Lisbon with Kids: A Historic Tour of the City
Lisbon with kids By Angela Youngman
Praça do Comércio, Lisbon (Courtesy Turismo de Lisboa)
Riding the colourful trams as they rattle up and down the hills of Lisbon is guaranteed to please children and adults alike. These brightly painted, electric trams in brilliant shades of yellow, red, brown and green crisscross the centre of Lisbon. Noisy and lively, they are popular with visitors and locals alike.
Where to Stay: Hotel Britania Lisbon is a small boutique hotel in the heart of Lisbon that offers free WiFi and babysitting services.
Tram in Castelo, Lisbon (Flickr: DavideGorla)
The trams are the easiest way to find your way around Lisbon, snaking round corners through the crowded streets. There are five different routes, including routes up through the narrow streets of the Afama district between the Piazza Rossi and the Castello San Jorge that rears high above the city. It is very quick and efficient as well as providing an entertaining way to see bits of the city that you might not otherwise visit.
Some of the streets are so narrow that you can almost touch the sides of the buildings as the tram passes through. Elsewhere, washing hangs drying beside doorways, and there are glimpses of the river in the distance. Even the buildings are colourful, often painted in pretty blues, greens, pinks, creams and yellows or covered with highly ornate tiles. Unlike many modern cities, people still live close into the heart of the city just as they have done for hundreds of years. It is a living, breathing, vibrant community. For children, this is a glimpse into another world, with hints of the past and of the ordinary people who live in Lisbon.
Traveling by tram offers another very useful advantage. Not only is it a quick and reliable way to get from place to place across the city; if you are trying to reach the great Castelo de San Jorge, it is the best way to avoid getting lost! The area leading up to the Castillo from the main shopping streets is a maze of little streets, alleyways and plazas. Taking the tram means that you are dropped nearby and have only a short distance to walk before you reach the magnificent walls of the Castillo, which makes it much easier for young children.
São Jorge Castle (Courtesy Turismo de Lisboa)
Imposing walls surround you as you walk into the Castelo. This is everyone’s vision of a great castle. Trees grow inside the castle walls but are dwarfed by the size of walls themselves. The views are spectacular, crossing the entire city and over to the river and the great bridges in the distance. Some of the towers house unexpected treasures such as the Tower of Ulysses, which incorporates a periscope operating a camera obscura that gives guests a 360-degree view of the city.
Children love peering through the crenelated ramparts, just like soldiers and knights would have done in years gone by, or climbing to the top of the towers. Take care with little ones, as there are lots of steps to climb and the low walls when exploring the ramparts.
On leaving the castle, it is worth visiting the Museum du Marioneta just below the main entrance. Here, there is a stunning and very unusual collection of dolls based on famous people from the 17th and 18th century, as well as characters from theatre and opera. There are knights, jesters, princes and princesses, devils and angels. On the weekends, stories are told by the marionette dolls on a small stage.
Elevador de Santa Justa (Photo by David Sim )
Having returned down the hill from the Afama, you can then take the Elevador de Santa Justa to the top of Carno Hill. The elegant arched ironwork echoes elements of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, as does the sumptuous wooden carriages used to transport passengers up and down the lift. All the area around the Elevador, both at the top and bottom, is filled with lots of restaurants – perfect for hungry kids!
Imaginative and amazing, incredible and splendid, Lisbon is definitely one of the most stimulating places in Europe for children and families to visit. It is the unexpected delights that really capture the attention such as the rattling trams, the views across the rooftops and the narrow twisting streets.
Angela Youngman contributed this to MiniTime.