9 reasons Lisbon is a great city for families

Kerry Walker

Kerry Walker

As a parent, you might think that a city break with kids has got disaster written all over it, but the good news is that Lisbon* is very doable with little ones in tow.

Why Lisbon is a great city for families
Why Lisbon is a great city for families © Moofushi - Adobe Stock Image

More a cluster of villages than a buzzing metropolis, the riverside Portuguese capital is an easy sell for families: relaxed, beautiful, inexpensive and just a quick day trip away from beaches, castles and fantasy palaces.

Yes, kids might grumble about stomping up the city's hills, but they'll love whizzing about by tram, funicular or street lift. From dolphin watching to tuk-tuk rides, custard tarts to water parks, here are our favourite nine ways to see Lisbon as a family.

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Rumble through the streets in a tuk-tuk

With vintage lifts and tinkling trams clattering up the hills, Lisbon's public transport is like a funfair. But one of the most fun - and eco-friendly - ways to bump around the city's steep streets with kids is by electric tuk-tuk, which takes the sweat (and tantrums) out of the climbs.

Kids will love riding on the tuk tuks
Kids will love riding on the tuk tuks © Yasingport - Dreamstime.com

Tuk Tuk Tejo run brilliantly insightful guided tours, which dive deep into the historic centre, up to sky-high miradouros (viewpoints) and along the riverfront to maritime Belém.

Play in castles & palaces

Plonked atop a hill and looking as if it has been plucked straight from a bedtime story, Castelo de São Jorge is Lisbon's high and mighty Moorish fortress.

It's a beauty by day, but even lovelier when its bastions glow gold after dark and bats glide above its crenellated towers. Go for a medieval romp around the castle or check out the special workshops for kids (see the website for details).

It's free to visit the pine-shaded terraces that have dress-circle views of Lisbon and strutting peacocks to admire. Arrive when it opens at 9.00 am to dodge the biggest crowds as it's swamped by midday.

Disney-esque Pena Palace, Sintra
Disney-esque Pena Palace, Sintra © Boris Stroujko - Adobe Stock Image

A day trip, you say? An easy 40-minute train ride from Rossio Station, Sintra is pure fantasy stuff, with its Moorish-Manueline National Palace, woods speckled with giant boulders, folly-filled Quinta da Regaleira gardens and Disney-esque Pena Palace, a romantic riot of rainbow domes, towers and turrets.

Spot dolphins in the Tagus River

The pandemic saw dolphins return to the Tagus River, which twists through Lisbon to the Atlantic. With an eye on conservation, Terra Incógnita runs marine biologist-led boat trips from April to October.

With any luck, you'll glimpse common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoises and bird species like gannets, terns and great cormorants. The trips last two-to-three hours and depart from Doca de Santo Amaro, just west of the centre.

While you're here, take the great glass elevator at nearby Pilar 7 for astonishing up-close views of the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, which is the spit of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

Eat custard tarts

If you're looking for a way to bribe your kids to trot up Lisbon's inclines, pastéis de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts, could well be it.

Filled with silky custard cream and sprinkled with cinnamon, these nests of flaky, caramelised pastry are utterly moreish.

Delicious oven-fresh pastéis de nata
Delicious oven-fresh pastéis de nata © Beto Chagas - Adobe Stock Image

You'll find the most famous ones at Pastéis de Belém, where monks started baking them according to a secret recipe in 1837, but you'll need to join the queue as they are incredibly popular.

More central still is the Manteigaria, an old butter factory where you can see them in the making and devour them oven-hot at the counter.

Feel the earth move at Quake

In 1755 a massive earthquake rocked Lisbon and changed the face of the city unrecognisably, razing much of the historic centre to the ground.

Using video mapping and 4D technology, the recently-opened Quake in Belém brings the moment vividly to life, with state-of-the-art simulators that let you feel the drama and insights into the science of seismic activity and the characters, brave and dastardly, of the age. It's suitable for kids aged six and over.

