Family Weekend in Lisbon
No need to advertise Lisbon – there’s so much word of mouth praise for it as a destination that we’d been wanting to go for a long time. Having finally made it, I can confirm that it’s well worth a visit. Lisbon gets my five stars in almost all categories: great food, tasty wine, fantastic weather, nice people, beautiful sites, affordable prices, and… kid-attractiveness.
To make the most of our two days in this beautiful city we decided to use the Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing tour, which included unlimited touring of the city for 48 hours. The bus’ two routes were decently designed and enabled us to visit most of the key city attractions, but we were quite disappointed with the frequency of the buses (every hour) and the visibility of the bus stops (we actually couldn’t find a couple when we wanted to hop back on!).
Tip #1: if you have only a weekend and want to see as much as possible of Lisbon, stick to the city’s public transportation. Another option is taking taxis, which (surprisingly for Western Europe) are still relatively reasonably priced.
In our case, with a combination of the tour bus, trams, taxis and a tuk-tuk ride (the latter was an absolute hit with the twins) we still managed to see a lot.
- Oceanarium: Undoubtedly a highlight of our trip. This beautifully designed aquarium kept us busy for a good few hours. We wandered the chilled corridors of the aquarium listening to the sounds of the sea life and admiring thousands of aquatic species including mesmerizing sharks and graceful rays. A must see for everyone visiting Lisbon – especially with kids!
Tip: Buy tickets on the Oceanarium’s website and save 10%.
- Cable car (Telecabine): Located just outside the Oceanarium in the nearby Parque das Nações (the Nation’s Park). The ride was only 10-minutes long but the view from the car was astonishing. We could see from up high the entire Park, a waterfront promenade, the Oceanarium building, and the Vasco da Gama Bridge.
Tip: Don’t buy a round trip ticket for the ride. You might actually enjoy walking along the waterfront promenade and having a snack in one of the restaurants with outdoor seating overlooking the river.
- Tram 28: Everybody talks and writes about Tram 28 and it deserves its fame. The ride takes passengers through the most scenic parts of Lisbon, which is wonderful… if you can actually enjoy the ride. Every time we tried to get on Tram 28 it was insanely crowded, which doesn’t make a good combo with hot weather and the kids.
Tip: Don’t worry if the Tram 28 is too packed. You can actually substitute it with any other tram that goes in the direction of St. George’s Castle. All the trams on this route seem to have the same vintage make and feel. Tickets are available on the tram.
- The Belem Tower (Torre de Belém): Obviously, we couldn’t skip Lisbon’s historic icon. Our twins didn’t mind climbing up and down the narrow steps of the Tower and enjoyed the view of the river and the passing boats. Apparently, the fort made a strong impression on my son who chose a small Tower sculpture as his keepsake from the trip.
Tip: Buy tickets to the Tower ahead of time. We didn’t, and had to wait in scorching heat for almost 45 minutes while watching ticketed visitors waltz on by. Thankfully we had some water and a snack with us.
- George’s Castle: Our second most favorite site of Lisbon. We spent a nice afternoon at the Castle admiring the view of the city and exploring the ruins in the company of crying peacocks. While the kids happily ran around and chased the peacocks, which didn’t seem to be bothered with too much attention, my husband and I had a glass of fabulous Portuguese wine from a tuk-tuk converted into a ‘Wine with the View’ bar . What a wonderful experience for everyone! And you get to keep the glass as a souvenir.
Tip: Don’t miss the ‘Wine with the View!”
- Zoological Garden: I always have mixed feelings about visiting a zoo. But the Lisbon zoological garden allows decent space for the animals, and the latter seem well looked after. The kids enjoyed a number of attractions including a children’s farm, animal feedings, a sea lion and dolphin show and the reptile house. They were also looking forward to ride in the cable car that allows you to see all the animals from above but unfortunately it wasn’t working when we visited.
Tip: The dolphin and sea lion show is included in the admission price and is a must see for everyone, so plan your visit to the Zoo accordingly. Depending on the time of year, there are two or three shows a day.
- Lisbon’s tiles and architecture: Lisbon is famous for its tiled houses, elaborate cobbled mosaic pavements and the street art. To make the sightseeing experience more tolerable and exciting for the kids, we made a game out of it. The rules were simple: Who will first spot a new mosaic on the ground? Who will first find a building with the tiles on? Who will first point to graffiti on the wall? With the ‘game on’, even the long alleys of Bairro Alto didn’t seem too exhausting. Our kids particularly enjoyed their own game of being the first to point out each miniature ship atop the lamp posts on the streets.
Tip: When traveling with kids, try to make a game out of everything. It helps keep children going no matter how tired and bored they are.