Belem Walking Tour, Lisbon

Belem Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lisbon

Also known as Santa Maria de Belem, the district of Belém is one of the most visited in Lisbon. Situated not far from the city center, it lines the Tagus River and is the original location of Lisbon's port – the starting point of the many great voyages of discovery by Portuguese explorers, such as Vasco da Gama – departed from here for India in 1497, and Pedro Álvares Cabral – for Brazil in 1499.

Perhaps Belém's most famous feature is its tower, Torre de Belém (Belem Tower). Built as a fortified lighthouse on the small rocky outcropping along the northern margin of the Tagus River, late in the reign of Dom Manuel l (1515–1520), it used to guard entrance to the port, as well as partly defended another major historical site, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery) built by Henry the Navigator to support pilgrims coming to the region. Located along Praça do Império (Empire Square), presently, the monastery is a UNESCO-listed location and a home to the Museu da Marinha (Navy Museum), among other things.

Belém is a concentration of national monuments and a mixture of historical buildings and modern symbols of Portuguese culture. The district's most notable modern feature is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) inaugurated in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. Another key local monument is that to the Combatants of the Portuguese Colonial Wars.

Belém is also famous as a museum district, accommodating a host of world-class museums, among which there are the Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum) and the Museu Colecção Berardo (Berardo Collection Museum).

Amid the juxtaposition of famous locations is the famous pastry shop Fábrica de Pasteis de Belém, known for a specific Portuguese egg tart pastry: pastel de Belém (pastéis de Belém).

For a closer acquaintance with the architectural marvels and cultural delights of this beautiful part of the Portuguese capital, take our self-guided walking tour and enjoy Belem at its best!
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Belem Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Belem Walking Tour
Guide Location: Portugal » Lisbon (See other walking tours in Lisbon)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: ann
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Forte do Bom Sucesso / Museu de Combatente
  • Belem Tower (Torre de Belem)
  • Monument to the Discoveries / Rosa-dos-Ventos
  • Praca do Imperio (Empire Square)
  • Belem Cultural Center
  • Berardo Collection Museum
  • Navy Museum (Museu de Marinha)
  • Jeronimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery)
  • Tropical Botanical Garden
  • Pasteis de Belem (Belem pastries)
  • National Coach Museum
Forte do Bom Sucesso / Museu de Combatente

1) Forte do Bom Sucesso / Museu de Combatente

Once used to defend Lisbon from enemies, the Forte do Bom Sucesso houses a museum that sums up much of Portugal's military history. Found nearby is a visually-striking monument to Portuguese soldiers who fought overseas – a place for quiet contemplation about the costs of military conflicts.

The Fort was constructed as a defense post, from 1780 to 1782, under the direction of General Guilherme de Vallerée, and had been fitted with different types of artillery to strengthen its military capability. A residence for the Fort governor, inside the perimeter, was added soon after. The polygonal outline of the Fort follows that of the right bank of the River Tagus.

During the Portuguese Colonial War (1961 – 1975) the Fort served as the headquarters of the Military Postal Service. After the Carnation Revolution on 25 April 1974, which overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, it hosted the Command of the Military Intervention Group, a body set up by the Revolutionary Council to maintain law and order. Later, it was the headquarters of the Association of 25th of April, an organization that brought together the members of the military who initiated the Carnation Revolution.

On January 13, 1999, the Fort was officially handed over to the Portuguese League of Combatants. The League-run museum offers a permanent exhibition indoors, as well as three external areas with equipment related to the various branches of the Armed Forces. The permanent exhibition covers World War I, the colonial campaigns (known in Portugal as the overseas campaigns), and peacekeeping missions. The museum also has social areas, conference and projection rooms, as well as a bar.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–6pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Belem Tower (Torre de Belem)

2) Belem Tower (Torre de Belem) (must see)

Belém Tower, officially the Tower of Saint Vincent (Portuguese: Torre de São Vicente) is a 16th-century fortification, composed of a bastion and a four-storey tower on the north side, which served as a point of embarkation and disembarkation for Portuguese explorers and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon.

