Belém, Lisbon

Explore Portugal’s Golden Age in Belém

Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém

Belém, situated on the Rio Tejo, was the launching point of many of Portugal’s 14th century Age of Discovery voyages. King José I made Belém the home of Portuguese royals after the 1855 earthquake destroyed much of Lisbon.  It offers beautiful views of the 25 de Abril bridge, the Christo Rei (statue of Christ) and a myriad of gardens and historic sights.

Depending on how much you want to see in Belém, you could spend a few hours to a half day there.

Belém Sights

  • Torre de Belém (Belém Tower)

Torre de Belém
Torre de Belém

The Torre de Belém was completed in 1520 and was meant to protect the Rio Tejo, which brought ships to Lisbon. It is a great example of the architecture during the reign of Manuel I.  You can buy a ticket to view the interior and climb to the top for views of the river and bridge. But due to the large crowds and long lines, it might be better to save time and money and skip the inside. The Monument to the Discoveries, below, has a view that includes the Monastery, and so is a better choice if you do want to go inside.

Tickets:   An individual ticket costs €6 – for combined tickets with other monuments, see    below.
Hours:     Open 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (May-Sept, last admission 6:00pm), 5:30pm Oct-May (last admission at 5:00 p.m.)
Website:  Torre de Belém

  • Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)

Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries)

The Padrão dos Descobrimentos was built in 1940 for the World Expo and was rebuilt in 1960 to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. It features many important Portuguese figures, including King Manuel I, Vasco de Gama and Luís de Camões.

Tickets:   €5 – discounts available for families, seniors and the Lisboa card
Hours:     Open 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (May-Oct, last admission 6:30pm), 6:00pm Oct-May (last admission at 5:30 p.m.)
Website:  Padrão dos Descobrimentos

  • Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) and Paróquia Santa Maria de Belém (Church of Santa Maria)

Mosteiros dos Jerónimos
Mosteiros dos Jerónimos

There are two separate sights here – the church and the cloisters. The church is free and much less crowded than the cloisters. If you do want to visit the cloisters and do not yet have a ticket, walk to the side entrance (pictured below), do not stand at the main entrance in the very long line. The Cloisters were completed around 1540 and contain the tomb of poet Fernando Pessoa. The church contains the tombs of  Luís de Camões and the tomb of Vasco da Gama, considered the greatest representatives of the Golden Age.

Tickets:   A Cloisters ticket is €10; The Church is free
Hours:     Open 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (May-Sept, last admission 6:00pm), 5:30pm Oct-May (last admission at 5:00 p.m.)
Website:  Mosteiro dos Jerónimos & Paróquia Santa Maria de Belém

  • Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum)

Museu Nacional dos Coches
Old Royal Riding School, part of Museu Nacional dos Coches

The Museu Nacional dos Coches actually has two museums. The original, the Royal Riding School, is next to the Palácio de Belém (President’s Palace). The second, the National Coach Museum, is across the street in a new, modern building. You can buy separate tickets or a combination ticket to both. The Royal Riding School is a beautiful building and has several coaches, old fire trucks, riding equipment and royal paintings among other things. The National Coach Museum is in a modern building and has a very large collection of coaches. I enjoyed the museum much more than I expected and would very much recommend visiting.

Tickets:   Royal Riding School is €4; National Coach Museum is €6; A combo ticket is €8
Hours:     Open 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (May-Sept, last admission 6:00pm)
Website:  Museu Nacional dos Coches

  • Pastéis de Belém

Pastéis de Belém
Pastéis de Belém

Pastéis de Belém has been making and serving custard tarts (called a Pastéis de Belém here and pastel de nata everywhere else) according to a secret recipe since 1837. They cost €1.10 each and an expresso and a pastel de Belém will cost only €1.90! Most importantly, they are served hot, which is the best way to eat them.

Tickets

Tickets to the various sights can be bought together in a combined ticket to save money.

