Are 48 hours be enough to visit Lisbon with children? Not really, but this express visit was more than enough for us. In the past I visited Lisbon several times with my husband, and although it is beautiful, it never really won my heart.
But anyway, I always return, especially for Belem … a neighborhood so beautiful and airy, that alone is worth the trip. The famous Pasteis de Nata were born in Belem, and I’m a glutton – so therefore if I could, I’d be back every day – for breakfast!
15 things to do and see in Lisbon with children
If you have a limited amount of time to spend in Lisbon with children, here is a list of 15 things to do and see. There is obviously a lot more, but I only list those places that my son liked the most, so for this reason, you won’t find the castle, which we enjoyed seen from downtown, but once we got there it turned out to be quite disappointing. Again, you won’t find the Parque das Nações, which we strategically avoided given the short time available – or else we would have ended up spending an entire afternoon at the aquarium.
1. Rua Augusta and the Monumental Arch
Rua Augusta is one of the most beautiful streets in Lisbon – a wide pedestrian avenue that starts from Praça do Comércio and reaches the sea, passing under a beautiful triumphal arch, which you can climb onto and admire the view. So much beauty and so many drug dealers: they have always been there – for at least 15 years – and they are have become more and more insistent. In the past I was offered hashish and marijuana, whereas now (vintage mom holding a child by the hand) even coke!!! Now, how do you explain to your son that the rather shady guy didn’t want to offer his mother a coca-cola!
2. Santa Justa elevator
The elevador de Santa Justa is the historic elevator that connects the old town (starting from a side street of Rua Augusta) to the Chiado district, more precisely to the the Igreja do Carmo. Your children will surely like it as it is all made of iron and vaguely reminds of the Eiffel Tower, according to my son (not true, but he has not been to Paris, yet!). He had thought that he would have ridden the elevator up and down, for the view and only when he reached to the top did he realize, from the long access bridge, that I had another purpose – that of transporting the “passengers” to another corner of the city.
3. Carmo church and convent
Imagine how charming the skeleton of a Gothic church in the heart of the city can be… children will surely love it. When we were there, the facade on the Chiado side was being restored, but even when viewed from below, it did not fail to fascinate my son. It was destroyed twice, first by an earthquake and then by a fire, and since then it has never been rebuilt. Now it has a vaguely ghostly appearance: three naves, no roof, several suspended arches… In short, there is room for imagination, and for the sky above you.
4. Pessao Statue
We are still in the Chiado district, in front of the historical café A Brasileira in rua Garrett, where the intellectuals of the city once used to meet. Do as they did and sit at one of the outside tables, next to the statue of the poet Fernando Pessoa. Children might like to know that Pessoa believed that there is a “frightening difference between the intelligence of children and the stupidity of adults“.
The famous Lisbon Tram 28
The old and creaking tram 28 that climbs through the narrow streets leading to the castle and the Alfama district is now a real tourist trap. However it will make your children happy, especially if they can see how the driver maneuvers the levers. My son said smiling that it’s “like sitting inside a tank”. If you are in Lisbon with children and want another tram 28 experience, take them to the Café 28 in Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo 45 (near the castle): inside they have faithfully recreated the atmosphere of the historic tram.
6. The Alfama district
The Alfama is the oldest district in the city, and it is a real maze of steep alleys and stairways that seem never to end … full of charm and uncomfortable to walk with a stroller, but not impossible – especially if you choose to discover the district from above – so head for the castle which you can reach by tram 28. From there, walk downhill and head towards the river, where you will find several view points over the city of Lisbon.
7. Mirodouro de Santa Luzia
“Look, mom, there’s also a swimming pool… if it were summer, I’d love to swim here.” Obviously the swimming-pool didn’t exist – but the large pool next to the Miradouro de Santa Luzia really looks like one. From the balcony the view of the Tagus River and this corner of the city with its red roofs and white churches is truly spectacular. Add to this the bougainvillea and the azulejos… and you get one of those places that will stay in your heart (and in your eyes) forever.
