Non-touristy Lisbon with kids

Lisbon with kids. It’s all about that oceanarium, the castle, and trundling up and down the narrow city streets on cutesy yellow trams, right? Well, no, not at all. There are many, many other kid-friendly highlights in Lisbon, most of which are much more relaxed than the more famous attractions. Here are some of our personal favourites:

1.   Jardim da Estrela

Size isn’t everything. The Jardim da Estrela may be pocket-sized as far as city parks go, but it has just about everything that a family-friendly urban park should have, and more. Under the twittering of a thousand birds you’ll find ponds of lazy ducks (and turtles!), refreshing drinking fountains, an animal-themed playground, benches to watch the world go by from and a couple of cafés, all sheltered from the brilliant Portuguese sun by a canopy of leafy trees.

Indeed, it is these very trees that make the Jardim da Estrela extra special, particularly the magnificent banyans sprawling and towering majestically over everything around them. If your kids are anything like ours, they will spend far longer climbing and hiding amongst these outrageous natural giants than they will in any playground, museum or souvenir shop.

GETTING THERE: Good news! You now have an actual, bona fide reason to ride Tram 28, the gorgeously rickety old-fashioned tram you see in all the major tourist guides. Be aware of pickpockets, and get off at the Basilica do Estrela, right at the entrance to the park.

TIP: Hungry? Five minutes by foot from the park will take you to the Mercado de Campo de Ourique, a buzzing foodie market. Aside from the mouth-watering selection of grub in a relaxed international atmosphere, there’s even a small kids’ area. Recommended.

 

2.   Pavilhão do Conhecimento (Science Centre)

A science museum with a difference. Arguably it’s not really a museum at all, more like a giant indoor playground with explanations. Either way, your kids will probably never want to leave.

Pavilhão do Conhecimeto, Lisbon

Situated just beside the much more famous Oceanário, the Pavilhão is housed in a voluminous modern building with interesting features at every turn (check out the giant pendulum with dominoes!). While you will be reading the English descriptions and  admiring the impressive modern architecture, your kids will probably just be running riot. In a good way.

Ride a bicycle over a tightrope, drive a car with square wheels, watch a tornado being formed, fire projectiles from a giant catapult… your kids will exhaust and amaze themselves in equal measures. And then, to calm things down a little, descend to the basement to partake in slower hands-on activities such as electrical circuit building and shoe-making. Yep, shoe-making. Well, we did warn you that this place is different…

GETTING THERE: Take the Metro to Oriente, walk through the Vasco da Gama shopping centre, turn right and it is straight in front of you after 500 metres or so.

TIP 1: Take your own picnic and eat it in the mess-hall in the basement.

TIP 2: Your kids still have some energy?? Exhaust them completely by a splashy visit to the Jardims d’Água (water gardens) directly nearby (free).

 

3.   Hiking in Monsanto / picnicking in Serafina

Take a glance at any map of Lisbon and you can’t fail to notice a giant swathe of green just to the west of the city centre. This is Parque Florestal de Monsanto, one of the largest city parks in Europe – nearly SEVEN times as large as Hyde Park, London! – and it is gloriously off the beaten tourist trail.

Look at the size of that thing!

If you need a respite from the clamour of tourist Lisbon, don your hiking boots and get lost in this labyrinth of paths, admiring the nature and diversity of this city-centre oddity. But don’t expect it to be easy: there are – bizarrely – relatively few marked hiking / biking trails or tourist facilities around the park. Take a map, take some water and take your time.

During our 13km hike around the park, Ash and I encountered very few other souls and  were beginning to wonder what the good people of Lisbon were doing on this sunny Sunday afternoon. And then, near the end of our day, we found out:

Mass picnic at Serafina Park, Lisbon

This is Alto de Serafina – a park within Monsanto park – and, as you can see, it was buzzing with life. But there were no tourists here – these are local families enjoying a picnic amidst the lush green grass, kids’ playgrounds and ample shade. It’s a wonderful spot to wind down, and if you can’t get round to making your own picnic, don’t worry – the trendy and kid-friendly Greenhouse Café will sort that out for you. Serafina is also a perfect spot to strike out for a short hike in Monsanto itself. Check it out before other tourists find it!

