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June 1, 2014

Santos Populares – Popular Saints

June in Lisbon means grilled sardines and Sto Antonio and the feast days of the santos populares (“popular saints” or “people’s saints”)…

The feast days of the most popular saints in Portugal — St Anthony, St Pedro and St John– are all in June, and every year this is an excuse for Lisbon (and much of Portugal) to turn the month into one big party.

Sto Antonio (St Anthony) is said to have been born in 1195, in Lisbon, and his saint’s day (June 13) is  a municipal holiday. He is held to be the patron saint of matchmaking and on the June 12th each year the St Anthony weddings are held. Dozens of couples vie for the honor of participating in the group weddings (since 1997, those selected can opt for either a religious or purely civil ceremony). Around 15 couples are chosen to be the Noivos de Santo Antonio, and the festivities are paid for by the city.

(The grey-haired gentleman who appears repeatedly in the video–kissing people, handing out statues and making a speach at the end–was the mayor of Lisbon at the time the video was made.)

St Anthony’s Day is also the height of the arraiais, or street parties, that the festas populares are best known for, and which pepper the city throughout the month of June.
Look for streamers strung over the roads, music in the streets – often live – and fresh sardines grilled over charcoal, served on a slice of hearty bread. The most famous festivities are in the Alfama, but almost every neighbourhood has their own arraial for the Popular Saints.

The biggest party, though, is on the Avenida da Liberdade, where people gather to watch the marchas populares, in which the bairros (neighbourhoods) compete with coreographed march/dances down the Avenida. This year the marches will be held on June 12th, and if you happen to be in town that evening, you should stop by, since it really is quite a spectacle. The whole event will be televised, as well, but it loses much of its flavor that way.

The weeks of the Popular Saints are an excelent excuse to visit Lisbon, since it’s the time of year when the Portuguese–normally a private and somewhat reserved people–are the most open and friendly. I’ve even seen Portuguese families invite total strangers and tourists to share their dinner of grilled sardines.

May 17, 2014

Meo Out Jazz

Stop by the Praça Martim Moniz, Saturdays at 5pm this summer, for Meo Out Jazz: live concerts in a newly-hip setting.

Despite its central location and delightful fountains, the Praça Martim Moniz has a reputation for being scrungy, and even a little shady after-hours. 

But the city of Lisbon is trying to change that. A year or so ago, they set up kiosks–with shaded dinning areas–selling food from around the world, in the hopes of playing on the Praça’s already international flavour. (The area is thick with shops owned by Chinese and Indian merchants, as well as ethnic grocery stores.) 

New funky sculptures (including a colourful dragon winding in and out of the pavement), help brighten the area, as well. In the summer there are lounge chairs by the fountain and music piped in.

Meo Out Jazz 2014This year the city has gone one step further, bringing Meo Out Jazz to the square. Every Saturday afternoon this summer, live outdoor concerts have been organized in the Praça Martim Moniz, starting at 5pm.

Other Out Jazz locations include the gardens around the Torre de Belem, and several different parks around the city. Click here for the full program.

August 8, 2013

Lisbon with Teenagers: entertaining teens in Lisbon

Traveling with teens can be a challenge because… well, because teens can be a challenge! But there’s no reason why you can’t have fun in Lisbon with teenagers.

I was 17 when I first visited Lisbon, for a week, with my parents and 4-year-old brother (joy of joys). But I ended up having a great time. I love history, and my parent made sure to hit all the important historical sights: St Jorge’s Castle (which houses an active archeological dig) and the Alfama, Belém (where Vasco de Gama launched his ships), and the Moorish castle in Sintra.

But despite my parent’s efforts to plan a trip everyone would enjoy, my very favorite days were:

The day I planned myself: Sometimes it’s not what you do, so much as how you do it. My parents took advantage of the fact that I was longing to be grown-up by having me plan the activities for a whole day: what to do, where to eat and how to get there. To do the same, have your teen search for things that interest them in Lisbon, whether that’s beaches or science or Lusitanian horses or history. Of course, you may want to supervise just a little, to make sure they don’t plan something totally crazy! (My little brother planned a day, as well. We went to see the dinosaur tracks in the Serra de Aire. And I have to admit, that was actually pretty cool, too.)

