Belem is one of the most important towns in local history and any visit to Lisbon should include a day trip to Belem. As an essential strategic port in Portuguese military and naval history, there are several very important areas and monuments to see here, including the Belem Tower and the Tagus River. The Jeronimos Monastery is an iconic part of the town, and their national tart – Pastel de Belem – originated here as well. With a blossoming waterfront lined with trendy hotels, bars and restaurants and the opening of many modern museums, Belem is fast becoming a must-visit place when planning a trip to Lisbon.
If time isn’t on your side and you want to get a good snapshot of Belem, we recommend taking this three-hour tour of the main sights in Belem.
Suggested itinerary for one day in Belem
We’ve picked five of the best things to do in Belem out of a list of many. Visitors to Belem should spend at least one day here to see the main attractions. However, Belem is also famous for its many museums, so if you would like to add these to your itinerary, spending at least two days here is recommended.
For now, we’ve picked enough to fit into a day. This allows time to walk to all of these locations on your own without rushing. If you want to go inside the Belem Tower and the Jeronimo’s Monastery, we recommend buying your tickets online in advance to avoid taking up a lot of your time standing in queues.
Depending on the time of day you visit and what is most important to you will dictate where you start and end. My only recommendation is to start at either the monastery end or the tower end. You can walk all in one direction at once, saving you time backtracking and walking more than you need to. Note that this itinerary is based on catching the tram, which we love. It’s slower, but travelling by tram is just one of those things you should do in Portugal.
Tram #15 stop at Jeronomo’s Monastery stop >> Pasteis de Belem > Jeronimo’s Monastery > Berardo’s Museum > Belem Tower >> Tagus waterfront for lunch >> Tagus River Walk >> Discovery Monument >> Back to the tram on Rue de Belem.
To get to the Belem Tower early >> Tram #15 stop Largo da Princesa >> Belem Tower >> Tagus River Walk (coffee stop) >> Discoveries Monument >> Berardo’s Museum >> Pasteis de Belem >> Jeronimo’s Monastery >> Back to the tram on Rue de Belem.
Eat at Pasteis de Belem
I’ve made this the first thing to do in Belem for a reason. It doesn’t matter how many important historical monuments are here or how many excellent museums you can visit. Visitors usually come to Belem, a district of Lisbon, for one thing. The original makers of the Pasteis de Belem would be amazed at the icon these simple pastry treats have become today.
In 1834, all clergy were expelled from their convents and monasteries throughout Portugal following a revolution. In nearby Jeronimos Monastery, an entrepreneurial person started making and selling pastries from within the walls of an adjoining shop simply as a means of survival.
Now, the Pasteis de Belem are made using the same recipe developed in 1834 and commercialised by way of a small factory in 1837. The owners, descendants of the original owners, still work in the business today. Word has it that because of the secret nature of the recipe, they don’t ever travel on the same aircraft together. Now that’s a dedication to preserving an age-old tradition.
We also came here as part of our mission to uncover the best pasteis de nata, so it was vital that we get to spend some serious time here. But first, that queue. I suspect more than half of them are just here because Trip Advisor names it as the number one thing to do in Belem.
As people who will look for any way to avoid queuing, here’s the best tip we can give you. The queue is actually for takeaway Pasteis de Belem. Inside the ornately decorated building, staff work feverishly behind the counter. The cashier takes your order, your money and then other staff members get your tarts. It’s bedlam in here!
If you push your way gently through the crowd and into another door, about midway along the building, you’ll find yourself in clean air. Inside there are over 400 seats at the tables, where you can enjoy a more leisurely approach to your Pasteis de Belem experience. Before anyone says, “but it will cost you more to sit down”, I can completely dispel that theory. It doesn’t.
Sitting inside allows you to watch the sideshow, for it is just as busy inside, and the waiters have mastered incredible plate handling skills. One after another, plates of the house pastries come out on a waiter’s arm, accompanied by tea and coffee. There’s a menu available here, with sandwiches and salads, but this is one place where menus are not required.
When we can finally halt one of the whizzing waiters in their tracks, Stirling makes the order quickly and succinctly. “Six Pasteis de Belem please, a cappuccino and a hot chocolate”. We’d stepped it up a notch, progressing from one each to a six-pack. “It’s cheaper for six”, he said with a smile.
