Lisbon with Kids
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
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I left my heart in San Fransisco, and found it again in Lisbon. My family of six and I emerged from the underground subway stop at Rossio Station, at the heart of Lisbon. We were immediately greeted by a sea of tuktuks parked olong the square. This hilly city could not be more charming, with its mix of late Gothic and Neoclassicism architecture. There is no question as to why this adorable city is called a "mini San Francisco".
As you walk up and down the little streets ( I did mention the hills, right?), you will be greeted by the sweet clang of trolley cars . Lisbon even built an identical bridge after San Fransisco, called the "25 de Abril Bridge". Truth be told, even as I'm writing this blog post, I'm having a hard time writing Lisbon instead of San Francisco... mom brain.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe, dating back to c.600-800 BC. During the 15th-16th century, Lisbon became a wealthy trade destination during the Portuguese discoveries. In 1755 there was a giant earthquake, followed by fires and a tsunami that destroyed most of the city. The Alfama district, at the time where the "sinners' and poor lived, was the only part of the city that survived the disaster. In 1986, when Portugal became part of the EU, there was a massive restoration of Lisbon. Most of the buildings are built in replica of the 15-16th century.
At every turn, you will feel like you are walking through history . Your whole family will be fascinated by the long history that is embedded in this city.
Preparing the Kids
We have 4 kids (11,9,5, and 3) so we have to prepare for adventure.
Two weeks before the trip I checked out a book at the library and read it to the kids We looked at images of the city on Pinterest. Each day we tried to fit a little Lisbon talk into our day.
We researched how to say "thank you" in Portuguese (obrigado). This is a fun way for kids to get connected to a new place. It will earn them some smiles, and sometimes an extra treat from the locals. Kids are much cuter to locals than grownups. Kids look adorable when learning a new language and putting effort in to embrace a new culture.
Three days before the trip, we talked about the temperature and what types of activities we would be doing, This helps the kids visualize the trip and makes packing easier.
Since we went in October, the high temperatures averaged around 72 degrees. Trust me, when you are walking up and down hills all day on cobblestone, it will feel much hotter. If you go in the summer, expect the heat to be intense. We went for five days, so I had the kids pack six outfits. We always try to pack light and bring a carry-on. All that adorable cobblestone and 15th century architecture can be pretty dirty when kids are exploring, so one extra outfit is helpful. I already keep a change of extra clothes for the little kids in my back pack. I keep them with me throughout the trip. I pack kids clothes by outfits, so I can toss them an entire outfit and not have to search through packing cubes looking for a specific top and bottom. These are the ones I bought in different colors for the kids.
Organizing Clothes: I pack all outfits together in larger packing cubes. I don't like to split them up based on tops. This saves me from searching through different cubes. I can grab one outift at a time. It makes it easier for the kids to dress thmselves . Since this was a shorter trip, everyone did not have their own carry-on. I could throw each child's packing cube in shared suitcases.
I put jammies in a separate larger cube. This was a shorter trip, so I packed my younger kids jammies together. In this same packing cube, I put anything they need fo bed :pull-ups, comfort item (we have 4 ...yay so fun to keep track of), and bedtime story. It is no fun searching through different cubes at bedtime for everything. I get my two youngest ready for bed at the same time, so I don't like to have things separate.
I pair undies and socks together in a tiny zippered packing bag. Shoes are put in a pastic bag and then placed in the mesh compartment under the lid of the suitcase.
Boys brought shorts and shirts. The girls had a mix of shorts, shirts, and sundresses. All outfits are put together in larger packing cubes. I do not separate them by bottoms and tops. We only packed one sweater/sweatshirt each for early morning chills and the airplane ride.
It is very important to bring good walking shoes while navigating the hills, pebbles and cobblestone. Cobblestone is also extremely slippery when wet, so you want to make sure you are prepared for adventure.
If you have a toddler or baby, DO NOT BRING A STROLLER. It is pretty much impossible to push any kind of stroller in most of the streets in Lisbon. Some streets don't even have a sidewalk that would fit a stroller. Bring a baby carrier or backpack. My 3 year old navigated the hills pretty well, but he still had a hard time keeping up. There were times I had to carry him in our Ergo and REALLY earn my sangria calories.
