Exploring the heritage and history of Lisbon on a walk through the downtown Lisbon had ensorcelled us to an extent that we were left with an urge for more. There is so much to do and see in Lisbon, we spent 3 days in Lisbon but there was so much more left to explore. Lisbon offers its visitors with a myriad of sights from old quarters in Alfama to the largest indoor aquarium. On the second day in Lisbon, we were all set to explore some of the remarkable historic monuments along the Tagus Riverfront in Belem Region of Lisbon.
Downtown Lisbon to Belem
Lisbon was one of the first few trips in Europe and Chhavi was only a year old. For us, the easier option to explore any city with our year old kiddo was Hop On Hop off (HOHO) sightseeing buses. So we booked a HOHO bus for Lisbon too. We boarded the bus from Praca do Comercio square in Lisbon City center to the Belem Tower. Several hop on and hop off buses offer different routes covering major attractions. One can plan out the sightseeing of Lisbon with the combination of different routes as the ticket on bus mostly valid for 48 hrs can be used on any of the routes.
Alternatively one of the authentic ways is to hop onto a classic Lisbon tram from Praca do Comercio (15E) or a bus (728,714) which will take about 30 minutes to reach Belem.
Belem Tower or Torre de Belem
Belem Region is of historical importance for Portugal as it is from here that many explorers and discoverers embarked on their journey around the world. The Belem Tower also known as the Tower of St Vincent sits in a picturesque location along the blue stretches of Tagus River.
The four-story tower was built as a fortress to guard the Lisbon’s harbor and as a ceremonial entrance to the city of Lisbon. The exquisite tower was built in the early 16th-century in the Portuguese Gothic Manueline style of architecture and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage monument.
The tower built in limestone features interesting design details like domed turrets, ornate finials, ribbed vaults, twisted rope, arched windows and plant motifs. The tower sits on a small island on the shores of the river and can be reached through a small bridge.
The Manueline style armillary spheres that are seen on the tower’s entrance represent Portugal’s nautical explorations. The entrance of the tower leads one into the bulwark on the ground floor. The hall has vaulted ceilings with niches along the wall which houses the 17 artillery cannons. The small opening in the floor leads to low-roofed rooms. These rooms which originally served as storerooms were later used as dungeons to keep prisoners.
The bulwark terrace is adorned with turrets topped with ribbed cupolas. The top floors of the tower have beautiful carvings with the upper part of the facade decorated with crosses of the Order of Christ. The second floor has a ‘King’s Hall’ with a loggia and a balustrade offering wonderful views over the river, the third floor has an ‘Audience Hall’ and the upper floor or the fourth floor has a chapel with a vaulted rib ceiling.
Belem Tower Hours
The tower is open from 10.00 AM to 6.30 PM (March to September) and from October to May, the tower closes an hour earlier at 5.30 PM. The last admission is 30 minutes before the closing. The tower is closed on Mondays. More details here.
The riverfront offers remarkable views of the vivid orange-red colored arched ’25th of April’ bridge. It is said to be inspired by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. If you look carefully you will also see a striking silhouette of ‘Christ the King’ monument standing tall on the other bank of the Tagus River.
Discoveries Monument or Padrao dos Descobrimentos
We walked along the riverfront to the next emblematic monument of Belem Lisbon – the Discoveries Monument. Discoveries Monument represents a ship with 33 gigantic sculptures of King Manuel I, notable Portuguese explorers including Vasco da Gama, monks, cartographers, scientists and Queen Felipa the mother of Henry the navigator all following Prince Henry the Navigator. It was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th death anniversary of the Prince Henry the Navigator.
In front of the monument on the pavement is a giant compass rose built from a remarkable mosaic work. It depicts a compass with the map of the world mapping the routes of the voyage of the Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery.
Inside of the monument on the first floor is an auditorium with a multimedia exhibition on the history of Lisbon City. On the second floor are two exhibition halls where temporary exhibitions are held. Visitors can take an elevator to the top the monument to the observation deck which offers a bird’s eye views of the riverfront and surrounding monuments. You can have one of the best views of the Jeronimos Monastery from the top.
Discoveries Monument Open Hours
The exhibition and the observation deck is open from 10 AM to 7 PM (March to September) and from October to February they close an hour earlier at 6 PM. The exhibition and the observation deck are closed on Monday.
Jeronimos Monastery is just across the street and can be reached via an underpass. The magnificent Jeronimos Monastery also a UNESCO World Heritage site was built by King Manuel I in1502 in the exemplary Portuguese Gothic Manueline style of architecture. The first sight of the monastery left us awestruck, the design details of Manueline style which incorporates complex sculptures and maritime elements were prominent. We entered through the South portal which is ornately decorated with gables, pinnacles, carved figure of Henry the Navigator and many others. The main entrance to the monastery is the western portal which is equally stunning decorated with Gothic and Renaissance elements.
It was constructed on the site of a former church founded by Prince Henry the Navigator. The church is the location where Vasco da Gama and other sailors spent their night before leaving for India. The monastery was built to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s epic 1498 voyage to India. The monastery houses the tomb of Kings and many great figures including Vasco da Gama, King Manuel, the poet Luis de Camoes amongst many others.
The lofty interior features a Gothic hall with single-span ribbed vault, octagonal Renaissance columns adorned with floral elements and ornate altars. The most impressive part of the monastery is the large two-level cloister with huge arched windows decorated with tracery. The walls and the columns have unique carvings of the marine elements.
Jeronimos Monastery Open Hours
The Jeronimos Monastery is open from 10.00 AM to 6.30 PM (March to September) and from October to May, the monastery closes an hour earlier at 5.30 PM. The last admission is 30 minutes before the closing. The monastery is closed on Mondays.
National Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology is located in the in the west wing of Jeronimos Monastery. The museum collection consists of the archaeological findings of the Iberian Peninsula and items including metalwork, mosaics, sculptures, jewelry, coins and other ancient items from over 3200 archaeological sites.
The maritime museum of Lisbon also known as the Navy Museum is also located in the west wing of Jeronimos Monastery. The collection consists of model ships, 18th-century ceremonial barges, replica maps, navigations instruments and other artifacts on the history of navigation in Portugal.
Also Read: A Visit to the Convento de Cristo in the Tomar City of Portugal.
Pasteis de Belem
Pasteis de Belem is a popular cafe in the Belem region of Lisbon. When wandering through the streets of Lisbon City center we tried the Portuguese special Pastel de Nata a couple of times. Pastel de Nata is a scrumptious egg tart pastry originally from Portugal. But it is said that you have not actually tasted the original Pastel de Nata if you don’t try them in the Pasteis de Belem Cafe located in Belem.
The Pasteis de Nata was said to be made by the monks at the Jerónimos Monastery. Then later in 1834 when the monastery was closed the monks sold the ancient recipe to the owners of a sugar cane refinery who today own the Pasteis de Belem Cafe.
Belem Palace or the National Palace of Belem is the former residence of Portuguese monarchs and is currently serves as the residence of the president of Portugal. The palace complex comprises of five buildings dating from the 18th century.
The Presidency Museum displays state gifts from various countries, artifacts on the nationals symbols of Portugal and the presidents of the Portuguese Republic through photographs and portraits. Infront of the palace is a well-manicured garden dominated by the statue of Afonso de Albuquerque, the Viceroy of India.
National Coach Museum
One of the popular museums of Lisbon the National Coach Museum is housed in the former Horse Riding Arena of the Belem Palace. The museum has a wonderful collection of historical carriages owned by the royal family of Portugal from 16th to 19th centuries. The collection has numerous ornate and lavish Baroque carriages decorated with paintings and artworks. The interior of the museum decorated with paintings and Azulejo tiles is very impressive.
The Presidency Museum and the National Coach Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, closed on Monday. The palace is open to the public only on Saturdays which can be explored with a guided tour in English or Portuguese.
Did you enjoy the Coach Museum? Then we recommend you also visit the Chariot Museum in Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.
Belem Cultural Centre
The Cultural Centre of Belem is located in Santa Maria de Belem about 5 minutes walk from Discovery Monument. The center consists of Conference Centre, a Performing Arts Centre with two auditoriums and an Exhibition Centre with four galleries displaying exhibits on modern art, architecture, design, and photography. There is a terrace cafe-restaurant in the center with amazing views over the Tagus River and the Discoveries Monument.
No, Lisbon Oceanarium is not located in Belem Region but it is a major Lisbon attraction situated on the shores of the blue stretch of Tagus River. We had enough of the museums and the history so it was time for some treat for our little one.
We boarded the HOHO tour bus from the Jeronimos Monastery to the last attraction on our Lisbon must-see list – the enticing ‘Lisbon Oceanarium’. Alternatively, there are plenty of buses (728) running from Jeronimos Monastery to the Lisbon Oceanarium which will take about 50 minutes to reach.
The Lisbon Oceanarium is located at the Parque das Nacoes area of Lisbon on the banks of the beautiful Tagus River. The Oceanarium is a popular Lisbon attraction if you are traveling with kids. Lisbon Oceanarium is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe with over 400 species of marine life. There are also around 25 smaller thematic aquariums which displayed corals, amphibians, and starfishes. Chhavi had a lot of fun exploring the amazing creatures.
There are a couple of restaurants on the premises if you want to eat something before you start the tour of the oceanarium.
Check out our post on Lisbon Oceanarium for more information and stunning pictures of the life underwater.
The nearest metro to Oceanarium is Oriente Station which is about 10 minutes walk. The station is a spectacular structure which looked even more stunning after dusk when it was lit with golden lights.
Vasco da Gama Tower
Other attractions in the area are the Vasco da Gama Tower also located in the Parque das Nacoes on the bank of the Tagus river. It is city’s tallest building with a height of 145 m. The panoramic viewing platform accessed through lifts offers wonderful views of the Tagus River, the Vasco da Gama Bridge and the city of Lisbon.
Lisbon Tourist Pass is a city pass which is a great option if you are looking to explore the wide array of museums and sightseeing city attractions in Lisbon. You can choose from 24/48/72 hours Lisbon Cards. The card offers visitors with free or discounted admission to over 80 top Lisbon attractions including free admission to Jeronimos Monastery, the Belem Tower, and the National Pantheon.
You can travel for free on the public transport which includes trams, Metro, and buses. It even includes the ride on elevators and funiculars and so you can enjoy a free ride on Santa Justa Elevator. It even includes your train ride to the Sintra and Cascais which are wonderful day trips from Lisbon.
Where to Stay in Belem?
If you are planning to stay in Belem, Lisbon there are plenty of good hotels with free wifi and private parking. We recommend you check some of the best options on booking.com for best deals on accommodations.
To explore the top Lisbon attractions you would need at least a couple of days but it is worth to spend one more day and explore the day trip options from Lisbon. From the prismatic town of Sintra to the beautiful Porto city or the Algarve which some of the beautiful beaches, caves and rock formations there is a plethora of amazing locations around Lisbon.
Have you visited the historic monuments of Belem Lisbon along the Tagus Riverfront or the wonderful Oceanarium? Do share with us your experience in comments.
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