Belém (Bethlehem) is an important district of Lisbon, as it was from here that the famous Portuguese explorers set off on their voyages around the world. Located just about 4 miles (7 kilometers) away from the city center, today this region is popular with tourists because of its monuments, history, and a coffee shop with delicious Portuguese desserts. Even Christopher Columbus stopped by Belem on his way back to Europe after discovering the New World! Keep reading for a local’s take on what to do on a day trip to Belem.
How to get From Lisbon to Belem
To get to Belem from Lisbon, you will need to take either tram 15 or tram 127 from the downtown area’s 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. That's a good place to start a day trip! As an alternative, you can take a cab.
I don’t recommend going on Mondays since that’s the day the Jeronimos monastery, Belem Tower and the Monument to Discoveries are all closed.
Monastery of Jeronimos (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos)
This majestic monastery is a great showcase of Portugal’s splendor during the age of discoveries. Built in 1502 in the late Gothic style Portuguese-exclusive “Manueline” style, it is in my opinion one of the most beautiful structures. It was on this site that Vasco da Gama spent his late night in prayer before his successful journey to India. Vasco de Gama’s tomb is at the front entrance and so is the tomb or a famous Portuguese poet, Luis de Camoes. UNESCO has declared this monastery a World Heritage Site.
Hours: October-April 10:00am-5:00pm; May-September 10:00am- 6:00pm; Closed on Mondays
Entrance fee: 6 euros
Address: Praca do Imperio
Belém Tower (Torre de Belém)
This is no ordinary tower but an icon of the Portuguese maritime discoveries. Built in 1515, this Manueline style fortress served the important purpose of guarding Lisbon’s harbor and was a starting point to much of the voyages the Portuguese made to places like the New World, India, and Japan. It is because of its significance that the Belem Tower has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage monument. Torre de Belem is unlike any tower I’ve seen, its design is breathtaking. It has details such as stones that look like twisted rope, lots of balconies, domes, and the arched windows that are customary in the Manueline style. Did I mention that it’s completely surrounded by water? You’ll need to cross a bridge to get to it! This exquisite tower is a must after visiting Jeronimos monastery that’s located across the street.
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Hours: October-April 10:00am-5:00pm; May-September 10:00am- 6:30pm; Closed on Mondays
Entrance fee: 4 euros
Address: Avenida da India
Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos)
This monument was put up in 1960 as a memorial to commemorate 500 years of Portuguese discoveries. It’s 170 feet (52 meters) tall and is shaped live a ship with historical Portuguese navigators standing at the prow. Inside is an exhibition and you can go up to the top to get a better look at Belem below. In front, is a beautiful mosaic with the image of the world and all the places the Portuguese traveled to during the Age of Discoveries.
Address: Avenida da India
Hours: Daily 10:00am-6:00pm; Closed on Mondays
Antiga Confeitaria de Belém – Pasteis de Belem Café
A trip to Belem is not complete without stopping by Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. It’s one of those things that everyone does while visiting the district. I heard that they produce about 14,000 of these sweets per day and I can surely vouch for an egg custard tart from Belem. The café is obviously very popular but I can assure you that you won’t wait more than half an hour until your order gets taken. You can either get the pasties to go or you can eat inside, in which case you’ll be taken to a seating area in the back which is very spacious. Soon after you place your order, your warm, straight out of the oven custard tart will be served. Traditionally, these pastries are sprinkled with “canela” or cinnamon and powdered sugar. It’s the way to go! I usually have two and a coffee. If you order the pastries to go, they’ll be given to you in a beautiful tube box decorated with a traditional Portuguese design. Café Pastéis de Belém has been specializing in these treats since 1837!
Address: Rua de Belém 84 a.92
Hours: June 1st – September 30th 8:00am – Midnight; October 1st – May 31st 8:00am – 11:00pm
Phone: 213 637 423