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The Belem District of Lisbon - A Tourist Guide

Belem is the delightful district to the west of central Lisbon, and is the setting for many of the capital’s most iconic and important tourist attractions. The district makes for an enjoyable half day excursion, and combines historic monuments, fascinating museums and carefully maintained parks, all of which line the cooling waters of the Tejo estuary.

 Belem lisbon

The view over Belem

Belem has a long association with seafaring and the early explorers, who risked their lives to cross uncharted oceans. Many of the historic monuments found in Belem either commemorate this glorious past or were funded by the vast wealth of trade that flowed into Portugal. The Belem district is a wonderful area of the city and should be high on any itinerary of Lisbon.

This article will provide an introduction to Belem as a day trip, then list details of the major tourist attractions, and at the end is travel information.

Quick details for a trip to Belem

Insider tip: To escape the crowds and find some peace and calm head to the Jardim Botânico (Topical Gardens) just to the east of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.

Money Saving Tip: For a water side view of Belem instead of joining one of the expensive boat tours, take a ride on the Belem ferry as it crosses to Porto Brandao on the southern side of the Tejo.

 

 

A Suggested Tour Route for a Visit to Belem

The following is a suggested route for a visit to Belem:

• Tram to Belem from central Lisbon

• Mosteiro dos Jeronimos - 45 minutes

• Church of Mosteiro dos Jeronimos - 15minutes

• Padrão dos Descobrimentos and viewing platform - 20minutes

• Walk to the Torre Belem along the estuary - 30minutes

• Torre Belem - 30 minutes

 torre Belem lisbon

The Torre Belem and western side of Belem

• Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar - 10 minutes

• Museu do Combatente (Military museum) - 30 minutes, optional as not for all

• BCC and Coleção Berardo Museum - 45 minutes – optional as not for all

• Eat a Custard tart and drink a strong coffee at the Pasties de Belem - 15minute – re-energise!

• Museu da Marinha - 30minutes – optional

• Belem Palace - 5min as can only view from the outside

• National Coach Museum - 45min – optional

• Ferry ride to Porto Brandao or tourist boat cruise - 1hour – optional

• Stroll through the Jardim Botânico Tropical - 30min – optional

• Tram back to central Lisbon

An Excursion to Belem

A typical visit to Belem takes half a day, but this can be easily extended to a full day by visiting the museums (see options above), taking a leisurely walk along the water front or joining a boat tour. Belem is an area which can be easily explored independently and there is no need to join one of the numerous gimmicky tours.

The main issue with Belem is it’s popularity. During the summer season and at the weekends expect it to be very busy, and this is compounded by the coach tours filled with cruise ship passengers. Our advice is to start early or late in the day, and pre-book as many tickets as possible to avoid the long queues.

Within Belem there is an abundance of cafes and restaurants, and finding somewhere for lunch will not be an issue. Establishments closer to the water front or tourist attractions tend to be more expensive, for much better value try the smaller backstreets behind Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.

The following section details the major and most popular sights and attractions in Belem.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos - The most popular Tourist Sight of Belem

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is the extravagant monastery that was funded by the 5% tax levied on spices that flowed into Portugal. Originally designed as a modest monastery complex, the excessive trade wealth extended the construction by 50 years to create one of the most ornate religious buildings of Portugal.

Jeronimos Monastery Lisbon

The site has a close connection to the early explorers, as Vscao da Gama spent his last night here before his epic voyage to India. Later the church was the location that sailors wife’s would come to pray for the safe return of their loved ones.

The monastery is simply breath-taking, with beautiful stone carvings throughout the vast religious building, just expect long queues to get inside!

Quick tip: The queues to enter the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos can be horrendously long, but there is never a queue just to visit the church, plus there is no entrance fee!

Our favourite Attraction – the Padrão dos Descobrimentos

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos (the Discoveries Monument) is one of the most ionic monuments of Lisbon, and was constructed to promote national self-confidence, whilst honouring the great Portuguese explorers. From afar the monument harks from the harsh Soviet Socialist Realism style of architecture, but up close there is incredible lifelike detail to give each of the characters their own distinct personality.

The Monumento Combatentes Ultramar Lisbon

The characters on the side of the the Padrao dos Descobrimentos

On the western side of the monument are the depictions of the explorers, while on the eastern side are the key financiers, and both sides support the statue of Infante D. Henrique, the primary instigator of Portugal’s 15th century Golden age of Discovery. The monument is ingeniously designed so to appear as the bow of a boat overlooking the estuary, with the rear representing the Latin cross.

The Monumento Combatentes Ultramar Lisbon

The imposing Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument

The monument is not just a joy to look at, it also boasts a panoramic viewing platform at the top of the 52m high monument (5Euro entry), which provides some of the best views over Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Tejo Estuary and Belem. In front of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is map which traces the extent of Portuguese influence around the world.

 

 

Torre de Belem (Belem Tower)
 Belem fort tower

The Belem Tower was constructed to guard Lisbon from sea bound attacks and was positioned in the centre of the Tejo Estuary but today, due to changes of river flow, the fort is now located on the banks of the Tejo River. The design of the Torre de Belem was heavily influenced by North African styles, with Moorish watch towers, decorative battlements and the first European stone carving of a Rhinoceros. To read more please click here.

El Centro Cultural de Belem (CCB)
El Centro Cultural de Belém

The Belem Cultural Centre was constructed to host the 1992 European presidency and today houses Lisbon’s finest free museum, the Coleção Berardo Museum. . To read more please click here

Museo Nacional dos Coches Museum
Museo Nacional dos Coches

The Coaches Museum houses a unique collection of horse-drawn carriages, click here to read more

Belem Palace
Palacio Nacional Belem

The pink Belem Palace is the official residence of the President of Portugal, to read more...

Pasties de Belem
Pasties de Belém

The Pastéis de Belem bakery is the traditional home of the delicious Portuguese cake, and no trip to Belem is complete without trying one. . To read more please click here.

Museu da Marinha (Navy Museum)
Museu da Marinha

The Museu da Marinha details Portugal's maritime history and is housed in the western end of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. The museum contains many exhibits including ships, maps and historic navigational equipment.

Jardim da Praça do Império
Jardim da Praça do Império lisbon

Jardim da Praça do Império is the largest plaza in Europe filled with decorative gardens, water features and a great place to relax.

Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar
The Monumento Combatentes Ultramar Lisbon

The Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar is the war memorial which remembers all of the Portuguese soldiers who died in Africa during the 1960-1970s. To read more about this sombre memorial please click here.

Travel to Belem

Belem is 5km to the west of the Baixa district and downtown Lisbon. The easiest method to travel to Belem is by the number 15E tram, which departs from Praça do Comércio. The journey takes 15 minutes and a single ticket purchased on the tram costs €2.90.

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos lisbon

The tram to Belem

The unlimited public transport ticket for 24h costs €6.15 and can be purchased from any metro station (but not on the tram). The tram stop for Belem is very obvious being called “Belem-Jeronimos” and is next to the vast Jeronimos monastery.

 

Thanks for reading our article, and we hope you found it informative and useful. This article was written faithfully to the best of our knowledge, if you notice an error or would like to suggest an amendment please send us a message using the “contact us” page, via the link found at the bottom of this page - Phil, Carla and Smudge the Cat.

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