What's it like to parent in Portugal? A Lisbon mom tells all

Ever wonder what it's actually like to live — and raise a family — in some of your favorite cities? That question led us to create a series called Parenting Around the World. This week, we're chatting with Lisbon resident Giulia de Vita, who blogs about her experiences in the city at Me, You, and E. She's also  the founder of the Lisbon Foreign Parents Facebook group. Keep reading for Giulia's fascinating insights on parenting in Lisbon, and be sure to check out our first post on parenting in Paris!

Parennial Travel: What brought you and your family to Lisbon? How long have you lived in the city?
Giulia de Vita: My husband and I are freelancers, and that's why we could chose to live where we wanted: we are Italian but we lived almost 5 years in Copenhagen, Denmark before coming to Lisbon. We have been living here for 4 years now. We moved a little after our first son was born in Copenhagen, and our daughter was born here in Lisbon 9 months ago.

PT: What part of the city do you live in? What do you like about your neighborhood?
After moving around town for the first few months (Principe Real, Alfama) we decide to settle in Estrela, a residential neighborhood where lots of families live and where the highlight is Jardim da Estrela, one of the biggest and nicest parks in Central Lisbon that was a lifesaving getaway during the lockdown.

PT: Do you think Lisbon is a family-friendly place? Why or why not?
On a scale 0 to 10, I would say Lisbon score 6 in family-friendliness while Denmark scores 10. People love kids, but there is not much support for families after the first few months of maternity leave in terms of services. It's good for the many getaways there are around town and in the whole country, but with a family, you need to own a car to travel around. There are some activities for families all year round, but not many family-friendly restaurants or cultural centers, but many parks and playground to enjoy and in average it only rains 50 days a year. It is a pretty conservative and traditional culture in terms of having kids — rich families have many siblings while the low and middle class has one or two. Average wages are pretty low especially for Lisbon prices, and the social hierarchy is vertical compare to the horizontal one of the Nordic countries, for example.

Father in Lisbon Portugal
PT: How do people treat children in Lisbon?
Portuguese people love seeing children around, sometimes too much: many elderly touch them a lot, even if they are just newborns, and some mothers get a bit overwhelmed by this. On the other hand, the Portuguese attitude toward children's education is somehow old-school... the education style is generally not the most progressive one.

PT: Are there any challenges to having a family in Lisbon? Things you wish were different?
The Portuguese work-life balance is not existent: working hours are often quite long and many Portuguese families with kids in school rely on extracurricular activities, nannies, or grandparents to pick up the kids after school. Local market jobs are not well paid and the amount of specialized job post is very little: it's perfect if you are a wealthy family or if your income comes from outside Portugal, otherwise, it's not easy to keep up with rental prices in central Lisbon and cost of living.

Public Kindergartens are very few and the private ones run out of space quite fast lately. There is not much to do for stay at home moms if they decide to postpone their kid's entrance in the education system, since most moms go back to work after the maternity is over, and that's around 4-6 months.

PT: What are some of your favorite things to do with your kids in Lisbon?
I love to go around our neighborhood, walk in the park, take the cable car Electrico 28 and visit Alfama, walk on the riverside, have picnics while listening to live music in the park during summer, going to Caprarica to jump on the Transpraia train and discover different beaches and their cute establishments like Praia da Princesa amazing restaurant or the boho Bohemian beach club. I like very much participating in events and exhibitions, markets, and fairs that happen quite often in town (I used to run an agenda about those). I also organize family gatherings and playgroups, since I run the biggest community of International families of Lisbon.

