Portugal’s capital city is riding a new wave of regeneration. Family Traveller editor, Jane Anderson discovers its increasing family appeal
Lisbon has echoes of many of the world’s great cities. Its steep old cobbled streets, trams and impressive red bridge across the tidal River Tejo bears more than a passing resemblance to San Francisco. Its statue of Christ the Redeemer on the hillside reminds you instantly of Rio, and its main avenue is modeled after the Champs Elysée in Paris. It also happens to be built on seven hills just like Rome, yet Lisbon is a city that has for a long while done its own thing in its own time, remaining neutral in conflicts and turning its eye more to the Atlantic than to Europe. Yet suddenly it seems, the world has woken up to Lisbon’s charms. There is renovation work in many parts of the city as trendies start moving into the old town and the port gets a facelift for the cruise crowd. For families, it’s a very manageable city with plenty to keep youngsters and teens entertained from the Oceanarium to the cool urban street art. Go discover!
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Tuk-tuk tour of Lisbon
Kids will love a tour on these electric tuk-tuks with plenty of space for a family of four. Bump over old cobbled streets up and down the city’s steep hills with a knowledgeable guide such as PhD student Joao Sintra, to panoramic vantage points on the east and west of town.
Discover houses covered in traditional blue and white tiles, the ancient, labyrinthine Alfama district with its narrow lanes and seafood restaurants, and an introduction to the trendy Chiado district.
From £130 for up to six passengers, with pick up from your hotel. ecoTukTours.com
Funiculars, Lifts & Trams
There’s a reason you don’t see many cyclists in Lisbon. It’s incredibly hilly! Take the Ascensor da Gloria Funicular up 276m at an average gradient of 18% to the Chiado area of town and catch one of the many trams to explore, be it a public tram or a sightseeing one like the Cork Tram. And don’t miss a ride on the Santa Justa Lift, one of the city’s best-loved landmarks also known as the ‘Elevator of Carmo’ with similar ironwork to the Eiffel Tower which connects Rossio Square to the Bairro Alto district.
Gloria Funicular costs £13 for two adults and two children.
The Lisbon Oceanarium
Located in the Parque das Nacoes, which was the exhibition grounds for the Expo 1998 and a great open space to let kids run wild, the Lisbon Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe with five million litres of seawater. Families get a fascinating insight into the lives of creatures as diverse as Pacific Ocean sea otters who rub their cute faces with a grease like substance to make it waterproof, to mighty sunfish, the largest bone fish in the world.
You may catch a keep feeding a Zebra shark and will certainly come away with a new respect for conserving our oceans. Don’t miss the fabulous temporary exhibitions such as the Forests Underwater exhibition by Japanese landscape photographer, Takashi Amano. The Parque das Nacoes also has a Science Park, cable car and shopping mall.
Visitors 13 and over £14, Youngsters (4-12 years) £9.50. Under 4 go free. oceanario.pt
The Real Lisbon Street Art Tour
Since Lisbon’s City Hall legalized street art, its been flourishing across the city. A knowledgeable guide picks families up from their hotel in a mini bus and takes them to all the hot spots such as Brazilian street artist twins OsGemeos’ depiction of a hooded graffiti anarchist character using a businessman as a catapult.
But the most impressive of all is Quinto Do Mocho (The Owls Farm), a deprived housing estate in Lisbon which is now one of the largest outdoor galleries in the world thanks to 69 huge pieces of urban art painted in acrylics on the ends of tower blocks. Often with a surrealist edge, themes include racial harmony, escapism and transformation. The aim is to lift the hope and dreams of residents. The tour is sometimes hosted by a street artist or they turn up along the way.
