Our first stop on the mainland of Portugal was Lisbon. Originally, we had planned to make this our home base for the rest of our vacation. After mapping some things out, we realized it would not be a great home base because of the traffic getting in and out of the city as well as how far it is from things. To visit the main city of Lisbon, you only need maximum two days. We stayed almost five days but we did a lot of day trips as well (which I talk about below).
Lisbon was stressful with small kids because there are a lot of steep streets and barely any sidewalks. The city is full of younger people who like to party and do all the things you do before you have kids. No judgement, I think it’s a great place to see but, it was difficult with kids.
If you don’t want to stay in the city, you need a rental car to get anywhere like the good beaches.
We had a beautiful historic apartment in the Chiado section of the city. I later learned that this was a very high-end and historic part of the city. I was happy to hear that although most buildings surrounding our apartment were covered in graffiti (not that intentional, nice-to-look-at graffiti, either). And, one early morning (around 3am) we had a group of young-drunk kids pounding and singing at our door. They were harmless, but it did scare me out of my sleep.
There are some great things to see and do in the city. We played tourist for a day and we used a tuk tuk to see the historical spots of Lisbon and landed at the Santa Justa Lift. We took the elevator up to the look-out point. Here we got some nice photos of the City of Lisbon. You can wait in line and pay to get up the elevator or you can take the stairs for free. Afterwards, we ate at Bella Lisa Elevador which was at the top floor of a building right next to the lift. They had a great lunch special that runs until 3pm.
What we ate
We shopped at the grocery store to have simple things for our breakfasts and there was a coffee shop right next to our apartment for a coffee run in the mornings. We also bought snacks and things we could pack and bring with us for day trips or picnics.
On one night we came home and fed the kids really early and then we had a nice quiet dinner alone with wine. Dave found a spot called Solar De Loreto that did takeout. We had a huge steak, fries, rice and salad. It was so nice to eat in peace and quiet!
We visited the Time-Out Market and had lunch there. It worked out because the kids were wanting pizza and they had a great shop with wood oven pizza. There are a lot of great options for food and a few shops that carry unique gifts to bring home. The market is right across from the train station so it is full of tourists.
We ate at Os Bons Malandros Gastropub on one night for dinner. They had a lot of great local beer selections. The food was not Portuguese at all but it was really delicious. We had an amazing tuna ceviche and a bunch of other really delicious tapas.
Santa Bica was recommended to us by our host. It had fresh seafood and one of the only restaurants with a rooftop terrace where you could watch the historic tram go by. We had to make reservations a few days before because it is really popular. I got octopus and it was really well done. I highly recommend eating here at least once while in Lisbon.
Sintra was recommended to us over and over again so we had to see what all the fuss was about. We drove our rental car and parked near the National Palace of Sintra. We had a quick lunch and walked around and then took the city bus to the top where the famous Quinta de Pena Palace and farm building stands. The bus is the cheapest and best way to get to the top and it’s also air-conditioned. There are no strollers allowed in the castle so if your kids don’t like to walk, this is not a great excursion for you. Also, the bus drops everyone off 100 meters from the palace so you have to walk up hill and then stand in another line to get in. Sorry if I’m making this sound horrible but I promise you it’is worth it – the palace is beautiful and looks like something straight out of a fairy tale!
Once you weave your way throughout the castle, you end up at the rooftop terrace where there is a café and a lot of shaded areas to sit. It is a beautiful spot to take in the views and take pictures. You are also allowed to eat your own packed lunch here so, pack some snacks and you can save some money. The way home is a bit more hectic because there is a long line of people waiting for the bus to get back down the hill so you sometimes have to wait for a bit to get onto one. There are other options, like tuk tuks or jeeps, but these are triple the price (we were incredibly tempted though).
After Sintra, we decided to head over to nearby Cascais to watch the sunset, walk around and have dinner. There were lots of parking lots there so parking was a breeze. We walked along the boardwalk where there were lots of food trucks and things. We snacked and watched the boats at the marina and then kicked off our shoes and watched the sunset at the sandy beach area.
We grabbed dinner at a traditional piri piri chicken restaurant and had delicious traditional Portuguese food. We then walked into the town and found an antique carousel ride for the kids and then we headed home for the evening.
Beaches Near Lisbon
Costa Da Caparica Beach is about 30 minutes out of the city. This was a very large beach and there was paid parking right along the beach edge. There were a lot of young teenagers hanging out there but it is a HUGE beach with tons of little restaurants on the opposite side of the street where you could have a drink and cool off. Here is where we also tried our first Bolos de Berlin – a fresh cream-filled doughnut that vendors sell on the beach.
Praia Do Portinho Arrabida, Setubal is a beach that is situated between two mountains and it is STUNNING. This beach is perfect for young families because the water is calm, cool and shallow. This beach is an hour outside of Lisbon and you will drive the coast to the top of the hill and then park your car on the side. It’s a very narrow and twisty street that leads to the beach. There is a free shuttle that takes you 100 meters down to the restaurant area and then you have to walk 25 meters by foot down to the beach area. There are a few restaurants there as well so you can use those to eat lunch. On the way from Lisbon to Setubal, there are a lot of farm stands selling fruit. Stop at one of them if you can and grab some farm fresh snacks for the beach.
Since the water was cool and the temperature was very hot at that time we were there, the draft off the water felt like air conditioning. It was beautiful. There were lots of families and locals at this beach so that atmosphere was very enjoyable. There are a lot of rocks (since it’s at the foot of two mountains) so you may want to bring something like water shoes.
Tips for travelling with small kids
- For the plane ride, pack a small knapsack for each kid with a reusable insulated water bottle, a small ice pack, some small snack containers with snacks, zip lick bags with snacks and even a lunch container with food in it. Kids love having control of their food. They can consume everything on the long flight and you can wash and reuse the containers and bags for new snacks bought while on vacation. The ice packs can be refrozen and used for day trips and the re-usable insulated water bottle is self explanatory – much needed!
Tips for having fun with your partner while travelling with kids
- If you have a kitchen in your rental apartment or hotel, feed the kids at home early. Make you and your partner late dinner reservations somewhere nice and bring your kids some small books, and iPad or a small container of Lego that they can play with at the table while you enjoy your meal. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will fall asleep at the table and you will have an even more enjoyable evening!
- Have a date night in – go to the market and buy a bottle of wine, cheese, olives and cured meats. Put the kids to bed early and enjoy your wine and cheese platter – hopefully on your apartment or hotel patio, if you have one.
- Set the kids up with a movie and snacks in their bedroom while you and your partner enjoy cocktails and adult snacks and conversation on the patio.
Travelling with kids takes a lot of patience but there are tons of options and it is totally possible. We had a great time in Lisbon but we are already planning to go back without the kids to enjoy the nightlife a little more 😉
If you want to read about our last stop in our Portugal journey –> Family Travel: Porto