The Belém district offers some of the best things to do in Lisbon, Portugal. While Belém is a little outside the city center of Lisbon, it’s not difficult to get there. And these top things to do in Belem make any trip to the area very worthwhile.
What exactly can you do in Belém? Three of the best things to do there are visiting the Jerónimos Monastery, Pastéis de Belém, and Belém Tower.
This post explores the 3 top things to do in Belém in Lisbon, including what each attraction is and why you should visit.
Where is Belém?
Belém is a district in Lisbon, not a separate city from Lisbon. It’s located in the southwest of Portugal’s capital, with the southernmost part of Belém being right on the Tagus River.
Belém is a bit further away from other popular neighborhoods of Lisbon, like Baixa and Alfama.
What is Jerónimos Monastery?
Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Portuguese) is a former monastery that was the cloistered residence of the Order of Saint Jerome, a Catholic order also known as the Hieronymites.
Construction on the monastery started at the turn of the 16th century, and was finally completed a century later. The monastery is located close to the Tagus River, near the approach to the port of Lisbon.
Jerónimos Monastery is associated with Portugal’s seafarers and Age of Discovery. The Hieronymite monks at the monastery prayed for the king, as well as those who voyaged from Lisbon to faraway lands.
In addition, the monastery commemorates Prince Henry the Navigator, who sparked Portugal’s explorations to other continents (and subsequent colonization of many countries).
Around the outside of Jerónimos Monastery
The monks lived in Jerónimos Monastery until 1833, after which the building began to fall into disrepair. Restoration of the monastery took place in the late 1800s.
The monastery is considered a National Monument of Portugal, and was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with Belém Tower, in 1983.
Why Visit Jerónimos Monastery?
Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. Even if you aren’t that into architecture, you can’t help but marvel at the ornate decorations around the monastery.
The building is a prime example of Portuguese Late Gothic architecture, also known Manueline style. Jerónimos Monastery was built during the Portuguese Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, when Portuguese voyagers made maritime expeditions around the globe.
The Portuguese state had money to spend, and spend they did, which you can see in how detailed and elaborate everything is.
Fancy ornamentation at Jerónimos Monastery
The Manueline style of architecture also incorporates maritime motifs into its ornamentation, embodying the importance of seafaring exploration to Portugal at that time.
Here are some more photos showing the beauty of Jerónimos Monastery:
The amazing courtyard of Jerónimos Monastery
Look at how detailed and elaborate almost every surface is
If you’d like to extend your time around the monastery, you can also visit the Maritime Musuem (Museu de Marinha in Portuguese).
What is Pastéis de Belém?
Right next door to Jerónimos Monastery is the home of one of Portugal’s most famous desserts: pastéis de nata.
Pastéis de nata (singular: pastel de nata), better known as Portuguese egg custard tarts, are small, scrumptious pastries. They have a flaky crust and creamy middle, and they taste best dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
Portuguese egg custard tarts
These egg custard tarts were created by the monks living at Jerónimos Monastery. When the monastery closed, the monks sold the recipe to the people who went on to open the Pastéis de Belém bakery in 1837.
Today, Pastéis de Belém still uses the monks’ original recipe for pastéis de nata.
Why Visit Pastéis de Belém?
You can buy egg custard tarts everywhere in Lisbon. But the tarts at Pastéis de Belém are the originals, and they’re among the most popular pastéis de nata in Lisbon, if not the most popular.
Only the tarts here are pastéis de Belém, and not just pastéis de nata.
At Pastéis de Belém, the tarts are available for takeaway, or you can dine in at the cafe. The cafe serves more than just tarts, including drinks and other classic Portuguese pastries.
Pastries and coffee from Pastéis de Belém
It’s less than a five minute walk between Jerónimos Monastery and Pastéis de Belém. If you start with the monastery (as you probably should), the cafe at Pastéis de Belém is a good place to stop and get a bite to eat.
Or you could always get a snack there on the way back from the next attraction.
(Side note: if you want good pastéis de nata in Asia, visit Macau; the tarts are plentiful and tasty in this former Portuguese colony.)
What is Belém Tower?
End your trip to Belém by visiting Belém Tower, also known as the Tower of St. Vincent and Torre de Belém in Portuguese. The tower is located directly on the Tagus River.
This fortification was built in the 1500s to help protect the Tagus River, as well as honor famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s voyage. It also served as a customs checkpoint.
Belém Tower and the Tagus River
Similar to Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower was built primarily in a Manueline architectural style. The tower portion reaches a height of 100 feet/30 meters.
The building isn’t huge, but has 5 levels. But word of warning: you get up and down these levels via narrow spiral stairs. And the passageways to some of the parts are very narrow and cramped:
Narrow passageway at Belém Tower
But most of the spaces in Belém Tower are not so narrow, just some of them.
Why Visit Belém Tower?
Along with Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed for being an exemplar of Portuguese architecture, art, and power during the Age of Discovery.
While the architecture at the monastery is more impressive because it’s just a bigger and fancier building, Belém Tower is still cool. In addition, as you go up each floor, you get better views of the river and nearby city.
Around Belém Tower
Views from Belém Tower
Belém Tower also isn’t far from the other other things to do in Belem. It’s about a 20-minute walk or about a 5-minute tram ride combined with a 5-10 minute walk from Pastéis de Belém.
If you’re already in the area, you might as well visit! Additionally, if you end up getting the Lisboa Card (the tourist card for Lisbon), both Jerónimos Monastery and Belém Tower are included with no additional charge.
How to Get to Belém
You can easily reach Belém from the main tourist area of Lisbon by tram. From the Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square), riding the tram to Jerónimos Monastery takes around 25 minutes.
To get to Belém Tower from the plaza takes a 30 minute tram ride and a 5-10 minute walk.
It’s a straight shot to these attractions on the tram, no need to transfer.
On the tram
TIP: Even if you take the tram to Belém, I’d highly recommend riding the tram around central Lisbon as well. You can get some great views of the city, and they’re just really fun.
Is Belém worth visiting?
Absolutely! Jerónimos Monastery and Pastéis de Belém especially were some of my favorite places I visited on my Lisbon trip. And the trip to the Belém area is quite easy and quick.
If you had to choose only one of these things to do in Belem, I would highly recommend going to Jerónimos Monastery. But if you’re already in the area, you can easily make more of a day out of your trip, if you can spare the time.
Don’t sleep on Portugal as a vacation destination! It’s a beautiful place with fantastic food, especially pastries.
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