The perfect Lisbon itinerary for a family weekend in the Portuguese capital, including what to see, where to stay and where to eat.
Lately, it feels like every city we go to becomes our favourite. It has happened last year in Stockholm, then we fell in love with San Francisco and now we are head over heels in love with Lisbon, Portugal.
Lisbon is beautiful, vibrant, culturally rich and welcomes visitors of all ages with open arms. While a weekend is hardly enough to visit Lisbon, a good itinerary can ensure you see some of the city’s highlights.
This is the Lisbon itinerary that worked for us.
Visit Lisbon like we did:
- STAY at Martinhal Chiado family suites (you can read my review here or check prices here)
- MOVE AROUND with the Lisbon Card
- EAT at the Mercado da Ribeira (aka Timeout market) and at the Cervecaria Trinidade
- TAKE a tuk-tuk to Belem
- Family weekend in Lisbon Itinerary
- Final thoughts: is a weekend in Lisbon enough?
Family weekend in Lisbon Itinerary
This itinerary is for those who only have a weekend in Lisbon. It presumes an arrival on a Friday afternoon and a departure late on Sunday night.
Taking time off work is always a challenge so city breaks for us often start with an arrival on a Friday night. Lisbon in this sense is a great city: the airport is well connected to the city centre and an efficient metro system gets you to Rossio and Chiado/Baixa in a short time.
We found that the best way to get around Lisbon is to buy the Lisbon card: this gives you access to the whole network of transport in Lisbon, discounts to some museum and even discount on train tickets to Sintra.
This can be purchased in the Lisbon Tourist Office: it has branches in the arrivals hall of the airport and in the city centre. I highly recommend a stop as they will also equip you with good maps and tips on how to get around.
Mercado da Ribeira
Our very first stop, after settling in our hotel, was Mercado da Ribeira. Mercado da Ribera (also known as the Time Out market) opened in 1892 and for many years operated as the main food market in the city. In 2014 is was taken over by Time Out magazine and turned into an amazing food hall with a traditional yet hip feel to it.
The market is a foodie’s dream. When you enter, you first notice the high ceilings and the design inspired iron lamps hanging from it.
Along its sides, cubicle after cubicle of food sellers line up with an offering that goes from Portuguese traditional dishes to Asian specialities to pizza.
The very first impression when walking in was awe and the immediately subsequent one was ‘where to start’?
The market has so many stalls and so many options it may feel overwhelming at first. We walked around in circles a few times trying to figure out what we wanted and eventually opted for three different choices: I had a board of cured meats, the kids a slice of pizza and Philip a drink.
The beauty of eating at the market is exactly this: you don’t have to commit to a type of food.
The hall has tables in the centre and your order at whatever stall picks your fancy, as much or as little as you want. Over the course of 3 days, we came here several times (we love food stops!) and tastes Asian food, fish, meat and pizza, all excellent.
Tip for families travelling with young children: the market gets busy so try and come here outside of traditional lunch/dinner times to avoid the queue and to get a good table. Most tables have bar-style stools but some are standard height and are suitable for young kids too.
Just outside the market, there is a small but cute playground. A picnic outside with food from the market is an option but be careful with crumbs: there are lots of pigeons who may compete for your bread! To the dismay of my kids, feeding pigeons is illegal.
From the Mercado, we took a short walk and reached the Ascensor da Bica. Lisbon is built on 7 hills and the ‘ascensores’ or ‘elevadores’ (cable cars or lifts) help negotiate this peculiar geography.
The Ascensor da Bica operates as a funicular and climbs up a very steep hill. The rickety ride doesn’t take more than a few minutes and is great fun: the tram is old and efficient and saves your legs from an otherwise very steep climb! Tickets for the ascensor can be purchased at its entrance or you can use the Lisbon card.
The cable car brought us to the top of the hill and since the evening was still bright, we took a short walk to the Miradouro de Santa Catarina. This miradouro (=belvedere) was described by our Lonely Planet as a hang out for students, hippies and buggy-pushing parents alike and we were immediately attracted by how alternative it sounded.
Indeed the Miradouro is beautiful and the climb was worth it, but I didn’t feel like staying at the little cafe on the terrace.
