Feeling the warm sun on my face, my toe tapping to the buskers behind me, I couldn’t help but feel a little smug that we were visiting Lisbon in December. I was sat on the steps of the Tagus River at Comércio Plaza, whilst the boys chased the waves lapping up the steps, dodging tourists with their selfie-sticks.
Check out our video of what we got up to in Lisbon with kids.
Admittedly the warm winter sun and bright blue skies provided the perfect filter, but Lisbon was a city I instantly fell in love with; cobbled streets connecting grand architecture, restaurants spilling out onto expansive plazas, and brightly coloured buildings framed by terracotta rooftops. Plus, we found that there is so much to do in Lisbon with kids! The Oceanarium and Science Museum were a huge hit, but also riding the trams and metro, as well lots of open, pedestrianised squares for running and chasing pigeons.
Day 2 – Visit the ‘new’ Lisbon
Day 3 – Sintra and Belém
Day 4 – Return home
Christmas in Lisbon
Lisbon isn’t the obvious choice for a Christmas city break in December. Many head to the traditional Christmas markets of Germany and Belgium. But perhaps consider a little sunshine and warmth with your mulled wine and Christmas shopping?
We visited Lisbon in the second weekend of December and found that the city really comes alive at this time of year. There are Christmas markets at seemingly every main square. Or your can head to Wonderland Lisboa to go ice-skating, meet Father Christmas, ride the Ferris Wheel and peruse even more Christmas markets.
Wonderland Lisboa runs from the 1st December to 1st January.
You will also find the main shopping streets decorated with twinkling lights, and we absolutely loved the conical tree in the main square of Comércio Plaza, which you can sit inside and looks magical when lit up at night.
We usually embrace slow travel and generally like some downtime of an afternoon. Not this time. The boys were on form this weekend and were happy to keep going and going (Portuguese ice-cream must contain magic beans). Plus, there is really so much to do in Lisbon with kids, that we wanted to cram in as much as possible!
We flew in to Lisbon on a Thursday morning, arriving at our hotel just before noon, and left on a Sunday morning. So we had 72 hours across 4 days.
Day 1 – Soak up the history
As we arrived at our hotel just before noon, our first day started around lunch time…
Begin your Lisbon adventures in the heart of the old town at Comércio Plaza. If the sun is shining, head down to the steps on the river and soak up the atmosphere, before enjoying a short wander along the waterfront.
Head back to the Comércio Plaza and through Arco da Rua Augusta to stroll along pedestrianised Rua Augusta towards Rossio. Give in to temptation and stop for a drink at one of the many restaurants spilling out on to the cobbled streets.
Take tram No.12 from Praça da Figueira towards São Jorge’s Castle (it’s a short walk up hill from the tram stop) to marvel the impressive views across the old city and over to the Tagus River and beyond, before exploring inside the castle. Unintentionally, we timed our visit perfectly with sunset.
We had wanted to have dinner in the area, but found restaurants closing. So instead we took a very crammed tram back to Comércio Plaza and found a restaurant along Rua Augusta.
Day 2 – Visit the ‘new’ Lisbon
The former industrial area of Lisbon was transformed into Parque das Nações for Expo98 and has been completely transformed into a modern and pedestrianised recreational area.
Just a 15 minute walk from our hotel, is Lisbon’s Oceanarium. This aquarium is considered one of the best in the world. The marine life seem to be very well looked after and it’s thrilling watching the sharks and rays brush past with just a sheet of glass separating you. They also have penguins, puffins, and some extremely cute otters. However, get there early. It was too busy for us and we left earlier that we would have liked as it felt rather claustrophobic.
Almost next to the Oceanarium is Pavilhão do conhecimento (Science Museum). This is honestly the BEST kids science museum we have ever been to. This museum is all about learning through play, and extremely fun play. We spent a good few hours here, and there are friendly staff on hand to help kids work out how to to do things. My boys particularly loved playing with the wheels and cranes in the building area, driving the car with square wheels, creating flowers out of their heads through dance, and programming a robot around a maze.
Then for some chilled time, enjoy the cable car ride along the river and back again, before jumping on Bus no728 from here to Comércio Plaza. Walk along Rua Augusta and select a spot for an early dinner.
Day 3 – Sintra and Belém
A 40 minute train journey from Lisbon (we took the train from Oriente) transports you to the fairytale-esque town of Sintra, complete with ornate castles and pastel-washed alleyways. We only had a couple of hours to wander around and unfortunately missed out on visiting the ‘must-see’ Pena Palace as buses were full and the boys were apparently too young to ride tuk-tuks. Our friends over at Wyld Family Travel suggest spending three days here (check out their Sintra post) and we can totally see why. However, a morning was just enough to get a vibe of the town before the throngs of tourists arrived.