PT: Favorite restaurants for kids in Lisbon?
  • A Partilhar em Familia is one of the few family-friendly cafes in Lisbon. Chris and Greg are a French couple that moved to Lisbon to open the cafe. It has a kid's camp in the basement and you can enjoy some you time.
  • Amelia is one of my favorite all-day brunch places in Campo de Ourique. They have very good food and every corner is meant to take a picture!
  • Monte Mar is an upscale restaurant close to Cais Sodre that offer kids entertainment during the weekend.
  • Dede's is a cute little restaurant in our neighborhood. The owners are an Australian and African couple that lives in front of us and they make great vegetarian food, like Okonomiyaki or a delicious jackfruit Sandwich, plus they are so kind with kids.
PT: Favorite shops for kids in Lisbon?
  • If you step down from the Electrico 28 in Campo de Ourique, with a short walk you will find Baobà Livraria, a cute bookshop with a huge selection of books from local editors, plus a good selection of books in different languages. in the same street, you can find many other kids' shops, Flexa, Baby Cool and there's a cool playground at the end of it.
  • Cristina Siopa is a magic shop for kids. It has the biggest selection of wooden and playful toys in town, plus costumes and material for Waldorf educations projects.
  • Loja Dada for Kids is the shop to go if you are looking to buy kids' clothes from local and cool brands. They have an amazing collection of Portuguese and international lines, including Bobo chose, Play up, Grey label, The Animal Observatory, Mou Mou, most of which produced in Portugal.
Mother in Lisbon Portugal
PT: Favorite parks/playgrounds in Lisbon?
  • Jardim da Estrela is one of the nicest parks in Lisbon. It has plenty of vegetation, flowers, space to play, streets to cycle, skate, rollerskate, grass for picnics, and two kiosks for coffee and food. There is a big playground and a huge climbing net and it's buzzing with people afternoons after school and during the weekend; it's the square of Estrela neighborhood since it doesn't have an actual square. You can also get delivered coffee and banana bread by Dede's @Gladstone: bring a blanket and few toys and enjoy it every day of the year.
  • Gulbenkian Garden is the wild garden that surrounds the Gulbenkian Foundation: it has so many hidden corners to explore and a big lake in the middle, with very friendly ducks. During summer you can attend amazing concerts while enjoying the garden during the evening. You can get some nice hamburgers from Groundburger, or you can buy some sweets at the coffee house on the premises. Next to the Gulbenkian Garden, you can find the El Corte Ingles department stores, 11 floors where you can go wild doing shopping of both locals and international brands, plus an amazing panoramic terrace full of restaurants run by Michelin star Chefs.
  • Next to Marques de Pombal Metro station, you find the Parque Eduardo VII: the park itself doesn't look any special, except for the amazing view from the terrace on the top. But midway towards the terrace, on the left side, you find a very cute playground, with a boat and a super long zip line. it has a nice cafe next to it and even a pizza restaurant inside the playground fence. Next to it, you can visit Estufa Fria, one of the coolest (literally) places in town, especially in the summer month as it's a huge greenhouse with lots of tropical plants. There is also a small glasshouse full of cactus and desertic plants. On Sundays afternoon access it's free.
PT: Any places in the city you would avoid with kids?
I would avoid Bairro Alto and Chiado during the evening, it gets pretty busy and loud. I would rule it out for accommodation, together with Cais Do Sodre and surroundings.

PT: For travelers, what neighborhoods do you recommend for a short visit?
  • Alfama — it's a dreamy and old neighborhood you can't miss (though I will not choose it as accommodation if you plan to bring a stroller).
  • Principe Real is a gem. Explore the Embaixada, check the Principe Real square with one of the oldest cedar trees in the country: it's even nicer on Saturday when you can find the weekly farmer market where you can buy organic and locally produced berries and other delicacies while once a month you can also check the artisanal market that runs in the same premises.
  • Alcantara and the river banks to Belem. You can rent a bike in Cais do Sodre and have a nice stroll to Belem.
PT: Top three things on your list for visiting families?
  • The Feira da Ladra market on Saturday and Sunday. You can find all kind of vintage treasures and it's so vibrant and typical, especially the least touristic part behind the Pantheon National. There is also a small garden with a cute kiosk overlooking an enclosed playground, so it's perfect for families that want to have their kids running around while enjoying a glass of wine overlooking the Tejo river.
  • Book a tour with Furanai Sailboat Tour on their Piccolina (6 pax). It's a great experience and you get to see the city from a different perspective, plus you might be lucky to spot dolphins passing in the river. If you mention my name you will get a good deal!
  • Wake up early, go to Mantegairia in Largo Camões to have breakfast with hot Pasteis de Nata (typical lisboeta custard tart), then take the Electrico 28 from the direction Martin Moniz, stop at Miradouro de Santa Luzia, look at the view, take the elevator to go down in Alfama and get lost roaming its gorgeous narrow streets.
PT: Anything you'd like to add?
If you are coming to Lisbon for scooping the possibility of moving there, stay in a neighborhood you are considering for living: you can join the Lisbon Foreign Parents Facebook group, we might run playgroups while you are here so you can meet with family already living in the city. You can also check my blog meyouande.com for some up to date suggestions and special events going in town.
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