The Belém district of Lisbon is rich with history and a must-see location on any visit to the Portuguese capital. It is home to a number of World Heritage Sites including the iconic Belém Tower (Torre de Belém) pictured above. Officially it’s called the Tower of Saint Vincent and it sits in its own garden on the banks of the river Tagus. It was constructed as a fortified watch tower to protect the city and dates back to 1514. You can still feel the history when you enter today but if you’re planning to visit, the queues can be long at peak times. We’d recommend buying your tickets in advance here:
Belem Tower – Advance Skip The Line Tickets
Another World Heritage Site in Belem is the Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) pictured above. Construction began of the former monastery and its adjoined church back to 1501. A building of this size was always going to be a long slog and in the end it took 100 years to complete but the quality of the work is still obvious to see today. It ceased to be a monastery in 1833 when ownership passed to the Portuguese state. The church is free to visit but there are often long queues to get into the monastery so we’d recommend buying tickets in advance here:
Jerónimos Monastery Fast Track Tickets
The area in front of the monastery was actually the big highlight for us of the Belem district. It’s a collection of formal gardens. The largest of which is called Jardim da Praca do Imperio which is laid out around a large water fountain with pathways allowing you to wander around and soak up the sites. There are also reflecting pools like the one above. Next to this are two further garden areas to enjoy – the Jardim Vasco da Gama and then the Jardim Alfonso de Albuquerque. We spent quite some time here just wandering around and eating ice creams. Also next to the monastery is the Tropical Botanical Gardens and the other highlight nearby is the National Palace which is the official residence of the president, but is open to the public.
Across the busy road on the banks of the river is the imposing Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). On the outside there are sculptures of the many Portuguese explorers who took the country’s message to other continents. The sculptures overhang the water at the front so visitors can only really see three sides, unless you’re on a boat. On the inside, there is a lower level with a museum and exhibition space and also a lift which takes you to the viewing area at the top. There is a walkway along the river edge which stretches in both directions from the monument and it’s a pleasant walk to do.
One other highlight on the river edge is MAAT the museum of art, architecture and technology. Even if you don’t plan to go in, just seeing this ultra modern building slap, bang in the middle if a historic district is worth experiencing. You can also walk onto the roof here where the viewing platform allows a decent view of the river and the bridge. There are even some curious plastic dogs to keep you company.
There are a couple of museums in Belem worth considering too. First, right next to the tower is the Museum of Combat located inside Forte do Bom Sucesso. Apart from seeing the old fort, you will also see collections of weaponry, uniforms and vehicles. There is also the National Coach Museum housing carriages from the 16th to 19th century.
LOCATION & MAP
This map shows the location of Praça do Império which we consider to be the heart of the Belem district. Most of Lisbon’s hotels are in the more central areas and as such you might need to use public transport to get to Belem. We’d recommend hoping on tram E15 which runs from Praça da Figueira. Purchase a Viva Viagem card and load it with ‘zapping’ credit to get the best price on the tram, but you can also just purchase a ticket on board if you’re happy to pay more. You only need to zap once on entry. You can also get there by using the Hop On, Hop Off Yellow Bus Tour.
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