Did they live up to the hype? Things that become iconic, whatever their origins, have a rod made for their back. Being able to perpetually and consistently live up to expectations can be daunting.
Visit their official website for accurate opening hours.
Read more >> You can read our review on all of the Pasteis de Nata we ate in Portugal.
Fun fact: Did you know that Pastel de Nata and Pastel de Belem are the same thing? this delicious Portuguese custard tart is known in the north as Pastel de Nata and in the south as Pastel de Belem
A short walk from Pasteis de Belem is the most magnificent building in Lisbon. The Jerónimos Monastery, a sprawling Gothic cathedral, highlights the wealth of the Portuguese empire in the past. The 14th century saw the beginning of prosperous times in Portugal. Built on the River Tagus, the town of Belem became an important player in maritime activities.
Fisherman and seamen filled the town, and the local church was the site of their last-minute prayers before they returned to the sea, a life of some considerable risk. One of the seamen was Vasco de Gama, a name now synonymous with exploration, who opened up the route to India and, in doing so, brought many riches back to Portugal.
For the next 100 years after de Gama’s return, construction was undertaken on this monastery and was eventually handed over by the King to the monks. Hundreds of years later, after surviving the 1775 earthquake and the effects of neglect, the monastery has once again been restored. It now exists as a protected UNESCO site, containing the tombs of the royal family and, fittingly, Vasco de Gama.
This is another location where the queue is enormous. As you approach the monastery, the line will become immediately evident. There’s no protection from the sun here either until you get inside the monastery.
To the left of the main entrance is the National Museum of Archaeology. This is where tickets may now be purchased via automatic ticket machines inside the entrance.
If you don’t want to queue but still want to see some of the interiors, there is free entry into the Church of Santa Maria. Enter the church via the door on the right of the monastery.
For accurate opening hours and other information, visit the official website.
Beat the lines and buy your ticket in advance because no one likes to queue!
Berardo Collection Museum
If you love art, make your next stop at the Berardo Collection Museum, a modern-looking building built from sandstone blocks. Inside there are temporary and permanent exhibitions of contemporary art. The Berardo Collection Museum is one of the most visited museums in Portugal.
For opening hours, visit their website.
Note – there is a major railway line on the main road in front of the waterfront that cannot be crossed except for official pedestrian bridges. Following are the details for access to the Belem Tower, the next place to visit on your walking tour of Belem.
You have two options from the Berardo Collections Museum to get to the Belem Tower. You can keep walking down the Praca do Imperio, the main road, away from the monastery and turn left at the intersection of Largo Princesa and the Avenue Torre de Belem. This will take you through the back streets, a distance of approximately 800 metres. From there, you will need to turn left on the main road and walk across the pedestrian bridge to the other side. The tower is just through the park.
Alternatively, exit via the rear of the Berardo, onto Ave da India, and walk along the main road. It’s a similar distance, but you have the water and marinas as a backdrop. Cross the pedestrian bridge to get into the park and access the entrance to Belem Tower.
A recurring theme presents here with more queues and more standing in the hot sun. Built in the early 1500s on the Tagus River, the Belem Tower was an important part of the military’s defence strategies. A UNESCO protected structure; visitors can climb to the top for a view. To me, the tower is more spectacular from an architectural perspective, so we decided not to queue and check it out from all angles on the exterior.
Regular visitors will also concur that the best of the Belem Tower is on display for all to see. So, if you don’t have the time or hate queuing like us, save yourself the time and money and explore it from the outside.
Fast track your entrance into Belem Tower and skip the line by buying your tickets in advance.
Pro tip: If you have your heart set on seeing inside the tower, climbing to the top and hearing all about its history, we recommend getting to the tower as early as possible. The lines become long in the middle of the day. If you are coming from Lisbon on the #15 tram, your stop is Largo da Princesa.
For opening hours, visit their website.
Monument of the Discoveries
Further along, the Monument of the Discoveries, a huge stone and concrete structure rises into the air, with the Vasco de Gama Bridge in the background. The monument, with numerous people carved out along the side, represents the critical figures in Portuguese history and the vital role it has played in world events.
For a great view along the Tagus River, you can go to the top of this monument. If the weather is poor, your view will be limited.
Opening hours and ticket prices can be found on their website.
