• Leslie

What To See and Do In Bélem, Lisbon's UNESCO Neighborhood

Updated: Aug 16, 2020

the marina in the Belem neighborhood of Lisbon

In the architecturally-rich suburb of Belém, you'll have a respite from the hustle and bustle of glamorous Lisbon. Atlantic breezes flow, grandiose Manueline monuments dazzle, and boats glide along the wide Tagus River. You'll be cast back to the Age of Discoveries, when the world was Portugal’s colonial oyster.

At dusk, the crowds subside and return to Lisbon. The softening light paints the monastery’s Manueline turrets gold. And the riverside UNESCO neighborhood is yours alone for exploring. Belém is an unmissable destination in Portugal, and an easy day trip from Lisbon. Pencil it into your Lisbon itinerary.

Jeronimos Monastery in Belem

Highlights of Belém: Things To See and Do In Lisbon's UNESCO Neighborhood

I've put together a list of the best sites in Belém. In truth, it would be difficult to see all of in Belém in one day.

So you can use this guide to help you select the sites you want to see the most, if you're just making a quick half day trip from Lisbon. With the exception of the Adjuda Palace, most of the sites are close together and within easy walking distance.

Many of these sites accept the Lisboa Card, which will likely save you money, depending on how many sites you visit. Don't visit Belém on a Monday. Almost everything is closed.

the elaborate Manueline south portal of the monastery

1. Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery is a 500 year old UNESCO site and a premiere site in Portugal. It's the finest example of Manueline architecture in Portugal and the #1 site in Belém.

Manueline architecture was a short lived late Gothic artistic movement that lasted 30 years in the early 16th century. It's a distinctively Portuguese style, named after its key influencer, King Manuel I, who reigned from 1495 to 1521.

the elaborate Manueline south portal of the monastery

my daughter and I admiring the cloister

King Manuel was known as the "lucky king." His reign was prosperous. Loaded with cash from spice taxes, he built many grand monuments commemorating Portugal's marine dominance during the Age of Discoveries, including this swoonful monastery and the Tower of Belém.

There’s nothing like the moment you walk into the monastery's two level cloister, honey colored and dripping with organic detail. You'll be wowed by the delicately scalloped arches, twisting turrets, and columns intertwined with leaves, vines, and knots. And the gargoyles and beasties on the upper facade.

the nave of the Church of Santa Maria at Jerónimos Monastery, which you can access for free

The cloister's highlight is the Refectory, a vast hall that served as the dining area for the monks. It's decorated with beautiful 16th century azulejo panels. Outside the Refectory is the Lion Fountain, which the monks used to wash their hands before meals.

And don't miss the adjacent Church of Santa Maria de Belém, which you can enter for free. You'll be gobsmacked. The modest entry belies the lofty interior. Once inside, six massive tree trunk columns soar and spread wide into the cobwebby ceiling. The ceiling itself is a masterpiece, a fanciful spiderweb of stone.

Superstar navigator da Gama is interred in the lower chancel, just to the left of the entrance. His tomb is festooned with seafaring symbols.

Address: Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:30 pm Tue-Sun (5:30 pm Oct to May). The first Sunday of the month is free.

Entry fee: 12 €, combined entry with the Archaeological museum is 14 €.

The National Museum of Archaeology in Belem

2. The National Museum of Archaeology

Since 1893, the long west wing of the Jeronimos Monastery has been home to Belém's Archaeological Museum, the Museu Nacional de Arqueologia. It's tucked into a former monk's dormitory.

The museum is the residence of Portugal's main archaeological research center, with artifacts from all over the country. The Room of Treasures is a highlight, with, as you might guess, various treasures and jewelry.

Conceived by its founder to be a "Museum of Portuguese Man," the museum continues to pursue its original mission -- telling the history of settlement in Portugal.

You can also buy tickets to the monastery and the Tower of Belem at the museum, which is advisable. It will have a much shorter line.

Address: Praça do Império, 1400. Belém‎.

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Mondays

Entry fee: Adults: €5 (+ Jerónimos Monastery = €12, + Jerónimos Monastery and Belem tower = €16)

the Tower of Belem, a UNESCO site

3. Tower of Belém

The Tower of Belém is a beautiful Manueline-Gothic style structure, which is also part of Lisbon’s UNESCO 1983 designation. It’s just a 15 minute stroll along the river from the Jerónimos Monastery. And there are plenty of places to sit, relax, and admire the tower.

It's small, but has some personality. It looked very Game of Thrones-ish to my eye, which is always appealing.

Like the monastery, the Tower of Belém was commissioned by Manuel I and built in 1514-20. It's a fortress, adorned with rope carved stone and battlements in the shape of shields. The watchtower is built in a Moorish style. The austere basement below used to be a prison.

Side view of the Tower. You can see the shield shaped battlements here.

When I was there, there was a massive queue to get inside with the sun blazing on a hot day. They only let in a certain number of people at any given time. I didn't go inside. To ease my conscience, I later read that it’s a stony cramped experience.

But then I also read that the views were good, different than others offered. What you can do to skip the line at the Tower of Belem is buy a combo ticket when you purchase your Jeronimos Monastery ticket.

Address: Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa

Hours: From October - May, Belém Tower is open from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm, with the last admission at 5:00 pm. From May - September, it's open from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm, with the last admission at 6:00 pm

Entry fee: € 6, under 14 free

Monument to the Discoveries in Belem

4. Monument to the Discoveries

Perched proudly on the Belém's waterfront is a huge 56 meter statue-monument called the Monument to the Discoveries. Built in 1960, it was commissioned to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.

