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10 Things to Do in Belem in Lisbon

Stroll through the maritime district of the Portuguese capital, a small jewel that captivates thousands of travelers.

Matteo Gramegna

Matteo Gramegna

8 min read

10 Things to Do in Belem in Lisbon

Belém Tower, Portugal | ©Bernardo Lorena Ponte

The Belém district is located at the mouth of the Tagus River and is famous for the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower, two examples of the Manueline style. This artistic trend is very typical of Portugal and will surprise you with its extravagant decoration.

1. Take a guided tour

Details of Padrão dos Descobrimentos| ©Deann DaSilva
Details of Padrão dos Descobrimentos| ©Deann DaSilva

Any trip to Lisbon must necessarily pass through Belém. This area is closely linked to Portugal's colonial history; from these very shores, caravels left Europe to reach the coasts of Brazil or overseas possessions in India.

Choosing a guided tour you can discover this neighborhood with an expert guide who will take you to see the main destinations of the neighborhood: the Jerónimos Monastery, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos and the Belém Tower. These tours usually last two hours and usually start at Praça do Império (in front of the Museu da Marina) or at the Doca de Bom Sucesso, the docks on the banks of the river. The weak point of this tour is that entrance fees to museums/churches are not included.

Book a guided tour of Lisbon

2. Visit the masterpiece of Manueline architecture

Jeronimos Monastery| ©balavenise
Jeronimos Monastery| ©balavenise

The Jerónimos Monastery is a majestic religious building that dominates Praça do Império. Its history is linked to maritime explorations and the figure of Vasco da Gama. In 1497, the Portuguese navigator set sail from the port of Santa Maria de Belém, skirted the west coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached Calicut (India) on May 20, 1498. A year later, two boats returned to Portugal loaded with spices. To celebrate this new trade route, King Manuel I decided to build a large church and commissioned the project to the architect Diogo de Boitaca.

The first stop is the Church of Santa Maria de Belém, a Gothic temple with large columns and the tombs of four Portuguese monarchs, Luís de Camões and Vasco da Gama. Another environment not to be missed is the two-story cloister in the Manueline style. Both floors are richly decorated with gargoyles, nautical symbols, medallions, tiles and much more. From October to April, it is open from 10:00 to 17:00 while from May to September it closes at 18:30.

Matthew's advice

When you find yourself in the monastery church, raise your eyes to the vault of the transept. This extraordinary dome is characterized by a structure reminiscent of a spider's web but, despite its height and size, it is not supported by any columns!

3. Discover the symbol of the city

Belem Tower| ©Jan Krutisch
Belem Tower| ©Jan Krutisch

The Belém Tower stands in an emblematic place in Lisbon: on the old Restelo beach, from where the ships departed to Brazil, Africa and other overseas colonies. Construction began during the reign of Manuel I and was designed by Francisco de Arruda. The architect designed the bastion of Azamor, a town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and his stay in the Maghreb country is reflected in the decoration of the tower, which stands out for its Arabic-style elements.

The Belém Tower is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:30 (between October and April) or from 10:00 to 18:30 (between May and September).

Before entering, stop for a minute to see the rhinoceros gargoyle, a sculpture portraying this animal. The statue hides a unique history that is linked to the maritime explorations of the 16th century. In 1513, Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque returned from India with a rhinoceros and gave it as a gift to Manuel I: it was the first time this beast had set foot on European soil. In the royal court, they wondered if it was as strong as an elephant, and in order to find out, the monarch made them face each other in mortal combat. According to legend, the rhinoceros won and the king wanted to pay homage to the "strongest animal in the world".

Matthew's advice

On the first Sunday of the month, admission is free. If you travel on these dates, you can save on the ticket.

4. Admire the monument that commemorates the Lusitanian navigators

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument| ©Matt Kieffer
Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument| ©Matt Kieffer

A few meters from the Belém Tower stands a tower reminiscent of a caravel: the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. The monument commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator, a key figure in Portuguese history.

On the opposite side of the prow, a large cross completes the monument and at its base is a door. Behind this threshold is a small museum illustrating the routes of Portuguese navigators. From here you can go up to the viewpoint that offers splendid views over the sports bridge, the Tagus River, the 25th of April Bridge and the Jerónimos Monastery. If you like scenic spots, you have chosen the right city. Lisbon is also famous for its belvederes and the most valued ones are located in the nearby Alfama district.

From October to February, the Padrão dos Descobrimentos is closed on Mondays while on other days, it is open from 10:00 to 18:00. From March to September, on the other hand, it is open daily from 10:00 to 19:00.

5. Admire the city from the Tagus

Cruise on the Tagus| ©wolli s
Cruise on the Tagus| ©wolli s

To see the tower, the Jerónimos Monastery and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos from a different perspective, you can opt for a river cruise on the Tagus. Excursions depart from the port of Belém or other central districts of Lisbon. A good option could be a boat ride at sunset. This way, you will be able to see the main monuments of the Portuguese capital while cruising the waters of the river.

