Lisbon for Families

Many of Lisbon’s top tourist attractions operate with children in mind, with free entrance for toddlers a given in most places and economical family-friendly tickets available at others.

Portugal has always been a good place to take the kids and Lisbon – with its old trams, elevators, funiculars, ferries and fun-filled tourist attractions – is a wonderland for young, curious minds.

The Portuguese themselves naturally embrace anything small on two legs; the tight-knit family ethic remains an inherent part of their culture.

A fun day out for the family in Lisbon often begins at the impressive Parque das Nações. This former site of the 1998 World Exposition has a wealth of family attractions, including the Lisbon Oceanarium (one of the largest in Europe), the Knowledge and Science Pavilion and an exhilarating cable-car journey that runs along the bank of the River Tejo.

This family-oriented leisure zone is bursting with attractions and fun-filled activities for the kids, and there’s an abundance of bars, restaurants, gardens and the ultra-modern Vasco da Gama shopping centre for pre- and post-sightseeing shopping and dining.

Parque das Nações (Park of Nations in English) has lots of surprises in store for the youngsters, such as exploding fountains and gardens dotted with unusual and interesting features. There are also bikes and trikes for hire and a miniature hop-on-hop-off train that trundles around the precinct at weekends.

Lisbon’s popular science and technology museum known as the Pavilhão do Conhecimento – Ciência Viva is a paradise for kids with a series of permanent interactive exhibits designed to explain how science works in a fun and informative way. Catering for every age group, it bursts with gadgetry and wizardry to woo youngsters with simulations, experiments and inter-related activities, and parents always relish the spectacle of their little ones ‘launching’ a hydrogen rocket and defying gravity with a high-wire bicycle ride.

The highlight of any child’s visit to the Parque das Nações, and arguably Lisbon itself, is the sight of the huge sharks and other formidable sea creatures at the Lisbon Oceanarium (pictured above).

Built to an innovative design by American architect Peter Chermayeff, both Lisbon’s and Portugal‘s star tourist attraction was the centrepiece of the Expo ‘98 World Exposition and represents the eco-systems of Antarctica, Indian Ocean, Atlantic and Pacific. Kids can only marvel at the 15,000-plus living examples of marine flora and fauna from 200 different species, smiling happily as they point and wonder.

The main tank holds enough water to fill four Olympic-size swimming pools and can be viewed from both floors of the building through four curved panels, providing a 180-degree angle of vision that gives visitors the impression of being right there inside the aquarium. There’s also an interactive exhibition related to all aspects of marine biology and underwater exploration, but the little ones will probably be more entranced by the cute little sea otters, the only ones that exist in Europe.

Linking the 145-metre-high Vasco da Gama Tower (now a luxury hotel) with the marina, the waterside cable-car provides a striking perspective of the Parque das Nações as a whole. Taking about five minutes from beginning to end, it offers head-spinning views of the Vasco da Gama bridge and mighty Tagus river basin, as well as the Lisbon Oceanarium and state-of-the-art Atlantic Pavilion.

Lisbon Zoo on the other side of the city is the ideal family setting for an afternoon of fun for adults and kids alike. Set in the sprawling gardens of the Jardim Zoológico (indicated on the map below), located in the Sete Rios district of the capital, the zoo has been operating for over a hundred years, making it one of the oldest tourist attractions of its kind in Europe.

But it’s much more than just a zoo though, it’s a place of conservation, reproduction and the eventual re-introduction of endangered species through scientific study and programmes of environmental enrichment. In total, there are 2,000 animals representing 364 species, but besides all the animals there are several attractions and a series of events going on throughout the day, including a dolphin and sea-lion show, pelican feeding session, free-flying bird presentation, cable car, children’s farm, reptile house and zoo train.

Most kids love a puppet museum and Lisbon has a good one founded in 1987 and set in an old convent with a collection of puppets from all over the world spanning several centuries. Complementing the collection is an assortment of masks and visitors can enjoy live puppet shows which children are invited to take part in.