Lisbon with kids: What to do and where to stay in Portugal with the family

Lisbon Portugal is a city of friendly people, colorful cobbled streets, breathtaking overlooks and fresh, delicious cuisine. There’s a castle, a marina, trolley cars and tuk tuks, dining can be casual and affordable and children are welcomed almost everywhere. In other words, Lisbon with kids is a no-brainer. It’s the perfect kid-friendly European city. Here’s how to spend 2-3 days in the City of Seven Hills.

Getting your bearings in Lisbon with kids:

Often compared to San Francisco, California for its hilly city streets, strikingly similar bay bridge and trolley (cable) cars, Lisbon doesn’t seem to have just one central district or downtown. Rather, several neighborhoods make for a good home base, within walking distance of many attractions. From the Chiado neighborhood, the historic Alfama neighborhood or the Bairro Alto neighborhood, you’ll be central to most sights.

Taking a tuk tuk tour through Lisbon’s winding, narrow streets can be a great way to get your bearings and have fun doing it. A good hotel concierge can reserve a tuk tuk tour for your family, or you can simply head to any attraction or square in the city and easily find one for hire. Most tuk tuk drivers act as tour guides, pointing out landmarks along the way, or families can request for tours of particular neighborhoods. Prices seem to be negotiable but for most, you’ll need cash (Euros). Opt for a tuk tuk marked ‘eco’ to reduce your carbon footprint as you tour. (Most can fit up to six people.)

lisbon with kids

If you’d rather explore on foot, head of one of the city’s many scenic overlooks to get the lay of the land. The easiest way to find one: simply start walking uphill, and look for the wide pedestrian-friendly squares at the tops of the hills. Our favorites overlooked the Castelo de San Jorge (more on that in a minute) at the top of Chiado, and the Tagus River at the top of the Alfamo neighborhood. Expect each overlook to present perfect photo opportunities, and some to have stall-style food vendors and even artisan marketplaces.

What not to miss in Lisbon with kids:

Castelo de São Jorge:

Kids and castles tend to go nicely together. Since your kids will spot this one from most overlooks, they’ll want to go sooner rather than later. And it’s easy to do so: Lisbon’s castle is an archaeological site with the ruins of the former Alcáçova palace on the grounds, and again, you can find great views of Lisbon here. Leave time to play in the gardens too, especially on a hot day…the shade will be welcome.

Elevator de Saint Justa:

Not to be confused with the da Gloria or do Lavra elevators (which are steep trolley car routes), this historic elevator located in the Chiado district at Rossio square is exactly that….a vertical elevator by which to observe the city. The line can get long to buy tickets and enter, so if you don’t feel like waiting, just walk up the stairs to view the elevator from the various sides (it’s an impressive, ornate structure) and then explore the high-end stores and souvenir shops in the immediate vicinity.

Trolley 28 tour:

A trolley is a main form of transportation in Lisbon, and you’ll see trolley tracks criss-crossing most city streets. The trolley system is part of the local metro/public transit system, and multi-day tickets can be purchased for all the busses, trolleys and metro. However, if you just want to try the trolley for fun, you can use Trolley 28 as a hop-on, hop-off tour opportunity. One ticket gets you unlimited on and off privileges during the day. Think of Lisbon’s Trolley 28 like San Francisco’s cable cars…as much an attraction as a means of transport.

Parque das Naçoes:

This ultra-modern site of the 1998 World Exposition is a nice place to relax with kids after city exploration. You’ll find the Oceanario de Lisboa here, as well as plenty of open space for play. If you want another activity, the Telecabine Lisboa (cable car) is located here, which runs above the river at Parque das Nacoes to offer a panorama of the whole Nation’s Park area.

Belém:

Located along the water just west of the city center (about a ten minute or 15 Euro cab or Uber ride), Belém serves as the museum capital of Lisbon. The highlight is the Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an example of Manueline architecture, but if you ask kids, the real highlight is probably Pastêis de Belém, the original seller of Lisbon’s most delicious custard tart treat. The line can look imposing at the shop, but there are both indoor and outdoor seating/ordering counters, and even a long line tends to take less than 15 minutes. Next to the monastery is Lisbon’s museum of archeology, worth a visit in its own right. However, if the line is long to enter the monastery (when we visited during Europe’s spring break period, it stretched hours long), get in the much shorter line at the museum instead. You can buy tickets for just the monastery or combined tickets inside (this line was only 30 minutes). Inside the monastery, you’ll find a few exhibits, but mostly, it’s an opportunity to stroll through the beautiful grounds (well worth doing). At the time of our visit, combined tickets were 12 Euro per adult.

Time Out Market:

Also known as the Mercado da Ribeira, Time Out Market is housed in a beautiful historic building near the water at the edge of the Cais do Sodré neighborhood and Chiado neighborhood. Right behind it, you’ll find the famous Pink Street (which is worth a quick look in the daytime but is somewhat seedy at night…think strip clubs and dive bars). The Time Out Market, however, is one of the city’s main food courts that holds everything from traditional meals to trendy treats and bakeries. Communal tables line the middle, and bottles of wine can be purchased at some stalls to share with the family (or new friends). Kids will find just about any type of food on offer here, from traditional Portuguese cuisine to soups and sandwiches. Pasteis de Nata sells Lisbon’s favorite pastry here, and while it’s not the original shop, we actually found their pastries superior to those in Belém.

Tip: Consider the Lisbon pass if you think you’ll be visiting most attractions in the city, as you’ll save money and gain some transportation options on the metro as well. We found getting around by foot or Uber easiest, but the Lisbon Pass can pay for itself for the ticket entries alone.

Sintra:

If you have time to explore this medieval town outside of the city, go! It was a highlight of the trip for many. From central Lisbon, it’s easy to get to Sintra by train (head to the main train terminal by Rossio), then by Uber or taxi. Plan to spend most of the day here, and it really helps to have a guide (your hotel’s front desk or concierge can arrange this, or you can book ahead of time). The narrow, winding streets are fun to explore, and kids love the crazy caves, grottos and underground walkways located within a large garden, Quinta da Regaleira.

Alfama:

This Lisbon neighborhood is the oldest in the city, and worth exploring as a destination in its own right. Start at the Museum de Fado on the waterfront, and take any of the narrow, twisting roads uphill. You’ll discover tucked away shops, cafes and souvenir stores, as well as cathedrals and overlooks. Stop for a cold drink (a pitcher of sangria is always a good idea for the grown-ups) and take your time. You’ll be stopping often to take photos.

lisbon with kids

Tip: Have time for a date night? Head to Bairro Alto, the hilly Bohemian neighborhood walkable from the Chiado area. The young, hip scene here is decidedly trendy but very accessible. You’ll find any number of wine bars and rooftop bars (we recommend Park Bar, located at the top of a parking garage with excellent patio views) and dining options ranging from street food to upscale restaurants. If you want to listen to fado (traditional Portuguese guitar music), Laia Fado in Bairro Alto requires reservations and will be a late night out (starts around 9 pm and was still going strong when we left at midnight) but has no cover charge (but a minimum 50 Euro order per customer).

Additional fado bars and restaurants with earlier music offerings can be found all over the Alfama; we saw some with 7:30 pm start times. In Chiado, By the Wine offers excellent ambiance and an impressive wine selection (though you won’t be left wanting a most Lisbon wine bars). Nearby, Mesón Andaluz Restaurant and Tapas offers an equally lovely atmosphere for a nice evening out.

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About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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