A WEEK IN LISBON WITH KIDS
Lisbon is pretty much unique among European capitals in having summer-long sunshine, plus suburbs featuring broad sandy beaches and regular Atlantic rollers ideal for surfing. So rather than drag the kids around museums, get them enrolled in one of the city’s many surf schools. That way they spend the mornings having fun in the waves, you get to do cultural stuff undisturbed by the complaints of bored juniors, and you can all spend some quality time together in the afternoons.
Carcavelos Beach, just a 20-minute train ride from downtown, is ideal for beginners, but there are beaches within a short drive from Lisbon to suit all standards.
In the afternoon, it’s time to discover what lies beneath the waves. The Oceanário is a delight for all ages, but children will marvel at its range of sea life. The aquarium also organizes special events such as concerts for young children, or sleepovers where kids (and parents) can spend the night next to the shark tank. You’ll need at least a couple of hours to explore the Oceanário.
After the morning at surf school, spend the afternoon on dry land. Take the kids to Castelo de São Jorge (St. George’s Castle) so they can admire the view, roam the ramparts, and imagine the days of the Romans, Moors, and Crusaders who lived and battled there. Then head down the castle hill and up the next slope to the Graça neighborhood to catch Tram 28, the most iconic line of Lisbon’s vintage yellow streetcars (eléctricos). It will likely be crowded with tourists, but the eléctrico remains a fun way to see the city as it rattles down the narrow lanes of the Alfama neighborhood, scoots through Baixa’s streets, passes the posh shops of Chiado, and finally ends at the Cemitério dos Prazeres, Lisbon’s largest cemetery. Few tourists venture here, but the 19th-century necropolis, with its massive family tombs, makes for an intriguingly spooky visit. Don’t miss the pyramid built by Dom Pedro de Sousa Holstein, Duke de Palmela, believed to be Europe’s biggest private mausoleum.
In the afternoon head for the zoo. The Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa has been around for 132 years and contains over 2,000 animals from 300 different species. At least one you’re unlikely to see anywhere else—the Iberian lynx—is the world’s rarest cat, struggling to survive with the help of a conservation program in the wild lands of southern Spain and southeastern Portugal. The zoo is a much-loved attraction for Portuguese schoolchildren who come to see the rare red pandas or the “enchanted woods,” where exotic birds fly in the open air.
Take the train out to Sintra. High up in the hills to the west of Lisbon, this was the summer retreat for the royal family and their aristocratic entourage. Among the thickly forested hills are fairytale palaces and secret gardens to explore. Make like 18th-century nobles and hire a horse-drawn carriage to take you through the forests to the gates of the phantasmagorical Palácio da Pena.
Sport Lisboa e Benfica, better known simply as Benfica, is one of the world’s great soccer clubs, twice European champions. In fact, it’s believed to be the world’s biggest club in terms of membership, with almost 160,000 paid-up fans. Catching a home game can be a tremendous experience, especially if they are playing against cross-town rivals Sporting or northern upstarts FC Porto. If you can’t get to a match, you can still tour the Estádio da Luz stadium and visit its state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the club’s 112-year history, in which its greatest player, Eusébio (1942–2014), plays a starring role.
Next door to the stadium is one of Europe’s largest shopping malls, the Centro Colombo, offering 119,725 square meters (1.3 million sq. ft.) of retail therapy. There are 340 stores, 60 restaurants, nine movie screens, and a bowling alley. It’s all vaguely themed around the Portuguese Era of Discoveries.
Lisbon’s coach museum, the Museu Nacional dos Coches, has one of the world’s greatest collections of historical carriages. It is Portugal’s most visited museum and contains Cinderella-style carriages dating back to the 16th century. The oldest was used to bring King Filipe II from Madrid to Lisbon during the Spanish occupation, and the most exuberant is a gold-covered vehicle given as a gift to the Pope from a Portuguese king in 1715. It’s housed in a new building that opened in 2015 in Lisbon’s riverside Belém district.
Nearby in the Picadeiro Henrique Calado you can watch some 18th-century-style horsemanship. This arena is where the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arts holds its daily training and weekly performances, with horses and riders clad in period costumes to conjure up the displays they once put on to entertain the royal family. The Lusitano horses used in the performances are a unique Portuguese breed.
Head back out to the riverside Parque das Nações district packed with modern architecture. Apart from the Oceanário, kids will love the Pavilion of Knowledge–Ciência Viva, an interactive science museum, where they can engage in an array of experiments, including riding a bike on a tight rope. It’s loads of fun. After that, take a ride in the cable cars that run high above the riverbank, giving a splendid view over Europe’s longest bridge. Be warned: The area also contains another big shopping mall
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.