Lisbon is a fantastic place to visit for many reasons, but its proximity to some great day trip locations is just one of them. In fact, the town of Belem is super easy to get to by train, taking just 10 minutes from the city centre, and it really is the perfect day trip from a Lisbon city break. If you’re looking for something a little different from the bustle of Lisbon, the tranquil, somewhat quieter nature of Belem will give you all you are looking for – as well as an insight into Lisbon’s exploring past.
On Monday’s, many of Lisbon’s main attractions are closed, and that is the same with Belem. We visited on a Monday. Oooops. But although we didn’t get to go inside many of the attractions, they were all incredible to see anyway due to their stunning architecture. Here are five places I would visit on a day trip to Belem – don’t miss them if you make the trip!
Make a stop at Pasteis de Belem
If you only manage to do one thing in Belem, make it a trip to the birthplace of the Pastel de Nata. These gorgeous custard tarts are a highlight of any trip to Lisbon, but also across other Portuguese influenced countries such as Brazil. They were surprisingly created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, just outside of Lisbon (hence why Belem is often referred to as the birthplace of pasteis de nata). This is because convents and monasteries often used lots of egg whites to starch clothing, leaving egg yolks to be made into sweet pastries and cakes.
In the 19th century, with monasteries closing in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution, the monks decided to start selling their pasteis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery. When the Jeronimos Monastery closed for good, they sold their recipe to this factory. The owners of this factory opened Pasteis de Belem in 1837, and it has been there in the heart of Belem ever since.
In the height of season you’ll find queues round the block, but out of season in the early morning it’s simple to grab a couple and head for the Tagus River to enjoy them.Belem is a picture perfect day trip from Lisbon - here's what to see when you get there!Click To Tweet
Belem Tower (also known as the Tower of St Vincent) is a fortified tower located in Belem on the northern banks of the Tagus River, built in 1515. For a military monument it is beautiful, and given its position on the river it holds a magical view in any weather. You can visit inside the tower for just 6 EUR per person (at the time of writing), but we were content with just taking in this breathtaking Moorish-influenced building.
Belem Tower is a UNESCO World Heritage monument and is a tribute to Portugal’s Age of Discovery – as so much of Belem is. In fact, so many explorers left from this position to discover the new world. Due to this, it incorporates many stonework motifs of the Discoveries and a statue of Our Lady of Safe Homecoming, which was a symbol of protection for sailors.
The Jerónimos Monastery is a former monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an incredible example of late Portuguese gothic architecture known as Manueline and is an imposing, huge building that sits back from the Tagus River. It’s had an interesting history, both religious and secular – in fact, in 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon was signed at the here, which lay the framework for the reform of the European Union.
Like many of the main sites in Belem, it has huge significants with Portugal’s explorers and the Age of Discoveries – sailors would pray with the monks to ensure their safe return on their voyages. You can visit Vasco da Gama’s tomb, who was one of the most important explorers in Portugal’s history, discovering the sea route from Portugal to India. You can also see the highly ornate cloisters which you must walk through, and the entrance to St Mary’s Church (one of the most ornate doorways I have ever seen).
Entrance is 10 EUR at the time of writing, but you can purchase a combined ticket to both the monastery and tower for 12 EUR.
Monument to the Discoveries
The third of the important Age of Discoveries locations is the Monument to the Discoveries, known as Padrão dos Descobrimentos in Portuguese. The impressive monument overlooks the Tagus River too, and in the site where many ships left to explore new routes and trade – particularly with India and the Orient.
A relatively new structure in compared to both the tower and the monastery, it was conceived in 1939 but wasn’t permanently built until 1960 with limestone excavated from Sintra. It was revealed as part of the work to mark the anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator showing once again that the 15th and 16th Age of Discoveries has some of the biggest influence on visitor attractions in this area.
Take a walk around the Jardim Botânico Tropical
As one of the largest gardens in Lisbon, it’s home to over 600 species of tropical plants mainly from Portuguese former colonies. Walking around it is extremely peaceful, located just next to the monastery – and allows you to get away from the busy nature of the queues for Pasteis de Belem if you’ve made a stop there first.
The gardens also have a beautiful lake, with many statues located in and around the gorgeous planting. You’ll spot many animals as well as the impressive Counts of Calheta Palace inside the grounds. An afternoon walk around this area, along with walks long the beautiful Tagus River is a wonderful way to finish a day spent in Belem.
We took the really cheap local tram 15 from Cais do Sodré but you can also take both tram 127 or 15 from the downtown area’s Figueira Square to make your journey if you are located somewhere more central. Due to our visit on a Monday, we spent just half a day here before making our way to the airport to go home, but there is plenty to see for a whole day.
In fact, I wished we had visited on a different day – but that gives me an excuse to return. Who wouldn’t want to eat more custard tarts from their birthplace?