Belém is not actually a neighbourhood of Lisbon but a suburb. Belém lies to the west of the centre and in this area there are many monumental attractions.
Belém is Portuguese for Bethlehem and this was the place where in the past many explorers such as Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Bartolomeu Dias left on their voyages. In those times Belém was a small fishing village.
Because the 1755 earthquake caused little to no damage in Belém, many monumental buildings can still be found.
Cooling down on the Tagus
A visit to Belém can certainly cool you off on hot days, because there are many sihgts on the river bank of the Tagus. In addition, it is also a lot quieter in terms of traffic than in the city centre. On the other hand, Belém has been discovered by tourists the last years and you’ll certainly notice that. It is always somewhat crowded in Belém, it’s quiet around 18:00h, but only because most sights are closed then. On rainy days, especially Torre de Belém and Padrão dos Descobrimentos are quiet.
Belém by bike
On a hot day it is good to stay along the river banks of the Tagus. This is also a flat part of Lisbon, there is no climbing in Belém (or you have to climb the Torre de Belém). You can even choose to explore Belém by bike.
Our tip: Explore Belém with an organised bike tour. The bike tour starts in the centre (Baixa) and takes you along the Tagus to all of Belém’s historical sights, together with a guide. Order your tickets for the bike tour here via getyourguide.com
Walking through Belém
You can also explore Belém on foot. The distances between the historical sights are not so far. And you have plenty of time to absorb all the beauty in this neighbourhood. There are plenty of opportunities to walk around with a professional guide.
Our tip: Especially for smaller groups it is worthwhile to book a walking tour to explore Belém. Order your tickets for the tour here via getyourguide.com
How to get to Belém
THere are different ways to reach Belém, all options last about 10 – 15 minutes, except cycling or walking from the city centre. In that case it’ll take you around 45 – 60 minutes, especially if you also want to see something along the way.
Train towards Cascais
Take the train towards Cascais, get on board at Cais do Sodré. Make sure you take the stop train, otherwise the first stop is Oeiras, also very nice place to visit but if you are looking forward to eating a Pastéis de Belém that’s not really what you’re looking for.
From the city centre take tram 15, this tram runs from the Baixa to Belém. The starting point is at Praça da Figueira and also stops at Praça do Comércio. In Belém the stop is in front of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. This is a pretty central place for all the attractions that can be visited in Belém.
Even though these trams are also somewhat crowded, there is often place to sit of stand. These are the modern trams that offer much more space than the old elétrico 28.
This tram also travels along Docas de Santo Amaro. These old warehouses at the port have been converted into food and beverage places. Here you can quietly enjoy the view of Ponte 25 de Abril and the Christ statue across the Tejo, Monumento Cristo Rei>.
If you have a Lisboa Card, you can travel freely with every means of transportation. Otherwise, buy a day ticket for public transport. If you choose to walk along the Tagus, count a good hour before you reach Padrao dos Descobrimentos.
Places of interest in Belém
Torre de Belém
Torre de Belém is one of the most important buildings in Lisbon. Many voyages of discovery have departed from this. In the past the tower was still in the middle of the Tagus and served as a fortress. Nowadays, the mouth of the Tagus has shifted, making Torre de Belém easy to reach.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos with its impressive appearance cannot be missed in Belém. The building dates back to the times of Vasco da Gama, who thanked the Virgin Mary for the success of the voyages of discovery in this monastery. This place is definitely worth a visit!
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
Padrão dos Descobrimentos is specially created to honor the discovery voyages of Portugal. A visit is worthwhile, especially to admire the mosaics in the street from a height of 52 meters.
Jardim Botânico Tropical
Near the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is a tropical botanical garden, Jardim Botânico Tropical, where mainly tropical and subtropical plants can be seen. Some plants found here are related to the Portuguese explorations such as the pepper, the cocoa tree and the cinnamon tree.
When the garden is in bloom it is beautiful to see, but the garden looks a bit down off season. There are varying opening times per month, for more information see their website: http://www2.iict.pt/jbt/
Access to the garden is € 2, -, seniors (65+) receive a 50% discount.
