Today’s post focuses on Belem, an area located about 6km west of the city centre – an excellent excuse to hop on one of the gorgeous little trams for a ride. You need to get route 15, and I recommend picking it up from either the Praca Comércio or Praca Figueira – we first attempted to get on at Cais Sodre but it was completely full by that point!
Belem is most famous for its Jeronimos monastery and for having, allegedly, the best Pasteis de Nata in the city at Pasteis de Bélem. But there is much more to this beautiful – and quite calming – area of Lisbon. It’s definitely worth at least a half day of your time, and ideally a day. Just make sure that day’s not a Monday!
Most people venture to Belem to visit the impressive monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its magnificence commands your attention, the building quite striking in both size and details in the Gothic architecture. It’s undeniably one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen, religious or otherwise.
The tombs of many important Portuguese figures can be seen her, arguably most famously Vasco Da Gama, one of the most successful Portuguese explorers in the Age of Discoveries. In fact, the monastery is built on the site where he and his crew spent their last night in Portugal before leaving on their voyage to India.
Some parts of the monastery can be seen for free, but unlimited access will cost you €6. It’s open from 10 – 5, hours extending until 6 in summer. Closed Mondays.
Torre de Belem
Dating from the 16th Century, the tower, like the monastery, is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was intended built both to be a defence system for and ‘ceremonial gateway’ to Lisbon. Today it serves as a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discoveries.
You can enjoy the building’s outside for free (which is what we did), but if you want to explore it more thoroughly it will cost you €4 (unless you have a Lisbon Card – then it’s free!). It’s open from 10am – 5pm, or until 6.30 in summer. Closed Mondays.
Built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, the monument is situated on the edge of the Tagus river. It took us a while to work out what it was depicting, but it turns out those featured are notable Portuguese figures: poets, explorers, cartographers and more. We’d probably have found this out quicker if we’d known there was an exhibition space inside the monument! (There’s also a lift that offers visitors views over Lisbon.)
I particularly liked the floor mosaic infront of the monument that depicted the world and routes Portuguese explorers once took. Though so does everyone else, meaning getting a decent photo op isn’t so easy!
The exhibition space below the monument is open 10-6. No prizes for guessing the day it’s closed! (Mondays…)
Walking to Belem Tower, you will pass some pretty docks. Perfect if you like boat porn, or just want to stop for a drink.
Belem is home to a whole host of other museums and gardens, from the Coaches museum – a collection of royal coaches – to tropical gardens. You can find a whole list on the excellent Go Lisbon website.