It’s little wonder that Lisbon has been named best city destination in recent years – and has been suggested to you countless times as the perfect city break with children. Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital is less than 3 hours flight from London – and is the ideal ‘first-time’ city adventure for young children. A historical city full of rich stories to discover and fun to be had, Lisbon enjoys over 290 days of sunshine a year with temperature rarely dropping below 15oC. Its a city where you feel safe wandering around day or night, where the tempting cuisine could break even the fussiest of eaters and the sights, colour and sounds will delight even the smallest of travellers.
Here’s Junior’s guide to the things not to miss in Lisbon when travelling with children:
VISIT: Oceanário de Lisboa
The Oceanário in Lisbon is easily the best aquarium we’ve ever seen – and is one of Europe’s biggest and home to 25,000 different fish, seabirds and mammals from around the world. Opened in 1998 this modern building itself has to be seen to be believed – and is worthy of an Instagram shot or 2. Spread over two floors, it is one of the best laid out family tourist attractions we’ve visited in a long time. But, what makes it so unique is the massive central tank – as big as four Olympic-sized swimming pools and seven metres deep – with over 100 different species, that you can view from from almost every angle.
Split into four main areas around the central tank means the aquarium can showcase four different habitats around the world, these are: the North Atlantic rocky coast, the Antarctic coastal line, the Temperate Pacific kelp forests and the Tropical Indian coral reefs. Therefore, you get to meet and see close ups of the creatures living at the top and the bottom of the ocean. From the ground floor you’ll see those that spend time at the bottom of the sea, like the zebra sharks, guitarfish and flatfish (like plaice, sole and brill) and, then from the top floor viewing deck you’ll spot moray eels and Mantas or ‘devil fish’. But, like many visitors you too will be fascinated by the vast variety of sharks. You’ll also see penguins, puffins and otters (which will be love at first sight – they are little attention seekers).
> Oceanário de Lisboa is located at Doca dos Olivais, Parque das Nações and open dial from 10am-8pm. Family tickest from 42€ and children under 3 are free
RIDE: Electrico 28 Tram
Once Lisbon was full of tram lines but sadly over the years these have slowly disappeared as the city’s underground metro system was built and expanded. The trams are mainly in areas where the metro can’t be built – i.e up hills. There are now only five lines left across the city – and every Lisbon travel guide tell you to take the 28 Tram. This is because this Martim Moniz to Campo Ourique route passes by so many sights, charming neighbourhoods and the popular tourist districts of Graca, Alfama, Baixa and Estrela.
The problem tough, is because every tourist wants to catch the 28 tram the queues can be long, and we mean long. We suggest taking the no.12 or no. 25 Trams for shorter queues – ideal for younger children – without missing any of the beautiful city. These rattling, creaking yellow trams are such a part of Lisbon’s character that you really do need to hop on one. Seat behind the driver if you can – for the best experience and views.
> Electrico 28 Tram departs every 10 minutes and costs approx 3€ or get a Viva Viagem Card for 24-hr travel (see tips below)
EAT: Time Out Food Market
The Time Out Market Lisboa is a food hall like no other. A concept created in 2014 by the team at Time Out Portugal – and set to become a worldwide runaway success. Located in the Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodre – right opposite the station. With over 35 kiosks to choose from including 24 restaurants (some of them from very well-known Portuguese chefs), 8 bars, a dozen shops and a high-end music venue called Rive Rouge there is something for everyone. The other half of this landmark building is occupied by some of the city’s best known (and longest-running) market vendors of meat, fish, fruit and flowers.
Stop here for a bustling, cultured and exciting meal, snack or drink, day or night and sit in the communal seating areas, enjoy the sights, smells and sounds and, likely the best food-hall family meal you’ll ever have. Even if you ate here everyday of your stay – you would eat the very best that Lisbon cuisine has to offer. A must-visit.
> The Time Out Market Lisbon is open from 10am until midnight (and 2am Thursday – Saturday)
RIDE: Telecabine Lisbona Cable Car
Enjoy a family-friendly ride in the air with the Telecabine Lift cable car at the Parque des Nacoes or, Nations Park. Covering a total distance of 1.2km this ariel transportation is a short and fun tourist attraction that will delight children and adults alike. Each car can seat unto 8 passengers and you can take a one-way or return trip.
You can also start journeys from the Oceanarium and from the Old Vascso da Gama tower (Passeio das Tágides). During the ride you will enjoy a beautiful views towards the Tagus river and you a very nice view of the Vasco da Gama bridge – the longest bridge in Europe.
