Little Explorers in Lisbon: A Four Day Family Itinerary

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Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world, full of magnificent history, culture, and charm. From its iconic azulejos tiles and sweeping views to its historical sites and delicious cuisine, Lisbon is a destination that the whole family can enjoy.

Lisbon offers a great opportunity for global learning. All kids love adventures. Introduce a few of the famous Portueguese explorers from the Age of Discovery and talk about their voyages as you stroll Lisbon’s marinas. Encourage little imaginations as you tour the National Coach Museum and admire carriages used by European royalty. Play “I spy” with azulejos tiles. Climb atop ancient castles. Explore hidden gardens. Practice mindfulness in a monastery. Learn about physics at the science museum. Get adventurous with food! The possibilities are endless!

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Here is how we spent four days in Lisbon with kids!

Day ONE

  • Rossio Square
  • Santa Justa Lift
  • Carmo Convent
  • Praça do Comércio
  • Arco da Rua Augusta

We stayed at an airbnb in the heart of Lisbon at Rossio Square so we started our explorations close to home. After a good run around the wavy tiled square, we headed toward the Santa Justa Lift. This iron elevator is architecturally similar to the eiffel tower and was completed in 1902 to connect Baixa to the Bairro Alto neighborhood. We skipped the line and opted for a short uphill walk. The viewing platform can also be reached by the bar atop the hill. Access to the upper platform is 1.50€ and offers a nice view of the city.

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We then arrived at the striking Carmo Convent, founded in 1389 and destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. It was partially reconstructed over the next 78 years, but then abandoned and never completed leaving the naves and transept uncovered. The result is a striking open air church overlooking the city of Lisbon. The big highlight for the kids was definitely the resident cats, but they also enjoyed the short historical movie in the archeological museum tracing the convent’s history.

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After a yummy lunch at Nicolau we walked down the main avenue toward Praça do Comércio, Lisbon’s flagship square, located on the bank of the River Tagus. The promenade is full of eye catching seafood restaurants, bakeries, shops, and street performers. The kids loved peering into restaurant windows to ooh and aah over lobsters and octopus. We made our way down the lively pedestrian street to Arco da Rua Augusta, a stone-carved archway built to commemorate the resilience of the Portueguese people after the devastation of the 1755 earthquake. The kids of course ran circles around the historical square before we headed back to our apartment for some downtime.

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For dinner, we found a very small family run Portuguese restaurant called Taverna Alfacinha where we shared seafood paella and octopus salad. We also sampled Portuguese olives and cheese along with our fresh bread. To top off the meal, my husband and I toasted with a shot of Ginjinha, Lisbon’s famous cherry infused liquor.

Day TWO

  • Pastéis de Belém
  • Playground
  • Coach Museum
  • The Monument to the Discoveries
  • Belem Tower
  • Jerónimos Monastery
    *Do not visit Belém on a Monday, as most sites are closed.

We spent day two in Belém, Lisbon’s magnificent historic district located on the bank of the Tagus River. Belém is immensely important in Portueguese history, as it was here that many of the great explorers embarked on their voyages during the Age of Discovery.

There are many popular sites in Belém so we made our best effort to get an early start. By the time we arrived to the Jerónimos Monastery there was already a monstrous line. We settled for snapping a few pictures outside the monastery and then headed to Pastéis de Belém for a pick me up. On the upside, we easily got a table at Lisbon’s most famous cafe to sample the original pastel de nata, Portugal’s ever so popular custard filled pastry cup. The recipe was invented by the monks of Jeronimos Monastery in the 1800’s. Egg whites were historically used in large quantities to starch religious habits, so the leftover egg yolks were used to make pastries. After the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling pastries at a nearby sugar refinery in an effort to stay afloat. The monastery was ultimately closed in 1834 and the recipe was sold to this very bakery, which has remained in the family to this very day. The adorable cafe is covered in blue tiles and definitely lived up to the hype.

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We took advantage of a small playground across the street from the bakery. The kids always love a playground break when we travel and playgrounds were a little harder to come by in Lisbon.

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After a good run around, we headed to the Coaches Museum. This is a really unique and kid friendly museum filled with magnificent carriages from European royalty and elite. The carriages are gilded in gold with paintings and intricate carvings, an ostentatious show of wealth and power that exemplified Portugal’s era of success. The kids really enjoyed learning about the carriages, especially the children’s coaches that were pulled by ponies, sheep, and goats. We played match the carriage to the most likely Disney Princess and imagined what the world looked like before cars.

