LISBON A Lisbon Guide for Families

Manageably sized, minimal traffic (compared to many capitals) great local transport and plenty of parks for playing, Lisbon’s quality of life make it a winner when it comes to raising a family.


A Lisbon Guide for Families

Manageably sized, minimal traffic (compared to many capitals) great local transport and plenty of parks for playing, Lisbon’s quality of life make it a winner when it comes to raising a family.

Each neighbourhood is like a little city in itself, so you are likely to have a local greengrocer and independently run services within walking distance; there is a vibrant multi-lingual expat community and if you don’t speak Portuguese, don’t worry, most of the locals speak astonishingly good English. Then there are all those little things that add up to make a big difference in the day to day, like how long it takes to do the school run, where to source good quality food and vegetables and how to keep the kids entertained on the weekends. Here, life is just that bit easier and that bit lovelier, so you have more time to relax and enjoy spending a time as a family rather than racing around on endless errands. As an introductory guide to family life in Lisbon, we highlight the neighbourhoods, schools, shops and activities you’ll want to add to your address book, whether you are in town for a few days or moving for good.

Which Neighbourhoods in Lisbon are Best for Families

Head to Jardim de Estrela on a sunny Sunday and you’ll soon see why this neighbourhood is such a favourite with families.  Kids of all ages play hide and seek behind ancient pepper trees, dance in the bandstand and throw bread to the ducks.  In the centre of the park, the organic kiosk serves healthy snacks and makes a great pit stop for parents, particularly with the live musicians that play most summer evenings.   One of the city’s most elegant neighbourhoods, Estrela is also where you will find some of the city’s top schools and a high level of properties to rent or buy.   Right next door, Campo do Ourique is a real favourite with Portuguese families thanks to its endless services right on your doorstep, as well as some of the city’s best schools, lots of parking options and the lovely little market of Campo do Ourique.  Both are relatively flat, so less of a workout when it comes to pushing buggies (avoid Alfama’s steep cobble-stones if you have young kids). While nearby Lapa is a good option for those looking to buy or rent a larger house, this belle-epoque neighbourhood is home to most of Lisbon’s embassies, so you’ll find less shops, services and parking.

Heading further East, the laid-back neighbourhoods of Alcantara, Algés and the lovely Belém have the benefit of being just across the bridge from the Costa Caparica, which means quick access to some of the city’s best beaches combined with their own unique neighbourhood feel and are only a few stops on the train out to the beaches of Carcavelos and Cascais.

Located beyond Alfama towards the West, Graça and São Vicente are lesser known to foreigners and tourists, which makes them peaceful, more affordable and enlivened with a truly local character.   Yet if its small town vibes you seek, the up-market beach neighbourhood of Cascais is the place to consider.  A little bubble in itself, there is a charming pedestrianized centre, lots of kid friendly activities, schools and a multitude of beaches to choose from, be it for an after-school paddle or beginner’s surf lessons.  While only 20-30 minutes by train or car to central Lisbon, Cascais has its own rhythms and community.

The Best International Schools in Lisbon

There are a multitude of multi-lingual options to choose from when it comes to educating your children in Lisbon.   A lot will depend on where you choose to live, what kind of style of teaching you want them to grow-up with and what languages you want them to learn.  The best places to begin your search for the right match for your kids include IPS in Cascais, which combines a great spirit with an interesting history and has been run by the same family since it first opened. Park School (with branches across the city) is a great bi-lingual option for English and Portuguese, while 95% of the students are Portuguese, kids love it here. For more alternative pedagogies, the left-wing school Voz do Operario bases it’s teaching approach on the Movimento da Escolar Moderna.  While their resources are limited and the facilities aren’t as good as some, the teachers are excellent and fees are scaled related to earnings, which contributes to a great social melting pot. Then there is the more up-market Red Bridge International School, which combines different pedagogies to develop a style of teaching that puts the children’s interests at the core of learning while offering lessons in English, Portuguese and French.  For traditional secondary schools, consider British school St Julian’s, located in Carcavelos by the beach, the American school and the French Lyceé.

How to keep the kids entertained in Lisbon

1. Surf: Few things craft happy souls like time spent in the ocean.  As Lisbon is enveloped by the Atlantic Ocean, the sea ranges from cold to freezing cold and wetsuits are a must, but break little ones in early and they will master it for life.   The best spots for kids to learn to surf in Lisbon include Carcavelos beach and Praia do Guincho, where there are multiple bi-lingual surf schools to choose from.

2. Shop:  For high-quality clothing and gifts, check out Organii (which also stocks gifts and organic beauty brands) at the LX Factory, Tufi Atelier in Campo do Ourique and Jacadi in Cascais., while Quer in Principe Real has beautiful toys and books.  For more inspiration, browse baby lifestyle blog Baby Carlota and this round-up of kids shops from TimeOut.

3. Skate: There is a great skate scene in Lisbon for older kids, particularly around Cascais.  Check out the São João skate park developed in collaboration with the local government.

4. Play:  From endless inflatables at Hello Park to gravity defying jumps at Bounce, these are two places that will have kids grinning from ear to ear.

5. Parent Friendly Spots: One of the greatest things about Lisbon is that by every park, there is invariably a kiosque so parents can meet for a drink.  Highlights include Estrela, Parque Marechal Carmona (which has a library, play area and activity centre) and Casa da Guia, both in Cascais.

6. Explore: Located next door to an urban forest in the middle of the city, head to Parque da Serafina for a picnic or when they need to run through the trees and let their wild side out. Nearby, the park offers a kids play- area.

7. Water Babies: Drive 45 minutes out of town to Ski Club Quinta for a day of wake-boarding and water-skiing.

8. Animals:  Lisbon has a lovely zoo close to the centre of the city, or take the kids for a boat-trip out to Troia, where you can often see dolphins.

9. Festival Panda; If you find yourself in Lisbon in June, don’t miss Festival Panda, the largest kids festival in the country, held at the atmospheric Stadium Nacional close to Sintra.