> Telecabine Lisbona Cable Car is open every day of the year from 10 – 7pm (times change in various seasons, check the website) and is priced 2€ (under 7’s go free)
EAT: Pastéis de Belém
You can’t go to Lisbon and not try a Pasteis de Nata – or a custard tart, to the rest of us. These deliciously soft, palm-sized sweet, custard tarts are a cult in Lisbon, as well as all over Portugal. And, the one place that you have to go to is Antiga Confeitaria de Belem or Pasteis de Belem, in Belem. Situated next to the 16th-century monastery Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, the blue and white-tiled temple will house one of the longest lines for just a glimpse of these sweet treats.
Head here early and grab a box at the takeaway counter or nab a seat in one of the five massive dining rooms. Be sure to visit to take a peek around and see the chefs at work – as these tarts hail from a 170-year-old secret recipe that is divulged to only three chefs at a time – as they bake upto 16,000 hand-made tarts a day. Whilst in Belem visit the Tower of Belém, built in 1515 as a fortress to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor, the Belem Tower was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery, and for the sailors it was the last sight of their homeland.
> Pasteis de Belem is on Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92 and open everyday.
** We also have it on good authority that the second best (some locals may even say ‘the best’ in Lisbon) Pasteis de Nata can also be found at Manteigaria. A factory come pastry shop, stop by morning noon and up to midnight for a sweet fix.
EXPERIENCE: Little Lisbon
One way to enrich your family trip to Lisbon and spend some time seeing this beautiful city from a child’s point of view is to book a family tour with Little Lisbon. Offering private walking tours for families with children aged 6-12 – you have your own personal, relaxed and friendly guide thats lead your day (or half day) of sightseeing taking in culture, history and educational activities all aimed at young explored and your children’s interests.
Each tour is tailored with fun and appealing activities & challenges like scavenger-hunts, games and play supported by child-friendly explanations and information to help you and your kids discover this exciting city all at their own pace.
> Little Lisbon offers private, tailored walking tours for families from £35
VISIT: Jardim Zoologico de Lisboa
Lisbon Zoo was founded in 1884 a product of the efforts of Dr. Van Der Laan, owner of the largest aviary in Portugal. In 1905 it was transferred to its present location in Sete Rios, Lisbon and is home to around 2000 animals from over 300 different species and is one of the city’s major family attractions. The zoo’s primary focus is the conservation of endangered animals, both within its own boundaries and in natural habitats around the world.
Set aside at least 3 hours to visit the zoo – or spend the whole day there. There is a a family restaurant, fast food stalls, baby facilities and amenities. If you leave the zoo a re-entry stamp is given and permitted for use on the same day. Wear comfortable shoes and take a pushchair for younger visitors.
> Jardim Zoologico de Lisboa is centrally located near Alfama and open every day of the year and admission starts at 14.50€ and children under 3 are free.
If you’re going to stop for ice cream then is has to be here. For over 60 years Santinis’ is considered “the best ice cream in the world” and without a doubt, the best known Portuguese gelataria. You will find the unmistakable red and white striped and decorated parlours dotted around the city and in nearby neighbouring towns. There is also a stall in the The Time Out Market.
> Santini has various locations and outlets thoughout the city
STAY: Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites
Tagged as “The World’s First City Center Elegant Family Hotel” its not a claim Martinhal Hotels use lightly. As we have come to expect from this Portuguese born travel brand they have uniquely found the perfect compromise between quality services, elegant rooms and comfort in the heart of Lisbon with the 5* Martinhal Chiado.
Only 25 minutes from the airport by taxi, Martinhal Chiado magnificent apartment-hotel complex lines one of the narrow streets of Chiado and is centrally located near shops, restaurants and transport options meaning families can make the most of their holidays within these cozy self-catering studios and apartments, with an on-site kids club (with evening babysittng services) and the casual M family restaurant. Read more about our stay at Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites here.
> Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites is on Rua das Flores 44 and costs from 175€ a night
- There’s no doubt Lisbon’s cobbled, narrow streets are beautiful but the whole city is built on steep hills and can be a nightmare for heavy buggies. If you’re travelling with a baby/toddler consider taking a baby carrier/sling to ease when sightseeing
- Wear flat shoes – trainers preferably. As we said the cobbled pavements are a challenge and are best navigated in some footwear with a bit of grip.
- Although the metro system is fantastic and easy to use its not as vast as the city, so travelling by bus, taxi or tram is to be expected. Babies don’t need a car seat when riding in a taxi in Lisbon – and a fairly inexpensive way to get about. The infamous 28 tram is a must but be aware of pick-pockets targeting tourists on this line especially.
- Buy a Viva Viagem Card. You can use this embedded chip card that you can use it on the Metro, Bus, Tram, Ferry & Train and they can be purchased from stations and many shops. Adults will need a card each and children under 4 can travel free with each paying adult.
- If you’re travelling alone with a baby or child to Lisbon read travel writer Helen Wrights’ How to take a solo mum trip to Lisbon here