How to Visit Lisbon with Kids

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With its hilltop castle, rattling trams, stellar animal attractions, and a wide river flowing out to some seriously pretty beaches, the Portuguese capital is one of Europe’s best destinations for families. It’s famously one of the continent’s sunniest cities, but cooling breezes from the river stop things from getting too hot in the summer, and a wealth of kid-friendly indoor activities mean there’s plenty to keep kids busy even if the weather doesn’t play ball. Lisbon is surprisingly affordable, too—this is one city where you won’t have to worry about the price of the delicious ice creams and wines that can be found on virtually every block. In the summer, adventurous young eaters can munch on snails, Lisboetas’ favorite snack. Be sure to order a ginjinha (cherry liqueur) in a chocolate cup; ask nicely and you can usually get the choco cups, sans booze, for younger members of the party.—Lucy Bryson

Courtesy of Kidzania

KidZania Lisboa

Located in a shopping mall that’s a little off the tourist track, this child-sized city is hands down the best way to keep the kids busy on a rainy day in Lisbon. Young visitors can play at being grownups and try out occupations ranging from newsreader to burger flipper, earning the mini-city’s own currency (the KidZo)  to pay for items in the mini-supermarket, rent a car, or treat themselves to a haircut in the salon (don’t worry, there are no real scissors involved!)

Insider Tip: Children ages 8 and above can visit KidZania unattended, leaving grownups free to browse the shopping mall.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa

Score major brownie points with your wild brood by taking them on a day trip to Lisbon’s impressive city zoo. Big cats, primates, a reptile house, and dolphin shows are among the many big-ticket animal attractions, and children enjoy taking a running jump onto the cable cars that whisk visitors from exhibit to exhibit. If your little monkeys don’t have a head for heights, you can save little legs by riding around the park on a miniature train.

Insider Tip: Make the most of the somewhat steep entrance fee by making a full day of it—there’s a lot to see here and the fee covers everything except the miniature train.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Eléctrico 28

Lisbon is a city famously built on seven hills, which affords wonderful views but can also exhaust young adventurers. Save shoe leather, and stave off kids’ complaints, by jumping aboard the number 28 tram, which makes thrillingly steep ascents and descents as it performs a loop through some of Lisbon’s most-visited neighborhoods, passing sights such as the Cathedral and Basilica de Estrela as it clanks along.

Insider Tip: The busy tram has become a favorite spot for pickpockets—keep backpacks on your front, wallets in front pockets, and make sure handbags are kept closed and within sight.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Sintra Palace

Little princes and princesses will feel like they’ve stepped into the pages of a storybook at this impossibly picturesque UNESCO World Heritage town just 30 minutes’ train ride from Lisbon. Brightly hued palaces and castles sit among misty forest at the foothills of the Sintra mountains, whose cooling breezes enticed Roman, Moorish, and Portuguese royalty to build lavish homes and settlements here. The cobbled streets are lined with ice cream parlors and cafes, and there are plenty of picnic spots.

Insider Tip: Sintra is an easy day trip from Lisbon; from the train station, hop-on, hop-off sightseeing buses whisk visitors around the many impressive sights.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Hippo Trip

These colorful amphibious vehicles take in the sights of downtown Lisbon and Belém before making a dramatic splash (to the sounds of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, no less) into the Tagus. During the 90-minute trips, the high-spirited tour guides offer a wealth of information about the city and its attractions, while encouraging passengers to join in their Hippo Hippo rallying cry when they pass another of the vehicles.

Insider Tip:   There’s no food allowed on board, and choppy waves mean young kids should stick to light bites before the trip.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Arguably the most impressive of all Lisbon’s grand buildings, the vast Jeronimos Monastery in Belem was built in 1502 at the behest of King Manuel I. While younger visitors might not thrill at the UNESCO World Heritage Site status or the ornate sculptural details, they’re sure to enjoy a race around the cloisters and taking a peek at Vasco da Gama’s tomb. There’s a small museum telling the history of the building, too.

Insider Tip: It would be rude not to treat the kids (and yourself) to pasteis de nata (custard tarts) from the world-famous Pastéis de Belém pastry shop, which is a stone’s throw from the monastery.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

Funtrack

Fun Track

Families can pedal, skate, and scoot along the riverfront at this energy-burning attraction. Go-karts, bikes, in-line skates, and skateboards can be rented and ridden along the riverfront bike lane. A small café serves easy eats such as toasted sandwiches, ice cream, and veggie burgers.

Insider Tip: The comfy bean bags, snacks and—yes, cocktails—make this a good spot to relax with a river view while kids whiz around.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Torre de Belém

Grownups can marvel at the fine Manueline architecture and kids can goggle at jellyfish as they cross the bridge over the River Tagus to enter thismagnificent tower, which juts right out of the water. A stroll around the interior takes in cannons, gargoyles, dungeons, and former royal quarters, and children can hear the tale of the rhino whose image is carved in stone on the tower’s ramparts. Visitors climbing to the top of the stairs can peep out of the domed turrets to admire views out across the river in one direction and over the scenic Belém neighborhood in the other.