Hit the heights

Few cities are more fun to get around than Lisbon, with its Willy Wonka-like lifts and bee-yellow, bell-tinging trams. The classic ride is tram 28, which rattles and rolls up and down the hills, offering pop-up views of the city and big hitters like Sé Cathedral.

Board it at Largo Martim Moniz for good chances of snagging a seat in the vintage, wood-panelled interior (tourists are packed in like sardines by midday).

Tram 28 negotiating the narrow streets of Alfama, Lisbon
Tram 28 negotiating the narrow streets of Alfama, Lisbon © Pawel Pajor - Adobe Stock Image

Funiculars are another novel way to get around. Try Elevador da Glória, Elevador da Bica and the neo-Gothic Elevador de Santa Justa, a lanky vertical street lift built by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard (Gustave Eiffel's protégé).

Ride an ocean wave in Belém

The nautical-flavoured neighbourhood of Belém pings you back to the 15th and 16th century Age of Discovery when great navigators set sail for distant shores aboard mighty caravels.

Get here very early and make straight for the UNESCO World Heritage Jerónimos Monastery, an extravagant Manueline feast of ornately carved stone cloisters, then wander along the river to the chesspiece fortress of Torre de Belém (keep an eye out for the stone rhinoceros that recalls the one King Manuel I kept as a pet).

Kids also enjoy the swashbuckling tales, model ships, cannonballs and shipwreck treasures on display at the Navy Museum.

Dive into the underwater world at Oceanário

The Oceanário isn't just another aquarium: it's as close as you'll get to scuba diving without the kit. This whopping aquarium in Parque das Nações is one of Europe's biggest, with a vast central tank holding five million litres of seawater and bringing together four marine habitats.

Exploring the underwater world of Oceanário
Exploring the underwater world of Oceanário © Matimix - Adobe Stock Image

You can easily spend several hours here gawping at ridiculously cute sea otters, sharks, penguins on ice and glow-in-the-dark jellyfish. The aquarium also runs special events (see the website for details), from sleepovers with the sharks to weekend concerts for kids.

If you want to make a day of it, pop next door to hands-on science museum Pavilhão do Conhecimento, where kids can launch rockets, experience gravity on the moon, ride a flying bicycle and more.

You can also hitch a ride on the Telecabine cable car here to swish over the river, with eye-popping views of the 17km-long Ponte Vasco da Gama, Europe's longest bridge.

Let the kids run free

On hot summer days, there are plenty of parks and gardens where you can let the kids cool off and run free.

Some of the best are in Parque das Nações, a speedy metro ride from the centre, where little ones have a blast splashing in the streams, waterfalls and fountains in the Jardins da Água and making music on the giant triangles and gongs in the lushly botanical Jardim Garcia de Orta.

Otherwise, take them up to Parque Eduardo VII for a park with a view, or check out the playgrounds in Belém (in front of the monastery), tree-shaded Jardim do Príncipe Real, where kids will also love the giant parasol-like cedar tree, and the Estrela Gardens, with its kiosk café and waddling ducks.

Plan your trip

Many Lisbon museums offer free or heavily discounted entry for under-12s, while under-fours travel free on public transport. For parents, the Lisboa Card (available for 24, 48 and 72 hours) can be a sweet deal as it covers all transport and most sights and attractions.

Bear in mind that cobbles can be tough going for pushchairs; suggest a front or back carrier instead.

Weather in Lisbon

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Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall
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The above guide shows the weather in Lisbon. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the weather in Portugal.

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Kerry Walker

Kerry Walker

Kerry Walker is a Wales-based travel writer and author. Kerry specialises in Wales, Central and Southern Europe. She regularly writes for The Telegraph and National Geographic Traveller among others. She's also authored/co-authored over 20 travel guides. Kerry's a qualified translator, avid photographer and lover of mountains and remote destinations.

Posted on Thursday 25th May 2023 in: City Culture Europe Family TUI

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