Private three-hour tour costs from £50 per person. estreladalva.pt
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
The Sky Bar and Cervejaria Liberdade at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
Take the lift to the 9th floor of the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade and you step out into the city’s new hotspot, The Sky Bar. So called for its panoramic views down over the east and west of the city to the river and beyond. In contrast to the hotel, this space is 21st century modern with a cool rectangular bar, white tables and chairs and two stacked containers for toilets with Keith Haring type graffiti. Tweens and teens will love the vibe with resident DJ and the generous mocktails served in jars glasses. Afterwards head to the ground floor to Cervejaria Liberdade, past the live mini lobsters from Cascais, into a low-lit sophisticated restaurant space that’s not too stuffy to make families feel at ease. As with most of Lisbon, local fish is centre stage here with everything from Algarve prawns to Aveiro Lagoon oysters. Feast on sushi and sashimi, which can be customized to your wishes and the chef will come to your table to check all’s well. Deserts are hearty with a crème brulée and rice pudding combo top of the list. Three-course dinner for four with wine around £175, minorhotels.com
The Time Out Market
Mercado da Ribeira, Avenida 24 de Julho, 1200-479, Lisbon
An entertaining lunch spot for families, this old market has been transformed into a modern gourmet food court where Portugal’s top chefs are represented. timeoutmarket.com/en/
Tasquinha Ginia De Alfama
Rua Pedro Ivo 12, Lisbon
Head to this tiny old tapas bar in the Alfama district of Lisbon to give children a real taste of the city. Dine on small plates of salty codfish cakes, local cheese and ham, chorizo and olives. Parents can sample the sweet cherry liqueur. 00 351 21 936207958
Pasteis de Belém
You can’t get much more local than this beautiful café and bakery where the star is the famous custard tart. Once a sugar cane refinery, the tarts follow an ancient, secret recipe from the monastery next door. It’s the perfect pit stop for families on a city tour taking in Belém Tower. pasteisdebelem.pt
WHERE TO SHOP
A Vida Portuguesa
Rua Anchieta 11, 1200-023 Chiado, Lisbon
For the ultimate treasure trove of Portuguese-made products and design, A Vida Portuguesa is a must in the happening Chiado neighbourhood. Housed in an old perfume factory there’s everything from ceramic swallows (a city symbol) to stationary and toys. avidaportuguesa.com/index.php
The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine
Praca D. Pedro IV, 39 Lisbon
Comur has been canning and selling sardines since 1942, and its fantastical shop at first glance looks like a fairground with its mini ferris wheel and carousel. On closer inspection, the wild colour and movement are made of souvenir cans of sardines, a staple of Portuguese life, all dated with a year. Can cost £6 each. mundofantasticodasardinha.pt/en/
WHERE TO STAY
Tivoli Avenida Liberdade
This grand dame of Lisbon life has been given a five-star facelift and now ranks as one of the best places to stay in Lisbon with children. It’s old school glamour and attentive service lie at the heart of this 80-year-old hotel located on one of Lisbon’s most prestigious streets lined with designer shops. The elegant art deco lobby sets the tone with its striking glass dome and décor referencing the Pomblaine period of Portuguese architecture.
Best of all the Tivoli has new family rooms with a generous double bed and a sofa bed set up for up to two children, all with impossibly comfortable pillows and bed linen in classic white. Families are greeted with elaborate sweet treats for kids to decorate themselves and a bottle of Graham’s Tawny Port for parents. Bathrooms are slick with delicious Portus Cale toiletries.
Some of the best parts of this hotel are at the top and the bottom. Floor 9 has a new executive lounge, Terraco Restaurant and hip Sky Bar (see Where to Eat & Drink). On the lower ground is Tivoli’s first spa in the city and gym, and on the ground floor is the Cervejaria Liberdade restaurant.
At the rear of the hotel is an unexpectedly tropical garden with blue tiled walls, loungers and hipster bar around a classic circular pool, giving families a great place to chill out in the city. Concierge are on hand to engineer the best of Lisbon for you whether that’s a tuk-tuk ride from the front steps or an urban street tour.
Nightly rates in a family room at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade start from £400 B&B. Babysitting costs £22 per hour. minorhotels.com
Martinhal Chiado, Lisbon
Following on from the success of Martinhal Sagres in the Algarve, the team behind this ultra family-friendly resort has opened its first city apartment style hotel in the happening Chiado district of Lisbon.
Thirty-seven designer family apartments are all individual in size according to your needs. Apartments have open-plan living spaces with full kitchens including washing machines and Nespresso makers. Some have funky bunk beds for the kids tucked in the communal space and a separate bedroom for parents, all in a calming modern style with a Portuguese twist and specially commissioned artworks. There’s a Family Concierge for everything from strollers to bottle warmers.
Downstairs are four bright rooms for kids of different ages to chill out in the kids club. There’s even a climbing wall and a tented baby area. The M Bar restaurant has family-friendly written all over it with cute décor such as old crates on the walls and books to browse.
A vintage red and white BMW Isetta car serves as a great plaything in whilst little ones wait for their food. The kids’ menu is a refreshing take on boring staples, such as a salmon burger with roast veg instead of beef and chips. The hotel is fully geared for accessible travel too.
Spacious family apartments cost from £255 per night with breakfast. Kids Club is complimentary from noon to 10pm. martinhal.com/chiado
Monarch operates year round flights to Lisbon from Birmingham, London Gatwick and Manchester airports with fares from £76 return per person.
Best time to visit
The Algarve is warm and sunny during the May and October half terms when beaches are much quieter, with temperatures rising to 30 degrees during the summer holidays which is high season.
Days out from Lisbon
Take a scenic 35-minute train ride from Lisbon to Cascais for a day at the beach. And don’t miss the House of Stories of Paula Rego, Portugal’s most revered artist. Sintra is another beautiful historic town well worth a visit.