Last Updated on September 1, 2020 by Anisa
I didn’t really know much about Belem until I started researching my trip to Lisbon. It’s a neighborhood outside the city center where you will find the most famous monastery in Lisbon, the original Portuguese egg custard tarts, and more.
I knew that both Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery were UNESCO Heritage Sites, so I knew they were worth visiting. For some reason, I didn’t even think of buying tickets in advance. Big mistake! These sites are popular and for good reason, so you may want to consider buying a skip the line tour to avoid the long wait!
There are actually quite a few interesting things to do in Belem. Let me tell you more about this Lisbon neighborhood and help you avoid some of the mistakes that I made.
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Things to Do in Belem Portugal
Whether you have 72 hours in Lisbon or significantly less, it’s worth visiting Belem. Several of Lisbon’s most beautiful monuments are located in Belem. It was nice that all the Belem attractions were within walking distance of each other. You can visit the sights on your own like we did or take a sightseeing tour. This free walking tour is ideal to learn more about the neighborhood or click here to see more Belem tour options.
Our first stop was Pasteis de Belem to try the famous nata pastry (known more formally as pasteis de nata or pasteis de Belem). Pasteis de Belem invented the nata so it is a very popular place. If you like you can buy your Portuguese desserts at the counter for takeaway or you can get a table.
Pastel de nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. Pasteis de Belem began making the original pastel de Belem in 1837! They use a secret recipe that came from Jeronimos Monastery. They still make the natas in their bakery by hand, using only traditional methods.
We decided to eat at the Belem bakery and have a coffee as well. There was a crowd around the take away counter so we walked around that and followed the signs through a maze of rooms to get to the line for a table. It was a little intimidating but I was impressed at how fast the line moved. We waited less than 10 minutes. They are efficient and the place is huge, so don’t let the line scare you.
We went to Belem on our first full day in Portugal so these were the first natas that we tried. After that we were hooked! We had a lot of delicious pastries, but both Russell and I agreed that the natas that we had at Pasteis de Belem were the best. So good that I forgot to take a photo, but you can check out a picture of one we had in Porto. We paid about 8€ for a couple natas and coffees.
Belem Tower is about a 20 minutes walk from Jeronimos Monastery and Pasteis de Belem. It was a nice day so we didn’t mind walking, but you may want to consider taking an Uber. I could see the line before we even got to Belem Tower, but we didn’t have a choice. Luckily it was a little shorter than the line at Jeronimos. It was impressive to see how much the tide changed during the time we were waiting.
Belem Tower was built in 1515 as a fortress to guard Lisbon’s harbor and now has become the symbol of the city. When we got to the ticket counter we bought the combined ticket so we wouldn’t have to wait at Jeronimos Monastery, then we went inside. If you want just the Tower of Belem tickets, they are 6€ per adult. (See below for more information about the different ticket options)
The ground floor and basement were used for military storage and cannons, and there is a section that was a dungeon. It was fun to explore and a little spooky. Be careful, you may need to duck your head in some areas.
Admiring the View!
There was a short line to go up the first flight of stairs, then we saw the line to go to the top. Lots of people were just sitting on the ground waiting. I knew this was not a good sign. They have to limit the number of people that go to the top of the Belem Tower in Lisbon because the staircase is narrow and there isn’t that much room up there. If stairs are an issue for you, I’m not sure it is worth it to visit as unfortunately there are no elevators.
We waited about 30 minutes to go up the spiral 93 steps to the top. It was a beautiful day so the views from up high were fabulous and there are lots of spots for photos. The kid in you (or the ones you bring with you) will enjoy peeking inside all the nooks and crannies. Just be prepared for a bit of a wait.
We actually discovered the Discoveries Monument (Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese) by accident. We were walking back from Belem Tower to Jeronimos Monastery and decided to walk along the water instead of the slightly faster way that google maps suggested and we spotted it. It is massive (171 feet tall) so we were curious to find out what it was about.
