This is a continuation of my travelogue about our trip to Lisbon last year. If you missed Part 1, catch up here.
My husband grew up sailing regularly with his dad, so whenever possible, I try to get us on some kind of watercraft on vacation. There are a variety of sailing tours you can take in Lisbon, but after a lot of research, I chose Lisbon by Boat because they had great reviews and seemed very family friendly. We made our way out to Belem on Tram 15 from Cais do Sodré and walked to the waterfront, where we met the boat crew (“In a van, down by the [Tagus] river” – Matt Foley, motivational speaker). While we didn’t specifically request or pay for a private tour, we ended up getting one because it had been a cold and wet February. The weather was perfect and sunny for us, and while my husband was disappointed not to have a stiff breeze (we mostly motored around rather than really sailing), it was a perfect day to be out on the water. We had a captain (whose name I can’t recall) and a “captain’s assistant” named Monica. They were the perfect hosts and it was so easy to chat with them about life in Lisbon, with bits of detail about the monuments we passed along the way. They also treated us to a delicious crisp white wine with cheese and crackers, and Monica sweetly offered to hold Julia while we ate. There’s a small cabin with a restroom below deck where I was able to easily change Julia’s diaper. She could have napped down there as well, but was too excited about being on the boat for that. The 2 hour sail was a good length of time for us – Julia started to get antsy towards the end of the trip, so I was glad I had brought along a few toys for her, and she loved getting to steer the boat.
We felt refreshed and happy after our sail, so while we had initially planned to return Belem later in the trip to see the other sites, we opted to visit Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery while we were in the neighborhood. I honestly could have skipped the Tower. It has a lovely water view, but there isn’t much to see inside and the line to go to the top was quite long and slow moving, so we didn’t go up. The Monastery, on the other hand, was beautiful. The line to get in was on the longer side, but they let us skip towards the front because we had a baby with us (and the line was moving rather quickly anyway). The architecture inside was so ornate, and having a beautiful space for the adults while having room to crawl for Julia was amazing.
We capped off the afternoon with a visit to the Pastéis de Bélem café. We opted to get our pasteis da nata to go rather than wait for a table, and dug in right outside while we waited for our tram back to the city. We ate dinner at Time Out Market (again) and headed back to the apartment for the evening.
We woke up relatively early on our 4th day in town for our day trip to Sintra. It was really easy to pop over to the Rossio train station a block or two from our apartment and hop on a train that takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to Sintra. Once there, you walk out of the train station and follow all the other tourists to bus #434 that, for about 5 EUR/person, will take you on a one way circuit to most of the major castles.
Not knowing how Julia would do on a long trip, I prioritized the Moorish Castle and the National Palace of Pena. Both palaces are stunningly beautiful for their own reasons. At the Moorish Castle, we walked through a beautiful wooded area to get to a castle that looked like it should have knights walking along the crenelated walls and watching for invaders. We only brought the baby carrier with us, which worked perfectly for climbing what seemed like thousands of stairs to get to all the towers in the castle.
The walk from the Moorish Castle to the Pena Palace isn’t that long, so we opted to take a short hike up the road. We headed straight to the palace interior and loved the walk through the beautiful rooms and peering out at the view of the intensely colored walls from all of the balconies. I lusted over the giant kitchen, which reminded me that I was starving and it was getting to be naptime. We would have like to see more of the gardens, but they appeared to be too far of a walk for a baby that was getting tired.
The bus ride back to town was not as much fun as the way up – the bus was really crowded and Julia, who was at an age where she hated being in the baby carrier while the wearer was sitting, was really upset that the bus driver sweetly made sure I had a seat (the man he asked to move was none too pleased, either). She screamed for the last 15 minutes of the ride while I desperately tried to get her to take a pacifier or eat. We got a default pass to the front of the exit line and sat on a bench while I fed her and she quickly fell asleep. In true Portuguese fashion, the bus driver came over on his break to make sure everyone was okay. So sweet! We took advantage of the free wifi in town and searched Yelp and TripAdvisor for a restaurant for lunch, landing at Incomum by Luis Santo. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the beautiful weather with wine and lunch while Julia napped in the baby carrier. She woke up half way through the meal to share my risotto and some bread, and everyone always feels better after a nap and a snack.
We took the train back and rested at the apartment before heading out to Cervejaria Ramiro for dinner. The seafood restaurant is really well rated on TripAdvisor and has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show. They don’t take reservations as far as I know, but they have a very efficient waiting system. You go in and get a ticket with a number, which is announced in multiple languages when it’s your turn and displayed on a screen above the door. You can purchase beer to drink while you wait (and try to avoid the smokers). We waited close to an hour for our table, so while Peter and Julia charmed some tourists hanging out on the sidewalk, I watched the screen like a hawk. Once we were finally seated, service was really quick and attentive. They don’t actually have fin fish that I could tell (all shellfish, so if you have an allergy, this is not the place for you) and pretty much everything is ordered by weight. If you’re concerned, don’t worry, they can help you figure it out. We ordered crab, barnacles (just for me and Julia, Peter passed), garlic shrimp and some amazing grilled bread (the insides of the crab were delicious on top of the bread). The servers kept bringing Julia candy, which I wouldn’t let her eat, but she loved shaking the package of Nerds. After the shellfish was cleared away, we ordered a steak sandwich to top it all off. The sandwich was amazing and loaded with garlic. The bill was pretty hefty, especially compared to all the other meals we’d had. Overall, the food was good, but I think we would have enjoyed another low-key meal at Churrasquiera da Paz more.