Packing for yourself. I wouldn't be me, if I didn't include what I packed for myself. One of my favorite parts of trips is what I am going to wear. Moms are allowed to like fashion too.
Attempting to look very European, I like to pack light. My general advice for packing is, "you want to have more underwear packed than outfits." How many times have you packed something and not actually worn it? As a mom, how many chances do you really get to change your outfit throughout the course of a day? I like outfits that can go from day to night, with only a change of shoes and jewelry. Plan your outfits in advance before you pack. This helps you pack light and simplifies your mornings.
As a mom, I'm constantly picking up a child (usually my own) with dusty shoes. Their little shoes sit right along your mid section. It's easier to brush some kid dirt off of dark clothing. I like to pack dark colored bottoms that can be mixed and matched throughout the trip. Patterns work well too. I packed one pair of stretch jeans for my flight to and from Lisbon, a pair of high waisted black jean shorts, and a mid length skirt. I packed four tops and one light-weight sweater.
You won't see many people in Europe wearing workout clothes, athletic shoes, or leggings. Women are usually in dresses, skirts, and flowy pants. You do want to be comfortable for walking around all day, so pack clothes that flow. You want to be able to go from day to night easily. It is warm in Lisbon, so flat, comfortable sandles are all you need.
I brought one pair of leather sandals and TEVAS. I only brought my TEVA sandals because I knew one full day of our trip would probably be spent hiking . Flowy dresses and skirts are perfect here. You can move around in them and stay cool (pun intended). Wear them with comfortable sandals or casual tennis shoes. I also brought my favorite mini nylon backpack that can be dusted off easily.
Our Favorite Activities
Free Walking Tour with "Get Your Guide" :
We do a walking tour at the start of most trips. We like to learn the history and note places we want to explore, in depth, at a later time.
Our guide was David He couldn't have been nicer to our large family. My 5 year old immediately felt comfortable with him and asked if she could hold his hand. He continued to hold her hand for the entire length of the 3 hour tour (YES, I was shocked my kids kept their best manners this long).
Lisbon's history is so interesting, the kids soaked it up. He walked us up to Castle de' Sao Jorge, through the aflama area, barrio alto area, and to several gorgeous "Miradouros" (viewpoints) within the city. He made sure to stop along the way for some gelato at his favorite spot. Later, he took us to a cafe selling the famous lisbon, Pasteis De Nata (more on this later). There are a lot of free walking tours in Lisbon and I'm sure most of them are great. Pick the one that best fits in your family's schedule.
Go for it. The guides are paid in tips. Be generous if you enjoy your tour and your guide is kind to your children.
Castle de Sao' Jorge :
or St. George castle. We walked up the many stairs and winding streets of Lisbon to get to the castle. The walks in these little streets are so interesting that it's part of the fun. The castle is less intact and more like castle ruins.
My kids loved walking along the old walls and playing in the surrounding gardens and courtyards. This is one of the highest points in Lisbon so the view is spectacular. In the castel garden, they have wine tuk tuks and a couple fruit stands selling giant fruit cups for 2 euros. The fruit was perfect after our walk up to the castle. Throughout the gardens, peacocks and cats roam free. They don't appear to be afraid of tiny humans. I think my kids made me look at 20 cats. Admission is free for kids and 8.50 euros for adults. Plan at least an hour and half here to properly enjoy the view and let your kids explore.
Elevator de Santa Justa:
Located in the Barrio Alto area of Lisbon. This elevator allows you to go up and down some of the major hills without walking. Kids love this. There are a couple within the city. Some are free. The Elevator da Gloria goes up to the Barrio Alto, but is really a vernacular. My kids spotted this awesome "ride" and begged us the entire trip to go on it. Our first opportunity to go, the driver of the Elevator da Gloria let my littles help him drive it down the hill. Come on Lisbon! Like I didn't love you already. Being kind to kids goes a long way to this mama bear.
Age of Discoveries:
We took a street car over to Belem to visit some famous sites. The Age of Discoveries is a monument dedicated to the 33 famous figures of Portugal's Age of Discoveries. You can also go inside and see how they sculpted the figures. My kids found this the most interesting . Because i'm always trying to get my kids energy out, we took the stairs to the top of the tower to look out over the Tagus River. The monument was not crowded. We spent 30 minutes here.
