Although Belém is technically a suburb to Lisbon, I decided to grant the grand place its own chapter.
|From protection to icon: The Tower of Belém.|
Belém – whose name is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem – is packed with all these amazingly beautiful structures on an area as small as 4 square miles and definitely a must-see when visiting Lisbon.
If you aren’t driving, you’ll probably get here either by the regional train that connects Lisbon and Estoril, but there are also buses and a tram, so it’s really easy to travel the less than 10 km / 6 miles from Lisbon’s center.
Depending on from where you arrive at the Belém station, you might first want to go to the MAAT. The thing is that you cannot cross the freeway-ish road wherever you please. There are two bridges and a tunnel – other than that, you stay on that side of the road that you’re on. This freeway is so large, that it actually consists of two roads, the Avenida Brasília and the Avenida India. Arriving from Lisbon, you have to cross the road over the bridge to get to the MAAT, the Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia, i. e. Coming from Estoril, you’re already there.
Open Wednesday to Monday from 11 a. m. to 7 p. m.
Ok, after you’ve visited the MAAT, this side of the road has nothing much to offer so cross over the bridge and stroll towards the Jardim Alfonso de Albuquerque where Mr. de Albuquerque himself is welcoming you.
|Jardim Alfonso de Albuquerque. The light pink building in the background is the Museu Presidencia da Republica, the|
There are three interesting museums around this manicured garden: Museu Nacional dos Coches, the coach museum, the Salao Belas Artes, an art gallery showing contemporary art – probably the least known in all Belém, and Museu Presidencia da Republica.
|A fascinating collection of coaches at the Museu Nacional dos Coches.
(Photo: Geerd-Olaf Freyer from Aachen, Deutschland, Museu Nacional dos Coches (4904043960), cropped to 1102×735, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 5.30 p. m.
Open daily except Wednesday and Sunday from 3 p. m. to 7 p. m.
|The museum is dealing with Portugal’s historic and political development since it has become a Republic in 1910.
(Photo: Therese C, Museu da Presidência da República (1) – Jul 2008, cropped to 1102×735, CC BY 2.0)
Museu Presidencia da Republica
Palácio de Belém
Praça Afonso de Albuquerque
Phone: + 351 – 213 614 660
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.
Walking from the Presidencia da Republica towards the most glorious of Belem’s sights Monasterio do Jeronimo, the Jeronimo Monastery, don’t miss the pastry shop Pastéis de Belém.
|As we all know, food is an important part of a country’s culture. Natas should be on Portugal’s flag!
(Photo: Jpatokal, MargaretCafe PasteisDeNata, cropped to 1102×735, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Actually, usually, you cannot miss it since there is a very long queue of people waiting for their turn to sample the world famous – and heavenly delicious – natas, Portugal’s most iconic cup cakes.
|Monasterio do Jeronimo.|
After a majestic snack, an even more majestic building: Dominating/crowning the Praca do Imperio is this huge white lavishly decorated building, the Monasterio do Jeronimo. The church and the monastery were commissioned by Manuel I around 1459 on the site of the older church – which is very often the case in Portugal. They have an excellent exhibition on Portugal’s history in relation to these houses of worship.
|The archway on the monastery’s upper floor.|
The church’s ground floor can be visited for free – here is also Vasca da Gama’s tomb., To visit the upper part, you need a ticket since it’s only accessible through the monastery.
|This is where Vasco da Gama was laid to rest.|
|The grand facade of the Santa Maria de Belém church,
part of the Jeronimo monastery complex
Visiting the monastery is worth every cent, and it’s worth the wait – yet you can cut the lines a bit by getting there either really early or rather late, at around 5 p. m. since that’s when the groups are gone.
Before you continue your walk through Belém, make sure to take a good look at the outer facade of the Santa Maria de Belém church designed by Boytac and located on the monastery’s east corner facing the river.
On the monastery’s west side, the Museu de Marinha, dealing with maritime matters, and the Planetario Calouste Goulbenkian can be visited. This planetarium was named after the great businessman and philanthropist who also founded the Calouste Goulbenkian Collection located in the neighborhood of the Praça da Espanha in Lisbon.
|The Centro Cultural de Belém. I love how it’s built in such a modern, minimalist style but is perfectly adapted to the ancient buildings by being made from this light stones.|
Another wealthy do-gooder was businessman and art collector José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo who donated his impressive collection of modern art to the Museu Coleção Berardo. Today, it can be visited – on Saturdays for free! – on the premises of the Centro Cultural de Belém, the Cultural Center, presenting also other arts such as concerts and spectacles.
Museu Coleção Berardo
Praça do Império
Phone: + 351 – 213 612 878
Open daily from 10 a. m. to 7 p. m. – and entrance is free on Saturdays!
|A warm welcome to the Berardo by Niki Saint-Phalle’s Les Beigneuses|
After you’ve seen this venue, you think that’s it regarding art in Belém? Well, you stand so corrected!
|Great architecture on the outside, great archeologic founds inside.|
On the same side of the road is the Centro de Archeologia de Lisboa, Lisbon Archeology Center, and the Galeria Avenida da Índia, worth a visit if you are into the alternative art scene.
To cross to the southern side of the Avenidas, you either have to walk back to the Jardim da Praca do Imperio, the one with the huge fountain.
|The princess fountain – on its day off.|
Or you keep on walking to the next bridge that crosses at the Jardim de Torre de Belém, the park adjacent to the famous Belém tower.
The tower was built on a basaltic outcropping of rocks in the Tagus river so till today you can WATEN through the mud and across the slippery stones halfway around – which is popular with young ‘influencers’.
|Another good spot to have a great view.|
The tower can be visited and climbed – and keep in mind that there is a combi-ticket that grants you access to the monastery, too.
Further west behind the Jardim is another museum, the Museu do Combatante, dealing with all the supposedly heroic actions of the Portuguese – a topic I’m not really fond of.
|Definitely my cup of tea: The Museu do Combatante – honoring…and also glorifying…Portuguese warriors.
(Photo: xiquinhosilva from Cacau, Forte do Bom Sucesso 33125-Lisbon (36302532896), cropped to 1102×735, CC BY 2.0)
Tired now? If you keep on walking west for about 1,5 km / 1 mile, you’ll get to the Algés station where you can take the regional train back to Lisbon. Or you hit the Praia de Algés for a while, Algés’ small yet nice beach on the river Tagus.
|On the shores of the river Tagus.|
But don’t think you’ve seen it all – you are still missing one of the most popular sights in Belém, the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, a picture that shouldn’t be missing in any Portugal photo album. This sight, too, can be accessed.
I know you’re tired – and for a reason. The good news is: We’re done! But I’m sure that although you might be exhausted, you had a wonderful day – or two – here in marvelous Belém.
|Saying bye to Belém and its heroes.|
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