The Tower of Belem is on every list of things to do when you visit Lisbon, but it’s not exactly in Lisbon. Belem is actually about five miles from the vibrant, seven-hilled center and it’s its own charming little escape from the hustle and bustle.
You’ll probably want to take a bus or taxi to get there. And if you’re going to make that sort of a trip (which takes around thirty minutes after factoring in a walk-and-wait to catch a bus) you might as well spend a little more time seeing what’s good with the surrounding area.
I didn’t put too much planning into this mini adventure because I hadn’t taken into account the distance between my base in Baixa and the iconic Tower. Only once a friend informed me about Pasteis de Belem was I prompted to make the trip.
In hindsight, I’m glad I went. However, I thought there would be more to the town when I hopped on the bus to Belem. The reason I bring this up is to give a recommendation – plan your trip ahead of time. It doesn’t take much effort, but know what you want to do and see. Do it. Then head back to the city center of Lisbon, especially if you don’t have a lot of time in the city. I would say you need about half of a day to see the coolest parts of Belem, while there isn’t much surrounding the area to explore. Nonetheless, go for it and cross the outskirts of this amazing city off of your bucketlist!
Pasteis de Belem
Wow, as a pastry chef, did I feel silly for not realizing just how famous this shop was beforehand for their old custard tart recipe. I’m thrilled to have made it there because those little cups of creamy magic were hands down the best I tried in Lisbon – and yes, I sampled pastel de nata all over that damn city, so you can hold me to that.
The line outside looks intimidating but it moved rather quickly. Use your time in line to look at a map and get a sense of where everything is in relation to you! The buses that drop off and pick up in Belem go right to the block that this shop is on, so make it your first stop and get a sleeve of six pastels to snack on throughout your journey.
Pasteis de Belem: R. de Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisboa, Portugal
Saint Jeronimos Monastery
I didn’t actually make it into the Monastery, but I wish I had. The building, even just from the outside, is magnificent. Many people visit Lisbon just for this, so if it’s your cup of tea, know that it’s easy to get to once you’re in Belem. The entrance is less than a five minute walk from Pasteis de Belem.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos is a monument commemorating the Portuguese Age of Discovery. At its base are various influential figures from the age of discovery, including Henry the Navigator. It sits along the Tagus River with an impressive plaza at its base.
I recommend visiting this, as it’s a sight to behold from the ground, but further, you can pay about five euros to ride an elevator to the top, where an outdoor platform permits priceless views of the Tagus, the 25 de Abril Bridge, Jeronimo’s Monastery and the surrounding area of Belem. I thought this may have been a bit of a steep price, but without a lot on my to-do list that day, I figured why the hell not? And I absolutely did not regret it.
Bring a hair tie.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos Exposition
Along with the price of your ticket to the top comes admission into the underground museum below the monument. The theme of the exhibition on display during my visit was… well… monsters. And it was the COOLEST museum I’d ever seen.
Why was this relevant? Because monsters were depicted in literature and journals of travelers during the Age of Exploration, particularly in the context of the sea. As a result of the knowledge and advancements in science gained through exploration, the true nature of so-called monsters were explained and demystified. The museum was interesting, regardless, as one was provided a glimpse into the perspectives which predated scientific explanations. From journal entries to drawings to academic papers and actual specimens of bizarre monster-like species, it was a hit.
The Tower of Belem
The tower was a beautiful sight to end the trip to Belem with. It really was a unique structure and I hadn’t seen anything like that in my previous travels – it’s in the water for crying out loud!
You can follow a path from the Padrão dos Descobrimentos to reach the tower, taking you past the marina full of gorgeous sailboats (if you know me, you know I felt right at home walking past this) and along the Tagus River.
Along this path, you can get great views of the 25 de Abril Bridge – which looks just like the Golden Gate. I’d recommend spending some time at the Tower just to watch it in all its strength stand firm against the wicked Tagus waves.
What did you think of Belem? What did I miss & how can one prepare for a tiny trip like this? Comment below!