By our reckoning Lisbon has been having a moment for the past 10 years or more and it just keeps getting better. We love the city because it’s one of those rare places you really don’t have to overthink with kids, even on a long weekend.
What to do on a long weekend in Lisbon
Ride the Lisbon streets on historic Tram 28
Lisbon’s historic yellow trams are city icons and if you want to ride one, make it Tram 28. The most iconic of them all, the 28 runs from Baixa to Estrela, through the city’s prettiest areas so it’s more like a tour than mere transport. You’ll probably have to queue for a little to get a seat, but it’s worth the wait.
To make the most of your time in Lisbon, especially on a long weekend, you might prefer not to wait for the tram and take a historic mini-bus tour of the city with local guides instead.
Head to Chiado for the world’s oldest bookshop
Forget the Insta hordes at Livraria Lello in Porto and get a slice of real literary history in Lisbon instead. Livraria Bertrand in Chiado is officially the world’s oldest bookshop. Fortunately you don’t need to line up or take a ticket to browse here. And even if you just buy a postcard, you get a keepable Livraria Bertrand bag.
Try Pastel de Nata in their home town of Lisbon
You can get Pastel de Nata custard tarts all over the world now, yet still we say don’t leave Lisbon until you’ve eaten them on home territory. If you want to go full tourist, head to Pastéis de Belém, no one would blame you. However, we like Manteigaria in Chiado. When you hear the shop bell ring it means a fresh batch of tarts has just come out of the oven. Prepare to wait in line here too. Or go in the evening, they don’t close until midnight.
Lisbon is famous for rising star restaurants, cute refreshment kiosks and lots of sardines – at the right time of year – so a secret food tour of the city is a great way to discover a lot on a weekend break.
Be the king of Castel São Jorge in Alfama
Right at the top of Alfama, you’ll find Castel São Jorge. Worth the climb for the views alone, the 11th century Moorish Castle is also great fun for kids. The grounds and walls are made for clambering about and year-round events can include anything from re-enactments to medieval dress up. Don’t miss the Black Chamber camera obscura, for a totally mesmerising perspective on Lisbon.
Of course you’ll get to know Lisbon in your own way, but when time is tight you might want to be a total tourist and book tickets and an audio-tour for Castel São Jorge.
Take kids exploring round Alfama in Lisbon
Lisbon may be built on hills but don’t let that put you off walking, especially in Alfama. One of the few areas of the city to survive the devastating 18th century earthquake, medieval Alfama is one of most haunting historic quarters in the world. Narrow streets squeeze between skinny houses. You’ll hear melancholy strains of Fado music leaking out of local bars. There’s a luscious colour palette of whitewash traced with vivid blues, yellows and scarlet. And if you aren’t stopping to stare every 10 seconds you’re doing something wrong.
Take a guided walking tour of Alfama and as well as all the heart-melting prettiness you can learn about the area’s history, its ghosts and greatest secrets.
Ride Elevador de Santa Justa from Baixa to Chiado
Lisbon loves unusual transport. Catch the Telecabine Lisboa cable car and you can soar along the River Tagus to Oceanario de Lisboa aquarium in Parque das Nacoes. It’s one of the biggest aquariums in Europe and a good breathing space with younger kids. The rickety trams we already mentioned, but there are boat or TukTuk tours to try in the city too.
However, the one you don’t want to miss is impressively tall Elevador de Santa Justa which connects Baixa and Chiado. Over 100 years old and designed by a pupil of Eiffel, it’s one of the city’s most dramatic sights. If you’re visiting in summer the queues tend to be long, so the top tip is to go early in the day. Alternatively climb up on foot and ride the elevador down, it’s always quieter.
Think about buying a flexible Lisbon Card for a long weekend. It covers all public transport and gives you free or discounted entry to most of the city’s major attractions.
Tour Torre de Belém on the Lisbon waterfront
Older kids will enjoy the audio-tour of Torre de Belém. Part watchtower and even bigger part, ‘Portugal owns the sea’ power play, the iconic tower has stood sentinel on the River Tagus since 1514. Undeniably weather worn and quite eerie inside, it’s still remarkable and the ghost stories alone justify a visit.
Visit Lisbon Museum for Jardim Bordallo Pinheiro
If you want to see Portuguese ceramics beyond wall tiles, visit the Museum of Lisbon and wander around Jardim Bordallo Pinheiro. This dream-like little garden is packed with weird and wonderful creations by Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro. Even if you aren’t familiar with his kitsch cabbage leaf plates, which are having a revival at the moment, kids will love the garden’s collection of fantastical ceramic creatures. Just remember to be polite to the real life peacocks who rule the roost here.
A Hippotrip amphibious sightseeing tour is one of the most exciting ways to see Lisbon from land and sea. It’s great fun and a good alternative to museum visits for younger kids.
Take in Lisbon from Miradouro da Graça
With kids you can swap sensational views from Lisbon’s famous rooftop bars for free lookouts from miradouros all over the city – it’s what the locals do! Miradouro das Portas do Sol is good for sunsets and a bit of an Instagram darling. Or if you want to linger a little, pack a picnic and head to quieter Miradouro da Graça between Alfama and Graça.