Built during the height of the Portuguese Renaissance, the tower, commissioned by King John II, is considered one of the principal works of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style. The beige-white limestone used for its construction is local to the Lisbon area and thereabouts called Lioz.

The tower stands 12 meters (39 ft) wide and 30 meters (98 ft) tall. The first-floor interior contains the Sala do Governador (Governor's Hall). On the second floor, the Sala dos Reis (King's Hall) opens to the loggia overlooking the river, while a small corner fireplace extends from this floor to the third floor fireplace in the Sala das Audiências (Audience Hall).

It has been incorrectly stated that the tower was built in the middle of the Tagus and now sits near the shore because the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In fact, the tower was built on a small island in the river near the Lisbon shore right away.

Since 1983, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. The tower is often portrayed as a symbol of Europe's Age of Discoveries and as a metonym for Portugal or Lisbon, given its landmark status.

The biggest draw here is climbing to the top via a very narrow spiral staircase.
Unless you're lucky to arrive at a short line, it's best to admire from the outside garden versus investing too much time in line to enter. If you insist on getting inside, though, buy your ticket online or at a kiosk, in the adjacent park, to bypass the lengthy queue. A Lisbon Card will have you queuing with everyone else (but, at least, you won't have to pay the entrance fee!).

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Monument to the Discoveries / Rosa-dos-Ventos

3) Monument to the Discoveries / Rosa-dos-Ventos

Designed as a temporary beacon for the 1940 Portuguese World Fair, the Monument to the Discoveries is one of the great symbols of Lisbon and a romantic idealization of the nation's past, celebrating those who took part in the Age of Discovery, or the Age of Exploration, of the 15th and 16th centuries, thereby dispelling man's fear of the unknown.

Located on the estuary of the Tagus river in Belém, wherefrom ships once departed to frequently unknown destinations, it consists of a 52-meter-high slab of concrete carved into the shape of the prow of a ship, with the side facing away from the river featuring a carved sword that stretches the monument's full height.

Brilliant views are abundant from the top observation deck (€5 fee). A good zoom is a must to capture the amazing city panorama: Tagus river, the '25 de Abril' bridge, the statue of Christ the King, Belém Tower, and the Jerónimos Monastery.

Don't forget to also take a look at the "Rosa-dos-Ventos" at the base of the monument, consisting of a wind rose and the elaborate mosaics-laid map of the Portuguese world discoveries, with the nation's most important overseas possessions marked and bearing the date of the respective discovery. Even though it was not a part of the original monument, and was inaugurated 20 years later following the latter's opening, it looks and feels – thematically and aesthetically – as an inherent component and continuation. As one would expect, Portugal is at the center of the world!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–7pm, last admission: 6:30pm (Mar–Sep);
Daily: 10am–6pm, last admission: 5:30pm (Oct–Feb)
Closes January 1; May 1; December 25th
Praca do Imperio (Empire Square)

4) Praca do Imperio (Empire Square)

Praça do Império (Empire Square) is a city square and park situated to the south of the Monastery of Santa Maria de Belém and west of the Centro Cultural de Belém.

Between 23 June and 2 December 1940, Lisbon hosted the Exposição do Mundo Português (Portuguese World Exposition) which implied, among other efforts, an urbanization plan for Belém area and Praça do Império in particular, previously known as "Praia do Restelo".

The rectangular 175×175 meters (574×574 ft) square consists of successive quadrangles, that structure the space into passages and green spaces. These converge in the central illuminated fountain on a square platform, covering an area of 3,300 square meters (36,000 sq ft). On the extreme edges of the southern part of the square, along the Avenida da Índia, there are hippocamp statues (seahorses), over reflecting pools.