After exiting the Age of Discoveries, we walked ten minutes along the river to the famous Belem Tower. The Belem Tower was built in the 16th century, as a shelter to protect against foreign attacks. It's gorgeous. It sits out a little past the shore with a bridge connected ,so visitors can go inside. This UNESCO World Heritage site had a huge line that wasn't moving. It's very small so it doesn't fit a lot of people at one time. We decided to play along the shores in front of it, admiring the beauty from the outside. A violinist stood in front of the tower playing beautiful music, while my kids searched for sea shells. I looked at the beautiful surroundings while my kids played. Everyone was happy. I could have stayed there all day.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site in Belem. After eating lunch, we approached the line in front of the monastery. The beautiful Santa Maria de Belem Church is right next to the Jeronimos Monastery. Prior to the trip, I had read somewhere that you can literally just walk into this gorgeous church. I noticed no line right next to the church, but still I thought "surely I can't just walk right up and go in". I was wrong. While the hubs and kids waited in line, I walked the 20 feet to the church doors and walked right in. I went back and made the announcement to the hubs and the other 10 people in line behind us, who all decided to ditch the monastery line and opt for the church instead. The Santa Mario de Belem Church is probably one of the most beautiful churches I have ever stepped into. It holds the crypt of King Manual I and his family (of course my dark children loved that). We had the whole place to ourselves, which is crazy considering the large amount of people outside.
A former Catholic convent that was destroyed during the 1755 lisbon earthquake. It is located in the heart of Lisbon. From every viewpoint this convent will strike out at you. In my opinion, it's not ruined because it is awe inspiring to behold. It looks exactly like an old church, with no roof. Every other srtucture is in it's place. The kids and you will be fascinated by the architecture and the history behind it. We also had a discussion on the strength of an arch in architecture.
Tuktuks are everywhere in Lisbon. All offering tours and rides. My family and I were beyond excited to zip through the small streets of Lisbon on one of these "giant golf carts". At Rossio station, there are a variety of tuktuks and drivers to choose. With our big group, we needed the limousine of tuktuks. You must bargain with the tuktuk drivers. They are always willing to go down in price, because they know you have so many options to choose. Our driver was a gem and drove us to the highest point in Lisbon, Mirardouro da Graca. He pointed out some less common buildings that we didn't know about, and offered to take as many pics as we wanted. All and all ...super fun. If you have kids with tired legs, this is the perfect thing to do. I don't think there are any kids (again, I use this term loosely) who will not be excited to ride in a tuktuk. My 3 year old was a bit tuktuk obsessed after this trip. Playmobil and Lego really need to come out with a tuktuk for the holiday season...oiy. Surely, my 3 year old can't be the only one who requested a lego tuktuk for Christmas.
Oceanario de Lisboa
If you need a reprieve for the heat or have extra time, check out the Oceanario de Lisboa. This is the largest indoor Aquarium in Europe. We took a subway to this modern part of Lisbon. My kids enjoyed the aquarium, as all kids do. The aquarium is located along the Tagus River. Outside of the aquarium they have gondola lifts that go over the national parks and tagus river. The ride lasts 8-12 minutes. My kids were heartbroken because we ran out of time to ride in the gondola cars. Just another reason to go back.
Walk around the oldest part of Lisbon, the Alfama. This is the only area not destroyed in the earthquakes and fires of 1755. The streets are narrow and full of history and charm...
This expression means to walk around leisurely with kids. I'm petty sure my dad invented this term and mastered this skill.
I usually reserve these days for after we've been to major attractions, so no one (cough...my task master hubs) is stressed about not getting everything in. Someone has to keep us on task.
So on these days, I let my kids and myself, wander. I save the best for last. This is my favorite way to take in the feel of a new city.
Here's how to "knocked around" Lisbon:
Go to Run das Portas de Santos Antao and let your kids watch street performers. I give my kids some coins and let them enjoy the show. I'm pretty sure Hyde and Hart will one day, single-handedly, fund an organization for street performers. One of the bands even included my two youngest in their show. Agian Lisbon, showing my cubs some love.
