A weekend in Lisbon: Ai Weiwei, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and the Oceanarium

This past weekend, we took a trip to one of my favorite cities: Lisbon. Technically, we stayed in Cascais, a charming town about 30 minutes outside the city, but we spent two out of the four days in Portugal’s capital city.

When we first moved to Portugal, we almost lived in Lisbon. It was an attractive choice: great schools, ample parks for the kids, plenty of cultural events and restaurants to keep us entertained and fed. But it also came with some downsides: limited access to nature, long school waiting lists, high cost of living. As Idahoans, we are used to space—and lots of it. And while I love cities, it just didn’t seem like a perfect fit for our family. So we settled in the Algarve.

Because the Algarve is considered rural here in Portugal, we don’t always have access to things we need. So this weekend, our trip was part necessity, part fun: passport appointment (my husband lost his) and medical appointment for my youngest.

With all that said, here’s a visual walk-through of a few things we were able to see, do, and eat in just a few days in this seaside city.

Ai Weiwei: Rapture

Words are insufficient to describe this experience. While my husband and I didn’t get to linger for the hours we would have liked, and we had to monitor what our six- and eight-year-old were allowed to look at, this exhibit by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei was powerful. If you’re not familiar with Ai Weiwei’s work (I wasn’t—my husband was the one who insisted on visiting the exhibit), learn more here.

Refugee boat. The tiles behind it depict images of refugee camps and violence against refugees.

Map of the world made from fabrics produced in China. Commentary on the exploitation of Chinese labor.

Tiles depicting refugee camps and the suffering of refugees. Remember: no one is illegal.

After the exhibit, we got some food at a café and then walked several miles along an oceanside walkway to check out the sites. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the kids were hot and our feet hurt. But you can’t beat the view.

The San Francisco-esque bridge. What a view!

In sharp contrast to Ai Weiwei, we visited the exterior of Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Here’s where a parenting question came in: Do we let them enjoy the experience of art, or do we discuss the meaning behind these heroicized slave traders? We touched on the history lightly but will have deeper discussions when they’re older. For now, we let them enjoy the wonder. The scale of the statues had them in awe. But for my husband and me, it’s hard to reconcile its beauty with its history.

Aside from visiting a half dozen playgrounds in both Lisbon and Cascais and spending time with friends, our final stop was the oceanarium in Lisbon. I couldn’t help but also feel conflicted, as I always do in zoos and aquariums, but I can’t deny the wonder of experiencing ocean life close-up. Of course, the kids loved it! I especially enjoyed the temporary exhibit, Florestas Submersas, or Underwater Forests.

The kids loved observing the sea life.

The Underwater Forests exhibit was awe-inspiring and educational—parenting win!

We had a great time in Lisbon, as always, and can’t wait to go back. Even though we’ve collectively spent about a month there over the past couple of years, I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of the city.

Have you been to Lisbon, and if so, what was your favorite experience? What city do you love exploring? Share with me in the comments—I love adding to my travel list!

2 Comments

  • Rosemary Barfuss Reply

    Thanks for the travel news and fun pics of darling kids! Your youngest was a baby when I last saw you at the Ada County Fair! How time flies.

    • Stacy Ennis Reply

      Time sure does fly by, doesn’t it? Hope you are well, and thanks for the nice comment!

Leave a Reply to Rosemary Barfuss Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.