Tip 1: Get there early!
Tip 2: Don’t wait for a bus into the town. It’s a lovely walk and only about 15 minutes.
Tip 3: Escape down the alleyways to avoid the crowds. You’ll have those instagrammable walls and doorways all to yourself.
Back in the city, as we were visiting in December, we visited Wonderland Lisboa to soak up some Christmas cheer. Being brutally honest, rides are over-priced and there were long queues. However, I don’t think that’s very different to any other Christmas markets across Europe. But we all loved the views from the top of the ferris wheel, even if the cabin did feel like a sauna in the winter sunshine.
Take the metro back to Comércio Plaza (we keep ending up here!) and board the Yellow Boat Tour to Belém. Do check the website for times as the boat only runs four times a day in winter. It’s lovely seeing the city from the water and many people opt to stay on the boat to return to Comércio Plaza. However, we jumped off to take a closer look at the impressive Belém Tower before walking along the waterfront and then catching a tram back to Comércio Plaza.
And whilst we found ourselves back at Comércio Plaza yet again, we felt it suitable to enjoy dinner for a third night in a row along one of Rua Augusta’s side streets.
Day 4 – Return home
Our flight back home departed at 10:20 am. We therefore only had time for breakfast, before catching the 15 minute metro to Lisbon airport. If you are departing from Terminal 2, allow enough time to get the transfer bus as the metro takes you to Terminal 1.
If you have more time…
Where we stayed
The location is fantastic for the Oceanarium and Pavilhão do conhecimento (Science Museum), and there is a massive supermarket in the mall across the road. Plus, it’s only three stops away from the airport. However, we only spent half a day at these places and seemed to gravitate more towards Comércio Plaza and its surrounding streets. To get to Comércio Plaza you either have to take a bus or the metro (including a change). Although this wasn’t too much of a problem as my boys loved riding the public transport.
We had a family room on the 10th floor overlooking the Oriente train station; my train-obsessed boys loved this, although personally I would have preferred a river view. Rooms are modern, clean and a good size. There’s a fridge in the room, although unfortunately no coffee and tea making facilities. We had a double bed and a bunk bed for the boys. Do note that the sides of the beds in the bunks aren’t entirely safe, as there are big gaps where they could fall out. We filled these gaps with pillows and bedding, which worked, but wouldn’t be ideal for very young children.
A buffet breakfast is provided, including a full English, pancakes, omelettes, breads, meats, cheeses – it really is an impressive spread! Although do note that the hotel is popular with tour buses and so breakfast does get busy at all times.
Getting around Lisbon
We advise getting the Lisboa Card for unlimited free travel by bus, metro and tram. You can get this for 24, 48, or 72 hours. The card also includes free or discounted entry to many museums and attractions, and also free travel by train to Sintra and Cascais.
It is very easy to navigate the public transport system and signage is very clear. Plus, we never seemed to be too far from a metro, bus or tram stop; and rarely had to wait long.
Be warned though that from our experience, Lisbon public transport gets extremely busy, especially around rush hour. We were lucky on a few occasions to actually get a seat. If travelling with babies and toddlers, I would imagine that getting a pushchair on and off would be hard work. Consider taking a carrier.
Getting to Lisbon
We flew direct from Manchester, UK, to Lisbon with easyJet. It’s a 2 hour 50 minute flight.
Manchester airport is only a one hour hour drive from our home and we left our car at the airport using the Meet & Greet option booked with Holiday Extras. This is super easy. Drive to the Meet & Greet drop off following the signs (M+G), pass through the inspection area that automatically scans your car to record its condition, park up, drop keys into the machine, and walk the 2 minutes into the terminal. On return, pick up your keys from the collection point in arrivals and you will find your car parked in the short-term car-park. It was 15 minutes from walking off our flight to stepping into our car and driving home.
“Holiday Extras is the market leader in UK airport parking, hotels and lounges, and in 2018 customers who pre-booked their parking with Holiday Extras saved an average of £59 each vs the price they’d have paid on the day. Meet and Greet parking takes the hassle out of your trip to the airport and is the best way to start your holiday with a smile.”
Disclaimer: Our visit to Lisbon was hosted by Visit Lisboa who provided us with three nights bed and breakfast at TRYP Lisboa Oriente Hotel as well as a complimentary 72 hour Lisboa Card for unlimited free travel by bus, metro and tram. Our visit to the Oceanarium, Pavilhão do conhecimento, São Jorge Castle, and our Yellow Boat Tour was also complimentary. We paid for our own flights with Easy Jet. This post also contains affiliate links. Should you click on a link to purchase, it is at no cost to you, though I receive a small commission that goes towards the running of this blog.
Where would we be without our Lonely Planet guide book?