We recently explored Lisbon when we stayed with luxury family travel hotel Martinhal in the Chiado area of the city. We loved it, just me and Mr Tot doing our thang, and I think it's a really great city to explore with kids. Lots of open spaces, varied modes of transport, great food - it's got it all going on.
Lisbon with Kids – So much of what we did tied together so beautifully, so I’m simply writing this article chronologically to highlight what worked.
By the time we’d transferred to our hotel it was lunchtime. A hungry time to start exploring.
Eat at Timeout – Lisbon with Kids
A two minute downhill walk, towards Cais do Sodre train station, took us to the Timeout Lisbon Food Market. A vast indoor dining hall, featuring about twenty stalls each selling their own produce. Handy for families as you don’t have to eat the same type of food. Also due to the dominance of tapas, many dishes come in small sizes, ideal for wee ones. There’s a buzz about the place, so children’s voices mix into the hubbub. Mr Tot and I love prawns so we opted for dishes from Monte Mar, but we could have selected paella, steaks, Italian, sangria, a range of seafood, and lots of Portuguese specialities.
[When you’re near the train station be sure to pick up day passes for public transport. It’s about half the price of paying onboard. We couldn’t do this as when we arrived at the station the queues were literally snaking around the building, so rather than pay €1.50, I paid €3.00 per ride, but it hardly broke the bank for the 2 trips we undertook.]
Catch the Number 28 Tram – Lisbon with Kids
Lisbon is known for its trams, and whilst the modern ones get you from A to B, the old school trams, such as the famous Number 28, are the ones tourists wish to experience. We genuinely needed to catch this tram to visit the Estrela Gardens that had caught my eye. A two minute walk uphill from the Martinhal hotel we hopped aboard the No.28. My guidebook had said it would be packed (and to be aware of pickpockets) and it was mobbed. Mr Tot clung to my leg, there was no chance of a seat, and a smart, helpful Portuguese man told me when to disembark to visit the Gardens, as I couldn’t really see anything and I didn’t know where I was going. It sounds hell but we really enjoyed it, especially as the route was entirely uphill all the way and I wouldn’t want to walk it.
Wander through Estrela Gardens and Hit the Playpark
The Estrela Gardens are a small oasis of calm in the city. On the Sunday afternoon there was a market, with various stalls selling crafts and clothes. The merchandise was really stylish, tasteful, imaginative and cool (no tat). We grabbed an ice-cream at the outdoor cafe, then I let Mr Tot loose in the playground. (He had caught a 6am flight that morning so I wanted him to get some child time!). The park is pretty cool, with a exotic animal theme of lions and giraffes. One unusual tip, don’t put your kid in crocs as the playground is padded with tiny pebbles. I have never removed so many pebbles from little shoes in all my days.
Walk Back, Following the Tram Route
By walking back you can see the Palacio da Assembleia (Portugal’s Parliament), the cityscape, beautiful tiled houses and tiled street signs which you simply wouldn’t spot on a crowded tram. It’s all downhill so pretty easy going. I was also dragged into the Lisbon Duck Store, for anyone interested in browsing a million rubber ducks, and talked into purchasing a souvenir for Mr Tot to take home to Junior. Suddenly I was carrying Batman and Spiderman ducks in my bag. By walking home we also hit an Elevator Stop, which wasn’t in my plans by Mr Tot was keen to try them out.
Catch an Elevator – Lisbon with Kids
As well as trams, Lisbon is known for its elevators – essentially lifts that allows Lisbonites to ascend and descend the city’s steep hills with ease. We jumped aboard Elevador da Bica. For a few euros we were transported back down hill, alighting pretty much where we started, next to Time Out Lisbon. A small step for most tourists, a giant leap for Mr Tot who absolutely loved the ride.
Main Square – Praca do Comercio
If you have the energy to walk to the Main Square, the main gathering point for Lisbon events, then do try to fit this in.
Dining Out – By the Wine
Across the road from our hotel was the tempting wine bar By the Wine. As Mr Tot was resolutely refusing to go to kids club I checked if he could accompany me. By the Wine is a smart wine bar serving tapas and vino, not a mobbed boozer, so it felt no different to dining in a restaurant. Portugal is noticeably child friendly, and we were eating early, around 7.00pm, so we had an evening of tapas, and nibbles of ham, cheese, olives and bread. And I got to sample some Portuguese wine too. Result.
Scope Out Belem
Our hotel was in such a fab location. On Day 2 we walked two minutes downhill to Cais do Sodre train station, and picked up super cheap return train tickets to the Belem area of the city. The trains run so frequently, every 15 minutes or so, and the journey took about 15 minutes (3 stops) and we were there in no time. It was such an easy trip.
Riverside Walk and the Discoveries Monument
From the train station turn left and the river is in front of you. Walking by the water in the sun was really chilled. A pedestrian walkway allowed Mr Tot to run ahead without any worries.
Deep down we were on the hunt for explorers. Suddenly the iconic Discoveries statue loomed in the distance, and it’s so much more beautiful than a photograph expresses. The Discoveries Monument (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) commemorates Portugal’s explorers who set sail and discovered so much of the world. My son was transfixed by this creation so we spent about forty minutes there. Strangely he showed no interest in Belem Tower, just a few minutes further walk downriver, but I think most kids would dig this defensive riverside fort.
Monastery Jeronimos, Jardim Vasco da Gama, and the Museum Quarter
There’s a plethora of museums, galleries, a monastery and an observatory literally across the road from the Padrão dos Descobrimentos statue. Lots on offer if you have a particular interest but, admittedly, we just enjoyed the sun, wandered around the formal Vasco da Gama gardens (Mr Tot liked the water fountain) and I admired the architecture of the Jeronimos Monastery.
Eat Pastries At Pasteis De Belem
This is a key experience in Lisbon, just a few metres away from Monastery Jeronimos. Everything is so compact for tourists in this area, which really helps when travelling with wee ones, doing their best to walk on wee legs, or if you’re pushing a buggy.
The city’s custard tarts are famous, and this is probably the most famous baker in town. There are often big queues for the takeaway counter at Pasteis de Belem, but there’s vast seating indoors (it’s a labyrinth) with swift service, so we had a break, had some tarts, had a drink. Delicious.
This was my favourite part of the day. Located a few minutes walk behind Pasteis de Belem, these botanic gardens cost a few euros, and they’re a vast haven of tranquillity. Beautiful gardens to explore, a lot of birdlife to entertain children including numerous peacocks sauntering around, lots of different zones to discover, a wee cafe for a drink in the heat, a wonderful space to chill out. We spent over two hours here, in many ways doing very little.
Dining in Belem
Right next to Jardim Vasco da Gama, on Travessa da Praça, is a row of restaurants, all overlooking the park. Unexpectedly one of these picturesque venues is a Macdonalds (the nicest location for a fast food chain I’ve seen in a long while) so there several dining choices to suit a mix of tastes and budgets. After eating there’s a playground a few feet away for kids to let off steam, before retracing your steps to the Belem station, and heading back to the city centre.
Suddenly our time in the capital was up. We couldn’t do everything. If I return I’d prioritise the castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge), Parque Eduardo VII and the modern Park of Nations (home to the aquarium and cable car).
The next stop for us was Cascais and the Portuguese riviera – a region of glamour, casinos, James Bond, fairytale castles and WW2 espionage. More to come on that soon.
OUR STORY – We flew from Edinburgh to Lisbon with Easyjet. We spent 2 nights in Lisbon, 2 nights in Cascais, before our return.
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