8. The Cathedral of the Sé in Lisbon
We reached the Cathedral of the Sé as we were walking downhill from the Mirodouro de Santa Luzia towards the center: suddenly it started to rain and it seemed a good idea to go inside. We lit some candles and sat down for a while to rest and wait for the rain to stop. My son remembers in particular the soft seats, as comfortable as an armchair. He didn’t want to move away from them and therefore missed a beautiful cloister with Roman, Arab and medieval ruins, which he would have liked.
9. Belem Tower
It looks like the leaning tower of Pisa, said a little voice… which is partly true because the tower of Belem is “leaning” too. It doesn’t look like the tower of Pisa at all, but in the eyes of a child it obviously does. We entered it and climbed it to the top, because I wanted to tell my son that we were on an island. My son looked at me shocked: “Come on, mom, the tower is practically anchored to the ground!”. Yes, but in the past it was not, because islands come and go! He really liked the story of the island that is now “gone” and we both enjoyed the stunning views, therefore if you’re in Lisbon with children, go there…
10. The Monument to the discoveries
How many seas have the explorers of the past sailed? To find out all about it, go to the monument to discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos). Drawn on the ground near the monument, there is a Compass Rose with a diameter of 50 meters and with the routes of Portuguese sailors. We “set foot” on all the places we have visited and then climbed to the top of the monument (the one that looks like a white caravel) to admire it from above. In short: six floors up (by elevator) and 40 steps to see nothing! No, that’s not true, but the protective walls are so high that children must be lifted and if you’re short, well – from my height of 5.1 I had to take
“blind” pictures to be able to see the Compass Rose from above.
11. Jerónimos Monastery
How about going to the Monastery of the Jeronimos? It is so beautiful outside that it only took a second to convince my son to go in. He really was keen to see, then I discovered why: he thought he you would find Geronimo Stilton (the main character of an Italian children’s book) and instead he found the tombs of King Manuel I and his wife Mary of Aragon. There’s also a stunning cloister, which was nice enough, but in retrospect perhaps it would have been enough to admire the monastery from outside.
12. Belem Planetarium and Naval Museum
We discovered the sky and outer space lying on comfortable armchairs… looking up at the stars. The movie shown was really good (though not in Italian) – but it certainly is not the best planetarium in the world. And what are stars used for? Sailing, of course so therefore head straight to the Naval Museum, in the same building, to learn everything about the history of Portuguese navigation and navigators. Children will love the old Portuguese galleons.
13. Pasteis de Belem pastry shop
This is a pure heaven for all gourmands… the place where the pastel de nata was born, which should rather be called pastel de Belém. It’s a pastry cake made of puff pastry and eggs to die for; it’s delicious for breakfast or as a dessert or as snack at all hours. The place where they were born is in Rua de Belem 84-92 in front of the tram stop. Take my word: there’s no greater pleasure than buying a six-piece pack, just to discover that they’ve just been baked and are still warm. Then you all eat them them and go back inside for more.
14. A sit-go tour with children
Have you ever seen people “going around” on a Segway and thought “it’s not for me, I’ll surely break my neck?”. I have, but then in Lisbon I discovered the Sitway: you sit down and you can’t fall over, it’s very easy to use, even for children 6 years old and above (but they must be accompanied by an adult). Sitting on a perfectly balanced seat and two wheels to the side, a small forward movement of the body makes it start and accelerate, a backwards movement makes it brake and stop. There are Sitway organized tours, but if you are in Lisbon with children it is better to go on you own, preferably at sunset in places which are not too crowded. We had a go art it at Belem and it really was great fun, but there are also stations at Parque de Nacoes and Cais do Sodre.
15. The Fantastic World of Portuguese Sardine
The Fantastic World of Portuguese Sardine is a bizarre chain of sardine shops that fascinates everyone: the most intriguing sardine shop is located near Rossio station. If you’re in Lisbon with children, you really have to take them there: it’s colourful, and it looks like a toy shop, there’s also a Ferris wheel of sardine boxes like “London eye” and a comfortable armchair for souvenir photos. What can you buy? Cheerful boxes of sardines with the birthyear of your children printed on it.
And don’t forget to take a day trip to Sintra, if you are in Lisbon with children.