Family Vacations to Lisbon, Portugal

Family Overview - Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon practically overflows with family-centric activities and attractions (Photodisc)

Lisbon Family Travel Tips

  • Stroll the cobblestone streets of Alfama, a medieval neighborhood.
  • Admire gilded coaches fit for royalty at the Coach Museum.
  • Watch fish, penguins, and otters swim and play at one of Europe's largest aquariums.
  • Watch the surfers roll into shore along the beaches of Cascais.
  • Follow the real footprints of 175-million-year-old dinosaurs.

Coasts, castles, and beaches come with a stay in Lisbon (Lisboa in Portuguese). The warmest and westernmost capital in Europe, Lisbon rises on seven hills situated along the Tejo River and its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean. The port made Lisbon—and Portugal—powerful in the 15th century; during this "Age of Discovery," ships sailed from Lisbon's harbor to the New World in search of gold and glory.

You can get a sense of the city during its medieval prime by strolling the cobblestone streets of Alfama, a centuries-old neighborhood once populated by nobles. It's fun to search for the family coat-of-arms fronting the 16th - to 18th-century houses. Along the winding streets, you pass shops, cafes, old churches, and even vendors selling canaries.

The high, stone walls of the Alfama's Castelo de São Jorge (Saint George's Castle) testify to its 5th-century beginnings as a fortress. Although an earthquake destroyed the original castle, the structure's been rebuilt. Kids will marvel at the peacocks that roam the gardens and you can pace the ramparts for a scenic city and water view.

As befits a seafaring town, Lisbon has an interesting Museu de Marinha (Maritime Museum). Hundreds of model ships from the 15th to 20th centuries details Portugal's naval prowess.

The Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum) is a top city attraction. Housed in the former riding stables of the Belém Palace, the museum displays the 17th- to 19th- century coaches, carriages, sedan chairs, and children's buggies that belonged to the royal family. Some glitter, like the intricately carved and gilded 1708 ceremonial coach built for the marriage of Maria Ana to King João of Portugal.

Oceanario de Lisboa, (Oceanarium) is one of Europe's largest aquariums. The facility's highlight, a 1.3-million-gallon central tank, houses fish from four oceans—the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic. You can also view penguins, otters, reptiles, and other sea creatures. Take a behind-the-scenes tour (book ahead), see how fish food is prepared and stored, and how the control center monitors the water conditions for each tank.

From Lisbon it's a 40-minute train trip to Cascais, a former fishing village turned resort. Catch a fish auction or a wave at this popular surfing spot. Sintra, a pretty hillside town with three castles, is also 40 minutes from Lisbon by train.

In the 74,000-acre Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros, you can follow in the footsteps of the real dinosaurs who roamed this region 175 million years ago. The park's prints are one of the largest collections of sauropod (herbivore) and therapod (carnivore) prints ever found from the Jurassic period. Walk along the dino trail, or add to the adventure by riding a donkey.

Tip: Purchase the Lisboa Card and receive free admission or discounted admission to many attractions as well as free transportation in the city.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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