Lisbon’s historic district of Belém lies on the banks of the River Tejo to the west of the city centre. It’s famous as the departure point for explorers in the 15th century who left with their ships to discover the uncharted world. These adventurers helped to establish the spice trade and brought great wealth to Belém on their return.
The best way to see Belém is on foot. This three-hour walking tour passes all of Belém’s best spots including the parks, museums, and sights.
Getting to Belém
Reaching Belém is easy. Head down to the Praça do Comércio and jump on board one of the many trams which follow the river west. The journey takes ten minutes or so and passes the 25th April bridge. Jump off at the stop marked Belém. Alternatively, if the day is pleasant and you have time on your hands, take the hour-long walk along the riverfront.
National Coach Museum
You’ll disembark the tram near the Afonso de Albuquerque gardens. To the right of the park is the National Coach Museum. It houses a staggeringly large collection of horse drawn carriages spanning the 16th to 19th century.
More info: museudoscoches.pt
Afonso de Albuquerque Gardens
One can easily while away an hour in these beautiful gardens dedicated to Afonso de Albuquerque, a 16th century explorer who helped establish the spice trades and Portuguese Asian empire. There is a monument in the centre of the garden dedicated to him.
Palacio Nacional Belem
On the other side of the park is the Palacio Nacional Belém, the official residence of Portugal’s president. The large pink building is hidden behind the palace’s walls, but it’s open to visitors at the weekend. Between Tuesday and Sunday, the Museu da Presidência da Republica which flanks the palace’s main gates, is open and well worth a visit.
More info: presidencia.pt
Cross back over the park to the waterfront and follow the Tejo Estuary west to the Discoveries Monument. Be sure to look back east from the waterfront for excellent views over the 25th Of April suspension Bridge and Christ statue on the other side of the river. Situated on the spot of the old harbour, the monument celebrates the bravery of the explorers who left Belém to discover the world. A map laid down on the ground in front of the monument displays many of the explorers’ voyages.
More info: padraodosdescobrimentos.pt
Another few hundred metres west along the waterfront is the historic Belém Tower (also called the Tower of St. Vincent). This 30-metre high 16th century structure is a fine example of Portuguese Manueline style. The outside is beautiful, but be sure to go inside to view the arched stonework and balconies from which wonderful views of the Tejo can be admired.
More info: torrebelem.pt
Cross over the Jardim da Torre de Belém to the footbridge that crosses the main road. Continue north through the small streets and turn right onto Rua Bartolomeu Dias. A ten-minute walk will bring you to the Jeronimos Monastery. Created from wealth made on the back of the spice trade, the monastery is one of the best examples of Portuguese late gothic style. Construction started in 1501 and took a hundred years to complete using taxed money from the African and Orient spice trade.
More info: mosteirojeronimos.pt
Pastéis de Belém
Continue down Rua Belém for 50 metres or so to the Pastéis de Belém café. You can’t miss it for the hordes of tourists that congregate outside, and for good reason. Portugal does the best custard tarts in the world, and there is no better place to try them than this historic tile clad café. Best eaten straight out of the oven, covered in cinnamon, and accompanied by a bica coffee.
More info: pasteisdebelem.pt
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