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Portugal getaway: How to enjoy Lisbon city break with the kids

Lisbon, Portugal skyline at Sao Jorge Castle.
Lisbon, Portugal skyline at Sao Jorge Castle.
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By Paul Ferguson

The beauty, the splendour, the history and the hills. Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, is an enchanting, vibrant and captivating city.

Full of architectural marvel, stunning scenery and more styles of magnificent tiles than your local Tile Market could ever wish to stock.

Built on seven special hills, Castelo, Graca, Monte, Penha de Franca, Alcantara, Santa Catarina and Estrela and all within a stone’s throw of the raging River Tagus, these districts, serviced by San Francisco-style trams, paint their own unique tapestry on a city that is full of charm and sophistication.

An abundance of cathedrals, museums – some which have withstood earthquakes – and impressive structures, including the Vasco da Gama Bridge, Europe’s longest at 10.7 miles, the vast Christ the King statue, similar to Rio de Janeiro, and the remarkable The Ascensor de Santa Justa (a 45-metre street elevator) are complimented by a City’s passion for sport, fashion, old-style markets and a wonderful and bustling restaurant and bar scene.

Just three hours flight time from Dublin, Europe’s most western capital city, often ignored for it’s bigger brothers on the continent, is the perfect short city break, ready to be explored and indulged.

But with so much culture to digest, those hamstring-hurting hills to surmount and the finest food and wine to consume, is Lisbon limited to a certain clientèle – i.e visitors without young children in tow?

Following a short September break with three-year-old twins, their happiness throughout the trip is testament, that with the right planning, Lisbon can be a city for all ages.

Of course, a little assistance is sometimes needed and it comes in the form of Martinhal’s first ever city centre hotel, comprising of 37 luxury apartments, in the chic district of Chiado.

Having experienced Martinhal’s family-friendly excellence on the Algarve, I was interested to find out how, in a converted 19th century property on the cobbled streets of Lisbon, they could transport their signature five-star service and amenities without the pools, beaches, leisure activities and three child-orientated restaurants.

They simply played to their core strengths and their customers’ needs by making the apartments and child care centre the focal points for their guests.

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There is of course a small M Bar, keeping the tradition of Martinhal properties, for breakfast, snacks and lunch but with so much choice and variety around the city, it is more for convenience than regular dining and there is a decent supermarket just up the street from the hotel.

Inside the M Bar, is a BMW Isetta, a change from the usual VW Beetle in Sagres and Quinta, which the kids love playing in.

The apartments, either studio or two-bedroom, are bright, spacious, luxurious and with a fully-stocked built-in kitchen, in terms of appliances, the accommodation on offer, with the company’s baby concierge also available to all residents, where you can book necessities like bed and door rails, more than caters for a family’s short-term needs.

While ultra-modern, the apartments are tastefully decorated in Portuguese style and the large wooden windows, allied with narrow balconies, afford the rooms great character.

The Kids Club, situated on the ground floor, offers parents the opportunity to explore the city for a few hours, safe in the knowledge their children, at no extra expense, are enjoying themselves in a fun, safe and secure environment under the supervision of the hotel’s fully-trained staff.

Cathedrals, museums and incredible man-made built structures are unlikely to hold the attention of a pre-schooler for more than a few seconds, they are too young for the little tuk tuk cars and carrying them on your shoulders up the cobbled street hills is akin to hoisting a bag of coal on your back and going for a stroll.

So the Kids Club, which is full of toys, crafts, books and even a music centre, along with enthusiastic staff who organise games and activities, will keep your little ones occupied while you view the delights of Lisbon.

The city, despite the hills, is a joy to walk around but a Tuk Tuk tour, which can be booked through your hotel and is about £80 for a two/three-hour tour, is the perfect way to be introduced to Lisbon and it’s amazing vistas, through a driver with a vast knowledge of the seven districts.

Expect to hear: "Now we ascend" or "Down we go" throughout the entire tour.

Chiado is the ultra cool district with shops, cafes and restaurants, the financial centre of the city is in Baixa, music is at the heart of Fado, Alcantara has been completely redeveloped in recent years with loft apartments and improved nightlife, while Belem, on the riverfront, is home to world heritage sites, including the 1515 Tower, which guarded over the harbour and was the starting point for many voyages of discovery.

But more importantly, Belem is where the "Pastel de Belém", the famous delicious Portuguese custard tarts, come from and can be tasted throughout the cafes in the district.

Our twins may have been too young for the Tuk Tuk tour, but they thoroughly enjoyed the fun-filled and high energy Hippo Tour, especially when we crashed into the River Tagus and converted from bus to boat and then proceeded to sail adjacent to the city.

The tour guide, full of information, certainly didn’t take herself too seriously, asking passengers during the journey to shout out Lisbon’s most devastating disaster during it’s history. Answers such as earthquake, fire and storms were all denounced as she stated: "No, Portugal’s Euro 2004 final defeat to Greece in football".

With the River Tagus prominent in the city, it is unsurprising Lisbon has one of Europe’s largest aquariums, which is great for kids along with the city’s zoo and numerous parks, are just a tram ride away from the hotel, which only adds to the children’s excitement.

At night, the kids’ club at Martinhal hosts a pyjama club until 10pm, where the staff organise a disco, allowing parents to venture out for dinner or a couple of drinks. In the vicinity of the hotel is steakhouse Vicente and then just up the street is a beautiful wine bar, By the Wine, where you can order premium red, white, rose or sparkling by the glass with freshly-made plates of seafood, meats and cheeses to complement your vino in salubrious surroundings.

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Lisbon is a fascinating city and with so much history and culture, it’s a riveting experience, that now doesn’t have to be enjoyed without the kids.

And of course, with the capital being just a short drive from the seaside town of Cascais and the picturesque Sintra along the Portuguese Riviera, should you stay for longer, it offers up a completely different holiday.

But that is for another day...


How to get there: There are daily flights from Dublin Airport to Lisbon with Aer Lingus. For further info and prices log on to

Where to stay: Martinhal Chiado Family Suites are situated in the heart of Lisbon. You can stay in a studio or one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Prices are from €175 per night in a studio apartment for two adults and one baby with breakfast included, or from €262 in a one-bedroom apartment for two adults and two children up to 12 years old, breakfast included.

For further details log on to

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