We walked down pink street, which is literally just a street that is pink. If you have kids in your family ranging in age from 1-35 years, they will sure to love it.
We visited Bertrand, the oldest book store in the world. THE WORLD! We may have been the only book lovers in Lisbon that day, because it was empty and we had the whole place to ourselves.
Pop into the H&M near Rossio Station and check out the glass floor . You can see the old ruins of the building before , that once stood before the great earthquake. My kids laid on the floor to take a better look...much to the chagrin of the customers trying to pick out the perfect maxi dress to go with their new espadrilles. Me," who's kids are these? Who let's their kids lay on the floor? While I wait for their mother to return, can a sales associate show me a selection of your elastic waisted pants. I've eaten way too many pasties de belem on this trip, and I don't think the outfit I brought for going home is going to fit."
We wandered into every old church and lit a prayer candle. This is another favorite activity on trips for my kids. I like to believe its because they have a sweet intention they want to put out into the universe, not that they love an excuse to play with matches and fire.
Knocking around has evolved with each child as they've grown. Allow yourself to knock around in this beautiful city, where graffiti is treated as an art form and gelato comes in the form of roses
Take a day trip to Sintra:
This city is a 40 minute train ride from Lisbon. It is home of some of the most amazing palaces you will ever see: Quinta da Regaleira, Pena National Palace, Moorish Castle, Monserrate Park and Palace....There is so much to this portuguese city, I had to make a separate blog post. To read more about this awesome experience, read my Sintra blog.
What We Ate
Lisbon has so much incredible food...bring on the sangria and tapas. Below I've listed he places worth checking out.
Leve Leve is an amazing tapas bar. We actually ate there 2 nights in a row. The food is delicious and the staff is kind. My kids favorite: chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce. Try the white sangria. I may fly back to Lisbon just to have this sangria. Book a reservation through trip advisor. It is such a small place, we saw many people turned away. It is down a tiny alley in the Barrio Alto area. My son turned 12 in Lisbon, so our good looking waiter (I'm just trying to set the scene for you) brought him a special dessert and sang him happy birthday.
O Velho Eurico is a traditional Portuguese restaurant. Everything that they serve at this restaurant looks delicious... I was that creepy gal staring at everyone's food and asking, "what is that?" It's a traditional restaurant, so its customary to order their lunch special. We also ordered off the menu for the kids. My Luca and I shared some delicious cod. The lunch special is so big, my hubs was able to share his meal with the 3 youngest. The kids also ordered fruit bowls. They served wine out of charming ceramic pitchers. If there's one thing I love more than drinking wine out of pretty much ANY container, it's drinking it out of a ceramic pitcher. Get here early. Again, a small place down a little alley. Shortly after we sat down, there was a line out the door. We seemed to be the only non-Portuguese people here. Come early....always. Our kids get up so early, its easy for us to get lunch early. We've never had a problem getting a table in Europe because we go early. With a large family, we have to be strategic.
*don't be deterred by the neon sign advertising peep shows across the street. My kids wondered why they had a show about "baby chicks".
Pasteis de Belem or Pasteis de Nato are famous pastries throughout lisbon. They taste like a cooked creme brûlée's pastry. Like everything in life, they are delicious with a cappuccino. You will find them in every bakery/cafe. Try one and add a little food culture to your trip. My kids ate them because there is some form of sugar involved in making them, but it wasn't their favorite treat.
Ginjinha is a cherry liquor that Lisbon is famous for. You will find this everywhere. They make cocktails and sangria out of it. It tasted a little like cough syrup to me. Definitely fun to try, seeing as it is everywhere in Lisbon. You might like it.
Amorino Baixa home of the famous gelato rose. Kids can pick a flavor for each pedal. How fun is that? They even have gelato macaroons here. The picture alone, is worth stopping for this pretty treat. The fruit flavors definitely make the prettiest roses. Two of my ankle biters chose chocolate varieties so they called their gelatos, "dead roses" (charming).
Pop Cereal Cafe is a cafe offering every sugary cereal you could imagine. They are shipped from the U.S. ,where food dyes and preservatives are a food group, not a health risk. If your kids don't typically get sugary cereal, then this will be exciting for them. You get to pick out three cereals and they pair it with ice cream. My son opted for milk, so to make it extra fun, they gave him an adorable craft of blue milk. Again, this cafe does not share the rest of Europes' concern for processed food. The cafe is full of pop art and fun seats to sit on. There is even a bunk bed in the middle of the cafe, where kids (I use this term lightly) can sit and eat their cereal. This gave me a little anxiety bc I am constantly afraid my kids will get lice....aah the joys of school age kids. I spent the better part of 15 minutes telling my kids not to lay their heads on any pillows. I ordered a cappuccino and took a couple of bites from my annoyed kids , who wish for once I'd order my own dessert instead of taking bites of theirs. You will definitely earn yourself some cool mom points taking your kids here. ..and I can use all the points I can get.
Plan on coming in the fall when prices are much lower for airfare and accommodations.
Stay at an apartment, rather then a hotel. You can book an apartment on any hotel website, not just airbnb. Hotels are often pricier, especially for a large family. It often gives you more space to spread out with the kids and prepare healthy meals in your room...which will help you save money.
Visit the local grocery stores and buy fresh convenience foods to heat up back in your rental. The portuguese markets have quality foods for cheap. Pingo Doce was my favorite grocery store near Rossio station. My kids loved the fresh orange juice machine. Once we check into our apartment , I settle the littles with some journaling or quiet play and take a big kid out to a local market. It gives us some quality time to breathe in the city. I get to hear what they have to say without managing littles. My oldest loves this travel tradition.
To get around the city, the easiest and cheaper option is taking trains, subways, streetcars. There are ubers in Lisbon that are quite easy to use. With such a large family, we take public transportation to save money. It also gives you a better feel of the city.
What I would Have Done Differently
Timeout Market is a gourmet food court with tables centered around the middle. Every travel blog you read will list this as a "must" when visiting Lisbon. This place was a nightmare to me. I popped in with my 3 youngest to check it out and grab a snack. It was beyond crowded with nowhere to sit. It was hard to even see what different stands had to offer because there were so many people in line. The prices were more expensive than most of the restaurants we visited in Lisbon. We waited 30 minutes for our snack. While we were there, my daughter had to go potty. Only problem: there was a 20 person line out the door of their small bathroom. October is not even a busy time in Lisbon. I can't even imagine the crowds during high tourist season. I knew we wouldn't find a table so I got our food to go. I knew there was a playground right outside. The playground was super dirty, hot, and we ate on the ground. I love GOOD food and will go out of my way to find it, but Timeout Market was by far my least favorite thing about Lisbon. It seems to run on the young 20 year olds who think its a hip spot to grab some gourmet food. Not buying it folks. I see you crammed into those tiny wood picnic tables, with no elbow space. You can't even grab another beer because it will take you 50 minutes to get one... TOO MUCH? Sorry. Not sorry.
Get to Belem early in the morning so you can actually go inside some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites. This wasn't on our "must see" list so we got to Belem later in the morning.
Street cars are way more charming to watch from the outside. You will read lots of blogs talking about riding the famous tramway 28. It rides through the streets of Alfama and takes you to the highest point in lisbon. There are mixed reviews on this topic. We took a street car to Belem and it was so crowded, we didn't have anywhere to sit. We were stuffed in like sardines (another thing Lisbon is famous for). My kids were like rag dolls, constantly ramming into other passengers every time the tram jerked. The trams are also rampant with pickpockets. Local police stand at the stops and will remind tourists to please guard their valuables. If you do opt to ride the famous Tram 28, go early in the morning so you can actually get a seat. Guard your packs and opt to walk down the hills, after you get to the last stop on the line.
The last thing thing I would have done differently, is leaving. I would have stayed in Lisbon. Met a street performer who let me join his drumming band and lived off my riches. Alas, I have some pretty cute minis to care for and we still have a lot of the world to see. I had to move on, but I shall return.
Are you going to Lisbon? Have you already been? What was your experience like? What are you kid tips for trips? Travelers have to help one another, so share you comments. If you know anyone going to Portugal or traveling through Europe, please share.