It is the neighbourhood of Lisboa that seemingly holds the most historic monuments by square meter. It sits 5 km west from the center of Lisboa and it's easy to get there by train, tram or bus. Historically, the region of Belém was inhabited by the Lisbon elite, to live away from the poorer, dirtier city center, and it's easy to notice that by the size and design of the avenues, the squares and the buildings you will find. It's an area that strongly evoques naval activity, in particular the Portuguese Discoveries of the XV and XVI century. Besides the notable monuments, there are gardens, walkways, museums, regular spectacles and plenty of cafes and restaurants for local gastronomy. There is a lot to discover and always something to do in Belém. Below are just a few suggestions to make you know the place like a local!
To start off, the Torre de Belém. Dating from the XVI century, its ornaments evoke the rich Discoveries' period. Be sure to check all of its beautiful facades, full of meanings, and the amazing view! Because of its original military function, be prepared for the inside of the tower to seem very contrasting: a weapon stash and a prison.
It is impossible not to be amazed by the sight of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and to see everything inside you may want to take an entire afternoon! A couple of highpoints are the church of Santa Maria de Belém, the resting place of historic portuguese figures under an amazing arched roof, and the peaceful Cloister that mixes religious, regal and naturalist elements. On one of its sides sits also the Museu da Marinha (Navy Museum) with great exhibitions, and the Gulbenkian Planetarium!
Across the square garden, in front of the Monastery, sits the Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Built in the shape of a ship's prow, on each of its sides are some of the most important portuguese navigators, soldiers, kings, princes and clerics of the portuguese discoveries' era. Its top is a great viewpoint over Belém and in front of the monument, on the floor, there is a huge world map you can walk on.
Also close to the square garden sits the Centro Cultural de Belém, or CCB for short, an incredible cultural center with a wide programme of concerts and live shows, cinema screenings, exhibitions, conferences, and also green areas, interior cafes and restaurants, a few shops and many diverse activities. It's also the home of the Museu Colecção Berardo, a free museum of modern and contemporary art well worth a visit on its own!
You have to spend some time in one of Belém's many green parks. One of them is the decorated garden square of Belém, called Jardim da Praça do Império, one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It is close to many of Belém's points of interest. There is also the ample Jardim Vasco da Gama, called Jardim de Belém aswell. It sits very close to the Belém Street, where you can find several restaurants with esplanades. A bit further away are the gardens of the Palácio de Belém, hundreds of years old, a place where kings held a tropical private zoo.
Synonym to Belém is the famous Pastel de Belém. This is a pastry whose recipe has been held secret since the XIX century, not to be confused with the regular Pastel de Nata that you can find everywhere else! Look for the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, it's usually easy to spot the people lining up at its door! Here's a tip to evade the crowds of tourists: visit them from 8h to 11h in the morning, or by the end of day for a dessert after dinner.
And finally, simply following the pathways along the shore line is a great experience. Enjoy the passing of time with a few good friends, walking by the river, there is nothing like it. And on your way, you will get to see several of Belém's gardens, museums and monuments, the quays, the south bank hills, and most of all gaze at the wonderful Tejo!
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