Guide to BELÉM – Lisbon’s Treasure Box

Guide to Belém – which is, technically, a suburb to Lisbon but definitely the city’s treasure box.

Tower of Belém.
From protection to an icon: The Tower of Belém.

Therefore, this glorious place definitely deserves its own guide.

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 there either by the regional train that connects Lisbon with Estoril, but there are also buses and a tram, so it’s really easy to travel the less than 10 kilometers from Lisbon’s center.

Left Or Right?

Depending on which side you are coming from when you arrive at the Belém station, you might first want to go to the MAAT.

As a matter of fact, you cannot cross the freeway-ish road wherever you please. However, there are two bridges and a tunnel. But nothing more. This freeway is so large, that it actually consists of two roads, the Avenida Brasília and the Avenida India.

For instance, coming from Lisbon, you have to cross the road over the bridge to get to the MAAT, the Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia. However, coming from Estoril, you’re already on the right side.

MAAT
Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
Avenida Brasília
1300-598 Lisboa
Phone: + 351 – 210 – 028 130
Email: maat@edp.pt 

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. In the background is the Museu Presidencia da Republica, the
Jardim Alfonso de Albuquerque. The light pink building in the background is the Museu Presidencia da Republica, the

Around the Jardim Alfonso de Albuquerque

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, finally, the Museu Presidencia da Republica.

Museu Nacional dos Coches in Belem
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)

Museu Nacional dos Coches
Avenida da Índia 136
1300-300 Lisbon
Phone: + 351 – 210 – 732 319
Email: geral@mncoches.dgpc.pt

Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a. m. to 5.30 p. m.

Salao Belas Artes
Rua do Embaixador 126A
1300-598 Lisbon
Phone: + 351 – 926 – 253 297
Email: salaobartes@gmail.com

Open daily except Wednesday and Sunday from 3 p. m. to 7 p. m.

Museu Presidencia da Republica in Belem
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
1349-022 Lisbon
Phone: + 351 – 213 614 660
Eail: museu@presidencia.pt

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.

Natas do Belem
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 cupcakes.

Monasterio do Jeronimo in Belem
Monasterio do Jeronimo.

Monasterio do Jeronimo

After a majestic snack, an even more majestic building: The Praca do Imperio is crowned by the huge, white, and lavishly decorated building, the Monasterio do Jeronimo.

The church and the monastery were commissioned by Manuel I around 1459 on the site of an older church. This, by the way, is very customary in Portugal. They also have an excellent exhibition on Portugal’s history in relation to these houses of worship.

Monasterio do Jeronimo in Belem
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.

The grand facade of the Santa Maria de Belém church,
part of the Jeronimo monastery complex
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, as well as the Planetario Calouste Goulbenkian can be visited.

The League of Generous Gentlemen

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
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 these 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 the premises of the Centro Cultural de Belém, the Cultural Center, presenting also other arts such as concerts and spectacles. Amazingly, on Saturdays, the entrance is free.

Museu Coleção Berardo
Praça do Império
1449-003 Lisboa
Phone: + 351 – 213 612 878

Open daily from 10 a. m. to 7 p. m. – and the 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 when it comes to art in Belém? Well, you stand so corrected!

Centro de Archeologia de Lisboa in Belém
Great architecture on the outside, great archeologic founds inside.

Albeit, 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.

Centro de Archeologia de Lisboa
Avenida da Índia 166
Lisboa
Phone: + 351 – 218 172 180
Email: centro.arqueologia@cm-lisboa.pt

The princess fountain
The princess fountain – on its day off.

Torre de Belém

To cross to the southern side of the Avenidas, you either have to walk all the way back to the Jardim da Praca do Imperio, the one with the huge fountain.

Or you keep 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’.

Torre de Belém.
Another good spot to have a great view.

The tower can be visited and climbed – and keep also 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.

The Museu do Combatante
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)

Back to Lisbon

Tired now? If you keep walking west for about one mile, you’ll get to the Algés station. From here, 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.
The Padrao dos Descobrimentos 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 landmark, too, can be accessed.

 Padrao dos Descobrimentos
Saying bye to Belém and its heroes.

How to Get There

There are many different possibilities of how to get from Lisbon’s city center to Belém.

For instance, right from the Praça do Comércio, tram #15E takes you there in half an hour.

Another option is taking the regional train Linha de Cascais which is going to – you probably guessed so – Cascais via Belém and eventually Estoril.

Mind you, there are three major train stations in Lisbon. The one from where you are leaving westwards and up the Atlantic coast is called Cais do Sodré and located west of the city center.

Belém was only, obviously, one of many beautiful places I’ve visited in Portugal. So to read about the others, go to the main post and take your pick!

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