Where to eat in Belem
For me, Belem is all about the waterfront, and so we planned for our walking tour to have a break at lunchtime. The Tagus River Walk is a relatively new area slowly being revived. Bars, eateries, restaurants and cafes have popped up here, keen to grab some of the tourist crowd. A paved promenade built along the water is a continual hive of activity. Cycles, runners, walkers, skateboarders and even scooters share this area, wide enough for everyone to move freely without fear of a collision.
For a drink, try the Gastrobar Bar 38°41′, a bar attached to the Altis Belem Hotel. It’s open-air, has a river view and has some great cocktails on their list. It’s become quite the place to have a drink and watch the sun set.
We chose our lunch spot because it was housed in a shipping container. A rectangular, white box with sizeable river frontage, À Margem is the perfect spot for a drink or a casual lunch. There are tables inside, or as was our preference, one outside closer to the promenade. Now, remember, we’d already devoured six Pasteis de Belem, so lunch was always going to be a more moderate affair.
Paired with a crisp glass of Portuguese rosé, I chose a simple ham and cheese toastie from the reasonably straightforward menu consisting mainly of salads and sandwiches.
How long should I stay in Belem?
Historically, many visitors to this area would come from Lisbon for a few hours. But, Belem is growing, so there is enough to warrant spending at least one day in Belem. If you have the time, consider staying overnight to take advantage of the fabulous dining scene. To do all of the major sights and the museums and have some time to hang out along the waterfront, I’d recommend at least two days in Belem.
Where to stay in Belem?
Alternatively, staying in Lisbon is the more common option, where there are many hotels to choose from and only a short tram ride away.
How to get to Belem from Lisbon
The easiest way to get from Lisbon central to Belem is by bus or tram. Buses 727, 28, 729, 714 and 751 offer services to Belem. We caught the number 15 tram, which originates in Praça da Figueira. The main commercial square, Praça do Comércio, is also a stop, as is Cais do Sodré train station. Be sure to catch the tram heading in a westerly direction.
Tickets can be purchased on the tram at the ticket machine. Alternatively, a daily travel card covers all trips on the Lisbon public transport. It will be a better economic decision if you plan on catching a lot in one day or the Viva Viagem transport card.
Once you arrive in Belem, the two main stops, about a 30-minute ride from Lisbon, are Mosteiro Jeronimos – opposite the monastery and close to Pasteis de Belem and Largo da Princesa – closest to Belem Tower.
The train also runs from Lisbon to Belem. Catch it at Cais do Sodré and get off at Belem Station. Belem Train Station is in the middle of all the main attractions that we have put into our one-day itinerary for Belem. For this reason, we don’t recommend it as the best way of travelling if you are doing a self-guided walking tour. If you are doing a different itinerary or meeting up with a local guide, this may be the best spot for you to arrive at.
The Lisbon card (Lisboa card)
Like many major cities in Europe, a card can be purchased that offers unlimited transport and free or discounted admission to many of the incredible things to see and do in Lisbon and Belem. The Lisbon Card can be purchased for 24, 48 or 72-hour periods.
Free admission can be gained to the following attractions in Belem; Belem Tower and Jeronimo’s Monastery. Admission is also discounted for the Discoveries Monument, Belem Cultural Centre, Berardo’s Museum, etc. Plus, all transport from Lisbon to Belem is covered, meaning you could then hop on and off a few more buses and trams once you arrive at Belem.
Buy your Lisbon card here before your arrival in Lisbon. The time period only starts counting down when you use it for the first time.
Yes, it is. Catching a tram is the best way to get from Lisbon to Belem. You can read more about that in the article above.
Summer always draws the largest amount of visitors to Belem, which means that the queues will be worst at this time and especially during the middle of the day. When the cruise ships are running, it’s best to try and avoid those days. Summer is also very hot in Portugal, so it would be best to manage the amount of time spent queuing in the sun.
Only some of the significant attractions allow for advance purchase. You can buy skip the line tickets for Jeronimo’s Monastery here and tickets to the Belem Tower here. Alternatively, purchasing the Lisbon Card gives access to a number of the monuments in Belem too.
If you’ve made it as far as Lisbon, you should go to Belem. It’s a short tram ride from Lisbon and packed with impressive things to see, do and eat. Allow at least one day to visit Belem properly.
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