Insider Tip: The narrow, steep climb to the top can be a challenge for little legs; younger children will need to be carried.

PLAN YOUR TRIPVisit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guid

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Oceanário De Lisboa

Kids can stare down sharks, giant squid, and mammoth rays at Europe’s largest Aquarium. Visitors first take a stroll around the upper level, where they can see cute penguins and sea otters before descending to what appears to be the depths of the ocean. The glass walls hold five million liters of seawater, divided into four marine habitats that host all manner of weird and wonderful sea creatures. Every Saturday the Oceanarium holds classical music concerts for babies against the fishy backdrop, and it’s even possible to arrange a sleepover among the sharks, for those who are brave enough.

Insider Tip: Queues can be huge during high season; save time by booking online.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Praça do Comércio

Little ones can run riot among the pigeons while adults soak up the grandeur of downtown Lisbon’s biggest and busiest public square. Centered around a towering statue of King Jose I on horseback, this was the seat of Portugal’s royal palace until the Great Earthquake of 1755. Today, the riverfront praça is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Arco da Rua Augusta—Lisbon’s imposing Triumphal Arch—and flanked by eateries serving kid-friendly snacks like ice cream and toasted sandwiches. A lift whisks visitors to the top of the arch for stunning panoramic views of boats bobbing on the river.

Insider Tip: Lisbon’s main tourist office is located here; pick up a Lisboa Card, which gives discounted or free access to a wealth of attractions, as well as public transport.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Cascais and Estoril beaches

It’s a short, inexpensive train ride from Lisbon to the resort towns of Cascais and Estoril, which retain plenty of appeal for families, even with the crowds during summer high season. You’ll start spotting beaches just 15 minutes or so out of the city proper, but hold onto your sun hat, as the better strands are farther along the coast. Estoril is the glitzier of the two (the famous casino is said to have inspired the James Bond novels) but end-of-the-line Cascais is arguably the prettier, with its coves and castle-like buildings overlooking the sea. Wherever you choose to go, you can stroll along past the cafés and bucket and spade shops until you find your perfect spot.

Insider Tip: The tide forms natural pools—ideal for safe swimming—at certain times of day. Be warned, though, the water is cold.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Castelo de São Jorge

If you want to sell your kids the idea of a vacation in Lisbon, show them a picture of this postcard-perfect castle, which sits dramatically on a hilltop overlooking the town. Even if their sense of history isn’t stirred by tales of Romans, Visigoths, and Moorish invaders, kids of all ages are unlikely to turn up their noses at the opportunity to race around the ramparts, sit astride a giant cannon, or use the periscope to peek at city folk going about their daily business.

Insider Tip: You’re in prime tourist trap territory here, so expect to pay more for drinks and snacks inside and in the immediate vicinity of the castle.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

Lisbon Story Center

Lisbon Story Center

Sitting pretty on the Praça do Comercio, this interactive museum tells the dramatic story of the city in a truly immersive fashion. A 60-minute audio guide talks visitors through the story, which is divided into child-friendly chapters that invoke the sights, sounds, and even smells of centuries past. Younger children can gaze at boats and hot-air balloons while adults and older children learn more about the events that shaped the city. Midway through, a cinema shows a film about the city-shattering  earthquake, with just enough blood to pique older children’s interest. 

Insider Tip: This centrally located museum is a good place to begin a sightseeing tour around the Baixa (lower part of the city)

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Mercado da Ribeira

A grand domed market building in front of Cais do Sodre rail station has been transformed into an impressive eating and drinking space. While one half of the building still functions as a produce market (Mon.–Sat. until midday), the other side is a chic communal dining area. Choose lunch from the tanks filled with snapping lobsters, or browse dozens of counters serving delectable treats that range from artisan ice creams and chocolates to sushi, cured meats, and aged cheeses. Outside, a fun shark-themed playground is handily located next to the market’s own kiosk, which sells kid-friendly snacks as well as adult-friendly drinks. After dark during the cooler months, overhead heaters keep things cozy and the staff hands out blankets to chilly customers.

Insider Tip:  Stroll around the market’s food counters and pick up goodies to go, then enjoy them on the grassy area in front of the playground.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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Jardim da Estrela

One of Lisbon’s loveliest green spaces, this vast landscaped park in front of the Baroque Basilica da Estrela is home to duck ponds, kiosks, and an impressive playground. The café of the same name has a miniature tram and a kids’ area with coloring materials and board games. During summer weekends there’s even a staffed outdoor play area under the trees so parents can relax with a glass of wine as the kids get creative with craft materials. With toasted sandwiches and yummy cakes on the menu alongside soups, salads, and fish dishes, it’s a winner with all ages.

Insider Tip:  Weekend craft fairs at the park sell adorable handmade clothes and toys, and there are regular live music performances on summer afternoons.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide

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