Greenhouse café, Serafina Park, Lisbon

GETTING THERE: We simply parked Daisy the bus on the northern outskirts of the park and walked in. By public transport, try Bus 723 from Marquis de Pombal or 729 from Belém.

UNVERIFIED LOCAL ADVICE: It is best to avoid some sections of Monsanto Park at night.

 

4.   Museu Coleção Berardo (Modern and Contemporary Art Museum)

Giant artwork

Um… why is this not more famous???

Situated slap-bang between the tourist-clogged Monastery of Jerónimos and the gaggles of coach tours Instagramming the Monument to the Discoveries lies a largely neglected world class collection of Warhol, Picasso, Miró, Magritte, Mondrian and more. Entrance fees are relatively cheap (€5 adults, €2.50 concessions, free under 6), making this a great way to introduce your little ones to the giants of modern art.

Perhaps surprisingly, there are no specific sections nor activities for kids at the museum. But does that really matter? Just wander around the spacious halls at your kids’ pace, stopping at whatever takes their fancy. It is amazing what they can imagine through these abstract modern masterpieces. Our kids loved it, and yours probably will too.

GETTING THERE: It’s in the heart of the popular Bélem district. Take tram 15 or 18, or the train to Belém station.

TIP: Entrance is FREE on Saturdays.

 

5.   Museu de Marinha (Maritime Museum)

THE surprise hit of Lisbon’s museum scene with children. Are your kids fascinated by Portugal’s long and distinguished maritime history? No, ours neither, yet they absolutely LOVED this museum.

Entrance hall, Museo de Marinha, Lisbon

At first glance the Museu de Marinha seems old-fashioned and stuffy and, in a way, it is. But the absence of technological gizmos and attention-diverting activities meant that our kids actually, you know, looked at the exquisite models of ships and marine artefacts. They asked questions, they wondered… their interest was genuinely piqued. Within two minutes Piko (5 years old) had declared that he wanted to see everything in the museum, and Poppy bugged me to take so many photos that I eventually just gave up and handed her my smartphone. Here’s a selection of what she saw (please excuse the poor photo quality: she is only seven):

And the best is saved for last: the final hall of the museum is a massive hangar stuffed with real boats from the broad spectrum of Portuguese maritime history, from bright but simple fishing vessels to magnificently ornate royal barges. And there was hardly anyone else there. Unbelievable and simply wonderful. Just go. Now!

Museo de Marinha, Lisbon, Portugal

GETTING THERE: As for the Modern Art Museum (see above)

TIP 1: The Museum café is excellent. Authentic Portuguese food in a kid-friendly, relaxed setting, and all at reasonable prices considering its prime location right in the heart of touristy Bélem.

TIP 2: If you have a bit of spare time, consider a fairy tale fantasy at the Museo dos Cochos (Stagecoach Museum), only 10 minutes walk away (near Belém railway station). Let your kids unleash their inner Cinderella as they gaze upon some magnificently ornate royal stagecoaches. Our younger ones loved it; our teenager refused to go inside.

Museo dos Cochos, Lisbon, Portugal

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON VISITING LISBON WITH KIDS

Lisbon is wonderful, but let’s be frank:  there are easier cities to visit with kids in tow. Consider the following carefully when planning your trip (but please don’t let it put you off).