The day I spent by myself: Sure, we go on family vacations to be together. But being together can be more fun if you have some time apart, too. My parents let me spend a whole day by myself at the Park of the Nations while they took my little brother to the zoo. I bought my own ticket to the Oceanário, ordered my own lunch at the shopping center, and generally felt super -grown-up for being on my own in a foreign city. Obviously that kind of freedom may not be appropriate for some (younger!) teens, but even a shopping trip becomes much more exciting if you stay at the door and let your teen browse and even buy their own. Think about what your teen is allowed to do at home and consider giving them similar freedoms in Lisbon, at least for a day. Make sure they have a cell phone for emergencies, of course!

Here are more ideas for activities in Lisbon that may appeal to teensagers, for time on their own or together as a family:

  • Go to the beach (and schedule a surf lesson!): If your teen is wondering why their friends get to go on “cool” vacations, while they’re stuck with some old city, take them to the beach, and show them that old can still be hip. As a plus, younger siblings will probably love it, too.
  • Hang out at the skate park at the Park of the Nations (link to site in Portuguese, but with a map): Or, better yet, take your younger kids to play in the park nearby, while your teen hangs at the skate park. (The whole riverfront on that side of Lisbon is one long park.) We’ll be happy to find a loaner skateboard for you, if you let us know ahead of time.
  • Bike rentals at the Park of the Nations: If your teen likes sports, but skating isn’t their thing, rent bikes at the kiosk between the Vasco de Gama shopping center and the river. You can bike all along the Tejo there, enjoying the view and the lovely parks. Take a picnic lunch!
  • Go shopping in the Baixa Lisboeta: Tell your teen to think of the Baixa as a big outdoor shopping mall. While they’re in Berska, H&M or whatever little store strikes their fancy, you can admire the more historical sights, have coffee at one of the many outdoor cafes on the Rua Augusta or duck into the MUDE (it’s free, so don’t worry if you don’t have time to see everything).

Whatever your teen’s interests, they’ll almost certainly find something they’d like to visit. Turn their tech-savy to your advantage and have them search online for activities that sound cool to them. Nothing worth having comes easy, and visiting Lisbon with teenagers can be great fun, too!

What is/was your best idea for things to do with teens in Lisbon?

July 3, 2013

5 things to do in Lisbon when it’s HOT

Average summer temperatures in Lisbon are only about 28C/85F, even in August. But an average is just an average, and there are always a few days, or even a week or two, when the city broils in 30+C heat (mid-to-high 90’sF). So what is there to do in Lisbon when it’s hot?

  • Take a siesta: Because of the sea breezes and proximity to the water, mornings and evenings in Lisbon are often cool and comfortable, even when it’s sweltering at mid-day. If you know it’s going to be hot out, take a leaf from the Spanish: get up early and do your sightseeing in the morning, then rest after lunch, when it’s hottest. If you’re close enough, come home and take a nap (all our houses have air conditioning). If you’re farther afield, plan an indoor activity. After things have cooled down again (often around 5 pm) head outside for a drink at one of Lisbon’s outdoor cafe kiosks or any esplanada. The city comes alive on summer nights, with whole families out past midnight, so stay up and join the fun. Who needs a bedtime when you’re on vacation?


  • Spend the day at the Expo: This area on the east side of Lisbon was built for the
    Visit the Expo'98 when it's hot in Lisbon

    Visit the Expo’98 when it’s hot in Lisbon (photo: Filipe Rocha)

    1998 World’s Fair (Expo’98), and is the perfect place to practice your mid-day-rest planning. The large park, with bike rentals, a riverside promenade and a “sound garden” for the little ones, is perfect before the temperature starts to soar. Then after lunch, while it’s really hot, hide indoors at the Oceanario, Pavilion of Knowledge Science Center, or even the Vasco de Gama Shopping Mall. End your day enjoying the beautiful views of the river Tejo from one of the many cafes and bars that stretch along the bank.


  • Escape to Sintra: Sintra’s microclimate means it almost never gets too hot. It also means that
    Visit Sintra National Palace when it's hot in Lisbon (photo: fulviusbsas)

    the whole area is lush, green and shady, even on the warmest days. Forcenturies Lisbon’s royalty   escaped the heat of the capital by spending their summers in Sintra. Testament to this are the many palaces there (including Pena Palace, Sintra National Palace, the Moorish ruins and the Quinta da Regaleira). Many of these palaces are (at least partially) air-conditioned as well. Do expect crowds on hot days, as the natives flee the heat with you!


  • Go to a museum: All that artwork has to be tempurature-controlled, which means that museums are kept at a comfortable temperature all year ’round. Take advantage of the days when it’s so hot you don’t want to be outside to see some of the many, many museums Lisbon has to offer. From art to fashion to electricity to science, Lisbon has something to help everyone beat the heat!


