Lisbon is a fantastic city for families. There is lots to see and do and if anything it’s just tricky fitting everything into one trip (a happy problem – you’ll just have to come back again!).
Getting around is easy as public transport is efficient and relatively cheap. Buy a Viva Viagem card which is valid on the Metro, local trains (including to Cascais and Sintra) and most buses and trams. Be aware that quite a few attractions close on Mondays but on the flipside Lisbon has a ‘Free Sunday’ policy so most museums don’t charge a penny on the first Sunday of the month!
So, what is our top ten list of things to do? Here goes:-
1. Take a TukTuk tour. Trust us on this – kids love them. What’s not to love about giant three wheelers decked out in psychedelic colours?! Well yes, they may be faintly terrifying at times and a tad noisy BUT you get to see places that you simply couldn’t with most other forms of transport in Lisbon. Tuk Tuk’s are tailor-made for navigating the old town’s steep and narrow streets. Plus they’re usually driven by young, friendly, cool guides that have the inside scoop. Win win! Ask at reception for the latest tours and prices…
2. Book a HIPPOtrip. The picture says it all, right? Hop aboard an amphibious Hippo bus and explore Lisbon by land AND water. Tours are in English and Portuguese and you can book online (or let us book for you – ask the concierge).
3. Visit Parque Das Nações (‘Park of the Nations’). Parque das Nações is the modern face of Lisbon and a stark contrast to historic Bairro Alto. Think wide open spaces, contemporary landscaping, ultra modern architecture. Once an industrial wasteland it had a monumental make over for Expo ’98 and is now home to some of Lisbon’s most popular family friendly attractions. Take the metro from Rossio station (change for the red line at Alameda) or catch a bus from Cais do Sodre (750/782) or kill two birds with one stone and take the ‘blue’ sightseeing bus which stops here. Our favourite attractions are:
• The Science Museum (Pavilho do Conhecimento) – a really cool space packed with interactive exhibits for kids. To be fair most adults can’t resist getting stuck in too. You could easily spend more than a few hours here but be warned – the biggest problem is dragging everyone away at the end!
• The Oceanarium (Oceanario) – the largest indoor aquarium in Europe and housed in an iconic building that looks like its floating on the water. Includes a massive two-storey central tank that has over 100 species including sharks. Check out the sea otters which are especially cute and attract a fan base all of their own!
• The Cable Car (Telecabine Lisboa) – a ten minute gondola style ride over the river with great views. Board from the South Station near the Oceanario or the North Station near the Vasco da Gama Tower.
4. Spend a day in Belem. Belem is packed to the rafters with things to do and see. Queues can be formidable so pre-book if you can – best to get a combined ticket for the main attractions (our concierge can help with this). Take the train from Cais do Sodre (25 minutes) or tram 15 from Praca da Figueira (40 minutes). Our favourites are:
• Torre de Belém – Iconic fortress built in the early 16th century to safeguard the mouth of the Tagus against sea faring raiders. The lower floors were originally used as a dungeon and later a prison – you can still see the holes where prisoners were thrown below! Numbers are restricted to the upper section so be prepared to wait a short time even if you have a pre-booked ticket.
• Jerónimos Monastery – gothic former monastery built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s epic voyage to India. Spot the numerous and intricate maritime symbols carved into the pillars and stonework – everything from rope knots and coral to sea monsters. Vasco Da Gama is interred in the lower chancel along with other celebrated Portuguese figures and royalty.
• The Monument of Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) – shaped like a ship’s prow, this relatively modern structure celebrates Portugal’s intrepid seafaring adventurers. It’s hugely impressive and well worth a visit. Take the elevator and stairs to the top for fantastic views over Belém and the river.
• National Coach Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches) – yes, we know this sounds boring. It’s not – honestly! A vast collection of coaches dating from 1600 onwards, some astonishingly ornate. Visit both museums (across the road from each other) for the full experience.
• Discover Custard Tarts! – you can of course enjoy perfectly delicious Pastel de Nata at The Lumiares or from a dozen bakeries within walking distance in Bairro Alto. However the original and the best are from a small shop next to Jerónimos Monastery called. Pasteis de Belém. They came up with the idea in the first place and have kept the recipe a closely guarded secret ever since. Probably rude not to try one while you’re here – everyone likes them whether aged six or sixty!
5. Go power crazy in KidZania. On the rare occasion that the sun isn’t shining in Lisbon this would be a good one to have up your sleeve. Kids take the reins in a mini city and can try out a multitude of professions – cooks, drivers, judges, firemen – you name it. Being further out of town it’s best to go by taxi (about 20 minutes).
6. Head to the beach. There can’t be many cities where you can jump on a train and be on the beach within half an hour. Our most popular beach destination is Carcavelos which is a long, wide, sandy and safe beach framed by chilled out bars and restaurants. It’s about a ten minute walk from the station though so best to limit how much stuff you take with you. Otherwise stay on the train until Estoril or Cascais where the beaches are adjacent to the station. If you fancy a leisurely stroll alight at Estoril and follow the promenade to Cascais to get your bearings…
7. Go to Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoológico). One of the oldest zoos in Europe, the Jardim Zoológico has reinvented itself in recent years as an impressive centre for animal and habitat conservation. Housed in attractive gardens, there is the bonus of a fab cable car ride. Take the train from Rossio to Sete Rios (10 minutes).
8. Climb aboard a Caravel on Wheels. New to Lisbon, this is an interactive way to explore the city by road, using videos to bring its history to life along the way. Ask at reception for more information…
9. …Or take Tram 28. This legendary little yellow tram clatters through Lisbon’s coolest neigbourhood’s including Alfama and its castle on the hill – the Castelo de São Jorge. With a day ticket you can hop on and off as the mood takes you. Gets VERY busy though so avoid peak times if you can and watch out for pickpockets.
10. Stay closer to home in Bairro Alto. Of course there are lots of gentle (but no less enjoyable) activities round the corner from The Lumiares:
• Visit the Jardín del Príncipe Real. A short stroll up the hill, past the Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, takes you to the beautiful Jardín del Príncipe Real. Here there is a lovely playground, restaurant and coffee kiosk, or you could simply pass the time in the shade of a stunning Cypress tree (trust us – this is no ordinary tree!)
• Ride the famous Gloria Funicular (aka The Elevador da Gloria) which is right on our doorstep.
• Climb aboard the Elevador de Santa Justa (aka the Santa Justa Lift or the Carmo lift). Head down the hill to Chiado to this 19th Century wrought-iron elevator which is quite possibly the most beautiful elevator in the world. It’s worth navigating the narrow spiral staircase at the top just to check out the magnificent view from the observation deck.
• Eat out – we’re spoilt for choice in Bairro Alto with more cafe’s and restaurants than any other part of Lisbon and of course kids are always welcome. Take a look at our top ten restaurants blog for more information…