I tried. I really did.
I tried to condense our entire week in Lisbon to a simple 5 point post with a title like “things to do in Lisbon” and 4 photographs, but you know what? I failed. That’s just not me.
You see, there is a problem with those types of posts when you are REALLY trying to plan a vacation with kids.is Often, they jsut don’t give you enough information.
As soon as the author starts to say something interesting like “pack water when visiting this tourist attraction”, they leave out “because there will be NO WHERE to buy it and your kids will scream from thirst and you will have to send your husband on a 20 minute hunt for water in a country where no one speaks English and he will return with only a Coca Cola and then you will fight all day because the baby had to drink Coke”….. but I digress.
Here I present to you our day at the Saint George Castle in the stunning Alfama area of Portugal’s capital Lisbon. Here I’ve written about my first impressions of Lisbon and why I don’t recommend staying in Alfama if you have young kids, but why you SHOULD pay it a visit!
This post will INCLUDE NO researched facts about the Castle! I am going to straight up tell you how the day went and admit to the few things I learned.
Castelo de São Jorge
As is now the case when I vacation, I spend so much of my time planning how I’m going to get somewhere, packing provisions and making sure we survive the day, that I really have no mental space or energy left to absorb any significant facts about the cultural destinations I am visiting.
My husband, 2 year old and I were in Lisbon with my sister, her husband their 5 year old and my 6 month old niece.
I diligently printed out a few pieces of paper from this fantastic tourist site about the Castel’s history, a potential walking tour and things to look out for.
THE ONLY THING I remembered from what I briefly read (fine….. I just glanced at it with one eye closed as I was falling asleep) the night before our visit was that there would be peacocks running freely through the grounds. That was enough for me. That was all I needed to know.
I thought, “Perfect, worst comes to worst at least I have a peacock distraction that my son will like”
You see, vacationing with kids to cultural destinations is not always easy. I love going to galleries, museums, castles and churches, but it isn’t always fair to think there will be adequate amounts of down time for the kids, or exhibits/spaces that will engage them.
Getting Kids Engaged
Even though kids may not be able to remember (or care about) historical facts, they are able to engage with cultural destinations in a different way. It is important to allow them time, space and freedom to let their minds wander and for them to soak up what is important TO THEM about whatever it is you are visiting.
To engage my 5 year old nephew and get him really excited about our visit I tied the Castle into a story about a good knight and a bad knight that I was reading to my son. All of a sudden, cool things like Castle walls, canons, the moat etc, all started to take on a life of their own. As we walked through the castle he would use his own imagination to TELL ME the story of “what was going to happen to our good knight!”
Let Them Be
As important as it is to engage kids, I think it is equally important to just let them be. More often than not (I find) parents loose interest in being somewhere quicker then their kids. Bring a few toys and plan to hang out in an area for a bit, even if it means you see fewer things in one day.
Bringing a few animals, cars, and cool new gadgets can provide the right amount of down time for kids to let them hang out, relax and expel some energy. I brought a blow stick. You blow into it to raise a foam ball and make it float!
If you’ve been in the same spot for 15 minutes and you are ready to move on but they are still playing think about reconsidering and letting them have their breather time for another 10 minutes.
In planning for this trip I planned for some breather time, but never planned enough! I quickly learned that my 2 year old and my 5 year old nephew behaved better when they got plenty of time to just be silly. Plus this vacation was also intended as a way for us to spend TIME together, so what better way to spend it than hanging out, having fun!
Don’t Underestimate the “Cool”
As adults, I find that we’ve seen and done so many things that we may not appreciate how cool something is.
Here are some Cool Things for Kids at the St. George’s Castle, that I was happy to elaborate on and explore with my nephew and son.
Wells are COOL! There is WATER under the ground for God’s sake, and if you dig a deep enough well you’ll eventually get to this water! This fact has never ceased to amaze me, and you know what? My nephew and son were both fascinated by the wells as well!!
There are two beside each other, and if you whisper in one you can hear the person at the other side. You can come up with all kids of stories of being stuck in the well, and tie this into many a well-based fairytale.
Time spent at the well? A good 10 minutes (in children’s time that is like 2 and a half hours! )
Castles protect from enemies. Enemies attack! This castle was besiged by the Moors and Cristians and a great way to get the minds of children engaged is to think about what actually happened “IN THESE VERY WALLS”.
Walking Along the Walls and Overlooking the City
One of the most incredible things that the St. George Castle offers kids (and adults) is the view. The terrace offers panoramic river and ocean views. Once inside the Castle walls, you can also go up the narrow (no gard-rail) stairs and walk all along the Castle walls viewing the entire city in each direction.
This experience was incredible but also a little scary. My tips:
1) No strollers or elevators here, you must leave strollers in the Courtyard where you enter. I have a portable stroller lock and locked mine up!
2) Carry your small kids. My Carrier can carry up to 20 kg (45 lbs), so I threw my son up on my back and he stayed there for the entire time we were walking along the walls
3) There are no guard rails. Many of the walls sections are not protected with guard rails so hold your kids hands. Have them behave and stay close. There are also a few stairs that are quite steep, so you’ll want to keep an eye out.
4) Wear shoes with a RUBBER SOUL and not flip flops or leather soled shoes. You’ll be more comfortable with a shoe that grips well!
5) Take pictures. The view is stunning and worth the visit!
Falcons and Owls
Another cool thing about the St. George Castle were the falcons and owls that you could hold and have your picture taken with for money. I’m personally scared of big birds pecking out my eyes, so I stayed far away! However, someone out there must think this is cool!
All in all this was a fantastic morning for the entire family. We were there before lunch and in about 2 hours saw the whole Castle. Here are my tips if you plan on visiting:
Stroller: To get to the Castle you have to walk up a steep hill and sidewalks are not always available. Bring a very light stroller that can be closed easily. Leave nothing underneath and put all of your provisions in a backpack so you can carry it easily.
Back Carrier: As mentioned I found having my 2 year old on my back made me much less worried!
Water and Snacks: Bring them both! There is a place to buy them, but it closes for breaks. If you happen to be thirsty when it is closed you’ll end up sending your husband on a hunt that may take 20 minutes!
Lunch: Right outside of the Castle there are many places where you can have lunch. If you need a highchair you must do your research and call in advance to book it.
Pack a Surprise: For each day of our vacation I always had on hand a wrapped small surprise for the kids. I didn’t see it as spoiling them because it is their vacation too! When I saw they were getting bored I would make a big deal about it and give it to the both of them….instant mood changer and a perfect distraction for a meal or to have some uninterrupted adult conversation (as IF that actually ever happened!)
Btw. I’ve mentioned before that I am a very excited person. I’m known to listen poorly, move around frequently and I have the attention span of a 4 year old. It could possibly be that I know how to get a child engaged because in many ways I am still one!
If you plan on visiting St. George’s Castle I hope this post helps! Visitor info can be found here.
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