I’d not been to Portugal since I was a child, and Lisbon had long been on the list of places-we-must-visit, so when we wanted a short-haul flight for a few days away to celebrate my 30th last summer, Lisbon was an easy choice. We decided to go for 3 nights and booked our flights with Ryanair. Last time I flew with them (over three years before that) I said never again, no matter how cheap and tempting it is. But when it came to booking our flights to Lisbon, they were not just cheaper with Ryanair (by a huge amount – around £250) but the flight times and airports were ideal for us and so we went ahead and booked with them. Unfortunately we were quickly reminded why we hate flying with Ryanair! Amongst other things, when we left Lisbon we queued in the ‘priority boarding’ queue (along with most of the flight – there were just a handful of people who hadn’t paid the extra for it) and after showing our boarding passes we were left for over 45 minutes to stand in a ‘corridor’ that was outside in the 35 degree mid afternoon sun with a corrugated plastic roof acting as a heat trap. It was horrendous, especially with a toddler, but so typical of the poor experiences we’ve had with Ryanair many times.
So there’s my first tip if you’re booking a trip to Lisbon – don’t fly with Ryanair! We made a great choice with the hotel though, we stayed at the InterContinental which was absolutely wonderful. As soon as you step into the lobby area it’s an oasis of calm elegance and you are greeted with friendly smiling faces, and a luxurious seating area with comfy sofas and chairs. We had an executive room with a corner view overlooking the city. Although the hotel was slightly on the edge of the city, it was just about walking distance to most things in the centre, however cabs are super cheap and we took a cab to and from the hotel most of the time.
One thing you need to know about Lisbon, is that it’s hilly. Really, really hilly! Combine that with 30-something degree August heat plus a toddler, and you can probably imagine it makes for a pretty exhausting break. But, it’s a wonderful place – a beautiful city and so full of culture. We absolutely loved our time there and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit with a toddler, just be prepared (think comfy shoes and perhaps avoid the August heat.)
On our first afternoon in Lisbon we headed out on foot to explore the city. We found an Italian restaurant down by the water for some early dinner, and then enjoyed some delicious ice-cream to cool us down. Everywhere you go you’ll find ice-cream and pasteles de nata (the famous portuguese custard tarts.) Day two started with a delicious buffet breakfast in the hotel. The buffet at the Intercontinental is fantastic – everything you could want for breakfast and excellent service from the hotel staff too.
We explored the cobbled streets, wandering from one winding street to another, climbing hills and holding on tight to the buggy to stop it rolling away down any of the steep streets! We ventured up to the São Jorge Castle which is a Moorish castle set at the top of a hill overlooking the city. We had planned to go in but on the realisation that there are a lot of steps in the castle grounds (not ideal with a stroller), along with the crowds and the hot sunshine we decided to instead explore the streets around the castle which were full of activity – musicians filling the air with lively music, bustling tourists squeezing down side streets, and so much to see.
A heads up if you do plan to visit the castle – it is at the top of a steep hill (we actually took a taxi to reach it) and we were advised that inside the castle grounds there are lots of steep and narrow stairways and uneven walkways.
After a busy morning exploring we returned each day to the hotel for a couple of hours ‘siesta’ at Maddie’s nap time. We often let her nap in the stroller whilst on holiday but the August midday sun was incredibly hot, and by this point we were exhausted and in need of a rest ourselves! We then headed back out for the afternoon and returned to the hotel after dinner.
