The area of Belem is just a short tram ride away from busy Lisbon and makes for a great day trip from the city. In Belem you will find some of Lisbon’s most famous historic sites and it is home to the delicious Pasteis de Belem (a different type of pasteis de nata), a must eat when you’re in Lisbon. Here’s some of the sights you shouldn’t miss on your trip to Belem.
How to get to Belem from Lisbon
It is pretty easy to get to Belem from Lisbon. Our lovely guest house was close to Cais do Sodre station and from there you can just hop onto tram 15 that will drop you in Belem. We got off at the stop for Jeronimos Monastery, right in the middle of Belem. If you are staying downtown, take tram 15 or 127 from Figuera Square. You can also use bus lines 728, 28, 729, 751, that’s a lot less crowded than the tram. The train station is a bit far from the main sites so we didn’t go by train – if you want to, the stop is on the Cascais line.
You can use the Lisboa Card on all the trams and buses, and it may include entrance to some of the sites too. We got around with the Viva Viagem card you can buy at train stations.
Best time to visit Belem
Most of the main attractions in Belem are closed on Mondays. We were enjoying our time in Lisbon so much that we didn’t keep track of the days and ended up taking an early morning tram on a…er Monday. It worked out surprisingly well. Because there were no tourist buses stopping to visit the Monastery, there were less people trying to get into Pasteis de Belem. It started drizzling too and we got perfectly cozy seats inside. We returned the next day to see the rest of the sights and the queue was around the corner before opening time. So, like us, you might want to visit Belem twice if you have time. Some of the monuments are outside, so check the weather before you go. It might not be raining in Lisbon but when you get to Belem, you might get caught in a shower like we did.
Top things to see and do in Belem
See Jeronimos Monastery
When we arrived at Lisbon Oriente station, coming from Coimbra, we met a local who told us that the one thing we have to see in Lisbon is the Jeronimos Monastery. I can totally understand why. This world heritage sight was initially built for Vasco da Gama’s return from India. You will also found his tomb inside. The architecture on the inside is not something you can guess by just looking at the exterior. Built in the late Portuguese Gothic style (Manuelino) it is full of intricate details. The cloister is one of the prettiest I have seen and the church of Santa Maria is just as special, housing the tombs of Da Gama and Portuguese poet Luis de Camoes.
Entrance: Church has free entrance and with a visit to the cloister it will cost you 10 Euro.
Try a custard tart at Pasteis de Belem
These delicious custard tarts have been baked in Belem since 1837 following the highly guarded secret recipe for centuries. According to their website, there used to be a small sugar refinery attached to Jeronimos Monastary. The refinery was shut down by the government (something to do with corrupt clergy, etc.) so the monastery really struggled with income – until one brilliant monk had the idea to start selling custard tarts.
I was corrected by our guest house host for thinking that Pasteis de Nata and Pasteis de Belem is kind off the same. It is not. The recipe is different and in my opinion, Pasteis de Nata is sweeter and more sugary. I love both versions though.
We went on a Monday and did not have to queue as the Monastery is closed on Mondays.
Open times: 8h00 – 23h00 everyday
Imperio Square and Vasco da Gama Gardens
As you make your way across the street from the Monastery towards the Monument of Discoveries, you will find yourself walking through some beautiful green spaces. Imperio Square has an impressive water feature and beautiful statues of seahorses and the cool shade of the trees of the Vasco da Gama gardens can be a savior on a hot day.
Discover the Monument to the Discoveries
Everybody knows of Portugal’s proud seafaring history. They made it all the way down to the South African coast too. This is exactly what this 52m tall monument wants to commemorate. It looms spectacularly over the Tagus river with the famous Prince Henry the Navigator leading the pack. There is an amazing marble mosaic compass at the foot of the monument (gifted by South Africa) and the best way to get a view of it is to head to the observation deck of the monument (almost impossible) for 5 euros.
Stroll along the Tagus river
I love this beautiful river that features so prominently all throughout Lisbon. The locals are sitting on its banks and there’s even some men fishing. While we were walking to the Tower of Belem, you get a great view of the 25 de Abril bridge and the Cristo Rei statue all the way across the opposite bank. There’s almost no shade though, so make sure you take a sun hat and sunscreen if you’re going in high summer.
Tower of Belem
Another famous sight from Portugal’s navigation days. The Tower of Belem is a UNESCO world heritage sight and built between 1514-1520. It follows the same Manuelino style of the monastery and was initially used to defend the city before becoming a lighthouse. Inside you will find canons and prisoner pits. We opted not to go inside it was just so busy. The tower has five floors and only one narrow staircase, and it gets crowded even on the quieter days. It is impressive enough just to observe it from the outside.
Entrance: Open most days form 10h00 – 5h30 (depending on season) and will cost you 5 Euros.
National Coach Museum
This is one of the most popular museums in Lisbon. I found the lavishness of the coaches of the old kings and queens quite overwhelming. Some of the coaches here date back to the 1500s! One of my favorites was the coach for Pope Clement IX, adorned with gold and designed in the baroque style.
Entrance: Tuesday – Sunday 10h00 – 18h00 and costs 6 Euro.
Jardim Botanico Tropical
If you’re keen for another green space, the Tropical Botanical Garden in Belem might interest you. The garden is beautifully designed and contains many plants brought from Portugal’s colonies all over the world.
Entrance: 9h00 – 17h00 or later depending on season. Costs 2 Euros.
You guide to Lisbon’s Belem district – The best things to see and doTweet
Belem Cultural Center
The Belem Cultural Center (CCB) is an impressive building situated on the banks of the Tagus river. You will pass it on the promenade when you walk from the Monument to the Discoveries to Belem Tower. It plays hosts to Bernardo Museum of Modern art where you can see some edgy and modern exhibitions. It also has some artworks by Andy Warhol, Picasso, Dali and more. The CCB has a small cafe and terrace where you can enjoy great views of the river. It offers a host of other cultural events such as opera, dance, symphony concerts. You can find the program and prices on their website
Maritime Museum and Planetarium Calouste Gulbenkian
If you are keen to explore more of Portugal’s maritime adventures, you can visit the Navy (Maritime) Museum, annexed in the west wing of Jeronimos Monastery. It has model ships from Vasco da Gama’s time and some real-size eighteenth century ceremonial barges used by members of the royal families of Europe. Just behind the Monastery you will also find the Planetarium Calouste Gulbenkian with its state of the art equipment. They have some cool exhibitions and informative talks here.
Belem is definitely worth a day trip from Lisbon, there’s so much to see and do here.
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