The seahorse sculptures were created by António Duarte. The Palácio do Ultramar (Overseas Palace), on the eastern edge of the park, designed by architects Cristino da Silva and Jacques Carlu, was begun in 1952. In 1973, a commemorative monument to the poet Augusto Gil (1873-1929), featuring a bronze medallion and inscription by the municipal council of Lisbon, was installed.

Outside the central fountain there are coats of arms belonging or attributed to navigators during the period of the Discoveries. The gardens feature 30 floral coats of arms representing 18 Portuguese districts, archipelagos and former colonies, complete with the crosses of Christ and Avis. There is also a national emblem, made with boxwood and flowers.

Plans to remove the floral coats of arms, in 2016, were heavily criticized by the local public and politicians, and therefore abandoned.

On a hot summer day, hang out by the fountain and let the wind give you a refreshing shower.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Belem Cultural Center

5) Belem Cultural Center

Portugal's largest building with facilities for events and cultural purposes, the Belém Cultural Center was originally built to accommodate the EU's offices when the country assumed presidency in 1992. Designed by Italian architect Vittorio Gregotti and Portuguese architect Manuel Salgado, it won the International Stone Architecture Award at the Verona Fair in 1993.

With a built-up space of 97,000 sq m, the BCC is light, spacious and very airy, making many other major art galleries seem cramped and a bit confined in comparison. An impressive collection of modern and contemporary art from the 1960s to the present, rich with art pieces (including by the likes of Picasso and Warhol) is further enhanced by frequent visiting exhibitions and live outdoor shows or indoor concerts – albeit the sheer aesthetic treat of the interior is wonderful in itself.

The lines of the building are fantastic, and even the exterior – including walkways and gardens overlooking the waterfront – are worthy of praise. One of the gardens has grass "waves" where you can sit on beanbags under the olive trees and admire the marvelous views of the river, the '25 de Abril' bridge (built by the same designer as the Golden Gate in San Francisco) and the Christo Rei statue; the other garden has a great Henry Moore sculpture that just seems to fit. There's also a bar and a restaurant, or you can go to the small café near the gift shop to enjoy some excellent rolls and pastries.

Check the schedule if you want to join a workshop or go to an evening-time concert here. Also, visit on a Saturday to benefit from free admission to the Berardo Collection Museum, the "Most Visited Museum in Portugal" (April 2019).

Opening Hours:
[BCC] Mon-Fri: 8am–8pm; Sat, Sun, Holidays: 10am–6pm
[Berardo Museum] Daily: 10am–7pm (last entry: 6:30pm)
Berardo Collection Museum

6) Berardo Collection Museum (must see)

Over 500 artists from the 20th and 21st centuries are represented in this impressive repository of modern art. The permanent exhibits at The Berardo Museum are the collection by Portuguese millionaire, Jose Berardo, one of the biggest and richest Portuguese entrepreneurs and an avid art collector.

The museum is located at the Exhibition Center of the Centro Cultural de Belém and was inaugurated on June 25, 2007. Its present collection comprises over 1000 works of art on permanent display and temporary exhibitions.

The programming of the museum is guided by the rotation of various artistic movements that integrate the collection of works from the collection valued by the auction house Christie's at €316 million. The museum's collection is representative of the fine arts of the 20th century and early 21st century, especially European and American art. The collection covers major movements from surrealism to pop art, hyper-realism, minimalist art to conceptual art, presented in various media. It covers Portuguese modern and contemporary art in particular. There is also a museum shop where exhibition catalogs and books on contemporary art are available.

Why You Should Visit:
A good place to help you fathom the continuing enigma of modern art.
The exhibits are beautifully and imaginatively staged in an equally impressive building.
The lower floors contain nice temporary exhibits, and the upper floors contain a thorough trip through contemporary (mostly) European art history.

