loved it too.
Miradouros (viewpoints) – Lisbon is a city of hills, the climbs up may be hard, but you’ll always be rewarded with a fantastic view.
Castelo de São Jorge – I particularly enjoyed my glass of wine with a view after surviving the many vertiginous drops.
Pastel de nata, and the 6yo was delighted to discover Nutella-filled doughnuts.
Where we stayed
We stayed in an AirBnB apartment right on the border of the popular Alfama and Baixa districts meaning we could get around the whole of Lisbon easily on foot. We had two good-sized bedrooms, one bathroom and a living room with kitchenette. It was plenty of space for us for our four-night stay. We had relaxed, easy mornings with breakfast at home and had space to spread out while taking a break from sightseeing. Our apartment was just up the road from an excellent supermarket, so we even had the odd lunch and dinner at home. Good for a rest and great on the pocket.
Staying in self-catering accommodation is my top tip for city breaks with kids.
How we got around
As our apartment was in a central location we were able to walk to many of the main sites and key areas of the city. The hills though!!! What looked like an easy stroll from one location to another on the map usually included one or more big hills to walk down and climb up. We did enjoy cheating with the odd ride on an elavador (lift) and escalator.
We used public transport to visit places further afield, and sometimes just for fun! At the airport metro station we paid 50c for each of us to have a transport card (similar to an Oyster card in London) and simply topped it up as and when we needed. The average journey cost €1.30 (our kids were full price). The main downside was that it was only possible to top these up at metro or train stations, not on buses or trams. It would have been possible to pay by cash on the bus or tram had we got stuck.
The historic yellow trams are one of Lisbon’s most famous sights. Tourists jostle for space on them as they trundle around the city. Our top tip is not to try and get on them at the end of the line where long queues of people form. Instead, take your chances on the route. Our most successful spot to get on the famous Tram 28E was just across the road from the Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, which is near the Panteão and the flea market on Campo de Santa Clara.
What we did
As well as the places already mentioned above, here are some of our top activities to do in Lisbon with kids…
Feira da Ladra, a flea market held on Campo de Santa Clara on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It’s a great place to pick up a unique souvenir, such as old tiles. The kids were happy as they were allowed to spend some of their pocket money on old cars.
Let your feet wander around Lisbon’s districts – the jumbled streets and tiny alleyways and staircases of Alfama contrast with the wider avenues of Baixa. At night explore the area behind the ruined convent (it suffered at the hands of Lisbon’s infamous 1755 earthquake). Seeing the Elavador de Santa Justa (designed by Raul Mésnier, Gustav Eiffel’s apprentice) lit up in front of the illuminated castle is a magical sight.
Cacilhas makes for a great half-day excursion from Lisbon. To get there catch a ferry from Cais do Sodré (boats leave every twenty minutes or so). After a quick ten-minute ferry ride you’ll arrive in Cacilhas. It’s a commuter rather than tourist boat, so don’t expect to stand outside to take in the views.
While there visit the Fragata D Fernando II e Gloria. Stepping on the boat at the dock is akin to taking a step back in time to the heyday of the Portuguese navy when frigates like this were crossing oceans defending Portuguese settlements and ships carrying precious cargo. There was very little information available on the boat, but the kids loved getting hands on with the shipware (though we’re not sure whether that was entirely allowed).
Cacilhas is an interesting area to walk around. We were there on a quiet Sunday morning and strolled along the back streets and up to a viewpoint over to Lisbon and the stunning 25 April suspension bridge.
We walked back into the main village along the fisherman-packed strand (Rua do Ginjal). The buildings behind were mostly dilapidated but decorated with some astonishing street art. It was quite the contrast to the main tourist areas of Lisbon.
At the recommendation of our AirBnB host we had lunch at El Farol near the ferry terminal – and we happily pass the recommendation onto you for an authentic Portuguese seafood feast.
Do you need anymore reasons to add Lisbon to your list of places to visit with kids? I would go back in a heartbeat. See you there?
I’ve linked to #CulturedKids hosted by Truly Madly Kids. Click through for more great kid-friendly cultured day trips and holiday ideas.