Best Things To Do In Bélem, Lisbon’s UNESCO Neighborhood

Here’s my guide to the top attractions and best things to do and see in Belem.

Belem is an architecturally-rich suburb of Lisbon. It’s an easy mini day trip from Lisbon. It’s just southwest of the city center.

panorama of Belem Tower, one of the vest things to do in Belem
panorama of Belem Tower and Belem

Belem is Lisbon’s prime cultural district. It’s a must see for its cluster of UNESCO-listed monuments. Some of these Belem beauties are among the most famous landmarks in Portugal.

In Belem, you’ll also 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.

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the magnificent Jerónimos Monastery

From the banks of Belem, Vasco de Gaia romantically set out in 1497 to find treasures in faraway lands.

Three years later, he returned triumphant. He brought aerial view back booty from the Spice Island of the East.

At dusk, the Belem 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.

Jerónimos Monastery
portal on the Church of Sant Maria at Jerónimos Monastery

Best Things To Do And See In Belém

I’ve put together a list of the top must visit attractions in Belém. In truth, it would be difficult to see all of Belém’s magnificent monuments in one day.

You can use this Belem guide to help you select the sites that appeal the most.

With the exception of the Adjuda Palace, most of the sites are clustered close together. They’re within easy walking distance.

Many of these sites accept the Lisboa Card. Buying the card will likely save you money, depending on how many monuments you visit.

Don’t visit Belém on a Monday. Almost everything is closed.

cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery, one of the best things to do in Belem
cloisters of Jeronimos Monastery

1. Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery is a 500 year old UNESCO site. It’s one of Portugal’s premiere landmarks.

The monastery is the finest example of Manueline architecture in Portugal (perhaps in the world). It’s the number one attraction and best thing to do 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 eye catching monastery took 100 years to build. It has an incredibly ornate stone facade, which has been restored to a blindingly white state. The south portal is adorned with brilliantly rendered sculptures by Spanish artist Juan de Castilla.

The entire monastery is a twisting mass of honey colored stone that glows in the sunshine. There are no straight lines.

the elaborate Manueline south portal of the monastery
the elaborate Manueline south portal of the monastery

Instead, the monastery is a stunning work of flamboyant and restless decoration. Everything is spiraled, twisting, and leaping. And encrusted with ornate symbols of the sea and maritime discovery.

King Manuel was known as the “lucky king.” His reign was prosperous. A torrent of wealth poured in from Portugal’s maritime adventures.

Loaded with newfound cash from spice taxes, King Manuel splashed out on Jerónimos Monastery and Belem’s other grand monuments.

They commemorate Portugal’s marine dominance (and expansionist power) during the Age of Discoveries.

my daughter and I admiring the cloister
my daughter and I admiring the cloister

Loaded with newfound cash from spice taxes, King Manuel splashed out on grand monuments. They commemorate Portugal’s marine dominance during the Age of Discoveries.

There’s nothing like the moment you walk into the monastery’s two level cloister.

The cloister is honey colored and dripping with organic detail that’s so delicate it looks like biscuit ware porcelain. It feels less like a place of austerity and contemplation and more like a royal palace.

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 cloister’s highlight is the Refectory. This is a vast hall that served as the dining area for the monks.

Church of  Santa Maria de Belem
Church of Santa Maria de Belem

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.

You enter via a grotto-like portal into lofty interior. Once inside, six massive tree trunk columns soar, twist, and spread wide into the cobwebby ceiling.

The ceiling itself is a masterpiece, a fanciful spiderweb of stone and stylized waves.

the tomb of Vasco da Gama
the tomb of Vasco da Gama

Superstar navigator da Gama is interred in the lower chancel, just to the left of the entrance. His tomb is festooned with seafaring symbols. Elephants support the tombs of King Manuel, a reminder of greatness.

  • 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 €.

You should definitely book a skip the line ticket to avoid the long line. You can also take a guided tour of both the monastery and the Tower of Belem and learn all the historic details.

The National Museum of Archaeology in Belem
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.

Don’t miss the. 2nd century Roman statue of Apollo and granite sculptures of warriors from the Douro region.

The Treasure Room is outstanding, full of jewelry from the Bronze, Roman, and Celtic eras. Another room holds an Egyptian mummy.

  • 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)
the Tower of Belem, a UNESCO site

3. Tower Of Belém

The Tower of Belém is another amazing thing to do in Belem. The 500 year stone bulkwark is a beautiful Manueline-Gothic style structure. It’s also part of Lisbon’s UNESCO 1983 designation.

You can get to the Tower of Belem easily. It’s just a 15 minute stroll along the river from the Jerónimos Monastery. There are plenty of places to sit, relax, and admire the tower.

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

another view of the Tower of Belem, one of the best things to do in Belem

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. It’s a testimony to the transitional nature of military architecture.

It has features of the defense of the Middle Ages and also of the modern Renaissance. The austere basement below used to be a prison.

When I was there, there was a massive queue to get inside. And the sun was blazing on a hot day. The tower only lets in a certain number of people at any given time.

view from the balcony of Belem Tower over the estuary of the River Tagus
view from the balcony of Belem Tower over the estuary of the River Tagus

It’s a stony cramped experience. But the views are good, and somewhat different than other options.

