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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

Belém has been long associated with seafaring and the early Portuguese explorers, and many of the historic monuments found in the district either commemorate this glorious past, or were funded by the vast wealth that flowed into Portugal from the colonies. 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, list details of the major tourist attractions, and includes travel information at the end of the article.

Quick details for a trip to Belém

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

Money Saving Tip: For a waterside 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

Pickpockets: Unfortunately, pickpockets are prevalent on the tram and crowded areas, so always be sensible with valuables.

A Suggested Tour Route for a Visit to Belem

Belem is fantastic district to explore and here is our suggested half day route:

• Tram from Central Lisbon to Belem (catch the 728 bus if it’s too crowded)

• Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – 45 minutes

• Church of Mosteiro dos Jeronimos – 15 minutes

• Padrão dos Descobrimentos and viewing platform – 20 minutes

• Walk to the Torre de Belem along the estuary – 30 minutes

• Torre de Belem - 30 minutes

 Torre de Belem lisbon

The Torre de 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 - 15 minutes to re-energise!

• Museu da Marinha - 30 minutes (optional as not for everyone)

• Belem Palace – 5 minutes (as can only view from the outside)

• National Coach Museum - 45 minutes (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 waterfront 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 its 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 waterfront or tourist attractions tend to be more expensive, for much better value try the smaller back streets behind the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos.

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

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos - The most popular Tourist attraction of Belem

The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 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 Vasco 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 breathtaking, 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 iconic 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.

Padrao dos Descobrimentos 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, with both sides supporting the statue of Infante D. Henrique, the primary instigator of Portugal’s 15th century Golden Age of Discovery. The monument is ingeniously designed so as to give the appearance of the bow of a boat overlooking the estuary, with the rear representing the Latin Cross.

Padrao dos Descobrimentos Lisbon

The imposing Padrao dos Descobrimentos monument

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

Torre de Belem (Belem Tower)

The delightful Torre de Belem once stood in the centre of the Tejo Estuary, to guarded the city from sea bound attack, and today the little fort has become the emblem of Lisbon. For such a trivial defensive fortification, the Torre de Belem was constructed with elaborate craftsmanship and is adorned with beautiful carved stonework.

 Belem fort tower

The Torre de Belém was inspired by North African designs, and comprises of Moorish watchtowers and decorative battlements, while inside is the first European recorded evidence of a rhinoceros, in the form of a stone carving.

Interesting Fact: The fort was once in the centre of the Tejo but since its construction the flow of water has altered and is now positioned on the edge of the banks of the estuary.

El Centro Cultural de Belem (CCB)

The Belem Cultural Centre (BCC) was constructed to host the 1992 European presidency when it rotated around host countries. Today the sprawling complex contains concert halls, exhibition rooms and Lisbon’s finest free museum, the Coleção Museu Berardo. Found inside the vast BCC are a selection of quieter cafes and restaurants.

El Centro Cultural de Belém
Museo Nacional dos Coches Museum

The Museo Nacional dos Coches Museum exhibits one of the most fascinating collections of historic objects found in Lisbon, royal horse-drawn carriages. These wonderfully decorative carriages span many centuries and include carriages used by European royalty and a succession of popes. The museum is currently housed in the former Portuguese royal area, which was used for horse dressage events and shows. Eventually, the museum will be transferred to the modern, purpose built complex across the road from the current location.

Museo Nacional dos Coches
Pastéis de Belem

The Pastéis de Belem bakery is the traditional home of the delicious custard tart (known as the Pastel de Nata) and no trip to Belem is complete without savouring one in this loud and chaotic cafe.

Pasties de Belém

Random fact: Many of the traditional Portuguese cakes and tarts have sweet yolk based fillings and originate from bakeries that were close to major monasteries. The reason is that the egg whites were used by the monks to starch religious clothes, giving the yolks free to the bakeries close by. Hence the home of the Pastéis de Nata is next to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos!

Belem Palace

The striking pink Belem Palace is the official residence of the President of Portugal

Palacio Nacional Belem
Museu da Marinha (Navy Museum)

The Museu da Marinha details Portugal's maritime history and is housed in the western end of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. The museum is divided into two distinct sections with the first containing historic artefacts and numerous models of boats, while the second displays royal yachts and fascinatingly early aircraft.

Museu da Marinha
Jardim da Praça do Império

The Jardim da Praça do Império is one of Europe’s largest plazas and is bound by the expansive BCC and the extravagant Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. The grounds of the plaza are filled with decorative and symmetrical water gardens, with a grand fountain as the centrepiece.

Jardim da Praça do Império lisbon
Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar

The Monumento aos Combatentes do Ultramar is the war memorial that honours Portuguese soldiers who died during the Africa independence uprisings of the 1960-1970s. The name of each soldier who died is inscribed in the walls that surround the memorial.

The Monumento Combatentes Ultramar Lisbon
The Best Activity of Belem

The best activity in Belem is the 30-minute walk from “Pastéis de Belem” to the Torre de Belem. This route passes the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Discoveries Monument and goes through carefully maintained parks (namely, the Jardim da Praça do Império and the Jardim da Torre de Belem) while following the banks of the Tejo Estuary. On a bright sunny day, there is no better walk than this in Lisbon.

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.

tram 15 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.

The tram can get very crowded, an alternative method to travel to Belem is to catch the number 728 bus, which passes through Praça do Comércio and Belem, on its way to Restelo. A single bus ticket is cheaper than the tram and only costs €1.85.

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