Combined tickets:
Descobertas:              Jerónimos Monastery /Tower of Belém: €12
Jeronimos:                 Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + Museu Nacional de Arqueologia: 12 €
Praça do Império:    Jerónimos Monastery +Tower of Belém + Museu Nacional de Arqueologia: €16
Cais da História:     Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + Torre de Belém + Museu Naciona de Arqueologia + Museu de Arte Popular + Museu                                                Nacional de Etnologia + Museu dos Coches: 25 €

My Recommendation

The time you visit and where you should start depends on whether or not you want to go into the various sights.

  • If you want to do a “Belém Walk” (My Recommendation):

    Arrive early in the morning, 8:00-9:00am at the Torre de Belém. Since most sights open at 10 or 10:30, tour buses do not arrive until then. Walk east on the Rio Tejo to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries). Then use the underpass to walk to the garden (Jardim da Praça do Império) and the monastery/church. I recommend going into the church since it is free and will not be as crowded as the cloisters. Seeing the Tower, Monument to the Discoveries and the church should take 1-2 hours depending on how fast you walk. Then you can go to Pastéis de Belém for a breakfast of coffee and pastel de nata. Afterwards, you can walk around the gardens in front of the Monastary, view the President’s Palace and explore the Museu dos Coches. This itinerary should take 3-4 hours.

  • If you are interested in seeing going inside the the various sights:

    Arrive mid-afternoon, by 2:00pm to allow time before sights close, at the Torre de Belém. Walk east on the Rio Tejo to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, and ride the elevator to the top for a view of the monastery, bridge, river and Christo Rei. Then use the underpass to walk to the garden (Jardim da Praça do Império) and the monastery/church. After visiting the church and the cloisters, head to Pastéis de Belém for a coffee and a pastel de Belém. If time allows, you can visit one or both of the National Coach Museums (last entry 6:00pm). Depending on crowds and overall speed, this itinerary should take 4-6 hours.

Transportation 

Belém is 3 miles west of downtown Lisbon. Depending on your chosen form of transportation, it should take 15-30 minutes to get there. There are several ways to get there, although if you are traveling with two or more people, I highly recommend a taxi or Uber to save time. Depending on what you want to see (see my recommendations below), you should get dropped off at the Torre de Belém, which is the furthest point from Lisbon.

Taxi

A taxi from Praça do Comércio to Belém should be around €15, likely more if starting from other points in Lisbon due to traffic. The trip should take around 15 minutes with moderate traffic.

Uber

An Uber from Praça do Comércio to Belém should be around €8-11. The trip should take around 15 minutes with moderate traffic.

Tram

Tram 15E runs from Praça da Figueira to Belém, passing through Praça do Comércio. A ride takes around a half an hour and costs €1.30 with a zapping card, € 2.90 if you pay on board. You can find the timetable here.

Underpass

Note: The Monument to the Discoveries and the Belém Tower are both on the Rio Tejo (Tagus River) and everything else is across the road/train tracks. To get across, there is an underpass located right in front of the Monument to the Discoveries.

When to Visit

There are very large tour groups on the weekends and many of the sights are closed Monday, so it is best to visit Tuesday-Friday. If you do not want to visit the inside of the sights (Tower, Monument of the Discoveries, or the  Cloisters at the Monastery), you should go early in the morning, at 8:00-9:00am, when there are almost no people at all. If you do want to tour the inside of some of the sights, it is better to go after 2:00pm, when most tour buses have left.

Avoiding Crowds

Belém, like Sintra, attracts huge crowds and large groups coming on tour buses. The buses arrive between 9:00am-12:00pm and most groups depart by 2:00pm. As stated above, if you just want to see the outside of the sights and enjoy a leisurely walk around, go early before the groups arrive. Otherwise, go after 2:00pm.

For essential information on visiting Lisbon, please see my blog post here.

What is your favorite sight in Belém? Let me know in the comments!

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One Comment

  1. Richard Lewis

    As always very informative and beautiful pictures. So nice to see and learn new things. Keep up the good work.

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