We landed in Lisbon at 5:15 a.m. after a red eye flight from Boston. Existing the airport into the dark, we discovered a soaking downpour. We stuffed the kids, the awkward toddler car seat and all our bags into a too-tiny Uber and wiped away the steam from the windows so we could peek out at the dark city on our way into town.
Since we couldn’t check into our rented apartment until 2 p.m., I had a decent plan to have breakfast at a kid friendly hotel (Martinhal Lisboa Chiado) and beg to check our bags for the morning, but it turns out they only serve guests during the high season (despite their website stating otherwise, for the record!). Luckily they took pity on us (sort of: really they just wanted us to leave) and let us leave our bags anyway AND borrow big umbrellas (we tipped heavily with gratitude), but sent us back out into the BUCKETS of rain to find our own breakfast and figure out how/ where to wait out the rain with two tired kids until the afternoon check in.
We found a cute little pastry café open at the early hour (A Padaria Portuguesa, a local chain), refueled on croissants, fresh-pressed orange juice and café com leite and then bravely ventured back out into the rain. Navigating around the puddles on narrow cobblestone sidewalks, we made our way to the nearby Elevador da Bica, a tiny little old-fashioned trolley car that climbs up a steep hill (not just for tourists, we rode with locals!). We bought round trip tickets and it was a big hit, especially with our six-year-old.
An indoor activity was our best bet to wait out the rain for the rest of the morning, so we hopped into another Uber and headed to the Lisbon Aquarium (Oceanario de Lisboa) in the Parque das Nacoes, a modern port area which was the exhibition grounds for the 1998 World Exposition. We had fun, especially winding our way down and around the glowing central tank, watching stingrays and sharks swim inches past us beyond the glass. The kids blew me away with their resiliency, considering we’d all had about three hours of uncomfortable airplane sleep. Instead of the overtired whining and tantrums I had braced myself for, there was mostly lots of silliness and excitement. Yay!
Walking back outside, the rain had ended, and the sun was peeking out between clouds (another yay!). We made our way through a cute little palm-tree-lined park (Jardim Esplanada Dom Carlos) and then north along Alameda dos Oceanos looking for a lunch spot.
We found two suitable options side by side (suitable = cute and/or stylish for mom and dad + acceptable kid-friendly food and not so fancy that our kids will supremely annoy the other diners): O Clube do Hamburguer (a trendy-looking bar & grill packed with locals having business lunch) and Zero Zero Pizzeria (equally trendy looking place for wood fired pizzas and handmade pasta, also promisingly packed with locals out for lunch).
We opted for pizza/ pasta to ensure that our jet lagged kids would fill their bellies. Both these places were completely nondescript/ institutional-looking on the outside but so cute inside. We chose to sit inside since the weather was still damp and slightly chilly but realized afterwards it would have been cozy in comfy chairs warmed by outdoor heaters, facing a big plaza perfect for the kids to run around. We did let the kids run around in the plaza afterwards where they climbed on the fun sculptures, and then we found it was finally 2 p.m. and we could Uber back to town to check in to our apartment at long last!
We rented a cozy 2-bedroom apartment on HomeAway.com from the charming and helpful Mariana and it was perfect. On a quiet, narrow cobblestone street which was easily walkable (even with little kids) to the subway and tons of restaurants (both touristy places on the big plazas and also local places), and also to Praca Rossio, Praca da Figueira, the Baixa -Chiado neighborhood, Rua Augusta, etc.
After a bit of relaxation and freshening up, we headed back out to explore on foot and try to push our jet lagged selves until dinnertime. We let the six-year-old fold his too-big self into the stroller and carried a heavy and slightly groggy three-year old in the wearable carrier. We walked down Avenue da Liberdade, through Praca Rossio and Praca da Figueira, down Rua Augusta, through the arch, and into Praca do Comercio. We ate dinner at the Rick Steves-recommended and family-friendly Bonjardim (on Travessa do Santa Antao) where we discovered that the roasted chicken really IS delicious, and then gratefully crashed into bed after a great first day.
Where we stayed:
Fun things we did: