This monument-packed neighbourhood is a must-see place. It was from here that many of the great Portuguese explorers embarked on their voyages of discovery. During that period Lisbon flourished with riches pouring into Portugal and saw the construction of great monuments like the Belem Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. Today these monuments and their surrounding museums are essential viewing for any visitor.
How to get there
To get to belém take bus 728 to the west (Restelo direction), which follows the coast line and provides an express service with few stops.
The neighbourhood features:
Belem Tower – Belem Tower was built between 1514 and 1519, to defend Lisbon’s sea access. It is a mix of a medieval tower and a defensive bulwark for the naval defense of Lisbon. Besides its military function, it is a reference to the reign of King Manuel I (1469-1521) displaying characteristic elements of Manueline’s architectural style, including the first Western stone representation of the first Indian’s animal brought to Europe, a rhinoceros.
Jerónimos Monastery – It was commissioned by King Manuel I, shortly after Vasco da Gama had returned from his trip to India, and was mostly financed by the profits of the spice trade. The Monastery is the epitome of the Manueline’s style, its construction started in 1501 and lasted about 100 years. The Monastery survived the earthquake of 1755 but it was damaged by invading French troops sent by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early nineteenth century. The Maritime Museum is located in the west wing of the Monastery.
Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos) – This monument was commissioned by the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar for the Portuguese World Exhibition (1940). It was built to commemorate the Portuguese discoveries and its heroes. It is a vessel shaped monument, 56m-high with a concrete limestone coated structure, in whose sides emerge sculpted figures of the great Portuguese discoverers. At the bow of the caravel-monument, you may find the figure of the Infante D. Henrique, holding a ship in his right hand; in the back, the queen Philippa of Lancaster responsible for a generation of maritime princes.
Coach Museum (Museu dos Coches) – Don’t miss the world’s largest collection of coaches and royal vehicles. With a assortment of state and promenade vehicles from the 16th to the 19th centuries, in large part from the Royal House of Portugal, to which vehicles from the Church’s estate and private collections were later added, the National Coach Museum presents an outstanding collection which allows visitors to understand the technical and artistic evolution of the animal drawn transportation used by the Courts of Europe up until the emergence of motor vehicles.
Ajuda Palace – The Ajuda National Palace is a splendid neoclassical jewel of Lisbon, located in the Belem district. Although this palace was never completed as planned due to the exile of the royal family in Brazil caused by the French invasion of Portugal, it is still one of Europe’s most perfect romantic buildings. Nowadays the Palace is open to visitors, gathering important collections from the 15th to the 20th century, mainly of decorative arts, and is still used by the Portuguese State for official ceremonies.
Casa dos Pasteis de Belém – This the traditional home of the delicious Pastel de Nata, a custard tart that is sprinkled with cinnamon. This sweet cake is believed to have been created during the 18th century by Catholic nuns based in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, which baked these sweets as a way of raising extra funds for the upkeep of the monastery. This chaotic cafe and bakery, was the first to master the recipe from the convent and has been now selling Pasteis de Nata for over 150 years.