Lisbon: History, Ingenuity and Egg Tarts

The world as we know it would be a different place if Portuguese explorers and merchants had not made their mark around the world via its oceans, the Silk Road and the Spice Road centuries ago. During the Renaissance, Atlantic port city Lisbon was the ultimate point of origin, its ships heading toward Africa, Asia, and the Americas, and returning with objects and ideas that would contribute to its current international flavor.

Introductory city tours are always a good idea, especially for families traveling with younger children. While hop-on/hop-off trams and buses abound, one of the more interesting offerings are tuk-tuk tour operators. While itineraries cover essential neighborhoods, the tours are done in more intimate and personalized context, with drivers often open to helping with family photos.

Nata Tarts in Lisbon, Portugal

Nata Tarts in Lisbon, Portugal © Elyse Glickman

Food tours and food market halls, meanwhile, make an ideal “first day outing” for those with older kids and teens. While various stalls at Time Out Market Hall are collectively an excellent primer on the city’s hottest restaurants, Taste of Lisboa tours take participants on fascinating treks through less touristy neighborhoods to get a taste of everyday dining, a feel for the city’s geography, an honest assessment of Portuguese history and a visit to Confeitaria Nacional (a bakery selling what some locals believe are the best natas or egg tarts in the city).

“When Portuguese explorers went around the world in the 15th century, they encountered many cultures with their own set of habits, foods, and food sources,” said Rose, one of Taste of Lisboa’s guides, at the start of its Mouraria tour. “When you are looking for things that are ‘typically Portuguese,’ you need to keep your eyes open as you will see it is made up of many things that transcends its borders.”

Lisbon Cable Car © Elyse Glickman

Lisbon Cable Car © Elyse Glickman

Once the family fueled up with good food and a basic overview of Lisbon, they will certainly have a greater appreciation for its historic high points. Those planning a longer stay (four days to a week) can take advantage of the Lisbon Card, with discounted entry into 23 popular monuments and museums and unlimited free use of public transportation. Those staying for fewer days, meanwhile, are advised to cherry pick unusual museums and neighborhoods that key into their kids’ personal interests.

Uniquely Lisbon activities and sites include:

  • Explore the historic Belem and Alfama districts, the World Heritage Jerónimos Monastery, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and São Jorge Castle on weekdays. Early mornings are a great time to stroll Praça do Comércio before the crowds and business traffic build.
  • The National Museum of Archaeology, one of the most esteemed museums in the world devoted to ancient art found in the Iberian Peninsula, is conveniently located on the grounds of the Jerónimos Monastery.
  • The National Azulejo Museum celebrates the tiles that grace public spaces throughout Portugal and allowed Colonial-era explorers and settlers to make their mark aesthetically in Brazil, Macau, and Goa, India.
  • The National Coach Museum provides a refreshing twist on history and technology with its collection of coaches from the 17th–19th centuries that served royalty and commercial purposes. The Navy Museum is its seafaring counterpart, with in-depth insights into the Golden Age of Exploration.
LX Factory

LX Factory © Elyse Glickman

  • While fashion-conscious teens will enjoy perusing the boutiques of the Bairro Alto and Chiado districts, keep an eye peeled for weekend flea markets in or near those neighborhoods for real one-of-a-kind finds. The LX Factory, built into repurposed industrial space, has one of the biggest weekend fleas as well as trendy-yet-kid-appealing fast-casual dining.
  • Soccer enthusiasts should not miss the chance to tour Benfica Stadium. Even the smallest fans will get to walk through the field, visit the locker rooms and press room, and get a selfie with the eagle mascot of Sports Lisboa and Benfica or get brag-worthy souvenirs from the pro-shop
Lisbon City Center at Dusk

Lisbon City Center at Dusk © Elyse Glickman

Finally, while the Martinhal Chiado is rated one of the best hotels dedicated to family travel, the Lisbon Dreams Guest House delivers comfort on a budget and complimentary breakfast in a quiet residential section near two major subway lines that will whisk the family to points of interest.