It was easy to get the girls, ages five and three, excited for a five-day trip to Portugal to visit friends and be with daddy on a work trip. “Hey kids, we’re going to visit Portugal!” Blank stares. “We’re going to eat lots of pastries and go to playgrounds!” Much cheering and excitement. Then it was up to us to come through on our promise, which was not at all a problem during our time in the Lisbon area. True, some of these highlights are also relevant to other cities, regions and countries. But for a kid, that doesn’t matter.
Here are my five must-do’s with small children in Lisbon:
1. Eat a PASTRY every day. Portuguese pastries aren’t like French or German pastries. They’re better. And you won’t find them in your bakeries at home. Every morning we walked across the street from our Airbnb apartment and took a seat at the small pastelaria – a Portuguese pastry café. Locals came in for a quick bite to eat and a draught of eye-wateringly strong coffee before heading to work. Our children expectantly pressed their faces and hands against the glass display and had their choice of a treat each day. Of course, we didn’t just go in the mornings. Each afternoon we made it our mission to find coffee and a pastry, not a very challenging goal in a city known for its high coffee and pastry standards. Every day since we have left Portugal, Lil’ Peanut (3) has been asking to go back and get a pastry across the street from our “hotel” in Portugal.
2. PENA PALACE in Sintra. Never heard of it? Most haven’t, but I think it is more splendid than Germany’s Neuschwanstein and the tour has more interior interest to a child than France’s Versailles (save, perhaps, Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors, in a league of its own). Built on the top of a mountain with views to the Atlantic Ocean and an older Moorish castle on an adjacent peak, the vibrant colors, Moorish tiles, detailed sculpture work and completely furnished interior are a delight. My photos hardly do it credit. For the children, this palace far surpassed any Disney imitation.
3. The vast urban PRAIA – beach. Unlike many of Europe’s beaches, the beaches around Lisbon are comprised of sand, not pebbles and stone (like Nice, France; Croatia; etc). Parking at the beaches is cheap or free at this most popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The Lisbon area boasts seven Blue Flag beaches, one of which I spent a day at with the children. Good thing we were there in May. Later in the summer, visitors from around the globe flock to the urban beaches unique to a European capital.
4. Chase the PIGEONS. My oldest loves to chase pigeons. My husband and I can relax on a bench while all the kids burn energy chasing these European avian staples. Give us a platz, piazza, praça or town square any day and we’ll be happy campers. Regular readers of willtravelwithkids may remember our excursion in Lyon, France last September, where we had an eye-opening experience concerning the behavior and practices of pigeons. What we discovered – primarly, that they are cannibalistic and known to eat vomit that contains remains of ice cream cones – has not deterred Lil’ P from enjoying the pigeons everywhere we go.
5. In the spirit of the Portuguese explorers, discover a new PLAYGROUND every day. New city, new playgrounds. Different continent, different playground equipment – and different laws about what is considered “safe.” It’s not a stretch say not one of the playgrounds we visited in Portugal (or Germany, for that matter) would be allowed in the United States. Many of the playgrounds were relatively new, yet still contained metal slides, moving parts where small fingers can get caught, random water features that create a slipping hazard, non-rubber-covered chains and ropes that beg to be used around a child’s neck. Am I complaining? NO! My children, along with all the other local children, had a blast playing while parents, grandparents or nannies watched them with due diligence. My children learned new physical skills utilizing equipment they had not been exposed to before. On vacation, one does not always need to run around seeing the sites. Sometimes, a playground (with a pastry in hand) is all we need to experience local culture and make new friends.