The next day we spent the morning at the aquarium, which is around 20 minutes away by taxi. Adult tickets are approx 18 euros each with under 3’s getting in free. We arrived just before opening and there was already a queue so I would definitely recommend getting there early. It’s a fantastic aquarium and we had such a great morning there. There’s so much to see and although it was a little crowded when we visited during the weekend, we managed to see everything on our way around. This is a must-do if you’re travelling with kids (and lot’s of fun even without them!) After our visit we went into the aquarium cafe for a spot of lunch. If you’re expecting the usual museum offerings of chips, sandwiches and cake, then forget it – this was the most amazing museum cafe that I’ve ever visited! A choice of ‘choose your own’ salads and ‘make your own’ pastas amongst other fantastic fresh and healthy meal options. We had a delicious lunch and then headed off to get a taxi back to the hotel. As we walked away from the aquarium we spotted the science museum (Pavilhão do Conhecimento) which looked absolutely fantastic. We were very tempted to head in, but with a sleepy Maddie and a post-nap plan of exploring the other side of Lisbon, we went back to the hotel for a couple of hours.
In the afternoon we took a cab to the legendary Pastéis de Belém which has been making the famous Portuguese tarts since 1837. We joined a huge queue for the ‘takeaway’ section of the bakery and I did begin to question if it was worth the wait, especially as I (previously) didn’t actually particularly like custard tarts! Well, if I told you we queued again a couple of hours later for a second round of tarts then you can just imagine how good they were! Absolutely delicious! We sat down in a nearby park to eat them and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.
We spent a couple of hours walking around the beautiful gardens, Jardins de Belém. There are lots of things to do in this area – from a visit to the monastery or a trip to the museum of modern art. We had dinner in one of the restaurants just nearby. They were rather touristy (which we usually avoid) but by this point we were hungry and tired, so decided to eat before heading back to the hotel. If you have the time then I would recommend a day out in this area of town, we could easily have spent longer there if we had the time.
The next day was our final day and we spent it exploring the city, and taking a tram ride (not the easiest thing to do with a toddler in a buggy, but definitely is a must whilst in Lisbon!) It’s a lovely place just to explore and you’ll come across plenty to see as you wander around the cobbled streets. We went to grab some lunch at the ‘Time Out Market Lisboa’ which is a concept created by the team at Time Out Portugal. It’s a market place full of “street food”, bars and during the daytime there are real market stalls selling fruit, veg and flowers etc. There is so much choice of food, and a great buzzy atmosphere. Perfect for foodies and good for families too – although the seating is shared bench-style tables we did manage to find a highchair. One piece of advice – it can get busy! Be prepared to wait for a seat, or happy to squeeze up and share a small spot. Everything we tried was delicious and all freshly cooked whilst you wait.
A couple of tips if you’re visiting Lisbon with a baby or a toddler.. firstly to our surprise we really really struggled to find restaurants that had highchairs! On our second night we actually walked around for over an hour trying to find one with an available highchair (some had one highchair and they were already in use.) I’m not quite sure why we found it so difficult but it definitely had an impact of our enjoyment of eating out during our visit. In fact the ‘touristy’ restaurant we went to on the last night was mainly because they had a highchair and so we went for ease rather than having a struggle finding somewhere to eat. I would suggest planning ahead and researching which restaurants you’re going to eat at where possible, or if you have a fold-up portable chair then perhaps take this along with you.
Next, baby-changing – so tricky! I’m really not sure what people do who live in Lisbon, but I really struggled to find anywhere to change Maddie. It’s the first time we’ve been abroad and I’ve struggled with finding baby changing. We found that the restaurants just didn’t seem to have any and so I did most nappy changes back at the hotel. If possible, use pull-up nappies or take some disposable nappy changing mats incase you do need to use the floor (not pleasant but it was necessary once during our trip!)
Another suggestion especially if travelling with young children would be to visit outside of the peak summer months of July and August. It was so so hot during our stay, and as much as I love the heat and sunshine during holidays, it made it very hard work walking around the steep cobbled streets with a stroller and a hot toddler. We stopped regularly for drinks and a chance to cool down.
Overall, Lisbon was a beautiful city with so much to see and so much to do, and I would highly recommend a visit. I’d say 3-4 days is the perfect amount of time in order to see all the main parts of the city and have a good chance to explore. I hope this was useful if you’re thinking of visiting – do leave any questions or comments below, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading.