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Lisbon for Families, Children and Toddlers: A Planning Guide
Lisbon makes for a great destination for families who are seeking a child-friendly city break location. Lisbon is very welcoming and supportive of families, while the city boasts a varied selection of sights and activities suitable for children of all ages. These attractions include a modern zoo, a wonderful oceanarium, the colourful trams, and a series of engaging museums. This article will provide an introduction for families who are considering visiting Lisbon and will detail many of the children friendly activities within the city.
Note: For details of sights and activities for children, please skip to the end of this article..
Lisbon for Families an Overview
One of the underlining fundamentals of Portuguese life is the importance of the family, and this directly translates into the supportive and understanding nature of all who work within the tourist industry. Families will be made to feel welcome in all hotels, restaurants will be understanding and patient, while all major tourist attractions are designed to accommodate children.
From a personal experience, we have shown Lisbon to family and friends with children of varying ages, and all have left saying how great the city was.
Advice: A family city break will always be much more demanding (on the parents!) than a relaxed beach, all-inclusive holiday. Before embarking on this trip do consider if it is for you, it is feasible, and that your children will enjoy it.
Family Holiday Planning Questions for Lisbon
While helping families plan their holidays Lisbon, we were commonly asked the same type of question, and this section provides our shortened answer with links to further in-depth information.
Is Lisbon safe?
For the size of Lisbon, it is a very safe city - so long as you use the same common sense, as you would back at home. Crime is relatively low for a major city, but as with all cities there are desperate and unscrupulous people, but they tend to appear late at night or on the fringes of the tourist areas. The only real issues are from pick-pockets and opportunistic thieves.
Related articles: Is Lisbon safe?
What about language issues?
Everyone who works within tourism speaks a good level of English. All restaurants have menus in English and English is the second language for signs and information.
Summary: Communication and personal safety should never be a concern when planning a family holiday to Lisbon.
What about nappies, baby food, milk and specialist food, etc?
Lisbon has an extensive selection of shops, supermarkets and pharmacies, which sell all common branded goods. Some of these items will be more expensive than back at home, but they will not be difficult to find. Pingo Doce is a major supermarket chain, and in central Lisbon, there are two stores (GPS: 38.71216, -9.13504 and GPS: 38.71366, -9.14022). Lisbon has a surprising number of pharmacies, almost one on every street.
Health cover and hospitals
Portugal has a good standard of health services. Pharmacies are should be used as the first point of contact for all minor ailments.
Advice: Always have sufficient travel insurance for medical emergencies or to cover the cost of a cancelled holiday.
Is it going to be hot?
In the peak season, Lisbon basks under an intense summer sun, and this makes the city very hot. This heat is a dry heat (low humidity), so if you drink enough water, start early in the day and stay in the shade it is possible to sightsee with children. Cooler months with pleasant weather are May and September; the Easter holidays and half-term holidays are a great time to visit Lisbon. The winter months can be wet and chilly, but it rarely drops below 14C.
Related article: When to visit Lisbon?
Are there lots of hills?
Lisbon is spread across seven hills, and unplanned sightseeing can feel as if you are endlessly walking uphill. This can be very draining if using a pushchair or lugging around tires children. The district of Alfama and the route up to the castle has some of the steepest hills, along with narrow cobbled streets.
Where to stay?
We would suggest staying within the Baixa district or close to the Avenida da Liberdade – this area is close to the historic centre, but there are no major hills. Popular tourist areas that are not really suited for families are Alfama (too many hills), Bairro Alto and Cais do Sodré (nightlife hotspots) and Belem (too far from the city centre).
Related article: Where to stay in Lisbon?
Lisbon airport and travelling onwards
Lisbon airport is within the city limits and only 7km from the city centre. For onward travel from the airport either take a taxi or the metro. All of the low-cost airlines fly into Lisbon and to secure the low price always book flights as far in advance as possible.
Related article: Travel from the airport - Taxi Guide - Metro Guide
A rental car?
A rental car may sound like a good idea, but for a city break in Lisbon, it is more hassle than it is worth. Driving in central Lisbon is demanding and difficult, with erratic drivers, confusing road layouts and limited car parking. For the majority of a trip to Lisbon you will be walking, for longer distances take the metro or taxi.