Lisbon is big on electric Tuk-Tuk city tours. There’s even a guided Tuk-Tuk tour of the Lisbon miradouros, which takes the effort out of finding a favourite for yourself.
Catch the train to see Sintra and play on the beach
Fairy tale Sintra is high up in the Serra de Sintra, yet only an hour away from Lisbon by train. It’s Portugal’s most visited site, so go early in the morning to avoid crowds of tourists loudly comparing it to Disneyland. Then once you’ve explored the pretty streets, grand houses and historic palaces, head to the Sintra coast for an afternoon on the beach.
Try a Sintra and Cascais day tour with private transport and you’ll more than fit this must-do experience into a weekend break.
Where to stay in Lisbon with kids
Stay in Chiado & Baixa at the heart of Lisbon
Chiado is at the heart of everything in Lisbon. The main shopping district it’s the place to see and be seen and a good base for a short break in the city as it’s close to Baixa, not far from Alfama and you can easily dip into nearby Bairro Alto in the evening with older kids.
Many of the grand 18th and 19th century buildings in neighbouring Baixa are now boutique hotels and holiday apartments so it’s another smart central choice if you’re looking to see a lot on a long weekend in Lisbon.
Stay on the edge of lively Bairro Alto with older kids
Bairro Alto is the city centre district which really comes alive after dark. It’s the epicentre for bars, restaurants and clubs and you should definitely wander around its quaint streets in the evening. The lively till the wee small hours vibe might not be conducive to a good night’s sleep, but if you can’t resist a stay in the thrumming heart of Lisbon, hotels on the edge of the Bairro are the best bet with kids.
Choose Alfama for Lisbon authenticity and charm
Medieval Alfama’s charm goes for places to stay too. Beautifully restored apartments in historic buildings and boutique hotels with rooftop terraces are the thing here. And if you want authenticity, it’s very much the district for that.
Stay in Belém on the waterfront
To be close to the river and big hitters like the Tower of Belém and Jerónimos Monastery, the waterfront district of Belém is the one to choose. Plus if you stay here you can pop in early to Pasteis de Belém and bag Pastel de Nata before the crowds descend.
Avenida de Liberdade is perfect for a short break
Some of Lisbon’s most expensive homes are on Avenada de Liberdade, along with embassies, designer stores and five-star hotels. Central to just about everything, you can certainly make the most of a shorter city break by staying here.
Where to eat in Lisbon with kids
Time Out Market Lisboa, Cais do Sodré
Nowadays you can’t even think of visiting Lisbon without dropping in on Time Out Market Lisboa. It opened in 2014 in space once occupied by historic Mercado da Ribeira and is now a go-to for Lisboetas and local families. Hardly surprising as over 30 restaurants, cafés and food stalls are at home here. Long, family-style tables and benches keep things sociable. And it’s also a good bet for live music, especially at the weekend.
Cantino do Avillez, Chiado
Michelin stars don’t tend to impress kids, so we won’t suggest dinner at José Avillez’ gorgeous Belcanto in Chiado – save that one for a grown-up break! However, we highly recommend Cantinho do Avillez for families. Also in Chiado, the food is sublime but the atmosphere is more cosy kitchen than fine dining and it’s very pretty. They don’t have a children’s menu but you can order a selection of snacks and starters. Although the mains are all about fresh ingredients, beautifully cooked and served simple, which works for most kids.
Chapitô à Mesa, Alfama
Just under the walls of São Jorge Castle, Chapitô à Mesa has a big outdoor terrace with incredible views from the heights of Alfama. It offers a simple, well-priced menu for lunch and dinner which is great for families. But those aren’t the only reasons you want to eat here. The restaurant helps fund the government-run performing arts school it’s attached to, so there’s a high chance you’ll catch a show with your meal and you’re eating for a good cause.
Lx Factory, Alcantara
Lx Factory in Alcantara mixes gallery and exhibition space with restaurants, shops and rooftop views. Take your pick from cantinas and cafés to sleek pizzeria, there’s even a hot chocolate specialist! Portuguese art and design is currently a big noise globally and stores here celebrate the best of the best. And there’s always something going on in the gallery space. Although the fact that Lx is just a great place to hang out is reason enough to go.
Lisbon city centre and waterfront Quiosque
Stroll around on a sunny day and you can’t miss the Quiosque Lisboa. A 19th century tradition revived in 2009, these ‘refreshment kiosks’ are dotted all over now, almost all have tables around them and the best come with incredible views. For an eyeful of Castel São Jorge, take a seat at Quiosque Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcantara in Bairro Alto. Or if you want to see the sun set over the River Tagus, head to Quiosque Ribeira das Naus in Cais do Sodré. Although we recommend just wandering until you find one you like the look of, it won’t take long!
How to plan a long weekend (or more) in Lisbon with kids
Direct UK flights to Lisbon take from 2 hours, 35 minutes year round.
When to go
Lisbon is an any time kind of city. Even when it’s hot in July and August nearby Atlantic beaches on Costa Caparica keep kids cool – great for surf lessons too. Low crowds and mild weather make spring a good choice. Autumn is still bright and quite warm, so it’s a nice fit for half-term. And come winter you’ll have twinkly city lights, Alfama atmosphere and spectacular shopping.
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