The upmarket Belém district is one of the most famous city breaks that tourists head for in Lisbon. It is a popular place for visitors, mainly set along the Tejo Estuary coastline with historic buildings, monuments, and museums. Trendy Baixa is just 5 km west of Belém and it's a pleasure to explore.
Where is Belém in Portugal?
Belém is a Freguesia (civil parish) and a district in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. Belém is situated in western Lisbon, west of Ajuda and Alcantara, and just east of the border with Oeiras in Lisbon.
What is Belém in Portugal like?
Belém is Lisbon's royal and noble district. This district is also home to several colleges and universities and is home to iconic palaces, fountains, botanical gardens, playgrounds, parks, renowned restaurants, and cultural monuments. It's a perfect place for you as a visitor to launch your exploration of Lisbon. Belém is home to two of Lisbon's most famous sites: the Jeronimos Monastery and Belém Tower.
The word Belém is derived from the Portuguese translation of 'Bethlehem,' and the close link between church and state that has characterised Portugal's rule for many centuries can easily be seen. However, for a day of sightseeing, Belém now has modern architecture and museums representing contemporary society.
What is there to do in Belém, Portugal?
In Belém, however, there are several more things to do than just visit sights. It's one of Lisbon's most important neighbourhoods, full of national monuments, museums, public parks, and large buildings. It's easy to spend the whole day seeing the sights of Belém. During the Age of Exploration and the time of colonisation that would follow, you will understand Lisbon's unique and diverse history.
Monument to the Discoveries
Walk along the waterfront from Belém train station before you enter the Monument to the Discoveries. It's a massive monument that rises 56 m high from the side of the Tagus River. You can't miss it. Opened in 1960, the Monument to the Discoveries is a tribute to the 15th and 16th century Portuguese Era of Exploration. There are some, sculptures of 32 historical figures from this period on either side. A 9 m statue of Henry the Navigator carrying a model of a form of the ship at the peak.
It's an amazing structure, surrounded by the water of the River Tajo. Construction began in 1514 on the tower, precisely planned to be part of the defensive system, with cannon spots that could fire at any enemy ship sailing to Lisbon. But it was also a shrine at the time to Portugal's dominance.
Berardo Collection Museum
Of all the Belém museums, the Museum of the Berardo Collection is the most impressive of all. The Berardo Collection Museum has an impressive 900 works on display from the 20th century to the present day. The main show does a fantastic job of taking you on a linear journey through modern art, explaining how one trend has grown into another.
You will see works by artists like Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, Piet Mondrian, and Marcel Duchamp. There are also large spaces for temporary displays that usually have something interesting.
Together with the Belém Tower, Jeronimos Monastery is Lisbon's only World Heritage Site. This is one of the town's most significant locations. The Monastery of Jeronimos was founded in 1501 and was intended to be a place of spiritual safety for the sailors and explorers whose ships left during the Portuguese Exploration Period. Before they left for their travels, they prayed here.
You will see the principal two-level cloister of the monastery, and the architecture is beautiful. Take note of all the small details sculpted into the stonework in the designs. There is a mixture of symbols that are nautical, religious, and royal.
The massive Church of Santa, which you can go inside, is attached to the monastery. There's a lot to see within the church, but make sure you don't miss the tomb of Vasco da Gama.
The stunning Ajuda Palace is a must-see. It's a large and opulent royal residence; construction began on Ajuda Palace in 1795. The project had some problems (including when the Royal Family had to flee to Brazil in 1807 because of a French invasion).
It was not until 1861 that the residence of the Portuguese Royal Family formally became Ajuda Palace. Portugal became a republic in 1910; the building was closed before it opened again as a museum decades later. Even that did not last for long. Today, it is a magnificent palace full of furniture, artwork, and other royal pieces, with richly decorated rooms. The enormous throne room and associated areas for banquets and other official functions are of particular interest.
National Museum of Coaches
In the centre of Belém, the National Museum of Coaches may be of interest to you and the inside of the collection is very impressive. The museum opened a new building in 2015 that uses the top-level to display the coaches, most of which have been used over the years by the Portuguese Royal Family. Dozens of coaches and related objects are on display, spanning between the 16th and 19th centuries. A late 16th century travelling coach used by King Philip II of Portugal to return from Spain is one of the most significant pieces. There's also a handsome 18th-century baroque-style coach given to King John V by Pope Clement XI.
How do you reach Belém, Portugal?
Travel on a short-haul flight directly to Lisbon Airport from the United Kingdom and other international airports. It takes 30 minutes to travel from the airport to the district of Belém.
What is the climate like in Belém, Portugal?
Summers in Lisbon are hot, dry, and clear, with chilly, and cloudy winters. Annually, the temperature usually ranges between 9°C and 29°C and is seldom below 5°C or above 35°C. The best time of year to visit Lisbon and enjoy the warm weather is from the beginning of July until September.
Why visit Belém in Portugal?
Belém is the hub for anyone interested in historical culture. It's the ideal location for city breaks or to own a city centre property. Museums, galleries, and parks galore greet you in Belém.