What about Estoril or Cascais?
Cascais is a characterful resort town, which has good beaches and excellent public transport (train) links to Lisbon. For an extended family holiday, Cascais maybe a better location to be based, and then have day trips into Lisbon. Estoril is a good resort town next to Cascais, but is without the historic centre and monuments.
Related articles: Cascais Guide
Is food safe?
Food quality is of a high standard in Lisbon and Portugal. There is as much a risk of getting food-related issues in Lisbon as at home. Again, use the same common sense that you would back at home.
Is it safe to drink the water?
Lisbon tap water is safe to drink, but the pipework in older buildings may be dirty or contaminated. Water from the tap in a café will be safe to drink, whereas water from a tap in a hotel room should not be drunk from.
Tip: All cafes provide free water, just ask for a “Copo de água”
Children in Lisbon and Portugal stay up very late, and it is not uncommon to see children in restaurants past 10pm. The evening meal is usually started from 7-8pm.
There are beaches close by
Many visitors to Lisbon do not realise that there are glorious beaches just a short train ride from the centre of the city. Many of these beaches are ideal for families and offer soft golden sands and calm, clean sea waters which are supervised by lifeguards. The most easily accessible beaches are on the stretch of coastline between Lisbon and Cascais and are served by the regional railway that departs from Cais do Sodre train station.
Related article: Lisbon beaches
The great beaches near Lisbon
Activities and sights for children in Lisbon
Lisbon has a wide range of activities which will entertain children of all ages, popular activities including Lisbon Zoo, the Oceanarium, the Parque das Nações and a ride on the yellow tram. The next section details the popular child-friendly activities of Lisbon.
Lisbon Oceanarium is considered as one of the best aquariums in Europe and is a place that will simply enthral children. Lisbon aquarium is known as the Oceanarium as the four huge tanks represent the different oceanic regions of the world and each one is teeming with exciting marine life.
Families tend to spend 2-3 hours in the Oceanarium, but the only downside is the relatively high-ticket price (€16.00/€11.00 adult/ child). The Oceanarium is best avoided at the weekends when it can get very busy during the summer months. .
The Lisbon Oceanarium is great for children
Lisbon Zoo is a popular location for visiting families. Lisbon zoo is modern with excellent facilities and well cared for animals. The stand out attraction is the large water pool which provides dolphin and sea lion shows. Other areas include the reptile and snake house, aviaries that can be walked through. There is a petting farm for younger children who can interact with the animals.
The zoo is a day-long activity and ticket prices are; children (3-11) € 12.50 and adults (12+) € 17.50. The amusement park side of the zoo, called Animax, lies outside of the main zoo so visitors can enter without buying a zoo ticket.
A ride on the number 28 Tram
Children love to ride on the classic trams, which screech and clatter through the narrow streets of the Alfama district. The tram can get very busy during the day so travel either early in the day or in the evening. A tram ticket costs €2.90 for a single ride, but a better option is the 24-hour unlimited tram/bus/metro, which costs €6.30, and includes all of the funiculars and the Elevador de Santa Justa Lift.
Related articles: Tram 28
The number 28 tram in Praça do Comercio
Parque das Nações
The Parque das Nações district has numerous children-friendly activities including; a cable car that runs the length of the park, interactive outdoor features and bike hire. Also, in Parque das Nações is the Lisbon Oceanarium (see above) and the Pavilion of Knowledge. The Pavilion of Knowledge is an interactive science/technology museum which is good value (adult € 7.00, child (6-17) €4.00) and has many exhibits to engage children.
The cable car in the Parque das Nações
For slightly older children visiting Lisbon is a trip to the cinema. Many other European countries dub the latest movies into their native tongue, but due to Portugal’s small size many movies just have subtitles leaving the original English soundtrack. Cartoons and movies for young children are often dubbed but most major releases are rarely dubbed, just ask before buying tickets. A popular Cinema is in the Vasco da Gama shopping centre, in the Parque das Nações.
All children enjoy travelling on the old trams of Lisbon as they clatter along the tight and twisting streets. The trams leave from Praça Comércio and head up to the castle or head west to the Belem district. Another transport option that entertains children is to catch the ferry that heads across the River Tagus. The ferry leaves from Terreiro de Parco.