The vibe was just a little bit too studenty for hanging around with two young kids (and being outside there was a good bit of smoke too) so we moved to the nearby terrace of the pharmacy museum, few metres behind the terrace.
This terrace is lovely: artificial grass, comfy seats and an extensive menu of cocktails and juices made it perfect for the 4 of us and it even got the seal of approval of my parents, who caught up with us there!
Refreshed by a cold beer and a mocktail (including a second beer that got spilled by/on Little Ms E all over her legs!) we went for a walk towards Praça de Camoes and stretched our legs to the bottom of the hill to see the elevador de Santa Justa.
Lisbon is known as the ‘city on 7 hills’ (like my native Rome!) and over time has come up with pretty amazing solutions to easily negotiate its steep streets. One of them is ‘elevadores’, meaning lifts or cable cars. This one in the photo is, I believe, the only vertical one in the city. It is built by a disciple of Eiffel and it is still operational. It was just a stone throw from our hotel, Martinhal Chiado family suites: you can read all about it and attractions nearby clicking on the link in my profile! #tbin #familytravel #lisbon #lisbona #lisbonlive #lisbonlovers #portugal #familygo #familyjaunts #bbctravel #guardiantravelsnaps #travelstoke #travelawsome #instatravel #travelgram #traveltherenext #martinhal #familyjaunts
From here, we climbed up the hill again and stopped in Cervecaria Trinidade, on the street by the same name, for a gorgeous fish based dinner (they also have meat and vegetarian dishes. Try the desserts because they are to die for)
Saturday sightseeing in Lisbon city centre
We started our Saturday morning with a walk in our local neighbourhood. Just up the road from where we were staying, lies the stunning Convento de Carmo.
Chiado and Convento do Carmo
Convento do Carmo is a gothic building dating back to 1389: it is a stunning piece of gothic architecture and now hosts an archaeological museum but neither of these elements alone is what makes this place unique.
What stands out about Convento do Carmo is that you walk along its nave with the sky above you: the convent was heavily damaged by the huge earthquake that destroyed a large part of Lisbon in 1755 and it a powerful (yet beautiful) reminder of this scarring part of Lisbon history.
The convent is beautiful and one of the highlights of our sightseeing day. We got in for free thanks to the Lisbon card but you can get tickets at the entrance to both the nave and the museum: we spent most of our time in the outdoors area but we also peaked the inner rooms where the kids got intrigued by the mummies on display!
After a quick coffee in the small cafe in front, we slowly moved downhill.
Walking down from Convento de Carmo we got to one of the (few) flat parts of Lisbon and made our way around the area of Rossio and the terminus of tram 28.
On a sunny day, Rossio square (Praca Dom Pedro IV) was a burst of light: its pavement is decorated with a black and white design that creates the illusion of waves and in its centre lays a statue, towering over the surrounding area. Looking around is a good way to learn the geography of Lisbon: look up and yu will see the pillars of Convento do Carmo and the Alfama – this is where we headed next.
A ride on Tram 28
One of the quintessential Lisbon experiences is to ride the tram n 28. This is a historical, yellow tram going up to the hill of Alfama (Lisbon ancient area) and Lisbon castle.
Everyone had told me how cool the rickety tram ride was so I forced my family to queue up along with the many other tourists promising ‘it would be worth it’.
Well over an hour later we got on the tram and made our way up to the castle.
Was the wait for tram 28 worth it? I’ll be honest: no. The tram itself is a lovely vehicle and sitting beside the window while it climbed up the Alfama narrow streets was pleasant. However, maybe because I come from Rome, where trams are normal (even if they don’t climb hills as much) I didn’t feel the experience was unique or special enough to justify the wait.
While we did enjoy it while it lasted, would I be in Lisbon again I would not wait in line and instead negotiate a good price to go up the hill by taxi or tuk-tuk (with kids. On my own I would walk up).
The tram got us to the large belvedere near the castle where we decided to get off and explore. The view over Lisbon from here is stunning: the sky, the diffused light, that incredible Tagus and a sea of red-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls embodies all we had imagined Lisbon to be and more.
From here, we took the short walk to the Sao Jorge Castle and after a quick lunch in a nearby terrace, took our time strolling along the meandering roads of the Alfama.
The Alfama is the oldest district of Lisbon. Up to the 13th century, it was the district outside the city walls and used to be the homes of Lisbon’s poorest inhabitants, especially sailors and fishermen.
