Belem Walking Tour (Self Guided), Lisbon

Also known as Santa Maria de Belem, this district not far from the city center lines the Tagus River and is the original location of Lisbon's port – the epicenter to India, Brazil, Africa and the rest of today's known world. Beautifully aged, Belem is a masterpiece of architectural marvels and art at every corner. Notable among its historic and cultural landmarks are the Belem Tower, world-class museums, parks, as well as the UNESCO-listed Jeronimos Monastery and the 25 de April Bridge, often compared to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Take this self-guided 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 the city of Lisbon from enemies, the Forte do Bom Sucesso is located near the Belém Tower and houses a museum summing up much of Portugal's military history, as well as a visually-striking monument to Portuguese soldiers who served overseas – a place for quiet contemplation about the costs of military conflict.

The fort was constructed as a defense post and completed in 1782, having been fitted with different types of artillery to strengthen its defense capabilities. The League of Combatants-run museum focuses on Portugal's overseas wars but also uses a fantastic model aircraft collection to good effect (and well presented in English). Jorge Gameiro has created and designed a stunning exhibition – "The Trench" – which, at full (3D) scale, shows aspects of life inside a trench in The Great War. Beyond the courtyards at the back is a room with photographic displays about overseas exploits, but also a valuable collection of military art and offices where official visitors are received. Regular visitors pay a modest entrance fee.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am–6pm
Belem Tower (Torre de Belem)

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

Belém Tower or the "Tower of St Vincent" is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery) because of the significant role it played in the Portuguese Age of Discoveries. Commissioned by King John II to be part of a defense system at the mouth of the Tagus River, as well a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon, the fortified tower was erected in the early 16th century and is a prominent example of the Portuguese Manueline style, but also incorporates hints of other architectural styles. It was built from a beige-white limestone local to the Lisbon area and thereabouts called Lioz.

Touristy? Absolutely! But still a not-to-miss on clear days. The site is picture-perfect, well maintained and just amazing for its history. The biggest draw is climbing to the top via a very narrow spiral staircase. Locals play music and sell goods outside. There is a large park nearby to hang out, eat a picnic lunch, or let the kids run.

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, buy your ticket online or at a kiosk in the adjacent park to bypass the lengthy queue. A Lisbon Card will have you queueing with everyone else (but, at least, you won't have to pay the entrance fee!).

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
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)

At the heart of Belém, there are two adjacent gardens in which to relax: the Praça do Império and the Jardim Vasco de Gama. The first is geometrically shaped with flashes of Portuguese imperial splendor: a small maze, manicured hedges, and a large central water-feature with its impressive fountain. Beautifully laid out, it's a great place for a sit and to watch the world go by. From its epicenter, you can see the surrounding buildings, one of which is the majestic Jeronimos Monastery, generally considered to be the "jewel in the crown" of Manueline architecture (if you're clever, you can find places to strategically snap pictures using the trees and bushes to cover the buses and people). To the east you have the Pastéis de Belém, to the south – the Monument to the Discoveries, and finally to the west the Belém Cultural Center/Berardo Collection Museum. Always a nice addition in combination with the landmarks nearby!

Hang out by the fountain and let the wind give you a refreshing shower :)
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

A pleasant park with lakes, waterfowl and lots of birds (ducks, geese, peacocks) that attracts surprisingly few visitors, the Jardim Botanico Tropical was established in the early 20th century by King Charles I, focusing on trees and rare plants from the tropical and subtropical regions, many of which are endangered. Among the most interesting species here are the dragon trees (natives from the Canary Islands and Madeira, Araucaria) and a beautiful avenue of Washington palms.

The oriental garden with ponds, bridges and hibiscus includes a large gate that represented Chinese Macao in the Portuguese World Exhibition held in 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 which, despite its small size, displays some interesting pieces (clothing and porcelain among others).

Take time to leisurely walk around the wide paths and enjoy some fresh air.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
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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