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We then crossed over to the waterfront area and walked along the riverbank toward the Monument of the Discoveries. Built in 1940, the monument was dedicated to the many Portuguese explorers who embarked from Lisbon’s port and made Portugal a 14th century superpower. Take note of the artistic limestone tiles in front of the monument that form a compass and map historic Portueguese ship routes.

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The kids ran along the waterfront, taking in the fountains, lighthouses, and sculptures. Our pace was definitely slowing as signs of fatigue crept in and it began to rain. We settled with a view of the Belém Tower from afar and gave into the fatigue. We still had quite a walk back to the tram and needed to conserve some energy. The Belém Tower is an archeological masterpiece built in the 16th century to serve as a fortress. It has become a national symbol of Portuguese maritime history and is a very busy attraction in Lisbon, lending to long lines. For great views of Belém with shorter waits, consider going up in The Monument of the Discoveries.

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On our walk back to the tram, our oldest noticed the lines outside the Jerónimos Monastery had completely disappeared. Both kids surprised me by opting to tour the monastery despite being very tired after a full morning. I am so happy that we were able to cycle back in the afternoon to experience this treasure. Even better, we had this special place almost all to ourselves. The monastery was built in 1502 to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s safe voyage to India. The elaborate stonework with twisted columns and scalloped arches is truly breathtaking . The kids enjoyed looking for pictures in the intricately carved stone as we took in the quiet beauty of this magnificent site.

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Day THREE

  • Pavilion of Knowledge Science Museum
  • Riverfront and Lunch
  • National Tile Museum

After two busy days of exploring, we were ready for a more relaxed kid-centered day. The kids selected the science museum over the oceanarium; however, I don’t think you could go wrong with either. Both are located in the Parque das Nações, a modern area developed on the bank of the Tagus that also features a gondola lift. Our kids were completely captivated by the Pavilion of Knowledge Science Museum. There are large interactive exhibits and tinkering stations that encourage problem solving at an age appropriate level through experimentation and play. We spent the better part of the day here and the kids still weren’t ready to leave. We did take a lunch break and walked along the waterfront as the museum has in and out privileges.

alt text alt text alt text Before heading home we made a detour to the National Tile Museum. It was a bit cumbersome to find, particularly while carrying a sleeping three year old, but definitely worth the trip. The museum itself is housed in a convent from the 1500’s and also features an adorable cafe. On display are a collection of Portueguese azuelejos from the 15th century to modern day.

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Day FOUR

  • Castelo de São Jorge
  • Time out Market

We spent our fourth day walking up narrow winding streets to the Castelo de São Jorge. This 11th century fortress was built on ruins from the Roman era and is positioned dramatically above the city, offering the most amazing views of Lisbon. The kids enjoyed exploring the moorish towers, climbing on cannons, and most of all, watching the peacocks in the castle’s courtyard. We went early in the day, but the castle would also be an excellent place to watch the sunset. There is even a wine cart to top off the experience.

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For dinner we visited Time Out Market, a historic market turned trendy food hall. A food lover’s dream, the market offers a great variety of quality food and drinks with fun communal tables. Don’t forget to top off your meal with a fancy dessert or grab a few traditional pasties to take home.

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Transportation:

We opted to walk everywhere within reason. Public transportation was a bit chaotic. Most of the metros, buses, and trams were packed in tight like sardines regardless of when and where we traveled. We skipped the famous tram 28. Living in Budapest sans car lends to daily use of trams, so the experience was not worth the wait for our family. We opted to use the reloadable Viva Viagem card as opposed to a day pass for transportation as it was more economical for our daily use. Children under five travel free.

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General tips:

Lisbon was very busy, even in November. The crowds and queues can detract from the Lisbon experience. If traveling with a baby under one, you can use your baby like a Disney fastpass to skip to the front of the line at the busy sites and even at the grocery store. Kids are welcomed and doted on most everywhere.

The cobblestone streets are beautiful, but are not so great for rolling luggage and likely even more of a pain with a stroller. If travelling with young children, definitely bring a carrier. At the same time, don’t be intimidated by the hills. Lisbon is known as the “city of seven hills”, but walking throughout the districts was very doable even for little legs.

Flexibility is the key to traveling with children. I did not purchase tickets to sites in advance as everything can change on a whim between the weather, crowds, and the built in unpredictability of kids. The weather in November was mild, but we did have passing showers almost daily.

Overall, our little explorers did fantastic. We were so impressed with how much walking they did and how eager they were to explore. Lisbon was a very enjoyable city for the whole family and would be an interesting destination for kids of all ages. We highly recommend scheduling a few extra days to travel outside of Lisbon. We loved our day trips to magical Sintra and the coastal town of Cascais (new posts coming soon!). We would also love to plan a return trip to visit the stunning beaches of Portugal’s Algarve region in the future.

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