Nowadays, the vibe is all but poor: Alfama has changed to become a vibrant and trendy neighbourhood where old charm mixes with a young vibe.
The Alfama is known for many landmarks including San Jorge’s castle, Lisbon cathedral and St Anthony’s’ church (I had no idea St Anthony was from here! I always assumed he was from Padua as his name, wrongly, suggests) but what is truly special about it are its meandering streets.
Alfama is a mobility nightmare, made of cobbled streets, steep roads and steps climbing it flanks but makes up for it with it undisputable charm. The best way to discover it is on foot: allow yourself to get lost and peek in the courtyards for the best architectural gems.
Alfama with a stroller?
My best advice to visit Alfama with kids is to be realistic about its feasibility with a buggy (ie. avoid bringing one if you can or use a one with big, bike-style wheels) and take your time.
Our kids have passed stroller age and I am glad we waited: while it is possible to visit the Alfama with a stroller, I have seen many exhausted dads lugging around a buggy and a tired kid!
You can easily spend the whole afternoon here and then slowly make your way back to the river banks and the area around Praca do Comercio.
After visiting the Alfama we made the decision of taking a tuk-tuk and go to Belem. While I highly recommend visiting Belem, I suggest you don’t follow our example but rather spend longer visiting the Alfama and Baixa and devote to Belem the following day.
Belem is a district of Lisbon detached from the city centre. You can get there but tram, bus or tuk-tuk: if you choose this last option (dearer than the others) you may get a guide as friendly as the one we got a get a reasonable priced guided tour for the cost of a lift!
The tuk-tuk ride brought us along the river Tagus, made us see the 25 de Abril Bridge it all its splendour and left us at the iconic Belem Tower.
There is a lot to see in Belem and the reason why I recommend to spend a full morning here is that the area is vast and it is easily for kids to get tired.
Since we got there in the afternoon, we had to select only some of the attractions there and our choice fell on the Belem tower, the monuments to discoveries and the outside of the Jeronimos monastery.
Need to know: while not properly far from each other, the walk between the Belem tower, the discoveries monument and Jeronimos monastery is tiring for kids. r
Take your time and allow them to rest as we had some pretty epic meltdowns! (In fairness to them, we did get there at the end of a long day). Make sure to walk along the pedestrian pathway beside the road and not along the water for speed of movement, rather than on the waterfront.
There is an underground passage in front of Jeronimo’s monastery to help crossing the otherwise dangerous road.
Is there anything we missed in Belem? Yes, there is and this is why I think you should spend here a little longer. If we were to come here gain, I would make sure to go to the famous pasteleria de Belem, where you can have allegedly the best pasteis de nata, and I would also enter the monastery, which we only partially visited this time.
I also know that Belem is home to Lisbon’s tropical gardens, something that I remember from a previous trip and that lack of time didn’t allow us to visit again.
Lisbon’s museum for kids: the oceanarium and the science museum
The last stop in a family itinerary of Lisbon should include either the Oceanarium or the city’s knowledge pavillion. Both these attractions come highly recommended by pretty much all websites I scouted to plan this itinerary and the words used to describe them are ‘interactive’ and ‘engaging’.
Sadly, we were not able to include them this time. The fact is that despite our best intentions something went wrong for us in Lisbon. During our second evening, my son hurt himself (not too severely, thankfully!) and this meant it became important for us to take it easy and allow him to rest. Had he been ok we would have definitely included the oceanarium in our Sunday afternoon and this is why I think you should too. We instead went back to mercado da ribeira for a chilled drink and kids playtime in the playground just in front.
Final thoughts: is a weekend in Lisbon enough?
A weekend in a capital city was never bound to be enough and our stay in Lisbon felt a little bit rushed. While we saw most of what we had intended, we had no time to include visits to museums and an extra day would have made a world of difference. However, I do think Lisbon is a great weekend destination and one of the best cities in Europe if you just want to relax with your kids in a welcoming, family-friendly, intellectually stimulating atmosphere.
I guess it’s good that we didn’t cover our Lisbon itinerary in full, as this gives us and excuse to go back soon, right?
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I want to extend a special thank you to the Visit Lisbon office that provided us with excellent support and advice during this trip.