Top Things to do in Lisbon, Portugal with Kids
It’s trendy, it’s affordable, it’s timeless…it’s Lisbon. This lively city is not on many people’s radar but has been on my travel wish list for a long time. We finished up our travels one year with a visit to this seaside Portuguese city and had some amazing experiences. Lisbon didn’t disappoint. It’s consistently ranked as one of the cheapest and most picturesque European capitals to visit. See our favorite attractions and activities in Lisbon, and find out why it should be on your travel wish list.
What to do in Lisbon, Portual with Your Family
Belem is Lisbon’s historic district and shouldn’t be missed. It’s three miles from the city center and located by the River Tagus. It’s home to popular attractions like San Jeronimos Monastery, the Belem Tower, Discoveries Monument and the 25th of April Bridge that looks a lot like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. We loved exploring the sights, and the towers are great for climbing and seeing panoramic views.
There are several museums here but my kids enjoyed the Coaches Museum displaying a lavish collection of royal coaches and carriages. Our favorite activity was doing a Hippo Sightseeing Tour on an amphibious vehicle that went on land and water. It was a great way to learn about Lisbon’s people, culture and history.
Explore Sao Jorge Castle
This fortress looms over Lisbon and contains the remnants of a former royal residence and a defense fort. Located at the top of the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, the panoramic views from up here were stunning. The remaining cannons were also quite popular. My kids’ favorite part was walking the extensive castle walls and exploring the towers. Some parts of the wall don’t have railings and the stairs are quite steep. I’m glad my kids are older, but we still gave them plenty of warnings to watch their steps. I would have been a nervous wreck here visiting with active toddlers.
The garden had several peacocks that were quite fun to watch. There was also an archaeological site with free-guided tours and a museum that housed artifacts excavated from this site.
Day trip to Sintra
While Lisbon has many things to offer, Sintra is a day trip every visitor needs to do. Sintra is magical and an easy 40-minute train ride away. We loved visiting the beautiful former royal residences and gardens. We recommend walking to Sintra Castle from the train station. Explore the charming old town area or have lunch there. Then, take Bus 434 to the Moorish Castle and the colorful Pena Palace. We absolutely loved touring Pena Palace, its elegant rooms and walking along the castle walls.
Discover Parque das Nações
Parque das Nações (Park of Nations) and its modern architecture is a sharp contrast to Lisbon’s charming historic districts. The urban waterfront district was redeveloped for the World Fair held here in 1998. We arrived via the stunning Oriente Station across the street from the Vasco da Gama Shopping Center, which my teenager didn’t want to leave.
Families flock to the Oceanário de Lisboa or Oceanarium which is considered Portugal’s most popular cultural attraction. The Oceanarium provided many fun, interactive, and educational activities among four marine habitats with over 8,000 animals and plants. There are also water gardens, a marina and viewing tower. Families can ride on the cable car that’s parallel to the river. Kids will particularly enjoy the toy train that goes through the main attractions.
Learn at Museums
Museums are usually a part of our itineraries. Lisbon has a variety of museums that include art and archaeology to unique ones like Belem’s Coaches Museum and Maritime Museum.
Tiles, or azulejos, are an important part of Portugal’s architectural design. Patterned tiles were everywhere and used to decorate sidewalks, walls, buildings, fountains, churches and railway stations. They ranged from simple to elaborate and colorful scenes.
So, it’s no surprise that Lisbon has a Tile Museum. We actually loved all the tile art here and the interesting exhibits showing the production and history of tiles through centuries. The museum had an incredible chapel with opulent tile designs. Who knew tiles could be so fascinating?
Sampling local food is always a favorite experience. Lisbon offered plenty of culinary delights. Its location meant plenty of fresh fish and seafood. Portugal’s staple cuisine is bacalhau or salt cod dish. It’s prepared several hundred different ways. Casa Portugesa on Rua Augusta (one of the main shopping streets) always had a line for their specialty of pastel de bacalhau or codfish cake with classic serra da estrela cheese. The kids enjoyed watching the workers make them. We ate here a few times.
Portugal is also known for their sardines which my husband has declared the best he’s tasted. The canned sardines were great souvenirs and came in colorful wrappers. If you’re not a seafood lover, they also had Bitoque which was a thin steak topped with fried egg and delicious sauce.
There was no shortage of pastry shops selling delicious bread and pastries. We loved eating pasteis de nata or pasteis de belem (egg tarts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon). Like the Spaniards, the Lisboners followed a six-meal per day schedule with coffee and pastries in between meals.
Don’t miss the Mercado da Ribeira food hall near the Cais do Sodré train station. We would have eaten here everyday if it was closer to where we stayed. It is a foodie’s hangout and a place even picky eaters will love. There were over 30 vendors selling Portuguese and international cuisine featuring some of Lisbon’s finest eateries. It had plenty of community seating to talk to the locals.
Lisbon was built on hills and some areas are quite steep especially for tired little feet. Luckily, Lisbon has three funiculars (Lavra, Bica, Gloria) and the Elevador de Santa Justa (Santa Justa Lift) that help visitors bypass climbing some hills.
The Neo-Gothic elevator/lift is a popular tourist attraction. The wood-paneled carriages easily take up to 25 visitors each to the Carmo Church ruins or the Baixa District for its shops. The top has a viewing platform with marvelous panoramic views of Lisbon. It was a quick stop but worth it.
Sightsee through the trams
One of the best ways to see Lisbon and go through its narrow streets is by riding the historic and old-fashion trams. These Remodelado trams have five various routes around the city. The E15 and the E28 are the most popular ones that take visitors to Belem and the Alfama Districts. They do get very crowded, but taking a tram is a wonderful experience.
Tips for Visiting Lisbon
Look into the Lisboa Card which gives free or discounted admission to over 80 major museums and attractions. It also includes free transportation on the metro, public buses, trams and elevadores. There are 24, 48 and 72-hour options. For a convenient and delightful hotel in Lisbon, check out Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Lisbon – Fontana Park.
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