Lisbon is a city of many interesting neighborhoods, each with its own character and flavor, and Belém is one of those neighborhoods! Belém is located southwest of Lisbon-tourist proper (i.e. the Alfama, the Barrio Alto, etc.) at the mouth of the Tagus River, and, unlike much of Lisbon, Belém is modern, flat, and super tourist-oriented. Aside from tourist sites, Belem is home to upscale residential streets and the Belem Palace, the official home of the Portuguese president (which is pink!).
While very tourist-oriented, many visitors to Lisbon do not realize that it takes 20 – 30 minutes to get to Belém from Lisbon proper. To get to Belém, you have several options: the bus, tram 15, a train, or car. If you have more than two people, it may be cheaper to take an Uber than public transportation. Once you make it to Belém, know that it is somewhat spread out and while flat, you will be doing quite a bit of walking. Wear proper shoes.
There is certainly a lot to occupy your time in Belém unless you go on Monday, when everything is closed. Do not visit Belém on Monday. In my opinion, there are four “must see” sites: (1) the Jerónimos Monastery, (2) the Belém Tower, (3) the Monument to the Discoveries, and (4) the Pasties de Belém bakery. If you take Tram 15, you will be dropped off directly in front of Pasties de Belém! If you take a car, you can ask them to drop you at Pasteis de Belém, too.
Pasteis de Belém is the original maker of the famous Portuguese dessert, pastel de nata! The recipe remains a secret but their pastel de natas are completely delicious! The cafe has a seating area for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a to go line (which I prefer). If there is no line, grab your pastel de nata to go upon arrival. If there is a line, consider coming back later. Pasteis de Belém’s pastel de nata’s are large and one per person should suffice!
After visiting Pasteis de Belem, or if there is a long line, walk to the left (if facing Pasteis de Belém) to the Jerónimis Monastery. You can’t miss it!
First thing to do when you get to the Jerónimos Monastery – get tickets to the Monastery and the Belém Tower if you do not have a Lisbon Card. Lines can get ridiculously long in the Summer. To shave some time off your wait, buy tickets from the Archaeological Museum, to the left of the main entrance to the Monastery. And buy a combination ticket to avoid waiting in line more than once in Belém. After securing your tickets, I recommend visitng the Jerónimos Monastery first! This is the largest site and will take the bulk of your time.
The Jerónimos Monastery, as UNSECO World Heritage Site, was built between 1495 and 1601 and is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome. The Jerónimos Monastery, is currently owned by the state, and, fun fact, the Treaty of Lisbon was also singed here in 2007! Be sure to check out the cloisters (photo above) and the chapel (photo below). Both are absolutely stunning.
After visiting the Monastery, I recommend one of two options. If have not yet stopped by Pasties de Belém and you are hungry, quickly walk over to Pasties de Belém and get a pastel de nata or two to go. If you have already visited Pasties de Belém or are not hungry, walk through the Jardim da Praça do Império, aka the gardens directly in front of the Jerónimos Monastery (and in the video above!). When you reach the road, take the pedestrian underpass to the other side of the street, where the rest of the Belém monuments are located! You come out right in front of the Monument to the Discoveries!
The Monument to the Discoveries is one of the few modern tourist sites in Lisbon, built in 1960 to commerate the explorers who established Portugal as a world power during the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries (the Portuguese Age of Discovery). The Monument to the Discoveries features statutes of explorers Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias (all on the East side) and Henry the Navigator (the main statute). You can ascend the Monument to the Discoveries for a small fee for views of the Tagus River and the 25 de Abril Bridge, but these views are similar to those from the Belém Tower. I recommend choosing to ascend one or the other. Also interesting at the Monument to the Discoveries, and probably my favorite part of it, is the world map in front of the monument that details Portugal’s world sea power!
If you are looking for tacky Lisbon souvenirs (who isn’t when on vacation in a new place!), there are lots of people selling such souvenirs and drawings/paintings of varying quality in Belém, particularly near the Monument to the discoveries. I bought this beauty for 10,00 euro.
