Thursday, January 30, 2014

Three Days in Lisbon with Kids

As I sat down to write about our time in Lisbon, I was trying to put into words why I enjoyed the city so much, what made our time there special and different from other cities we have visited. And upon reflection, one observation stood out to me.

We didn't go to a single park or playground. Not one.

I'm not really bragging about this... we love parks, especially ones in big cities. I'm a huge believer in the importance of some playground time when traveling with kids. It wasn't because we had lousy weather. It was quite beautiful for most of our stay, aside from the stray rain shower. And it certainly wasn't because Lisbon didn't have any parks to offer us. I had researched several in advance of our trip and I'm bummed we never made it to any of them.

So how did we fill our time? I'm outlining our itinerary below, and providing some tips and tricks to help you if you're planning your own trip to Lisbon with kids. (You can also see our week-long Portugal itinerary here.)

Day 1: Our arrival day. After a 4 a.m. wakeup time for our flight out of London's Luton airport, we got settled into our Altis Prime apartment (a full review at Ciao Bambino to come!) and let Little Arrow take a well-earned nap. Once he woke up, we took the tram to the Belem parish, an area of the city that celebrates the Age of Discovery in a big, beautiful way. We spent the bulk of our time there letting the boys run around while we admired the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, a monastery built by Henry the Navigator, and the Monument to the Discoveries which is directly across the street. Then we grabbed a tram back, had a late dinner, and collapsed into bed.

Day 2: After breakfast, we took the metro to Parque das Nacoes. I know I said we didn't go to a park, but the name is a bit misleading. This part of the city was developed when Lisbon hosted the 1998 World Expo (the name translates to Park of Nations). It's full of shops, restaurants, stadiums, and several big tourist attractions. We went to the Oceanario de Lisboa, the world's second largest aquarium. It was really impressive.

After the Oceanario, we were drawn to the Telecabine dangling above our heads and hopped aboard. We opted to take it one-way, and then walked back to the metro/train station (Estacao do Oriente) from the other side. We had a quick lunch there before heading back to our apartment.

After the boys napped, we strolled around some of the historic streets and squares of Lisbon's city centre. (Essentially, our route was the Avenida da Liberdade south toward Rossio, and then the pedestrian-only Rua Augusta further south to Praca do Comercio, with a few detours along the way.)

Day 3: This was our big day trip to Sintra. It's about a 45 minute train ride out of Lisbon. Once in Sintra, we stopped for coffee and pastries while we waited for everything to open for the day. We then caught the bus for Palacio da Pena. We explored the palace for a couple of hours, and then headed back into Sintra's center for lunch. After lunch, we shopped for souvenirs while we waited for our train back to Lisbon.

Later that afternoon, we took the boys swimming at the hotel pool next door to our apartment, which was a really nice break for them (and us) after a big day of sightseeing. We also watched the sunset from our apartment building's rooftop deck, cocktails in hand. A fitting ending to a perfect Lisbon getaway.

I'll be writing a post about each of our days in Lisbon in more detail in the weeks to come.


  • Lisbon is extremely hilly. Some of the roads and sidewalks are so steep they leave you breathless after just a couple of blocks (and especially when pushing a double stroller). Ask around to determine what metro stops or tram lines are best to use based on your accommodation location and sightseeing destination. A slightly indirect route might allow you to avoid some of the more difficult climbs. (For example, we took the Metro one stop past our apartment because it was a downhill walk from that station.)
  • Trams are a great way to get around and fun for kids (especially the historic ones). You can buy tickets from the driver once on board (or the modern ones have ticket vending machines). Try to know your route in advance, as the driver won't typically announce each stop. If you can, sit or stand by the window so you can see the stop names as you approach. And plan to fold up your stroller, the trams get very crowded.
  • Most people working in the hospitality industry will speak basic English. We had no trouble communicating with anyone during our trip. That being said, it's always nice to learn a few of the basics when traveling, like hello and thank you.
  • Four days would have been ideal. There were several other big attractions I wanted to see but there just wasn't enough time without pushing the boys too hard.
Upon deeper reflection, I think we never made it to a park or playground for one simple reason: we didn't really need to. 

The boys played tag around various historic squares and spaces, climbed up turrets at Pena Palace, and got so much fresh air just walking around the city. There are portions of Lisbon that are tight and cramped (and charming!), like any European city, but for the most part, I never got that desperate need for space for the kids to run around that I sometimes get in urban areas. Plus, the Portuguese culture is so family centered and accommodating to young children that I also never felt unwelcome in the busier parts of the city.

If you have dreams of visiting Europe with young children, Lisbon would make a terrific starting point (and Portugal in general). It has so much history and character, all the amenities you could hope for, and a culture that adores children. Aside from the expensive flight across the Atlantic to get there, it's a relatively affordable destination once you arrive. 

Plus, it even has a few parks and playgrounds, or so I'm told.

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