This day was a total bust. We had originally planned to go to the Aquarium, so we took the metro out that way and decided to stop at a park nearby because Peter was feeling tired and wanted a short nap. I entertained Julia on the playground and felt the beginnings of severe gastric distress. I ended up getting sick by side of the road as we made our way back to the metro, so we had to go back to the apartment. Peter was a saint and went to the little market up the street to find me some lemon lime soda, yogurt and crackers, and then disappeared for a nice long walk with Julia. They came back for her nap, and Peter took popped out for a coffee while I fed her before they ventured back out to Time Out Market for dinner. I spent the day huddled in a ball in bed, but felt much better when they got home. Moral of the story – it’s terrible to get sick on vacation, but much better to do so when you have a comfortable apartment, a supportive significant other, and a little market nearby to supply emergency food.
We made it to the Aquarium! Oceanário de Lisboa is rated as one of the best aquariums in the world and we had a great time. The facility is beautiful – it’s set up as a spiral around a giant multi-story tank with smaller exhibits around the perimeter. We were there during a fish feeding, and it was amazing to watch the wide variety of fish cluster around. Julia loved just sitting and admiring everything we saw, and we spent close to two hours there. The only thing I didn’t like is that the spiral is basically one way, so if there’s something you like and want to see again, you’d have to go all the way back around. We used the latter part of the afternoon to take a long walk back to the Ginjinha shop we’d seen on our first day to purchase some souvenirs, and do a bit of shopping on our walk back to the apartment.
Our last day in Lisbon. We started with a visit to the coffee shop Peter had visited the prior afternoon, Fabrica. I wish we’d known about it before! The shop was so cozy and welcoming, with amazing coffee and delicious croissants to nibble.
Next, we took the ferry to Cacilhas from Cais do Sodré. This is a wonderful and relatively inexpensive way to add an extra boat ride to a trip to Lisbon.
When we arrived, we took the 101 bus to the Cristo Rei statue at the top of the hill, which offered a really lovely ride around winding streets and gave us a great look at the town (I wish we had time to stop and do some shopping!). The view from the top is amazing, especially over the April 25 Bridge (very similar to the Golden Gate).
After our visit, we took the bus back down the hill towards the ferry terminal and started the walk to the seafood restaurants that the area is known for. The walk to get there looks a little shady – it’s relatively narrow with no guard rail near the water, and has a lot of abandoned warehouse-like buildings. However, it was broad daylight, and we passed a bunch of college-looking students on our walk, so it wasn’t concerning, but I would recommend a stroller or baby carrier (we had the stroller) to make sure little ones aren’t likely to fall off the edge.
There are two well-recommended restaurants in the area – Ponto Final and Restaurante Atira-te ao rio. I hadn’t done a great job of checking details about the restaurants, so it turned out Ponto Final was closed, and we were a bit too early for Atira-te ao rio. Undeterred, we kept walking up the walkway a bit and rested on a grassy area while I fed Julia and she enjoyed watching an older lady who strolled by with several pet cats. We were the first lunch guests and were greeted by a lovely Brazilian lady who spoke beautiful French, English and, of course, Portuguese. They even had a special high chair for Julia covered in a soft blanket. After bread and olives to start, I had a delicious octopus salad and we shared a whole fish that was really delicious. They got busy very quickly, so I would recommend arriving early or calling for reservations if you come during peak season.
There’s an elevator just up the way that’s about 1 EUR per person and was operated by a kindly older gentleman on our visit. We took it up to the top of the hill just for fun, and then walked back down to ferry terminal for our return trip.
We loved both segments of our Europe trip last year (see Madrid recap here and Lisbon Part 1 here), but Lisbon was hands down my favorite stop. It was a perfect introduction to international travel for a family – everyone loved Julia and treated her with extra kindness (letting us skip long lines, giving her special treats, providing baby-friendly amenities in the apartment). The weather was beautiful and there were so many wonderful things to do. While we had to slow down our pace a little bit with a baby, we still felt like we were able to see the key highlights in town and there was never a boring moment. The food was also really child friendly – simply prepared and fresh, with lots of options even for picky eaters (like if we return when she’s a teenager…).
The “can’t miss” highlights for me were the Lisbon by Boat sailing tour, the day trip to Sintra, and eating at Churrasqueira da Paz and Time Out Market.
In case it helps with your planning, I’ve included a link to a map of where we stayed, where we loved eating, and what we did, as well as some key transit locations.
Have you been to Portugal with children? What were highlights of your trip? I would love to go back with Julia and even (half-jokingly) suggested to Peter we should live there someday, so I’m keeping my list on hand.