Originally, the Discoveries Monument was meant to be a temporary structure for the World Fair in 1940, but in 1960 a permanent structure based on the original design was erected. It is fitting that the Monument is located in the Belem since that was an important place for so many discovery voyages. Vasco da Gama embarked on his voyage from Portugal to India in 1497 from here, and Christopher Columbus anchored in Belem on his way back to Spain following his discovery of the Americas.
The Discoveries Monument really is a piece of art. The sculptures of the explorers on the monument are impressive. The largest one is Henry the Navigator, who was a Portuguese prince that play an important role in 15th-century Portuguese politics and is regarded as the main initiator of the Age of Discovery He sponsored many explorations including the one that discovered Madeira. There are 33 total statues on the monument, all representing key figures in the Age of Discovery.
Inside the Monument of Discoveries
It is possible to go inside the Discoveries Monument, where you will find an auditorium, exhibition halls, and various other rooms. You can take an elevator to the top where there is a terrace where you can see panoramic views over Belem, the Tagus River and beyond. Unfortunately, since we were behind because of the wait to get our tickets, we just admired the monument from outside. You can read reviews of the Discoveries Monument on TripAdvisor here.
From the Discoveries Monument, we went back to Jeronimos Monastery, which is across a very busy and wide road. Luckily, there is an underpass for pedestrians.
Since we had purchased the combined ticket at Belem Tower, we already had our Belem monastery tickets and could walk right in. If you don’t have the combined ticket, the Jeronimos Monastery entrance fee is 10€ per adult. At some point though you should take time to admire the Jeronimos Monastery from the outside. It was built in the 16th century. The detail is impressive and the gardens were beautiful. I loved that the outside of the monastery looked clean and well maintained.
Inside, we first visited the Cloisters. This courtyard is just gorgeous! The grass is perfectly green and the building itself is stunning. I have never been to a Cloisters with so many beautiful details. Be sure to peek into the confessionals and go upstairs for a better view. We walked around so that we could get pictures, trying to find the best sunlight. It’s not surprising to hear that the monastery took nearly 100 years to be completed.
There is also an exhibit area in the Cloisters. When we went, we saw the exhibit on Alexandre Herculano. I really had not heard of Alexandre Herculano before. He was a “renowned thinker, historian, soldier, writer, polemicist, and journalist.” His political novels helped tell the story of Portugal’s history. He didn’t want any tributes or honors, but people wanted to preserve his legacy. They created the room inside Jeronimos Monastery to house his tomb.
Church of Santa Maria de Belem
Lastly, we visited the Church of Santa Maria de Belém which is connected to Jeronimos Monastery. We were a little short on time so we saw the chapel from the upper choir area. On the ground floor level of the Belem church, you can find the ornate tombs of some important figures from Portugal’s history including King Manual I, Vasco da Gama (an explorer), and Luís de Camões (poet).
Next door to Jeronimos Monastery is the Museu de Marinha or the Martime Museum or Navy Museum in English. The museum is large and full of beautiful ships, maps, and related gadgets. It has model ships from Vasco da Gama’s time and some real-size eighteenth-century ceremonial barges used by members of the royal families of Europe. You will learn more about Portugal’s relationship with the sea and explorations that created the empire. Adult admission is €6.50 for adults and it is free the first Sunday of the month. Read more reviews of the Martime Museum here.
Planetarium Calouste Gulbenkian
Next to the Maritime Museum and Jerónimos Monastery, you will find the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium. The Planetarium first opened in 1965, but it has been recently redesigned. Note that not all shows are in English and some may be more suited for children. We skipped the Planetarium due to mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, which you can read here.
National Coach Museum
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit the National Coach Museum but it is one of the most popular museums in Lisbon. It is housed in the Royal Riding Hall of Belém, the former home of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. Allow one to two hours to go through the museum. You can see the lavish coaches of the Portuguese kings and queens, some even date back to the 16th century! The museum is open from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily, except for Mondays when it is closed. Admission is €6.
Belem Cultural Center
The Belem Cultural Center is commonly referred to as CCB because it is called Centro Cultural de Belém in Portuguese. It includes a conference center, performing arts facilities, and exhibition space. The exhibition space includes four galleries for modern art, architecture, design and photography, in addition to cafés and shops. The cafe and terrace offer fantastic river views.