The monument is designed in the shape of a caravel, which is a speedy highly maneuverable sailing ship. It has Portugal's coat of arms on both sides. The sword of the royal house guards the entrance. At the far end, Henry the Navigator stands with a caravel in his hand.

On each sides, in two sloping lines, are 33 of the Portuguese heroes linked to the 16th and 17th century Age of Discoveries, like Manual I.

Compass Rose at the Monument of the Discoveries

Near the monument, there's a Compass Rose 50 meters wide on the pavement. it displays a map of the entire world, showing the routes of the Portuguese navigators.

This treasure was a gift from Republic of South Africa to honor Portugal

If you want to venture inside the monument, you'll have great views from the viewing platform on the 6th floor. You can access it by by elevator or stairs.

Address: Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa

Hours: From March through September, the Monument to the Discoveries is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. From October through February, it is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Mondays.

Entry fee: € 5, under 12 free

the famous egg custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém

5. Pastéis de Belém

Many tourists make the trip to Belém just to visit the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery on Rua de Belém, 5 minutes from Jeronimos Monastery.

They come for the gooey egg custard tart known as the pastel de nata. This bakery has a compelling back story. It supposedly has the “original” pastel de nata recipe passed on through many generations of monks from the monastery.

There will undoubtedly be a line. But the line is for take out. There's a large cafe in the back where you can waltz right in and sit down. On the way, you can see the bakers slaving away.

Address: R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa

Bernardo Museum in Belem

6. Bernardo Museum

Culture vultures can get their modern art fix at Belém's Bernardo Museum, the Museu Coleção Berardo. This is a fabulous museum with 1,000 works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

The ultra-white, minimalist gallery displays billionaire José Berardo’s eye-popping collection of abstract, surrealist and pop art. It includes art work by David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, and Willem de Kooning. Picasso's early Tete de Femme from 1909 and Warhol's iconic Brillo Box are highlights.

Andy Warhol room at the Bernard Museum

Address: Praca do Imperio, Lisbon 1449-003

Hours: Daily 10:00 am to 7:00 pm

Entry fees: For entry all day on Saturday

the neoclassical Adjuda Palace in Belem

7. Adjuda Palace

Built in the early 19th century, Palácio da Ajuda is grand neoclassical palace. It served as the Portuguese royal residence from the 1860 to 1910. You can tour royal apartments and state rooms.

Inside, it's romantic. Clap your eyes on gilded and richly-decorated furnishings, tapestries, exquisite artworks, and other little "discoveries" from other countries. Don't miss the queen's chapel, home to Portugal's only El Greco painting.

The palace is about a 25 minute uphill walk from Belém. From Lisbon, you can also take tram 18E or several buses from downtown, including #760 from the Praça do Comércio. But it's worth the effort. It's an underrated hidden gem in Lisbon.

the Grand Waiting Room of Adjuda Palace

El Greco, Santa Face, circa 1586-95

Address: Largo Ajuda 1349-021, Lisboa

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Wednesdays

Entry fee: free with Lisboa Card

8. MATT Museum

Situated on the riverfront, the "MAAT Museum" is the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. It's housed in a striking tile glazed building with ground level exhibition halls and a rooftop area for pedestrians. Visitors can walk over and under its reflective surfaces, which play with water, light and shadow.

exterior of the MAAT museum in Belem

exhibit at the MAAT Museum in Belem

MAAT was designed by UK-based Amanda Levete. For me, the architecture itself exceeds the museum's contents. I preferred the Bernardo Museum.

You'll find the artwork in: four temporary exhibition galleries in the main building, four galleries at Central Tejo, an outdoor garden, a river view restaurant, and a funky footbridge that crosses Av de Brasília.

The museum's cutting edge exhibitions, up to 15 per year, focus on visual arts, media, architecture, technology and science.

Address: Avenida Brasilia | Central Tejo, Lisbon

Hours: 11:00 am to 7:00 pm, closed Tuesday

Entry fee: 5 €, under 18 free

the National Coach Museum in Belem

9. National Coach Museum

Disney princess wannabes and history lovers will delight in Portugal's most visited museum, the National Coach Museum. Opened in 2015, the museum dazzles with its world-class collection of seventy 17th to 19th century coaches.

Don't miss Pope Clement XI’s stunning ride, the scarlet-and-gold Coach of the Oceans, King Philip II 16th century traveling coach, and the baroque 18th century coach given by Pope Clement XI to King John V.

If you've been to Munich, you may have seen the gilded coaches at Nymphenburg Palace. The carriages here are just as elegant.

Address: Av. da Índia 136, 1300-004 Lisboa

Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Mondays

Entry fee: € 6, free with Lisboa Card

Lisbon Portugal

How to get to Belém from Lisbon

I drove to Belém, but there are several public transport options.

If you want to get to Belém from central Lisbon, take the train from Cais do Sodré, which is connected to the Lisbon Metro system. It leaves regularly and takes just nine minutes. Get off at Belém station and you can walk from there.

Alternatively, you can take the tram 15, which starts in Baixa. But it's slower than the metro Or you can also use the city buses with the numbers 727, 28, 729, 714 or 751.

If you'd like to visit Lisbon's historic Belem neighborhood, pin it for later.

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