Lisbon works well for families. The Portuguese capital is a fantastic kid-friendly destination, a city that looks after parents as much as their children by offering an unbeatable range of visitor attractions with universal appeal.
A family itinerary will always include the Oceanário de Lisboa. This is Lisbon’s most popular tourist attraction, a fabulous aquarium facility located in Parque das Nacoes and easily reached by metro from the city centre (alight at Oriente station). Allow a good two hours to absorb its many features and exhibits.
Built for the city’s Expo 98 World Exposition, the oceanarium’s extraordinary design comprises four separate sea-and-landscapes that represent the habitats of the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Antarctic oceans, each housed with wildlife indigenous to these particular environments.
Youngsters share a close encounter with a shark at the Oceanario de Lisboa — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
The wow factor, though, is the vast central tank, an astonishing exhibit that brings together all sorts of weird and wonderful fish. The bizarre-looking sunfish is a favorite, but it’s the sharks that steal the show with their graceful nonchalance and beguiling personality.
The Oceanário de Lisboa is probably best enjoyed in the morning, before it gets too crowded. This also leaves time for a spot of retail therapy at nearby Centro Vasco da Gama, a huge shopping mall with plenty to distract the customer, including a cavernous food hall.
Assuming you’ve spent the morning in Parque das Nacoes, why not consider journeying back into town to Praca do Comercio around mid-day where you can catch the Hills Tramcar Tour, run by Yellow Bus Tours.
A traditional Lisbon sightseeing tram in Praca do Comercio — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
These quirky streetcars, crimson in color, differ from Tram 28 in that they are operated privately as official tour vehicles. And that’s good news if you’re exploring Lisbon with children because youngsters can ride in comfort and safety with their parents as the tram winds its way through the city’s more picturesque neighborhoods, passing several historic monuments along the way. The tour lasts around one hour and a half, and passengers can hop on and off on any stop along the route while their ticket is valid. Incidentally, tickets can be purchased onboard.
If after this you’re still in the mood for wildlife, another one of Lisbon’s great family-orientated points of interest is the Jardim Zoologico – Lisbon Zoo.
Again, this attraction is easily reached by metro (alight at Sete Rios station) and is more centrally placed than the oceanarium.
This is a wonderland for youngsters with active, inquiring minds and an appreciation of the natural world. Over 2000 animals representing 346 species have a home here. One of the big draws is Tigers’ Valley, an enclosure that includes beautiful and rare white tigers. The Primates’ Temple is equally alluring with its resident mountain gorillas – look out for the patriarch, a handsome Silverback.
A pair of white tiger cubs at Lisbon Zoo — Photo courtesy of Paul Bernhardt
Youngsters will also love the sea lion shows, and parents should time their visit so that their offspring have an opportunity to participate in the feeding of these wonderful and sometimes comic beasts, at 10.30 am and again at 2.30 pm. Zookeepers also feed the pelicans at 6.30 pm, so late-comers can still join in the fun.
Toddlers are invited to visit the Children’s Farm, a special area devoted to cuddly and domesticated creatures. There’s also the Zoo Train, a motorized locomotive that transports passengers around the premises. Alternatively, a cable car can take older kids over the zoo’s emerald canopy for a bird’s eye view of the enclosures.
A choice of cafes and restaurants are on hand for those all-important refreshment breaks, but if you know the weather’s going to be warm and sunny, be sure to pack the sandwiches – there’s a picnic area created especially for families.