On our first full day in Lisbon, our family decided to spend the morning at the São Jorge Castle, then head to Belém for the Jerónimos Monastery and the National Coach Museum. What a delightful day! If you are traveling to Portugal with kids, I highly recommend these activities.
São Jorge Castle
After a pastry breakfast at a stand up cafe (it’s cheaper than sitting down) around the corner from our apartment, we hopped on a taxi to Castelo de São Jorge. While we probably could have walked, we wanted to conserve the boys’ energy, so a taxi seemed like the best option.
On arrival, John was delighted by the cannons.
And I was delighted by the views of the city.
The castle was built on Lisbon’s highest hill, and while sources agree that the first castle was built in the 10th century, the first known fortifications by the Phoenicians go back to at least the 1st or 2nd century B.C., but even there, there are signs that Celtic tribes may have been present on the hill as early as the 8th century B.C. From there, it was occupied by the Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors.
During the second crusade, in 1147, Portugal’s first king, Alfonso I, captured the castle in the Siege of Lisbon. It was used as a “governors mansion” in 1255, when Lisbon became the Portuguese capital, then underwent extensive renovations about 50 years later and became the Royal Palace. In 1375, the castle walls were expanded and rebuilt to protect more of the city.
By 1452, the castle had been converted into a Royal Residence, but was damaged in an earthquake in 1531. It was mostly repaired 30 years later. The city walls were renovated again, but then the 1755 earthquake, describe in my last post, caused significant damage and the castle was left in ruins. In the 1900’s, some of the structures were demolished and others restored and rebuilt into what you see today.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time here and hope that if you ever visit Lisbon that you will stop by.
From here, we decided to wander back to our apartment in the Baixa neighborhood, getting lunch on the way. Being quite exhausted, we decided to take a nap before heading out again. When traveling with young kids, or even if you aren’t, it is almost always nice to avoid the hottest part of the day and rest in your air conditioned accommodations. If you can get your kids to fall asleep, they may even have enough energy to stay out past their bedtime and enjoy the evening with you.
After a nice rest, we decided to head out to Belém. I am pretty sure that we took a taxi to get there, as it is too far to walk. While public transportation is usually an option in major cities, when traveling with small kids, it is often easier to just take a taxi (they’re not that pricey in Portugal).
First we stopped by the Jerónimos Monastery, constructed during the 16th century. Monks from the Order of Hieronymite inhabited the monastery with the directive to both care for the needs of sailors, navigators, and some of the early explorers, as well as pray for the king. They did this until 1833, when the monastery was secularized and the monks left.
Unlike most of the other buildings in Lisbon, the monastery did not sustain much damage during the 1755 earthquake. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
National Coach Museum
Young children can only take so much of touring churches and monasteries, so at this point we decided to delight them with the nearby National Coach Museum. John, in particular, really enjoyed it.
The museum is small, but surprisingly delightful. Definitely worth a stop if you are nearby!
A Casual Evening
Before taking a taxi back to Baixa, we found a park and playground for the boys. They were excited to run off some energy and Jeremy and I were happy to rest on some benches.
In the evening, we wandered around a bit and went shopping for a Portuguese cookbook – I try to collect an English language cookbook from every country I visit. By this point, exhaustion from sightseeing with a cold was setting in, so we decided we had seen enough of Lisbon and called it a night.
In the morning, we hopped on a plane to Geneva!
What a delightful (brief) time in Lisbon! With our vacation time constraints in 2016, we tried to pack too many cities into a two week trip (which in retrospect may have been a little silly). Nevertheless, Portugal is on my list of countries to come back and explore more!