The boats usually reach Praça do Comércio passing under one of the icons of the city: the 25th of April Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Europe. Inaugurated in 1966 as the Salazar Bridge, it changed its name after the Carnation Revolution of 1974. Because of its shape and red color, it resembles the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

If you are traveling to Lisbon in the summer, I recommend booking tours in advance. In the warmer months, these tours are very crowded.

Book a cruise on the Tagus

6. Relive the past at the Carriages Museum

Carriage Museum| ©RAYPORRES
Carriage Museum| ©RAYPORRES

Until the 19th century, Lisbon's long avenues and steep slopes were traversed by a multitude of carriages. Royalty moved about in luxurious, richly decorated carriages and many of these have left the streets to be housed in the Museu Nacional dos Coches.

The museum is divided into two parts: some vehicles rest in the Picadeiro Real (the former equestrian arena of Lusitanian royalty), others in a modern structure designed by Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha. Both buildings are located in Praça Afonso de Albuquerque.

If you are arriving from the center of Lisbon, you can take streetcar 15 to the Belém stop. The trip takes about twenty minutes. If you are passionate about transportation, I recommend you visit the Museu da Carris, a cultural institution that houses double-decker buses, subway cars, horse-drawn carriages, streetcars and much more. From Praça Afonso de Albuquerque take streetcar 15 (this time in the opposite direction) and get off at the Estação De Santo Amaro stop.

7. Make a stop at the Casa Pastéis de Belém

Pasteis de Belém House| ©Mister No
Pasteis de Belém House| ©Mister No

In Lisbon, pastéis de Belém are an institution and the pastry shop that uses the original recipe from the 19th century is located in this area of the city. Naturally we are talking about Casa Pastéis de Belém, the establishment at Rua de Belém 84. You will recognize it by the tiles on its facade and by the queue that often forms at the entrance. The pancakes that come out daily from this place are a delight for the palate and are worth the wait. In addition to the pastéis, you can also buy a Bolo Inglês, sweet and savory assortments and jams.

During the Christmas season the offer of the place is complemented by the bolo-rey and the bolo-rainha, two Portuguese versions of the roscón de reyes. If you are traveling during these dates, I recommend you to read the post 10 things to see and do in Lisbon in December.

8. Immerse yourself in modern and contemporary art

Coleção Berardo Museum,| ©Dilum2444
Coleção Berardo Museum,| ©Dilum2444

A short distance from the Jerónimos Monastery is the Museu Coleção Berardo, a cultural institution that brings together more than 900 works of the main artistic currents of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Among the most relevant creations, we must mention "Femme dans un fauteuil" and "Tête de femme" by Picasso, "Brillo Box" by Andy Warhol (wooden cubes that recreate sponge containers) and "Oedipus and the Sphinx according to Ingres" by Francis Bacon. The museum has won a "Traveller's choice" from Tripadvisor in 2021 and I assure you it is worth a visit. It is located in Praça do Império and general admission costs about 5 €.

Matthew's advice

If you like contemporary art and you visit the Portuguese capital during the weekend, you're in luck: Saturdays are free admission!

9. Get to know the newcomer of the neighborhood: the MAAT

the MAAT| ©Susanne Nilsson
the MAAT| ©Susanne Nilsson

The river bank hosts a cultural institution of great interest: the MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology of Lisbon. It is located next to the city's old power plant and its shape simulates a wave on the Tagus. Opened in October 2016, it houses exhibitions of contemporary artists, architects and thinkers. It is also used for some concerts and film screenings.

At the architectural level, this building is characterized by the 15,000 three-dimensional tiles that reflect the reflections of the water and by its public vantage point overlooking the other bank of the Tagus. The two buildings that compose it (Central - Electricity Museum and MAAT) are open from 11:00 to 19:00, from Wednesday to Monday.

To complete the visit, you can have a drink at maat Café & Kitchen, a restaurant that offers Mediterranean-style signature cuisine. Its specialty is fish and seafood from the Portuguese coast.

10. Walk through the door of an iconic stadium

Os Belenenses Stadium| ©Threeohsix
Os Belenenses Stadium| ©Threeohsix

Soccer fan? Then you'll be pleased to know that the Belém neighborhood is home to the stadium of Os Belenenses, Lisbon's third-largest team and the fourth-largest in terms of number of fans nationwide. The Estadio do Restelo has been their home since September 23, 1956, when the locals won 2-1 against the more powerful Sporting. The stadium has a capacity for 19,856 spectators and has a beautiful view over the Jerónimos Monastery and the river. If you feel like it, you can visit it with a guided tour. If you are interested, I recommend you to check their official website.

Book a guided tour of Lisbon