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The Belem district in Lisbon, Portugal, is one of the most historic parts of the city, and there are tons of things to do and see. Below you’ll find a list of the best – complete with details on how to see and do it all! Be sure to wear good shoes – this will be a day of walking. Be prepared to go up and down many steps as well – there are 93 steps inside Belem Tower alone!
Table of Contents
Before diving into the best things to do in Belem, let’s take a step back to learn a brief history of the area. The Belem district is in the southwesternmost part of Lisbon and straddles the Atlantic Ocean and Tagus River. This convenient location made travel by boat convenient, and many explorers and adventurers left from this part of Lisbon to travel to Eastern Africa, Brazil, and even India.
Some of the most famous explorers from Portugal include Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama. You can even see the tomb of Vasco da Gama at Jeronimos Monastery (info on this gorgeous monastery is a bit later in this post!). Many of the places on this list depict or represent the Age of Discoveries. The number of explorers from this area is astounding, and Lisbon is very proud of this.
Not only is this area historic, but it’s beautiful too. The architecture, parks, and open spaces are welcome sights after spending time in Lisbon’s busy city center. So charge up your camera, put on your walking shoes, and head to the iconic Belem District.
Belem Tower is the perfect starting point for your day. It is the southwesternmost part of the day’s itinerary, and you’ll be able to walk closer to the city center as the day progresses.
Belem Tower is just one of the UNESCO heritage sites on the itinerary. The tower date’s back to its completion date in 1519 and served as a defense system to guard the entrance to Portugal via the Tagus River.
To explore inside the tower, you’ll need to purchase a ticket. You get the best views from inside, plus an up-close and personal look at the stunning architecture. You can see the belly of the tower and also climb up the 93 steps it takes to reach the top – worth it! You can also wander the terrace area for gorgeous views of the ocean.
You can purchase your ticket ahead of time or at the kiosk nearby. The tower is open from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm – with the last ticket sales at 5:00 pm and the last entry at 5:30 pm. Belem Tower is closed on Mondays and January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, June 13th, and December 25th.
After your visit, you can grab a snack or drink from one of the vendors and grab a seat on the steps facing the tower and the ocean for a quick break before you head off to your next destination!
At a Glance
Address: Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, Portugal
Hours: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, last entrance into the tower is at 5:30 pm. CLOSED MONDAYS and holidays.
Cost: $6.32 USD. Buy online or at the kiosk located nearby.
Whether religious or not, the Jeronimos Monastery is breathtaking. The monastery is an absolute cannot miss when you’re in Belem!
I want to share an insider’s tip, as I was confused when I went to the monastery. There are TWO different parts to visiting the monastery. One is free, and the other requires a paid ticket. So there are two lines – the line on the right leads into the church, which is free. The line on the left requires a ticket and leads to the cloister portion of the monastery. The lines will likely be long, but I promise it’s worth it!
Take the line on the right, and you’ll find that the inside of the church is jaw-droppingly beautiful. You’ll be led inside the church and have a chance to take photos, see the displays, and read about some of the tombs (remember Vasco da Gama?).
When you’ve finished admiring the church inside, you can head to that line on the left if you’ve pre-purchased your ticket. If you need to purchase your ticket on-site, the ticket office is on the other side of the building. Head towards the other end of the monastery, and you’ll see doors – head in, and you can grab your ticket!
With your ticket, you can now enter the cloister portion of the building. You’ll be able to walk around, explore the many areas, ooo, and aah over the architecture, and grab some great photos. Be sure you find the stairs to go to the second level. The view of the whole cloister area from up top is gorgeous.
At a Glance
Address: Praça do Império 1400-206 Lisboa, Portugal
Hours: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. CLOSED MONDAYS and holidays.
Cost: $10.54. Buy online or at the far end of the building inside.
Monument of Discoveries
The Monument of Discoveries was created to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. This critical explorer discovered the Azores, Madeira in Portugal, and Cape Verde in Africa. You can see Henry at the very end of the monument, holding a sailboat over the Tagus River.
What amazes me the most is that each person shown on this monument was an essential part of Lisbon’s history. Check out this website here to learn more about each of the people on this monument. This memorial is representative of a ship with its sails up, ready for exploration leading out from the Tagus River.
Be sure to check inside the monument for exhibits and a theater, and you can even make your way to the top of the memorial for breathtaking views of Lisbon and the Tagus River. The Monument of Discoveries is an easy walk from Belem Tower or Jeronimos Monastery.
At a Glance
Address: Av. Brasília 1400-038 Lisbon, Portugal
Hours: October to February – every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (last entry at 5:30 pm)
March to September – every day from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm (last entry at 6:30 pm)
Cost: 6 euros for the exhibition, theater, and viewpoint. Buy online here.
Pastel de Nata at Pasteis de Belem
Oh, my love, the pastel de nata. These creamy egg custard-filled cups made of flaky pastry, caramelized on top, reminding me of a beautiful crème brûlée, might be some of the most delicious pastries I’ve ever had. I am happy to say that I taste-tested my way through Portugal in search of the very best pastel de nata that this gorgeous country has to offer.
Pastel de Nata’s were created by the monks of Jeronimos Monastery. Initially, it was common practice to starch clothing with egg whites, which left many egg yolks leftover. The monks created the recipe for the pastel de nata, now known as the most famous pastry to come out of Portugal.
Pasteis de Belem, just a minute’s walk from Jeronimos Monastery, is said to be the only location with the original recipe created by the monks. You’ll spot this bakery pretty quickly, as it will be one of the only locations nearby with a line out the door – don’t worry, it moves fast! Each pastry comes warm, with a packet of powdered sugar and a pack of cinnamon to top to your liking.
To clarify, I wouldn’t be a good travel blogger if I gave you information that I didn’t think was true. This location is discussed a lot on many other blogs and websites as the BEST place to get pastel de nata’s. When I said I ate my way through Portugal to find the best, you better believe I tried A LOT. In my search, the pastel de natas from Pasteis de Belem ranked only medium for me.
It’s true. Please don’t yell at me! These were more on the egg side than the sweet side. BUT! You should also eat your way through Portugal to find your favorite pastel de nata. What was my favorite, you ask?
Cafeteria Sao Nicolau was, hands down, my absolute favorite! But Lisa, what’s with the 2.5-star reviews? Well. I can’t attest to the other food they serve, but if you read the reviews carefully, you’ll see that others have rated their pastel de nata’s as their favorite, too! So, as I said, try them all. Find your favorite!
If you’d still like to try a pastel de nata from Pasteis de Belem, here’s your ‘at a glance’ info!
At a Glance
Address: R. de Belém 84 92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Hours: Everyday 8 am – 9 pm
Cost: Single – 1.20 Euro, Pack of 6 – 7.20 Euro
I know you’re going to love your time in Belem. So tell me in the comments what you’re most excited to see!
SAVE FOR LATER:
I have had the travel bug since I was young. Living in Colorado, and my parents being from New York, gave us lots of opportunities to go visit family back East. In my professional career as an event planner, I’ve had many experiences in other states, cities, and even other countries. I have been blessed with the ability to see so many different places, people, and cultures.