You can skip the line at the Tower of Belem IF you 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. Entry to Belem Tower can no longer be visited with any kind of combination ticket. You need to buy a separate ticket at the tower. Click here to purchase a ticket online in advance.

Monument to the Discoveries in Belem
Monument to the Discoveries in Belem

4. Monument To The Discoveries

The next attraction to visit in Belem is the Monument to the Discoveries. It’s perched proudly on the Belém’s waterfront. It’s a massive 56 meter statue-monument.

Built in 1960, the Monument to the Discoveries was commissioned to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator.

The monument is designed in the shape of a caravel. Caravels were speedy highly maneuverable sailing ships. The monument has Portugal’s coat of arms on both sides.

detail of the Monument to the Discoveries, a must visit attraction in Belem

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.

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.

Compass Rose at the Monument of the Discoveries
Compass Rose at the Monument of the Discoveries

This treasure was a gift rom the republic of South Africa.

If you want to venture inside the monument itself, 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 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 fre

the famous egg custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém, which are a popular thing to do and eat in Belem
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, which dats from the 19th century. You’ll find it on Rua de Belém, just 5 minutes from Jeronimos Monastery.

The starving masses come for the ultimate sugar rush, the Quee of tarts known as the pastel de nata. It’s a palm size tart with gooey egg custard cream. Portugal’s most storied sweet.

This bakery has a compelling back story. It supposedly has the “original” pastel de nata recipe passed on centuries ago by monks from the monastery.

There will undoubtedly be a line. But the line is for take out.

There’s a large cafe with azulejos 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
Bernardo Museum in Belem

6. Museu Coleção Berardo

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

Opened in 2007, the museum is housed in an ultra-white, minimalist gallery. It displays billionaire José Berardo’s eye-popping collection.

It includes work of abstract, surrealist and pop art.

Bernardo Museum in Belem, one of the best things to do in Belem for art lovers
Bernardo Museum in Belem

You’ll find canvases 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.

  • 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
the neoclassical Adjuda Palace in Belem

7. Adjuda Palace

Another interesting thing to do in Belem is visit 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. It houses Portugal’s only El Greco painting.

the Grand Waiting Room of Adjuda Palace
the Banqueting Room of Adjuda Palace

The Pink Room is decorated with Meissen porcelain. The Audience Room is home to a rare Louis XVI skeleton clock.

The Banqueting Room is extra lavish. It features crystal chandeliers and a frescoed ceiling.

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 the palace is worth the effort. It’s an underrated hidden gem in Lisbon.

  • Address: Largo Ajuda 1349-021, Lisboa
  • Hours: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Wednesdays
  • Entry fee: free with Lisboa Card
exterior of the MAAT museum in Belem
exterior of the MAAT museum in Belem

8. MATT Museum: Architectural Gem

Situated on the riverfront, the “MAAT Museum” is the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. It’s housed in a futuristic building with striking glazed tiles.

Like the Tate Modern in London, MAAT repurposed a former power plant. Opened 2016, it was intended to be Lisbon’s new cultural hub.

Visitors can walk over and under its reflective surfaces, which play with water, light and shadow. The facade sparkles and picks up reflections from the water. It changes color during the day.

The museum has ground level exhibition halls. It also boasts a rooftop area for pedestrians, which functions as a public plaza.

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

exhibit at the MAAT Museum in Belem
exhibit at the MAAT Museum in Belem

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 hosts cutting edge exhibitions, up to 15 per year They 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
the National Coach Museum in Belem

9. National Coach Museum

Another one of the best things to do in Belem is to visit in Portugal’s popular museum, the National Coach Museum. It’s not as grand as MATT, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Disney princess wannabes and history lovers will be particularly delighted. Opened in 2015, the museum dazzles with its world-class collection of seventy 17th to 19th century royal carriages.

The coaches are in pristine condition and all tricked out.

Don’t miss Pope Clement XI’s stunning ride, the scarlet andgold 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
Lisbon Portugal

Tips For Visiting Belem

3. How To Get To Belém from Lisbon

I drove to Belém. But there are several public transport options.

READ: Tips for Renting a Car and Driving in Europe

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.

Jerónimos Monastery

2. How To Get Around Belem

Belem is super walkable. You can see all the top attractions in Belem on foot.

But there are some other fun ways to visit Belem. For ease, you can book the hop on hop off bus tour.

You can go on a bike tour, which takes you to all the best things to do in Belem. You can take a romantic nighttime sailing tour. Or even do a 3 hour tour by electric bike.

beautiful arches in Jeronimos Monastery
beautiful arches in Jeronimos Monastery

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best things to do in Belem. You may enjoy these other Portugal travel guides and resources:

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

2 thoughts on “Best Things To Do In Bélem, Lisbon’s UNESCO Neighborhood”

  1. De tekst: Toegangsprijs museum : Volwassenen: € 5 (+ Jerónimos-klooster = € 12, + Jerónimos-klooster en Belem-toren = € 16) klopt niet (meer). Je kunt alleen een combi ticket voor het museum en het klooster kopen. Voor de toren moet je apart in de rij bij de toren een ticket kopen.

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