A Lisbon Adventure
Visiting Lisbon, Portugal? If so, Belem is a must-not-miss stop on your vacation! Located just 3 miles east of Central Lisbon, this waterfront neighborhood is home to many of Lisbon’s most iconic tourist attractions, and is considered to be one of the best tourist districts in Lisbon. The district is filled with gorgeous parks, tree-lined plazas and scenic riverside walks, and offers a much calmer atmosphere than central Lisbon. But the main reason to visit is to see the famous, historical monuments of Belem: The Jeronimos Monastery, Torre de Belem, Padrão dos Descobrimentos & Pasteis de Belem, home of the original custard tart.
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Historically, Belem was the location of Lisbon’s shipyards and docks, as it is situated alongside the Tagus river at the point where it meets the Atlantic. It was from here that the 16th-century explorers sailed on their voyage and eventually discovered the sea routes to East Africa, Brazil, and India. These trading routes eventually brought incredible wealth to Portugal, and Belem became the main port that 16th-century life revolved around. Today, it is considered the historical heart of Lisbon, but also serves as an area of leisure and recreation.
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The easiest way to get to Belem is by hopping on the number 15 tram at Praca da Figueira, and exiting the tram at the Belem-Jeronimos tram stop. The ride takes about 15 minutes and costs 3 euros per person (you can also use your Viva Viagem 24 hour pass). Another great option, especially if the tram is busy, is to grab an Uber or taxi, which should not cost more than a few euros. Prior to arriving, we recommend purchasing fast-track tickets for the monuments you want to visit, to avoid being stuck in long lines. We definitely recommend touring the Jeronimos Monastery, but the other monuments are up to you. Here is our suggested tour of Belem, followed by descriptions and explanations:
- Take tram number 15 from Praca da Figueira to Belem-Jeronimos.
- Grab custard tarts at Pasteis de Belem (warning: they are dangerously good).
- Visit the Jeronimos Monastery.
- Wander through the Jardim da Praça do Império (city square & park).
- Visit the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, which is just across the street.
- Walk past the Farol de Belem, or the old Belem lighthouse.
- Stroll down the waterfront to Torre de Belem for some great views.
- Grab a ride back to Lisbon, or make your way back to the tram stop.
- On the way home you may want to consider stopping at the LX factory.
Pastéis De Belém
Made famous by monks who invented natas almost 200 years ago, this historic café is the home of the original Pastel de Nata custard tart! In fact, the family-owned bakery still uses the original recipe first created by the monks back in 1837. It is said that only 6 people in the world know the secret, mouthwatering recipe, which is why this is the best place in the world to try pasteis de natas! Get ready for a flaky pastry with a warm, gooey center that melts in your mouth (we’re drooling just thinking about them). Be aware that lines can get extremely long, especially if you are wanting to eat inside. Our recommendation is to grab a pack of the custard tarts from the attached shop, and enjoy them within the pretty gardens of the Jarmin da Praca do Imperio.
Completed in the 17th century, this magnificent monastery took over 100 years to complete and was funded by the wealth of the 16th century spice trade. It is the former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome and was built to commemorate the return of Vasco de Gama from India. The tombs of this famed explorer, as well as Luís de Camões, a Portuguese poet and writer, are housed in the church. The Jerónimos Monastery, together with the Belem Tower, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited attractions in Lisbon. Entrance to the church is free, but it costs 10 euros to visit the cloister (definitely worth it). Lines tend to get long during peak season, so we recommend buying a fast-pass ticket online in advance of your visit.
The Padrão Dos Descobrimentos
This 52-meter-high monument, which is also known as the Monument to the Discoveries, is a bold and imposing waterfront monument situated on the banks of Tejo Estuary. The monument celebrates the 15th and 16th century Portuguese explorers and visionaries, who established Portugal as the most powerful seafaring nation of the era. Among the beautiful detailing on it’s sculpted figures and cleverly hidden symbolism, the monument features Prince Henry the Navigator and other famed Portuguese explorers. For 6 euros per person, you can visit the observation deck at the top of the structure for sweeping views of Belem and the river. In fact, the top of the monument is considered to be one of the best viewpoints of Lisbon.
Belem Tower is a 16th century fort that was originally designed as a formidable fortress that guarded Lisbon from attack by sea, as well as an embarkation and disembarkation point for Portuguese explorers. Constructed on the north bank of the Tagus, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s often portrayed as a symbol of Europe’s Age of Discoveries. Like Jerónimos Monastery, Belem Tower is a national monument of Portugal and one of the most important tourist attractions in Lisbon. The entrance is 6 euros per person, but our recommendation is to take in its beauty from the outside and skip the tour. While the outside was designed with elaborate craftsmanship, the inside of the fort is surprisingly small and sparsely decorated.
Located right outside of Lisbon, Belem is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. You can expect gorgeous monuments, a plethora of history, and mouthwatering food, all making up the perfect afternoon in Portugal. Thanks for reading our Belem adventure blog! Be sure to check out our full Lisbon travel guide for more recommendations!