Jardim Botânico de Ajuda
Jardim Botânico de Ajuda is the oldest garden of Portugal. This garden was created in 1768 as Royal Botanical Garden of Ajuda, by Marques de Pombal. The park was built to be a museum, in which botanical plant species are grown and exhibited worldwide.
Instituto Superior de Agronomia (Agricultural College) is responsible for maintenance. Between 1994 and 1997 the garden was completely refurbished with extra attention to the conservation of the botanical origin. During this refurbishment, the fountain of the 40 pipes (Fonte das 40 Bicas) was also restored. This fountain stands in the middle of the courtyard of the garden.
The botanical collection was rebuilt around 1997 with seeds from various other botanical gardens spread across the world and from Portuguese institutions.
There are varying opening times, for more information see their website.
Access to the garden is € 2, – and seniors (65+) receive a 50% discount.
The gardens belong to Palácio Nacional da Ajuda.
Palácio Nacional da Ajuda
During the earthquake of 1755 many buildings in Belém remained unharmed. For that reason the royal family decided to move to Belém at that time.
Palacio da Ajuda was built in the 18th century. In the palace you can see the unprecedented wealth of the royal family. The rooms are filled with furniture, tapestries, sculptures and extravagant and decorative arts.
The palace is situated on top of a hill, when you walk from the Tagus to the palace you can count on a steep climb. At the moment the palace is a bit outdated, but if you go to the botanical garden anyway, a combination is worthwhile. Access to Palacio da Ajuda costs € 5.00, children under 14 have free admission.
Palácio de Belém
Palácio de Belém was built in 1559 and since 1910 this is the official residence of the President of Portugal and situated on a small hill that overlooks Praça Afonso de Albuquerque and of course the Tagus. The president of Portugal lives and works in this palace and receives his guests here. There are several rooms in the palace such as Sala das Bicas, Galeria dos Retratos, Sala Dourada and Sala dos Embaixadores, all with a different function.
When the flag is hoisted at the gates, the president is present in the palace. The palace can only be visited on Saturdays. In the former stables of the palace you can find Museu Nacional dos Coches.
Museu Nacional dos Coches
Museu Nacional dos Coches is houses a collection of unique and important carriages and other carriages from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For fans, this is a must go, because this museum exhibits the largest collection of carriages worldwide!
The majority of the carriages are owned by the Portuguese Royal House and other Portuguese noble families, but there are also carriages from the rest of the world. You can enter some coaches.
Admission is € 8, -, kids under 12 are free. Families get another 50% discount on their paid tickets. There are also combination tickets for sale with the other attractions in Belém, please check their website: http://museudoscoches.pt/pt/
The museum MAAT, which stands for Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, opened in the autumn of 2016 and is one of the newest museums in Lisbon.
Food and drink
Pastéis de Belém
As soon as I land I usually leave the airport towards Belém with smoking tyres, just to get my hands on the delicious Pastéis de Belém! I do not care if I have to wait with a bus full of tourists for the divine tarts. The only goal is to put my teeth in a Pastéis de Belém, but of course there is more.
Imagine being in Rome and have an ice cream at Gelato Davvero . If you ask locals, they’ll tell you this is one of the best ice cream shops in Lisbon, with the best Italian ice cream.
According to these Santini ice-cream makers, you will find the tastiest ice cream in the world there. Definitely worth trying out for yourself.
Terrace Lisbon Hostel: less than 5 minutes walk from Mosteiro dos Jerónimos you will find this hostel. For less than 21 GBP you can get a bed in an 8 or 4 person room. The district Baixa is 20 minutes away by public transport.
Belém Cosy Studio: this studio has 1 bedroom, a kitchenette, a flat screen TV, a sitting area and 1 bathroom with a shower. It can accommodate up to three people. One night costs 61 GPB.
Hotel Jeronimos 8: The stylish four-star hotel borders Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Belém train station is a 10-minute walk away. An overnight stay costs 200 GBP.