Belém is a picturesque part of Lisbon located in the western part of town, which is the site of many of the most notable and important tourist attractions of the capital. Belém is located on the north bank of the Tagus River and from the ancient marinas of Belém, departed ships that sailed all over the world and most of the “voyages of discovery” of the fourteenth century embarked here.
A typical visit to Belém takes about half a day, but if you include all the museums and a walk along the botanical gardens, this can be a full day trip. Major tourist attractions can become quite busy during the height of the summer season or on weekends, so plan to visit them early or late in the day. There are numerous cafes and restaurants, but it is highly recommended to try a Pastel de Nata at Pastéis de Belém, the traditional house of the delicious pastries that are known by the same name. Don’t be scared by the long waiting lines outside, just go inside and sit down, as they have over 500 seats and table service. Inside, you can also have a look in the kitchen where all these delicious goodies are made.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is an imposing cement monument honoring the Portuguese explorers and the age of discovery. There is an observation platform at the top of the monument, which offers wonderful panoramic views over Belém.
The Jardim da Praça do Império represents the largest square in Europe, filled with decorative gardens, fountains and is a beautiful place to unwind.
The Jerónimos Monastery is an extravagant monastery that was financed by wealth and commerce, flowing from the Portuguese colonies during the 16th century. The place was strongly associated with the first Portuguese explorations, since it was the place where Vasco da Gama enjoyed his last night, previous to his epic trip to India. Later, the wives of the sailors would come and pray to the Monastery for the safe return of their loved ones. The monastery is simply stunning, with beautiful stone carvings along the vast religious building.
The Torre de Belém was built to protect Lisbon from attacks from the sea and was positioned in the center of the Tagus Estuary but today, due to changes in the river flow, the fort is now located on the banks of the Tagus River. The design of the Belem Tower was extremely influenced by North African styles, with Moorish watchtowers, decorative battlements and the first stone sculpture of a Rhinoceros in Europe.
Next to the tower you will find a statue for Gago Coutinho who was an early Portuguese aviation pioneer who is commemorated with a monument of his biplane, the Santa Cruz. Gago Coutinho along with Sacadura Cabral were the first pilots to fly across the South Atlantic Ocean. Their flight of 8,400km departed from Lisbon on the 24th of March, 1922 and arrived in Rio de Janeiro 79 days later on the 6th of June, 1922. The seaplane monument in Belém recalls this perilous voyage and is an exact replica of their Fairey seaplane. The monument is located in the Belem district as it was this parkland the plane took off from.
The Centro Cultural de Belém was built to receive the European Presidency in 1992, and currently houses the most exquisite free museum in Lisbon, the Berardo Collection Museum. With a vast collection that houses at least one or more works from most of the big names in modern and contemporary art of the last century, I can certainly recommend this to anyone. And once again, it’s free. Some names in their collection include: Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Karel Appel, Nan Goldin, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons and René Magritte.
There are a lot more museums worth a visit in Belém though: Museu de Marinha, MAAT, Museu Nacional de Arqueologia and the Planetário Calouste Gulbenkian.
Insider tip: Behind the Berardo Museum you can find an amazing streetart piece by Bordalo, who is known for crafting large animals from scraps. The piece in Belém represents a raccoon. So hop on tram 15E from Praça do Comercio and go explore Belém for yourself!