The weather is getting colder and the thoughts of many families are likely to be turning to the fast approaching half term holiday. Some will be trying to get away for a change of scene, perhaps to spend a few days in a European city. However, unless they booked their flight seats many weeks ago most parents will find they are out of luck if they are expecting to find any cheap deals available. Prices for cities such as Rome and Barcelona are now bordering on the ridiculous for this very busy week, but if they search around, they still might find they can get away to some European cities without breaking the bank completely.
A city break to Lisbon at the end of October is certainly worth considering as there is much in the city to interest families, particularly if the children are of senior school age. Temperatures are still likely to be very pleasant, making sightseeing an enjoyable experience even with children in tow!
Children and adults alike will love the century-old wooden trams and iron funiculars that still lurch and rumble their way among the seven steep hills over which this city lies. You can buy a pass for the trams or better still a Lisbon Card which includes tram and rail travel and entry to certain museums and attractions and a discounted entry price for others. You can take a thirty minute train ride out to a resort such as Cascais on the Atlantic coast and spend a day enjoying the long stretches of golden sand, rocky outcrops and secluded coves which characterise this stretch of coast.
Few children can resist a castle, and you can head up one of Lisbon’s loftiest hills to the Moorish Alfama neighbourhood, from where the Arabic-cum-medieval castle looms over the terracotta rooftops of the city below.
A museum which will appeal to all the family is the Lisboa Story Centre at Terreiro do Paço in the heart of the city. This interpretation centre focuses on the city’s history, where you’ll find yourself immersed in 20 centuries of historical events, tragedies and revolutions through an audio-sensorial experience. The most dramatic experience comes with a film about the great earthquake of 1755. After the earthquake the city was largely rebuilt following the plans of the Prime Minister the Marquess of Pombal.
A short tram ride from the city centre is Belém. At the imperial Belém waterfront, Portugal’s “Age of Discoveries” is celebrated in the form of the lavish Jerónimos Monastery and dazzling river-facing statues. The fascinating MaritimeMuseum, also in Belém, is one of the most important in Europe, telling the story of Portugal’s domination of the seas over many centuries. Before leaving Belém it’s worth stopping to buy a pastel de nata, a delicious egg custard tart. It is believed that pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belém. You can buy the tarts to take away or eat in at the café, Pastéis de Belém, a few hundred yards from the monastery. This café was reputedly the first place to sell the tarts after the Jerónimos monastery. The tarts are supposedly the best in Lisbon and only 3 or 4 people in the family-run business are privy to the recipe.
Less well known than many cities, Lisbon is nevertheless well worth considering for a short family break. I’ll look at another city which might appeal to families in my next blog.