Since June 2007, it has been the home for the Foundation of Modern and Contemporary Art (the Berardo Museum Collection). The Berardo Museum Collection includes works from Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Vieira da Silva, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, and more. It is open daily from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm and admission is €5. Read more reviews on Tripadvisor of this modern art museum here.
The CCB plays hosts to countless other events – there is always something going on! In the summer there are free outdoor activities. For more information on the current calendar, click here.
Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery Tickets
You will need to think ahead on which ticket option makes sense for you. Unfortunately, you cannot buy Jeronimos Monastery or Belem Tower tickets online. It looks like their websites have not been updated as I tried the links and they were broken. Do you have time to wait for Belem tickets or would you rather pay more to skip the line? It may be worth a few extra dollars.
When we went in early April, there was a pretty long line at both sites. We waited an hour at Belem Tour, which had a shorter line than Jeronimos Monastery. Then we bought the combined ticket (12€ per adult), so we could skip the line when we went to the monastery. Looking back, the paying a little more for fast-track access may have been a better option.
The Lisboa Card includes public transportation, free entrance to some museums, and discounts at some shops. While both Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery are included, unfortunately, the Lisbon tourist card does not allow you to skip the line. You will need to think about how much sightseeing you will do in order to determine if the card is worth it. You can buy a Lisbon City Card for 24, 48, or 72 hours. The longer the timeframe the more you will save. Click here to find out more information on the Lisboa Card.
Belem Tour Options
You could also purchase a Belem skip the line tour if you want to go inside Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. This is the best option for those that are tight on time. Click here to check prices and availability for Belem Skip the Line tour.
If you have four hours, this tour might be a good option. It skips the line to take you inside Jeronimos Monastery. Then a expert guide will take you to see the Belem Tower and the Monument of the Discoveries from outside. The tour also includes a scenic river cruise and traditional Portuguese pastry.
You could also consider doing another tour in the Belem district, but most are not going to include tickets to go inside Jeronimos Monastery or Belem Tower. A Belem boat tour to see the area from the river is another option, although again you would not be able to see the details inside. There are also bike and segway tours available in the area.
How to Get to Belem from Lisbon
Belem is located just 6.5 miles to the west of Lisbon. Since we were tight on time, we just took an Uber from Lisbon to Belem. I found Ubers to be very cheap in Portugal and was impressed that most of the Uber drivers we had spoke good English. If you prefer to take public transportation to Belem from Lisbon, you can either take tram 15 or 127 from the Figueira Square (“Praça da Figueira” in Portuguese) or Comercio Square (“Praça do Comércio” in Portuguese) and get off it as soon as you pass Jeronimos Monastery.
Where to Stay in Belem
As you can see, there are enough things to do in Belem to keep you busy for a weekend! Unfortunately, there aren’t very many hotels in Belem because tourists usually prefer to stay in a Lisbon neighborhood that is more central. On the other hand, it could be nice to stay in Belem with lovely views of the Tagus River even if it is only for one night. The Atlis hotel looks fabulous and I love how they have the theme of discovery throughout the hotel. Click here to check reviews on Tripadvisor.
What to See in Belem
Belem is definitely worth a visit during your time in Lisbon. The architecture is beautiful and you can get some nice views. You also have to try the original nata, I loved it. We also enjoyed both going inside both the Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. Our Belem sightseeing took about 6 hours including about an hour wait to get into Belem Tower. You might want to add a little more time if you would like to go inside the Discoveries Monument.
Have you visited the Belem district of Lisbon? Did you try the natas? I would love to hear what you thought in the comments.
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Expert Tips for What to Do in Belem, Lisbon:
- If you don’t want to wait for Jeronimos Monastery or Tower of Belem tickets, you may want to purchase a skip the line tour.
- You can use an Uber to travel from Lisbon to Belem or back from Belem to Lisbon.
- Don’t be intimidated by the line at Pasteis de Belem, you must try the original nata pastry.
- Use the underpass to go between the Discoveries Monument and Jeronimos Monastery.
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