Belem - an absolute must visit if you are planning a trip to Lisbon. Located in the west district of Lisbon along the mouth of the Tagus River, this beautiful area is full of Portuguese history and attractions that are well worth a visit. Back in the 15th century Belem was the main port for Lisbon and was the site that explorers left from to explore the unknown world. As these voyages would depart - Belem would be lined with well wishers, priests, monks and even royalty who would come to see off these brave and daring explorers. In 1497 Vasco da Gama left from these shores on a two year voyage that resulted in finding the route from Portugal to India. This discovery was one of the most important discoveries during the Age of Discoveries and put Portugal on the map as a dominant country in the maritime trade. The extravagant buildings located in Belem were funded by the riches that were brought back from these voyages.
TOP THINGS TO SEE IN BELEM:
To reach the Belem district from Lisbon - catch the Tram E15 from Praco da Figueria and make sure to get off at the second Belem stop. Arriving in Belem, the first stop of the day was the Jerónimos Monastery or the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos. Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - this imposing building was the symbol of Portugal's wealth during the Age of Discovery. In 1502 King Manual I built the Jerónimos Monastery to commemorate the historic voyage of Vasco da Gama using funds from the wealth that was flowing into Portugal due to the new trade route. Today Vasco da Gama lies buried in a tomb within this building along side other famous Portuguese royalty and poets.
Possibly the most beautiful church in Portugal, the ornate details are simply breathtaking! We spent a couple hours wandering around the grounds exploring and enjoying this magnificent building. Walking thru the two-storied cloisters was a highlight for us as the stonework is absolutely amazing! Each column in the cloisters is uniquely carved with religious symbols, maritime elements, mythical creatures, royal symbols and it is this ornate style of architecture that Portugal is known for - called the Manueline style.
One super awesome tip for anyone traveling with small children: in Portugal, anyone traveling with small children are able to cut to the front of the line! No joke! Portugal has got to be one of the most family friendly countries we have ever been to! Yes, it's a bit strange to just walk right past the long lines everywhere and just go straight to the front - but boy did we enjoy it! We actually found this out as we were standing in line for the Jerónimos Monastery as a staff member came and pulled us from the line and took us directly to the front! For the rest of the trip, we took full advantage of this wonderful benefit that Portugal offers families!
JARDIM DA PRACA DO IMPERIO
For our next stop of the day, we headed across the street to the Jardim da Praca do Imperio. This beautiful park sits adjacent to the main attractions in Belem and offers some great views and a nice stop for families if you are looking for a little green space to run around. First built in 1940, when Lisbon hosted the World Exposition, this impressive garden offers a bit of reprieve from the bustling crowds at the Jerónimos Monastery. Sit and enjoy the views for a bit!
PADRAO DOS DESCOBRIMENTOS
Unfortunately for us, the rains rolled in and let loose! But what can you do - so off we went in the rain to visit the Monument of the Discoveries or Padrao dos Descobrimentos. Situated along the banks of the Tagus River, this large stone monument honors the 15th century explorers that made Portugal one of the most prominent nations during the Age of Discovery. The monument was first built in 1940 for the World Exposition with perishable materials but was then built to it's current state of concrete and limestone in 1960, on the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Explorer. The 52 meter high monument represents a ship's bow with over 30 historical figures including Henry the Explorer, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellin and others that were a important part of the Age of Discovery history in Portugal. Visitors can access the top lookout of this monument for fantastic views.
TORRE DE BELEM
With the rain starting to let up, we headed to our next stop - the Tower of Belem or Torre de Belem. Built between 1514-1520 to protect the city of Lisbon, this was the last site that explorers would see as they sailed off into the unknown. Originally, the tower was an island in the Tagus River, today it is on the river's edge and only at high tide does water completely surround it. A small bridge provides access to the tower - watch out for waves though as you cross the bridge! The day we visited, the waves were ripping through and soaking quite a few people as they crossed the bridge! Today, this tower is Portugal's most famous landmark and is a can't miss site when visiting Lisbon. While a lot of visitor's just view the tower from the outside - it is definitely worth taking a tour of the inside. Once inside you are able to view the different rooms such as the Governor's Chamber and Artillery Room, and you can also follow a spiral staircase up until you reach the rooftop of the tower. Reaching the top provides for wonderful views out over the Tangus River and Belem and allows for an up close look at the ornate architecture of the tower.
CASA PASTEIS DE BELEM
Our last stop of the day was at Casa Pasteis de Belem. Dating back to 1837, this bakery serves up the famous Pastéis de Belém. Common in Portugal is the Pastel de nata, which is a similar pastry, but the Pastéis de Belém are only found in Belem and are made from a secret recipe and said to be the best in Portugal. Long lines are common at this popular spot, but the line does move quickly. Make sure and pop in and enjoy these delicious treats!
Interested in planning your own trip to Belem, Portugal? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
One Day in Belem: Belem district: Catch Tram E15 from Praco da Figueria to Belem - get off at second Belem stop. Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Jardim da Praca do Imperio, Padrao dos Descobrimentos, Torre del Belem, Casa Pasteis de Belem - birthplace of the custard tart.