On the first day of our visit to Lisbon we explored the area around Martinhal Chiado hotel, on foot as it was close to where we were staying.
The great thing about our hotel is that it is less than a five-minute walk to the main transport network, which offers the opportunity to explore everything Lisbon has to offer, whether by foot, underground, tram, bus or even tuk tuk.
Before we travelled to Lisbon we made a list of things we wanted to see and do during our visit and our first port of call for the day ticked off two things on the list as we caught a tram to the Torre de Belém.
We purchased the Lisboa Card (€18.50 for adults and €11.50 for children) which allowed us to not only travel for free on their public transport system, including bus, undergrounds and trams as well as enjoying free access to Lisbon’s best museums and attractions. The card includes free admission to the Torre de Belém, Jeronimos Monastery and the Santa Justa Elevator among others and also comes with a complimentary tourist guide full of helpful city information.
Sadly the tram we caught was one of the newer, larger models rather than a more traditional style tram but it was comfortable and our journey only last about 20 minutes and we got off to be greeted by thick fog and we could barely make out the top of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, which is a stunning monument built to celebrate the life of their famous naval man Henry the Navigator.
The Torre de Belém is less than a five-minute walk from this monument and we were very concerned by this point that we would not be able to see it in its full glory, but as we approached the fog seemed to part around it.
As the tide was out we managed to pose on the small beach area that surrounds it, before queuing up to head inside.
The Torre De Belem was built on the northern bank of the Tagus between 1514 and 1520 as part of the Tagus estuary defence system you enter the tower by a narrow, pier like walkway over the water.
The lower battery, also known as the bulwark, is home to 17 cannons that are all aimed towards the approaches to the mouth of the River Tagus. The kids loved pretending to fire them and there were even some cannonballs in some of the cannons which you could take out and hold.
Downstairs was the dungeon area which had low ceilings and was very dark, but it was exploring the parapets and scampering up and down the narrow spiral staircases that the kids enjoyed the most.
There is one narrow spiral staircase to get to the top of the tower and they have a clever timing system which gives you three minutes to climb up (or down) before the route changes direction.
From the top of the tower you have amazing views over Lisbon, the river Tagus and the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, which was emerging out of the fog.
Belem is a beautiful area to explore and we would have liked to explore the museums and monastery but we were on a tight schedule for the day. We did enjoy seeing the buildings glistening in the sunshine as we walked back to the tram stop.
The next place on our itinerary was Lisbon Oceanarium which involved travelling on the Lisbon Metro, their underground system which was not only super simple to navigate, with just three lines, but it was nice and quiet too.
We emerged at the other end at Oriente which was constructed as a centre piece for Expo 98 and despite looking dull and uninteresting on the inside, is very impressive once you emerge into the daylight.
The Oceanarium is just a short walk through the shopping centre from the station, in the Parque das Nações, which was the exhibition grounds for the Expo ’98 and there is still plenty to despite it being held 20 years ago.
The Oceanário de Lisboa is the largest public aquarium in Europe and I have to say is the best attraction of its kind we have ever visited.
We started with the temporary exhibition, “Forests Underwater by Takashi Amano” which features tropical forests inside a magnificent aquarium.
From there we entered the main aquarium which offered a “WOW” moment around every corner.
The Oceanarium is set over two expansive floors, which surround an enormous central 5 million litre tank, which is home to a plethora of marine creatures including black tip sharks, sting-rays, penguins, otters and the kids favourite, a huge ocean sunfish.
What makes the Oceanarium stand out from its counterparts is its top floor which represents how land animals live with their ocean counterparts. You start with the North Atlantic, where you’ll find the beautiful Puffins nesting on the cliffs.
It is then onto the Antarctic where you can find penguins joyfully swimming in the water and Inca Terns flitting around the rocky landscape.
It’s onto the Pacific Ocean next where the sea otters float around without a care in the world.
The final stop on the upper floor is the Tropical Indian Ocean, where you walk over a wooden bridge and explore a variety of exotic trees and fish.
Down on the lower floor you get to see the all fish in the tank and if you are lucky, some of the birds diving down into the water.
Also downstairs are some smaller tanks exhibiting smaller sea creatures like crabs, jellyfish and seahorses and amphibians.
Also in the Oceanarium is their mascot, Vasco who can be found throughout the centre, helping people understand how can they can save the oceans and the creatures that live in them.
The Oceanarium takes a good 3-4 hours to explore fully and makes for a fascinating and educational day out for all the family and just outside on the river’s edge are the cable cars which offer beautiful views towards the Tagus river fabulous views of the Vasco da Gama bridge – the longest bridge in Europe.
The cable runs 1.2km between the Oceanarium and the Old Vascso da Gama tower and is just a lovely journey with great views over the Expo 98 site.
We did a round trip and the kids enjoyed a game of sweet and sour where they waved to other passengers and if they waved back, they were sweet and if they didn’t, they were sour. Thankfully most passed the test!!
It was then time to head back to the hotel for pyjama club again as they had such fun the night before, which also meant that Hubby and I got to go exploring child-free again!
Have you visited Lisbon?