  • Go shopping: If you’d like to do some shopping while you’re in Lisbon (shoes, for example, are often a good deal), take advantage of a day that’s too hot to handle, since you’ll be indoors most of the time. The Colombo centro commercial (shopping mall) is impressive in its size and variety, with small local stores mixed right in with the global brands.  Along with the stores, the mall has several small indoor play structures for children, a food court and a movie theatre. Colombo is situated right over the the Colegio Militar/Luz metro station, making it very easy to get to. (Amoreiras mall is a more upscale option, but you’ll need to take a cab to get there.)


What’s your favorite thing to do in Lisbon when it’s hot?

March 13, 2013

Lisbon with kids: Olivais Educational Farm (Quinta Pedagógica dos Olivais)

Wondering what to do with antsy preschoolers in Lisbon? Looking for a break from seeing Lisbon with kids? Here, you’ll be the only tourists in sight!

Little kids love farm animals. It’s just one of those things that are almost universal. And so Lisbon’s municipal government has created the Olivais Educational Farm (Quinta Pedagógica dos Olivais).

Lisbon with kids

Urban chickens, since before they were hip 🙂

This swath of farmland right in the middle of the city is not a tourist attraction. It’s a place where Lisboetas take their kids as a treat. And it’s a simple affair: pastures, barns, a vegetable garden/orchard, a grassy place to play and an outdoor eating area.

But if you are in Lisbon with kids who are tired of sightseeing, and you’re looking for a place where they can play and you can relax, this is just about perfect. Oh, and entrance is free, which is always a plus!

Lisbon with kids

Have a snack with Heidi the horse

As you come through the gates, the picnic area, with tables and chairs, will be on your right, overlooking a pasture. Try to guess which animal will be there: the caretakers move the animals from one enclosure to another, depending on the time and day. Up ahead on your left will be several buildings that serve as offices, workshops and house activities for school trips.

Across from these buildings is the grassy park area, with a couple of simple play structures. The highlight is the “treehouse”, actually a little house on stilts, just high enough that the branches wrap around it.

Lisbon with kids

The Pacifier Tree (Árvore das Chuchas)

Don’t miss the “Pacifier Tree”, for a laugh. This perfectly normal olive tree is always decorated with pacifiers (chuchas in Portuguese). When kids are old enough to give up their pacifier, parents come from around Lisbon to have them hang it on the Árvore das Chuchas (Pacifier Tree). Kids love it, the pacifier is gone, and everyone wins. Clever, huh? My own daughter hung up her chuchas there a few years back. (They’re not there anymore; the caretakers remove the old pacifiers to make room for new ones, but she doesn’t know that!)

Towards the back of the Quinta are the barns and the pigpen.

As you turn back towards the entrance, you’ll pass the rest of the pastures, and a garden/orchard set back from the more lively animal area. This will bring you full circle to where you started, and that’s really all there is.

But my kids love it, and have for years. Less than 30 minutes from the city center, the Quinta is a great break from sightseeing in Lisbon with kids. It’s peaceful, fun, and a great chance for the little ones to run, play, and see farm animals up close. Sometimes very close. The chickens and the peacocks run free during the day, and are very personable… or actually just want to know if we’ll give them something to eat.

But we won’t, of course. We know better than that! And if we didn’t, there are signs everywhere.

Lisbon with kids

The sign at the entrance to the Quinta

How to get there: Take the metro to the Olivais station, and follow the signs to the exit that says “Spacio Shopping”. Walk along the Rua Cidade de Bissau, going northwest past a grassy area with a large iron sculpture of an olive tree (on your right in 3-5 minutes). Take the first right after you pass this area, into what looks like a parking lot. The Quinta will be on your right as you reach the top of the short slope. If you miss your turn, the next real street (Rua Cidade dos Moçâmedes) has signs to the Quinta Pedagógica for those coming in by car. Following these signs, you will go around the block, but you’ll arrive quickly just the same.




When to go:

  • In the winter (Oct – Apr)
    • Tuesday-Friday: 9am – 5:30pm
    • Saturdays, Sundays and holidays: 10am – 5:30pm
    • The Quinta is closed on Mondays, Chirstmas, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday
  • In the summer (May – September)
    • Tuesday-Friday: 9am – 7pm
    • Saturdays, Sundays and holidays: 10am – 7pm
    • The Quinta is closed on Mondays and on May 1st

Have you been to the Quinta Pedagógica? What’s your favorite thing to do in Lisbon with kids?