After you have had your fill of the Monument to the Discoveries, make your way down to the Belém Tower. Note – you cannot walk along the water (very annoying!), but its still a nice walk.
The Belém Tower, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, dates from the 1500s and was used as both a defense mechanism and the ceremonial entrance to Lisbon. Its pretty spectactular, and I can only imagine how spectactular it would have been in the 1500s. You can ascend the Belém Tower via narrow steps, but there is almost always a line. If you do not have a Lisbon Card, be sure to get a combination ticket with your ticket to the Jerónimos Monastery.
Also in the neighborhood of the Belém Tower is my favorite thing in Belém, Wine With A View! Also located at the Castel dao São George and the Monument to the Discoveries, With With A View is a mobile wine mobile that sells wine to tourists by the glass in the most beautiful locations! Pro tip – get the standard red or white. The pours are large than the other options and you get to keep the (supposedly unbreakable) glass.
Just next to the Belém Tower is the Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar (War Museum) – a memorial to the Portuguese soldiers who died in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Its an interesting site to see, especially since you will already be in the area.
In addition to my recommended sites in Belém, there are a numer of other interesting sites to keep you busy, including the National Museum of Coaches, museum dedicated to horse-drawn carriages, and the Navy Museum. I have not visited these, but they generally get good reviews.
Since there is so much to explore in Belém, many tourists end up eating lunch in Belém. I do not recommend this. Due to the number of tourists, many of the restaurants focus of quantity over quality and are overpriced. Instead of eating in Belém, take the tram or a taxi back to Lisbon and eat at the TimeOut Market Lisbon. The market is only two tram stops away (towards Lisbnon) and the market’s offerings will be way better than anything you will find in Belém, except maybe the pastel de nata.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Jerónimos Monastery: Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal. Accessible via tram 15. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Closed Monday. Tickets sold onsite only. To avoid a line, buy your tickets from the Archelogical Museum rather than the Monastery (both are in the same building). Individual tickets cost €10/person. A combined ticket to the monastery and the Belém Tower cost €12/person. Visitors over 65 with ID get a 50% discount. Entrance included with Lisbon Card.
Belém Tower (Torre de Belém): Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal. Accessible via tram 15. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Closed Monday. Tickets sold onsite only. To avoid a line, buy your tickets from the Archelogical Museum (at the Monastery). A combined ticket to the monastery and the Belém Tower cost €12/person. Visitors over 65 with ID get a 50% discount. Entrance included with Lisbon Card.
Monument to the Discoveries (Padrã0 dos Descobrimentos): Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal. Open 10 – 7 Tuesday – Sunday. Closed Monday. €4,00/person. Visitors over 65 with ID get a 50% discount. Entrance included with Lisbon Card.
Belem Pastel de Nata Bakery (Pastéis de Belém): Rua de Belém nº 84 a 92, 1300 – 085 Lisboa Portugal. T:+351 21 363 74 23. E:firstname.lastname@example.org. Open daily 8:00 – 23:00 (until 24:00 1 July – 30 September). Reservations for groups 10 or more only (and no reservations 15 July – 15 September).
Coach Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches): Av. da Índia 136, 1300-004 Lisboa, Portugal. T: +351 21 073 2319. Open 10:00 – 18:00 Tuesday – Sunday. Closed Monday. €6,00/person. Access via Tram Line 15. Entrance included with Lisbon Card.
Wine With A View: Located at the Belém Tower, St. George Castle and Monument to the Discoveries daily, 1100 – 18:00 (Monument to the Discoveries location is closed in January and February).
Lisbon Card: The Lisbon Card is a “discount” card geared toward tourists offering free and/or discounted admission to certain sites throughout Lisbon and free public transportation. It can be a good deal, but run the numbers before buying. 24 hours is €18,50 and 48 hours is €31,50.
ON A BUDGET
If there is a group of you, ubering to Belém may cost just as much as taking public transportation. Otherwise, take Tram 15, it drops off right in the heart of Belém. In addition, consider buying the Lisbon Card. The Lisbon Card is particularly valuable if you are using public transportation.