Lisbon Square - Praça do Comércio, with the Augusta Street arch in the background
I’ve recently returned from a short last-minute trip to Lisbon in Portugal. I think that during the summer school holiday period, it is easier to keep small or young children amused and there are a lot of things that you can do with them. As they get older and their personalities become more established they know what they like and what they don’t like. They are also more opinionated. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that it is more challenging to keep them amused and entertained.
Rather than have my teenage son and his older sisters spend weeks indoors during the summer holidays, glued to their mobile phones or laptops I decided to spend some good quality time with them.
I literally booked the accommodation through booking.com and the flight on Saturday and we flew out on Monday, one day later! Our flight was due to leave the UK on Monday in the evening and we were due to arrive in Portugal at 8.05pm so we only had four whole days to play with.
Our hotel was conveniently located literally one minute away from the metro station. Tickets for the metro can be bought from a ticket office or from a ticket machine which has instructions in multiple languages. First, you have to buy a card called a “Viva Viagem”card which is reusable and costs 50 cents at the time of writing this article.
Viva Viagem travel card
After you have bought the Viva Viagem travel card you can then pay for a single journey if you want or you can load the card with enough money for multiple journeys.
So, what did we do in those four days?
Because the trip was so last minute and it was my first time ever in Portugal, I did not have any particular plans and I spent a good part of the first morning on my mobile googling what there was to do in the area. Since we were staying in the city of Lisbon, much of the activities involved tourism. Time was precious and it was ticking away. Overwhelmed by much information and limited by time, I decided to go down to the hotel reception to ask what they would recommend for our first day. Our hotel receptionist recommended that we get the metro and head down to the Old Town center which was about 20 minutes away by train. There we would find a place called “The Story Centre” which tells the story or history of the city of Lisbon. So we took the metro (cost around €1.45 per person – one way) and headed off to the Old Town. The Story Centre is in an area called Rossio and the nearest metro stop is Terreiro do Paco.
Lisbon Story Centre - Rossio (Old Town)
Before leaving the hotel I had booked tickets for the Story Centre from tiquets.com with my mobile. The cost was £25 (around €28 euro) for four of us. When we got to the centre I simply showed them my booking confirmation on my mobile. The Story Centre is like a museum and it’s a good way to get a brief history of the city in a short space of time. There are hand held audio guides available in various languages and these enable you to move around the centre at your own pace. The story covers the catastrophic earthquake which happened in Lisbon in 1755 which was followed by fires and then a flood!
In the evening we returned to the vicinity of our hotel and decided to walk down to the banks of the river Tagus. We were staying in the part of Lisbon where the river forms an estuary leading into the Atlantic Ocean. The river is so wide at this part that it looks like the sea. A cable car passes overhead which apparently gives lovely views of the estuary from above but we did not get in it because one of my daughters is afraid of heights.
Cable cars over the river Tagus
After a pleasant and leisurely walk along the river we had a fish dinner in one of the restaurants which was in front of the river. The cost was around €80 for four of us including soft drinks.
Appertiser bowl of sea food
I did not want to spend the entire trip to Portugal just sight-seeing. My aim was to spend good quality time with my children - not completely bore them with museum visits and touring. So I decided that we should do Escape Hunt. I made the booking online at lisbon.escapehunt.com using my mobile; the cost was €70 euro for four of us but I managed to find a discount code - EHSU18JU20 - which reduced the cost to €56. Escape Hunt is the same as “escape the room”. It is a game where you are locked in a room and you then have to findclues, do tasks and solve puzzles which will eventually help you escape from the room. There was a theme which was related to the earthquake that Lisbon had suffered. Our brief / instruction was to find clues and perform tasks which would help us rescue survivors before we could finally escape from the room. Within the room that we were locked in there was another hidden room which had more clues and tasks. There was also another hidden room within that room! Not only was the experience challenging but it was also great fun.
At home, my son - being a typical teenager - spends a lot of time on his mobile and trying to communicate with him verbally via conversation can be a challenge as I usually get a one-word answer or a grunt as a response. Escape Hunt was great chance to play, interact and engage with him (and my other children of course).
In the evening we walked around the Old Town square (the largest and busiest square in Lisbon) which was buzzing with tourists.
A view from the other side of Lisbon square’s Augusta street arch
There are plenty of small shops, cafes and restaurants nearby where you can sit and eat outside.
Restaurants in Augusta street Lisbon - old town
We did an open top bus tour around the city of Lisbon: The cost is around £70/£80 (€80 to €90) for four people. The booking was done with a mobile but you need a paper ticket for the bus so we used a printer in our hotel to print the ticket.
A view of Belem Tower from a sight-seeing tour bus
After the bus tour we returned to the Old Town Centre. It was interesting just walking round exploring the area and we stumbled across The Bank of Portugal Museum which was free to enter.
Coins displayed in poles - Bank of Portugal Museum – Old Town
Our last day in Lisbon. We had enjoyed Escape Hunt so much that we did it again but this time we chose a different theme and a different room.
We had also planned to visit the Casa de Jorge / Castelo da Soa Jorge (St George’s Castle). For those who are physically challenged, be warned that it is located at the top of narrow, steep slopping, winding streets but you can take a taxi to get there. Luckily, I did not buy tickets in advance for this. When we got there, the queue was so long and the castle would have been so crowded that it would not have been possible to do a quick tour. We had to make sure that we gave ourselves enough time to get back to the hotel to collect our suitcases in order to catch our 9.30pm flight. We therefore decided to hang around town and have an early dinner instead.
The old town is a place that could be visited again and again during a short trip because you can always stumble upon something different to do or see. For example, in the building opposite Escape Hunt there is a place called Boost where you can hire Segways, bicycles, electric bikes, scooters or Gocars (vehicles with GPS guided tours). The old town also has transport links that lead to sightseeing further afield.
Reasons to visit Lisbon
Lisbon is Europe’s sunniest city, it has lots of transport options and is a relatively cheap city break. If you are considering a trip to Lisbon and you allow yourself enough planning time before visiting, you will find that there are plenty of places and things to see and do for all ages. For example other attractions or experiences include:
The Lisbon aquarium - Lisbon Oceanarium
If you don’t want to visit Lisbon in the height of the summer or the tourist season then September to October is a good time to visit because the weather is still warm, there are not so many tourists and hotel rates are cheaper.
March to May is also a good time to visit before the crowds of holiday makers arrive.
In March temperatures average from lows of around 52oF / 11 oC and highs of 66oF / 19 oC.
In May temperatures average from lows of around 57oF / 14 oC and highs of 72oF / 22 oC
In October temperatures average from lows of around 59oF / 15 oC and highs of 73oF / 23 oC