When you're ready for tea/coffee or lunch, visit the cafe in the adjacent conference centre, which is uncrowded and good value.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-7pm
Navy Museum (Museu de Marinha)

7) Navy Museum (Museu de Marinha)

Since Portugal is the best-known seafaring nation in the world, it is only natural to showcase the history of its new-world explorers who not only discovered trade routes but were also the authors of the earliest form of globalization through world trade. Museum de Marinha's first section does just that and more, bringing a novel overview over Portugal's maritime empire with astonishing paintings, detailed accounts over the navy's history, in addition to eye-catching miniatures of the boats and ships developed over time – but make sure you have enough energy saved for the rest of the visit!

The final pavilion with some exquisite full-sized barges and sailboats used to transport royalty on various trips – both leisure and business – is not to be missed. There are also a few very historic aircraft, including the seaplane that crossed the Atlantic in 1922. At the end of the tour, you will be guided to a good souvenir shop which is also in connection to a café that serves small meals (make sure you have seen everything before entering the café/shop as you cannot go back).

Usually not too busy and with affordable regular prices, the museum is free of charge on the first Sunday of the month.

Why You Should Visit:
Wonderfully laid out and spacious, with interesting and informative displays as well as useful English descriptions of most exhibits. Highly recommended for those fond of ships, geography, discoveries, exploration and learning!

The surroundings comprise a range of historico-cultural facilities, such as the Vasco da Gama Aquarium, the Frigate Fernando II & Gloria and the Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium, which can all be visited separately.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–8pm (May–Sep); 10am–5pm (Oct–Apr)
Jeronimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery)

8) Jeronimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery) (must see)

The Hieronymites Monastery (otherwise known as the Jerónimos Monastery) was constructed in 1601 to commemorate the historic voyage of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama and to thank the Virgin Mary for his success (he was the first European to travel to India by sea). The monastery took precisely 100 years to complete, upon which it was given to the order of San Jerónimo, whose duty was to pray for the King and give guidance to sailors setting out to discover sea routes and new lands. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Monument in 1983, it remains a symbol of Portugal's might and wealth during the Age of Discovery.

Featuring the finest examples of what came to be known as Manueline style, incorporating many an element vital for the Golden Age of the then fast expanding Portuguese Empire, such as nautical ornaments (ropes, compasses, etc.) carved in the pastel-colored limestone, the amazing double-layered cloister, the ornate arches of the open passageway surrounding the cloister, the Church of Santa Maria with its imposing southern portal crowned by – fittingly – a statue of St Mary, the refectory of the monastery and the Lion Fountain outside of it, and then the tombstone of the Portugal's greatest poets, explorers, kings, and politicians (from Vasco da Gama to Luís de Camões, and from King Manuel I to the leading modernist Fernando Pessoa), all of the above and more most certainly merit a separate visit of at least 2 to 3 hours duration.

Why You Should Visit:
Unexpected beauty for a monastery; you could wander for hours just taking in all the elaborate decoration of the stone. Even with lots of people, it does not feel crowded, and there's an excellent display explaining everything in both PRT/ENG.

If you face the main entrance, the queue for tickets is on the LEFT. Better yet, purchase your 'joint' ticket at the Archaeological Museum nearby. It will cost you €2 more but avoids the usually long queue for the 'just the monastery' ticket as well as allowing access to the Archaeological Museum.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–6:30pm, last entry: 6pm (May–Sep); 10am–5:30pm, last entry: 5pm (Oct–Apr)
Closed: Mondays and January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, June 13th, December 25th
Tropical Botanical Garden

9) Tropical Botanical Garden

The Tropical Botanical Garden in Lisbon, also known as Jardim do Ultramar, is a pleasant park specialized in rare tropical and subtropical trees and plants, many of which are endangered. Overall, it features over 700 species from different continents. Among the most curious ones are the dragon trees, native to the Canary Islands and Madeira, araucarias and a beautiful avenue of Washingtonia palm trees.

As part of its heritage, the garden holds a population of birds: ducks, geese, chickens and peacocks.

