Continuing on with my Travel Portugal: Lisbon series, we’re going to travel approximately 10km west from the centre of Lisbon today, to the area of Belém.
If you decide to take transit to tour the city of Lisbon, like we did, the popular double-decker hop-on hop-off tourist buses have a few stops in Belém on their routes. We purchased a two-day pass on Yellow Bus Tours which included the Belém tour, and we took advantage of the marvellous stops on this route to take in all that Belém has to offer.
We first hopped off at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery). This 16th century architectural wonder is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Monument in Portugal and is on my “must-see” list.
The main public entrance is here, in between the Cloister (on the left) and the Church of St. Mary of Belém (on the right). If you are just wanting to visit the Church, the visit is free admission. However, with a reasonably priced paid admission, you can visit the cloisters, the High Choir, the Refectory and more!
In fact, we discovered that while buying your admission at the Jerónimos Monastery, you can buy a cheaper 2 for 1 admission ticket for €12 that also gives you admission to the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), and therefore you can avoid any possible long line-ups at the Tower (which is very common to see during the high tourist months).
Lisbon is known for it’s many days of sunshine and beautiful blue skies… and seeing it from this view inside the Monastery is spectacular!
All of a sudden a lovely choir started singing in a corner of the cloisters, adding to the peacefulness and meditation-like atmosphere.
Visit the High Choir above the Church of St. Mary of Belém to see different viewpoints of the church and it’s architecture.
The view of the High Choir as seen from the main floor of the Church….
The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is also where the tombs of two of the most important figures in Portuguese history are located. The first tomb belongs to Vasco Da Gama, who was the first explorer to navigate a maritime route from Europe to India.
The other tomb in the Church of St. Mary of Belém belongs to Luís de Camões, who was a great Portuguese poet and author of Os Lusíadas, an epic poem describing Vasco Da Gama’s maritime journey from Portugal to India.
As described on the website for the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos:
“In 1880 the remains of Vasco da Gama and the poet, Luís de Camões, were transferred to the Jerónimos Monastery. Their tombs, made by the sculptor Costa Mota, are now in the lower choir of the Monastery’s church. Vasco da Gama (on the left-hand side) and Luís de Camões (on the right-hand side) were the two most important representatives of this epic period in Portuguese history. They were given the honour of a final resting place amongst kings.”
After finishing your visit to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, take a short walk down the street, about a block and a half, to the famous Pastéis de Belém bakery and café. Even though it will look busy outside the doors, you can walk inside and past the front counters to the sitting areas in the back, where there is a large café with many tables to accommodate the large numbers of people who visit every day.
You will definitely want to enjoy a nice warm just-out-of-the-oven custard tart sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon, or as it’s called here, a pastel de Belém. Although these look like the traditional Portuguese pastel de nata (or just “nata”), these unique Pastéis de Belém are made with a secret recipe that actually began in 1837 in the Jerónimos Monastery. To find out more about their history, click on their website here.
Take a walk through the café and you will come across large viewing windows into the back where you can sit and drool while watching large trays of pastéis coming out of the ovens.
You can eat as many Pastéis de Belém as you can while visiting, or you can take some to-go for a snack for later. Or you could do both!! Either way, it’s definitely a necessity to stop in here while in Belém.
After you’ve filled your tummy with a nice espresso and a pastel (or two), you can continue walking down the main road to the next block, and past the Palácio Nacional de Belém (Belém Palace), which is also the official residence of the President of the Portuguese Republic.
You can then wait at the nearest stop for Yellow Bus Tours so that you can get on the next bus that goes by and takes you further along the Belém route. The next stop to hop-off at is at the Torre de Belém (Belém Tower), yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This stunning monument was completed in the 16th century as it was commissioned to be built in order to protect the city of Lisbon, which had become one of the world’s main trade hubs.
With the 2 for 1 ticket you bought at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, you will be able to go right to the entry, as usually the long lineups found here are actually lines for buying entry tickets.
You can go on your own self-guided tour, and take your time exploring all of the levels in this historic fortified tower.
The next stop on the Belém route where you should definitely hop-off is at the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries); just down the Tejo river from the Torre de Belém, this newer monument in the city was actually built in 1940 for the Portuguese World Expo.
“To Prince Henry and the Portuguese that Discovered the Sea Routes”
The total height of this monument is 56 metres, or almost 184 feet. Here is my son standing in front of it, just so you can see the scale…. It really is enormous and stunning.
The website for the Monument to the Discoveries describes it best:
“A stylised caravel seems to be setting out to sea, with Henry the Navigator in its prow. On the two lateral ramps ascending to the symbolic figure of the Infante are some of the major figures of the Portuguese overseas expansion and cultural figures from the age of the Discoveries, 32 in total, all portrayed with symbols that allude to their identity: navigators, cartographers, warriors, colonisers, missionaries, chroniclers and artists.
Composed of a vertical element consisting of a stylised mast oriented North–South, with two Portuguese coats of arms on each side with its five small shields, surrounded by a band with 12 castles and stylised fleurs-de-lis in the centre.
On each side are three triangular structures, each with one curved side, giving the illusion of sails blown out by the wind.”
Belém has so much more to see, especially if you love to visit museums. All of the following museums are located just in the Belém area:
- Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum)
- Museu da Marinha (Maritime Museum)
- Museu Nacional de Etnologia (National Museum of Ethnology)
- Museu do Combatente (Combatant’s Museum)
- Museu de Arte Popular (Popular Art Museum)
- Museu Nacional de Arqueologia (National Museum of Archaeology)
- Palácio Nacional da Ajuda (National Palace of Ajuda)
- MAAT – Museu Arte Arquitetura Tecnologia (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology)
Whew! Sorry for the long post, but the beauty and history of Lisbon and the vast amounts of things to see and do should be shared with anyone looking for an amazing place to visit and that’s what I hope to do!
Stay tuned for part 4…Yes, there is still more to see and experience in Lisboa!