Christmas time in Europe is magical, but if you want all the fun but not the freezing temperatures, we highly recommend a winter holiday to Lisbon. To visit Lisbon in winter is always a memorable experience, with the crisp, fresh air, the warming scent of chestnuts on every breeze, beautiful lights and lots of seasonal activities all over the city – plus, it comes with a healthy dash of sunshine! Lisbon in December really does become a dressy affair; every storefront is attractively decorated, parks become independent Christmas markets and fairs, and the holiday food will have you coming back for more every year!
We spent a few years in Lisbon as a family, which has allowed us to see one of Europe’s best capital cities from a variety of viewpoints; Lisbon is full of gems waiting to be discovered – especially during Christmas!
The Best Christmas Markets, Fairs, and Lights in Lisbon
In the centre of Lisbon, you’ll find Parque Eduardo VII, a large green park the runs the length of one of the city’s hills and offers some of the best views of the city. During Christmas, the park transforms into Wonderland, where can ice-skate, take a spin on a giant wheel, discover traditional Portuguese arts and crafts, and of course, meet Santa Claus. Free entry | Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 13h00-20h00, Fridays until 22h00, and weekends 10h00-22h00.
TIP: At the top of the park, there is a pretty good playground with a nice café/pizza place. It’s also where Lisbon’s Winter Greenhouse is located – one of the city’s true hidden gems and a nice place to get away from it all for a few hours.
Baixa and Chiado are some of my favourite areas in the city during Christmas. In Baixa, you’ll find a gorgeous little Christmas market in Praca do Municipio, and in Chiado there’s the iconic Armazens do Chiado which gets covered in lights and has my favourite Father Christmas. Meanwhile the Praca de Camoes emphasises the neighbourhood’s trendy reputation with a stylish Christmas tree.
Visiting Belém? Then head for CCB for their monthly market, which at Christmas is full of delicious treats, as well as a variety of arts and crafts. This year, the market will take place on the 18th of December.
What to do in Lisbon with children at Christmas
In the last decade, Lisbon has been amassing a range of extraordinary family-friendly museums, developing its green areas, and the riverside has changed almost beyond recognition – all of which has made my home city even fabulouser than before. We have written before about our top 5 activities to do with kids in Lisbon, but I wanted to add a bit of a Christmas update to our post.
For kids of all ages, the Hippo Bus tour in Lisbon is a great way to explore the city, and for a thrill at the end, it plunges into the river Tagus for a unique view – don’t worry, it floats! A trip to the Castelo de S. Jorge is a must for any budding knight or princess, and although we recommend getting the tram up the hill, do try to spend time wandering down slowly through the charming streets of Alfama, where you’re bound to find a little treasure or two.
Tip: The streets in Alfama are narrow and steep, and not ideal for buggies. If you’re travelling with a baby, consider taking a baby carrier.
Our son loves the pedestrianised streets of Baixa, where he’s free to scoot around without us asking him to stop every 2 seconds. Don’t miss the busy Praca do Comércio, where you’ll find the city’s biggest Christmas tree. We also love going around the pastelarias of Chiado in search of the perfect Christmas cake (Bolo Rei), spending hours in the neighbourhood’s quaint bookstores, and just taking in the festive atmosphere.
If you’re unlucky enough to see a drop of rain in Lisbon, or just need to entertain the kids for a day, then Parque das Nacoes is just the spot, though a little way out of the centre. The former site of the Expo ’98, this is where you’ll find Lisbon’s extraordinary Aquarium, Oceanarium; the Science Museum; the cable car; beautifully designed gardens, a huge shopping centre, a great variety of restaurants and the largest riverside promenade you can think of – perfect for those with scooters! I hope you don’t need this, but here are some other ideas on what to do with kids in Lisbon when it’s rainy.
Belém is one of our favourite neighbourhoods in the city – airy, full of landscaped gardens, fun history in the Torre de Belém, the newly opened MAAT museum, modern art at the Berardo Museum in CCB, the Marinha Museum and the Planetarium, and the simply stunning Monastery of Jerónimos. And that’s not even mentioning the iconic Pastel de Belém, and the botanical gardens!
Cascais, Sintra and Lisbon’s Best Beaches
If you have more than 3 days in Lisbon, then I strongly recommend trips to either / or Cascais and Sintra, ideally a day in each. Both cities are easily reachable from Lisbon by train. Although Cascais is very walkable, I suggest really planning how you’ll get around in Sintra as you’ll definitely want to explore more than just the city – see Pena Palace, Castelo dos Mouros and Quinta da Regaleira. You can drive, but parking can be tricky and traffic heavy even in low season. If you do find a spot, you might find it easier to grab one of the little motor taxis to get around.
Lisbon often sees temperatures as high as 20c in the winter months, so if you’re lucky, you could fit in a few beach visits in your winter holiday. I have an article you may find useful with my top choices for the best beaches near Lisbon.
Recommended Family Hotel in Lisbon & Cascais
I get asked all the time which are my favourite hotels in Lisbon, and I have to say that Martinhal Family Hotel and Resorts are always my top answer, for their approach to a family holiday is exemplary.
We were fans of their Algarve hotel in Martinhal beach, so we were super excited to hear that they now have two more family-friendly hotels in the Lisbon region: luxury apartments in Chiado, and a resort tucked away in Cascais – within walking distance of the beach, and under 40 minutes from central Lisbon. You can see our review of Martinhal Cascais, and Martinhal Chiado.
In their Cascais hotel, relaxation, fun and elegance are the watchwords. The hotel is simply spectacular; both a tranquil and fun-filled space, with exquisite decor – this is a hotel that really gets it. They create spaces made for parents who like their kids to have fun, but may want to be able to just finish that book, or try out that fantastic Michelin-starred restaurant at the Fortaleza in Cascais. The hotel features a 700 sq meter playhouse and kids club, several playgrounds dotted around the resort, and all the pools your kids can dream of. For adults, there’s a spa, gym, two nearby golf courses, and relaxing pools that will keep you plenty busy when you’re not exploring Cascais or Lisbon.
We’re arriving just after Christmas at Martinhal, but will seriously consider spending our family reunion here next year, as the hotel offers a Christmas Eve and Day special menu and a full festive programme for kids, including a visit from Santa on the day itself!
They have some great deals during the Winter holidays, so if you haven’t got plans yet – start booking!
I haven’t yet been to the newly-opened Chiado apartments, but am curious to see the genius combination of luxury + apartments + kid-friendly.
This family-friendly accommodation is located in the heart of Lisbon, and appears to seamlessly mix high-end accommodation, modern design and convenient facilities in one place, which is quite rare in city-centre hotels in my experience, where you usually have to sacrifice one or the other. Watch this space as I’ll be sharing my views on the apartments very soon.
How to get to Lisbon?
If you’re in the UK, you’re likely to be able to fly from your local airport as many airlines offer direct flights to Lisbon. We’re near Gatwick so will always fly with Easyjet as they’re considerably cheaper than TAP.
What will the weather be like in winter in Lisbon?
December is one of the coldest months of the year in Lisbon, however average temperatures are usually around 14c which still trumps most of Europe! To help you plan your family holiday to Lisbon, we’ve put together a Lisbon weather guide.
Have we convinced you to book a winter holiday to Lisbon yet?