The park was created, as a Colonial Garden, in 1906 by King Carlos I. Its Main Greenhouse was built in 1914, in iron and glass, reflecting the taste of the time. During the Portuguese World Exhibition of 1940, an alternative, more modernist façade was created, in line with the spirit of the exhibition, and ended up being the largest pavilion in the colonies, reserved for Angola and Mozambique.

One of the oldest sculptures within the garden is a bas-relief dating from 1644, which is currently located next to the central staircase that gives access to the garden of Palácio dos Condes da Calheta. This one features the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Portugal, surmounted by a crown and flanked by the flags of the Society of Jesus and the Cross of Christ, as well as by two Evangelists.

The oriental garden with ponds, bridges and hibiscus includes a large gate that represented Chinese Macao in the Portuguese World Exhibition of 1940, while in the Palace of the Counts of Calheta – an 18th-century mansion with an interior covered with tiles that date back three centuries – you will find the Museum of Tropical Research. The latter, despite its small size, displays as many as 50,000 dried plants and 2,414 wood samples from Africa, Brazil, Japan, China and Australia, as well as other interesting pieces (e.g. clothing and porcelain).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Pasteis de Belem (Belem pastries)

10) Pasteis de Belem (Belem pastries)

During Portuguese medieval history, Portugal's convents and monasteries produced large quantities of eggs, whose egg-whites were in demand for starching of clothes (such as nuns' habits) and also in wineries (for the clearing of wines, such as Porto). It was quite common for these monasteries and convents to produce many confections with the leftover egg yolks, resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country, including 'pastéis de nata' – the iconic cream-filled little pies thought to be originally created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery.

Following the expulsion of religious orders, and later the closing of many religious establishments in the aftermath of the 1820 Liberal Revolution, the production of 'pastéis de nata' passed to the Casa Pastéis de Belém nearby. It was this association with the parish of Santa Maria de Belém that resulted in its popular name: Pastéis de Belém. In order to keep producing the secret and distinct recipe, the former religious clerics patented and registered the confection, while contracting the Antiga Confeiteira de Belém, Lda. to produce the pastries. The secret was transmitted to five master pastry chefs who guarded the original recipe under the Oficina do Segredo, and later passed to familial descendants.

Since 1837, locals and visitors to Lisbon have visited the bakery to purchase fresh-from-the-oven pastéis, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Their popularity and affordability normally result in long lines, so instead of queueing for a table, you might as well take the standing option at the bar or order to go (separate line; 4/6/10/12 pieces). With its original furniture and charming old-world style, the location is outstanding, so you might want to come early to enjoy it in peace.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–11pm
National Coach Museum

11) National Coach Museum

The Museu Nacional dos Coches was created in 1905 by Queen Amélia to house an extensive collection of carriages belonging to the Portuguese royal family and nobility. Its collection – by far the finest and most extensive you'll see anywhere in the world – gives a full picture of the development of carriages from the late 16th through the 19th centuries, with carriages made in Italy, Portugal, France, Spain, Austria and England.

Among its rarest items is a late 16th/early 17th-century traveling coach used by King Philip II of Portugal (Philip III of Spain) to come from Spain to Portugal in 1619. There are also several pompous Baroque 18th-century carriages decorated with paintings and exuberant gilt woodwork, the most impressive of these being a ceremonial coach given by Pope Clement XI to King John V in 1715, and the three coaches of the Portuguese ambassador to Pope Clement XI, built in Rome in 1716.

The museum's original location – the Royal Riding Hall of Belém – has a few coaches along with early emergency response vehicles, while the new modern location nearby houses about 70 or more coaches of all sizes and purposes. For each of these, there are full explanations in Portuguese, English, French, and Spanish, while interactive displays allow you to even "see" their insides from different angles!

Why You Should Visit:
Definitely the best museum of its kind in the world.
That so many coaches have been preserved, then restored and displayed so effectively is incredible!

Don't forget to drop by the older second building just a block away from the new one. The interior is worth the trip.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–6pm

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