Oliver and I just got back from visiting my parents in Lisbon, Portugal and we absolutely loved it! We were in Lisbon for a week and got to experience both the tourist attractions and local culture. Keep reading for all of my favorite spots and tips for traveling in this fantastic country.
Where to Stay
Instead of staying in a hotel, we decided to save money by staying in a local apartment. My mother booked the apartment through Only Apartments which worked out great for us. We were able to stay in a local area which made us feel less like tourists and more like welcomed guests. We normally book with airbnb but when that didn't work out, we tried Only Apartment and felt the professionalism and price were comparable.
We stayed in Bairro Alto which was a great location for what we wanted. We were a one minute walk from a beautiful lookout of the city (see view below) and the tram. We were five short minutes from a park for Oliver, and nearby local restaurants and stores. We were also close enough to the busier part of town with modern shopping and Starbucks that we could walk there rather than taking a cab.
When booking your staying arrangements I suggest perusing google maps near the location you are looking to book to check for bars and restaurants. We had a small restaurant below our place and on the weekend nights it was LOUD down there. It was really the only negative of our place. The next morning there were beer bottles smashed on the road - I assume the locals were partying hard! Try to find a place as far from any restaurants or bars if traveling with kids to minimize the noise.
Lookout Spot: Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara
There are five main ways to travel in Lisbon: walk, tuk tuk, taxi, metro and trolly. We took the metro to and from the airport but mostly walked.
Tip #1, we bought a city transport pass at the metro station that gave you access to the metro and trolly. It was 3.50 euro a person for a one way ride on the trolly (they go up and down the largest hills) without a transport pass, but with the pass it was only 1.50 euro per person. It is a prepaid card that you swipe for each ride.
Tip #2, the small tuk tuks (we called them rickshaws in Asia) are fun to ride in but actually more expensive than the taxis. The taxi drivers use a meter so you don't have to haggle, but the tuk tuk drivers just name whatever price they want. As tourists not knowing what a fair price was, I am sure we got ripped off quite a bit the few times we rode them.
Walking was my favorite. Most of the city is cobble stoned or mosaic stone tiling, so bring shoes with good traction. We brought Oliver's umbrella stroller but it was difficult to maneuver across the stones. It was nice to have it when we were tired of carrying him, but it did a number on his wheels. I don't recommend bringing an expensive stroller due to the wear and tear it will see. If your child is small enough, I suggest baby wearing rather than bringing a stroller.
The trolly is a neat experience and definitely helpful with children. If you can handle walking up and down the major hills every day then you won't have use for the trolly, but we tired out with all of the hills.
Best lunch/cafe spot: Esplannada Cafe
This cafe is in the park that we would take Oliver to everyday. It is adorable, had great food, and the staff speak English. My favorite was the Arugula and Goat Cheese Panini.
Ice Cream: Pizpierto (Fresh Popsicles) and Santina (Gelato)
Pizpierto is a great spot with local cheeses, meets, etc as well as homemade fresh popsicles that were delicious! Santina is a gelato spot down in the shopping area. We had lots of gelato during the trip and Santina's was my favorite.
Pizza: Pub Lisboeta
This restaurant was definitely catering towards Americans in the area, but the food was delicious. If you want something more local, I wouldn't recommend going for pizza, but we are a big pizza family and ordered it twice. The food at Pub Liboeta was my favorite we had the entire trip.
Favorite Area for Dinner: Alfama
Aflama, known as a village in a city, is part of the old quarter of Lisbon and sits in the shadow of the castle. No cars are allowed through the streets of Alfama making it a great place to meandar through. We didn't spend nearly as much time here as we would have liked. When eating here, the first few restaurants are going to be more touristy. If you have the time, go further into the avenues before stopping to eat.
Kid Friendly Activities
We had one rainy day on our trip and spent it at the aquarium, Oceanårio de Lisboa. We were so pleased with the exhibits and would definitely recommend it for kids if you need a day indoors.
If staying near Bairro Alto, there is a great park at Jardim do Principe Real and a Botanical Garden within walking distance of the park (it was closed when we were there so I can't personally recommend it).
The grounds around the Monument for the Discoveries, Padråo dos Descobrimentos, are also a fun place to take kids. We didn't go into the monument, museum, or the church, but really enjoyed walking the boardwalk along the river and playing in the gardens of Mosterio dos Jeronimos.
Sao Jorge Castle, is hard to miss in Lisbon's skyline. The castle has plenty of places for kids to roam, but keep a good eye on them as most of the stairs don't have railings.
Unique Portuguese Facts
1. Lisbon loves their tiles. About 50% of the buildings were covered in tile rather than paint. It gives the city a distinct look that I have never seen anywhere else.
2. Portugal no longer has a king or queen even in a customary sense. So don't expect to see royalty wandering around the castles or summer palaces.
3. Portugese drivers might be crazy but they honor the zebra stripes religiously. I was always scared to walk out on the crosswalks but after awhile I realized that they always stopped.
4. Interested in history? Vasco de Gama is buried in Mosterio dos Jeronimos down in the Belém area.
5. Some national foods include Tapas (a variation mixture of cheeses, hams, figs, apricots, another seasonings) and a custard filled pastry called belem (although we heard it called a few different names so we aren't sure the official name). We had a belem everyday!
We absolutely loved Lisbon and it is somewhere I would definitely visit again. Bring good shoes, a camera, and a hungry stomach for a fantastic vacation.
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I am 25 years old with a 2 year old son and a wicked handsome husband living in Birmingham, Alabama.