  • Compared to many other major European cities, public transport in Lisbon is relatively difficult and surprisingly expensive for families. Here’s why:
    • The price structure is confusing, but essentially all family members over four years old need to pay full price on tram and metro. For a family of six like us, this quickly adds up…
      • To buy a metro ticket you first need a Lisbon Card (“Viva Viagem“). These can be obtained at the various ticket vending machines, cost €0.50 each, and can be re-used.
      • Single tickets with a Viva Viagem card cost €1.45 and can be used on metro, tram and bus within Lisbon.
      • Day passes are available (€6.30), but do consider carefully if you really need it before buying. Bear in mind that the attractions of Lisbon are clustered in certain areas, e.g. Belém, Alfama, etc. and you are probably better off focusing on one particular district per day instead of galloping around, especially with kids.
      • Single tickets for bus and tram can be purchased without a Viva Viagem card, but these cost €2.90.
    • The tram and metro systems generally serve different parts of the city (e.g. the metro does not go to Belém) and the two are not particularly well harmonised; planning a journey across both types of transport can be confusing.
    • Regional trains are also surprisingly expensive for families because, again, kids do not ride free. But here they do at least get a 50% discount.
  • Cobbled streets, steep hills and crowded trams are very pretty… unless you have a pushchair. Leave it at home and take a baby carrier instead.
  • As mentioned above, most museums tend not to have activities specifically for children. Don’t go expecting activity packs and treasure hunts – it ain’t gonna happen.
  • Lisbon is hot in summer, and the shops crank up the price of cold drinks accordingly. Thankfully, many of the parks and some other public places have drinking fountains. Take a refillable bottle and fill it up whenever you can.

(Information correct as of August 2018 – please let us know if you find an inaccuracy and we will update accordingly).

Daisy the bus has visited Lisbon on several occasions – we have family there.

(c) 2018 Jonathan Orr

FARAWAY-FILES-FIVE-BADGE-with-map-e1513237009496

Author: daisythebus

Family travel bloggers based in Luxembourg. We write about "off the beaten track" travel adventures with our four children. Expect to read about nature, outdoor activities, culture and alternative ways of discovering the world around us.

18 thoughts on “Non-touristy Lisbon with kids”

  1. Wow, you really squirrelled out some interesting and different things to do. We always love maritime museums and the science museum looks amazing. Shame about the public transport situation. I think cities should make it free to travel for all primary school aged kids. Saving this for a future trip to Lisbon!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, the public transport annoyed us slightly. It could and should be made clearer and cheaper for families. For example, we did find some information on free travel for children, but this information was given only in Portuguese (my wife is half-Portuguese). When we enquired further, it would appear that this was only for local children under certain conditions. Harmonisation of the metro and tram routes would also be greatly appreciated by tourists.

      Still, Lisbon is a brilliant, fascinating city. Enjoy your next trip there!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. We visited Lisbon three years ago and had only two days to explore. We left wishing for more time and hope to get back one day. The stagecoach museum was closed during our visit, but it’s on my list for next time, and I’ll definitely be hitting up that art museum. #farawayfiles

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    1. The Stagecoach museum is kinda weird at the moment because it is split into two; we visited the “old” part but it is in process of being moved to a more modern building just opposite. I don’t know how long this process will take. Still, it is definitely worth a visit, even if you do see only half of it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Monsanto is a rather unique city park, but I’m going to admit it – I somewhat hesitated to put it in this article. For me, it was fascinating but it is definitely not something for the “everyday” tourist to Lisbon. There is, essentially, nothing to see in the park and, as I mentioned, there is basically no tourist infrastructure such as marked hiking trails (and very few places to get something to eat or drink!). I loved “discovering” the park through its unmarked trails and off-the-beaten-track feel; others may not feel quite so comfortable. Either way, it is something different!! Thanks for reading.

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  3. That maritime museum looks good. We went to one in Crete which was a bit old school and I was surprised how much my boys enjoyed it. I like the look of the hanger full of actual boats, great idea. #FarawayFiles

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes, the Maritime Museum! We loved it and it was empty apart from a small group of school children with their teacher. A real treat during our stay in Lisbon. and I wish we’d gone to the modern art museum rather than queuing for the Torre de Belem which was far better just viewing from the outside.
    #farawayfiles

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Maritime Museum is brilliant, isn’t it? I was pleasantly surprised at my kids’ reaction; I was honestly quite scared that they might find it boring, but we had to drag them out in the end! And then we had to drag them out of the Museum souvenir shop too! :o) A really cool museum.

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    1. Yeah, we find public transport in and around Lisbon to be somewhat frustrating. Often we simply resort to taking Daisy the bus; parking in Lisbon (and Portugal as a whole) is chaotic but we nearly always find a space.

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