Charming and casual, with glorious beaches a short hop away, the Portuguese capital is the perfect short break destination for families. Here are 5 great things kids will love to do...
Trams in Lisbon (Dreamstime)
Step back in time with a ride on the iconic 28 tram, the symbol of Lisbon. The classic Remodelado trams first began rattling through the city back in the 1930s and haven’t changed much since.
Starting at Praça do Martim Moniz and trundling through Baixa, Graça and Alfama, the 28 line ends at Prazeres Cemetery, where it turns around and goes back again.
Try and get on one the seats directly behind the driver. Your kids will love watching the driver work the ancient controls and will marvel as the tram squeezes through narrow streets, missing parked cars by a matter of millimetres. The driver might even ring the bell.
You’ll need to get everyone a Viva Viagem card first. Available at any Metro station for €0.50, you can top them up and have the cost of each journey deducted or add €6.15 and use them as a 24-hour travel card that covers trams, buses , funiculars and the Metro. Ride before 10am if you want to avoid the inevitable crush of tourists.
Another option is to catch the number 12 or 25. Those lines use the same quaint rolling stock, but are much emptier. The number 12 is a particularly good alternative as it shuttles up to Castel Jorge, passing Se Cathedral and back down to Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), saving you a hike up one of Lisbon’s steeper hills.
Pastries in Lisbon (Dreamstime)
Portugal is famous for its pastéis de nata (custard tarts) and Lisbon is home to the best in the country. Pastéis de Belém, for example, has been making according to a special family recipe since 1837. There’s a queue of eager patrons out of the door every day.
The truth is that the pastéis de nata are good everywhere in the city and half the fun is finding your family’s favourite pastelaria (pastry shop). We found one just around the corner from our apartment and the friendly waitress introduced my daughter to other Portuguese pastries and puddings, like Toucinho do Céu, Arroz Doce and Bola de Berlim.
We’d pick different ones out each morning and take them back to our apartment for breakfast. My daughter’s favourite turned out to be Baba de Camelo (Camel Drool). We thought we’d misheard the waitress but she assured us that was what it was called. A light, whipped concoction of eggs and condensed milk, they're delicious.
Lisbon Oceanarium (Dreamstime)
The 1998 Lisbon Expo saw the industrial wastelands north of the city transformed into a vast area of parks, walkways, museums and theatres. Beside the river, looking all the world like an ocean platform, is the Lisbon Oceanarium. It is the largest in Europe and is home to over 16,000 creatures, including sharks, rays, penguins, sea horses and jellyfish.
At the heart of the oceanarium is a huge tank with four massive viewing windows, complemented by a series of smaller ones, set over two floors, that give ample opportunity for the kids to watch their favourite underwater creatures swim by.
It’s never hard to find a good viewpoint, no matter how crowded it is. The sharks are popular, of course, but the real star of the show when we visited was the Sun Fish. It elicited screams of delight from the Portuguese kids there every time it swam past.
Guincho beach near Lisbon (Dreamstime)
Lisbon is set on the mouth of the Tagus river, close to the Atlantic, so escaping the city is incredible easy. A short train ride from the Cais do Sodre train station takes you along the coast to the beachside towns of Estoril and Cascais. Within 20 minutes, your kids can be building sandcastles, paddling in the sea and eating ice cream. Your city break quickly becomes a beach holiday, then just as quickly back again.
The other option is to head further up the Tagus River to Reserva Natural do Estuário do Tejo, famous for its abundant birdlife, including flamingos. If you take the boat, make sure your kids keep an eye out for the dolphins that frolic in this part of the river.
Guard in front of the Museum of the National Republic Guard (Dreamstime)
Tucked besides the ruins of Carmo Convent, the Museum of the National Guard is perfect for kids, both old and young, who love playing with soldiers. Best of all, it's free.
Guarded by a real soldier in dress uniform, standing still and vigilant in his sentry box, the museum is home to relics from the National Republic Guard across the centuries, including a sword dating from the 1800s.
The displays are engaging and informative, with unexpected exhibits around every corner. Who knew, for example, that the National Guard was so dependent on motorcycles?
While you’re up in this part of the city, make sure to visit the viewing platform on top of the famous Elavador de Santa Justa. The queues on the cobble streets below to ride the lift up the elevator are always ridiculously long and the price is expensive for what is in effect a 30-second ride in a lift.
Up here, you are level with where the lift ends and for €1 you can climb a narrow spiral staircase to the platform and get the same uninterrupted view across the city.
Main image: Meeting a ray in Lisbon Oceanarium (Peter Moore)