I’ve always maintained that city breaks, whilst they can be super educational and fun with kids in tow if you plan ahead and know what to do, are really more of an adult thing. Cities are like a plunge pool of culture and history and you know what kid’s really couldn’t give a shit about?
History and culture. Whilst we walk around wittering about the beautiful buildings and the amazing historical importance, young children are often thinking “Uhh-huh… rocks. Great.” Accommodation in cities isn’t usually built for kids either – no kid’s clubs, no really child friendly facilities. Sure apartments are ideal but when it comes to the rest of it? It’s not really on the market.
Until you get to Lisbon with children and discover that Martinhal have opened their first inner city (literally in the Chiado – one of the hottest areas in Lisbon to date) child friendly hotel and apartments. We stayed for two nights and our verdict? AWESOME. One of the most exciting things about staying in Lisbon with children for us was taking the kid’s to see something of Portugal so that their lasting memories weren’t purely of swimming pools and playgrounds at the amazing Martinhal Cascais family resort (where we had the best time ever!). I wanted to go home and get Reuben to write up the things we saw, to be able to say he learnt something of the history of the place he visited – without his brother and sister (or him really) being bored.
So, Lisbon with children? I can help you with that. Firstly – where to stay? I’ve already mentioned where we stayed and, much like my 5 things to do in Cascais with Children, I can’t express enough how Martinhal will make a world of difference to your holiday.
The building itself is beautiful – old and protected so they have had to design around the original structures which has made for the most beautiful location. The rooms, like all Martinhal properties, have been designed with interior decor that is both artistic and pleasing to the eye but has no sharp edges, doesn’t over heat (where possible – they haven’t designed a magnificent no-heat oven) and is sturdy for children. The same principals apply here – everything is already in the room at no extra fee, from cots to extra seats in the bathroom for the toilet. The bunk beds are in the living room and can be folded away if required, however unlike most bunk beds they have a fabric lining to stop the top bunk falling down instead of just metal or wood – it means no gaps and no cold metal in the night! The kitchen/diner is glorious with (possibly my favourite feature ever) a washing machine/tumble dryer – which meant I went home with a suitcase full of clean clothes. When you arrive, apart from the overwhelming joy at having all the usual kitchen appliances, a Nespresso machine and fridge freezer, you also have a welcome pack. Cookies, milk, coffee, water etc and my favourite thing – Port. All included in the room.
The hotel offers a room service if you want it but it is bed and breakfast for the most part. I can’t recommend the room service to you enough – it comes straight from the M Bar downstairs (which is where you have breakfast) and we had (on both nights because the flight was so early and we were so tired on the first night!) Smoked Chicken, rocket and sundried tomato with garlic mayonnaise baguettes with a Portuguese cheese, honey and nut board. Simply divine. Honestly – it really was delicious. We sat in the kitchen after the kids went to bed, played cards, laughed, reconnected, ate our food and drank Port. It was a highlight for me just to spend that time with my husband.
For breakfast, we did two things: ate yummy food and let the kids go to the kids club. You can see the kids club from the M Bar if you sit in the top left hand corner and both Edith and Reuben wanted to go to the main room straight away. The facilities are second to none with toys, games, games consoles, colouring, and more. In the adjoining room (which you walk through to get to kids club) in the area where parents and children can stay together there is a climbing wall (!) and around the corner, two large rooms with toys and play areas for babies, toddlers and older kids too. The children only played in the kid’s club whilst we had breakfast with Toby preferring to stay in the colouring area of the M Bar instead and then, it was out for the day!
So what would I recommend doing in Lisbon with children? Surprisingly – lots, and most of it has a very small cost compared to UK prices.
Here are my top 5 things to do in Lisbon with kids:
1.) The Oceanarium.
A HUGE highlight for me. The oceanium is not something to miss at all, it is amazing. So well laid out and absolutely beautiful. It’s absolutely aimed at children with a FAB interactive area for the children to learn about energy, recycling and ocean life. We loved it! We did go up to the cafe as the kids were moaning about being hungry but to be honest I would give it a miss. It wasn’t great at all and we had a bit of a mishap with a poorly Edith being sick on the table. Despite me cleaning it up myself and only telling the staff as a courtesy, she was still rude and unsympathetic – so don’t bother. As for the staff in the oceanarium, they were amazing.
2.) The Sao Jorge castle.
I know castles aren’t really all that fascinating for children for the reasons that we want them to be – the history, the culture etc but they ARE fascinating for the turrets, pretending to be a knight and battling your way into the strong hold to rescue the Princess and just running around like a crazy loon. We didn’t try out the restaurant, which looks out over the beautiful views of Lisbon (the Castle is one of the highest points in the whole of Lisbon) but we did grab Pizza in the cafe (4.50€ for half a pizza) and a ginja in chocolate cup for me – which is cherry gin in a dark chocolate cup. NOM. It’s quite a lot of walking but for 17€ for all 5 of us it was so worth it and absolutely beautiful to walk around.
3.) The Cathedral
We walked down the hill from the castle, past loads of Tut Tuts and stalls (which you should visit for cheap bracelets and pretty paintings of Lisbon) lots of really friendly shops with souvenirs and Portuguese fare, down The the hill and through the labyrinth of streets to the Cathedral. It’s a brief visit with children in tow, but there is plenty to see and plenty of stained glass to ooh and ahh over. Portugal is a deeply religious country, so being able to convey to my kids that it is such was important to me, even though I’m not.
4.) The Science museum
Next to the oceanarium and one we sadly missed because we only had the one full day in Lisbon with a few hours in the afternoon the day before. It was one of the places I was really hoping to make it to as it is – by all accounts – ideal for children. There is a really cool water ply area just outside and around the corner that we did get a few minutes in before heading back to the hotel.
5.) Belem tower
Working on the same principal of the castle, kids might not actually give a hoot about the history but they will love his formidable tower structure. It’s huge – the only frustrating thing is that it is quite the distance from the Castle – but that is where the beauty of the trams come in.
Speaking of trams, if you want to use the tram and you don’t go for the tourist one, be prepared to queue queue queue. We went and stood as 2 trams went by and in the end we jumped in a tut tut – which was the best (and most expensive short journey ever – but worth it) decision we made. If you get chance, go in a tut tut. The boys LOVED it and Edith sat between Adam and I. They drive really slowly so it isn’t a massive hazard like you might fear.
And that’s it! Enjoy!