From sky-high historic elevators to inflatable boat tours on the River Tagus, uncovering the dark secrets of the Age of Discoveries and nurturing a taste for custard tarts and colourful festivals, Lisbon steals little hearts instantly and usually turns out to be a lifelong passion. It may be one of the oldest and most romantic cities in Europe, but the Portuguese capital loves kids and has a great talent for unforgettable family holidays.
Direct flights from the UK to Lisbon, year round, take less than three hours.
Lisbon is crisp and frosty for Christmas Markets and sunny with temperatures between 25 and 30˚ from May to September.
Atlantic beach resorts on the sunny Costa da Caparica are less than 30 minutes from Lisbon city centre.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and Torre de Belém are two of Lisbon’s most famous monuments and both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Lisbon has six restaurants with a Michelin Star and it’s home to extraordinary Bel Canto which has two stars and lists as one of the world’s best 100 restaurants.
Hotels in Lisbon range from cool boutique independents in Bairro Alto to heritage five star guesthouses in Alfama, Atlantic beach resorts, international luxury hotels in the city centre and funky new brands on the waterfront at Cais do Sodré.
The oldest city in Europe, Lisbon’s been partially destroyed by earthquake twice in the past 500 years. But somehow, the historic Alfama district has always remained relatively unscathed. Predominantly medieval with traces of ancient Rome here and there, it’s instantly recognisable from narrow alleys, steep staircases and tall, skinny buildings colourfully cluttered around cobbled streets.
The history of Lisbon over the past 1000 years is inextricably linked to the Age of Discoveries and nowhere in the city has more connections to the era than Belém. The waterfront district with wide open views over the River Tagus is a must-visit. Not only is it home to two of Portugal’s most famous World Heritage monuments, it’s where to buy the city’s best custard tarts, bar none.
The extraordinary ‘upper’ district can seem a little sleepy by day, head over in the early evening and it’s the Lisbon you always imagined: balconied 18th and 19th century homes lining romantic cobbled streets; tiny shops and pretty restaurants tucked into historic buildings; old fashioned street lights; and narrow alleys steep enough for handrails. Even younger kids find the fairy tale of Bairro Alto enchanting at night.
The city centre was almost completely destroyed by earthquake in the late 18th century and Baixa Pombalina was designed after-the-fact to withstand anything. The sturdy, grid street plan and conservative architecture have managed well to date. Not the district for charmingly quaint Lisbon, but good for practicalities like tourist information, international hotels and shopping.
Lisbon’s chic shopping district doesn’t work a budget but the enchantment is entirely free. Several historic 18th and 19th century buildings were damaged by fire in 1988 but the restoration work’s flawless and nothing about Chiado says inauthentic. Largely pedestrianised, walking around here’s easy with kids and some of the city’s prettiest and best loved cafés are a constant excuse to rest up for a little.
Just over half an hour from the city, Costa da Caparica is where Lisbon hangs out on big, sandy Atlantic beaches in summer. Families and kids are king here and the friendly, fun atmosphere is more Algarve than major European capital.
Unless you’ve nerves of steel and a firm grasp of Portuguese, don’t drive in Lisbon. The city style is defensive in the extreme and takes the type of skills you probably aren’t planning to pick up on holiday. Use the Metro, it goes everywhere and keeps late hours. The trams are excellent, plus they take priority over all other transport. And if you’re working barrio by barrio, Lisbon’s not too difficult to walk around with kids.