Belém, Lisbon: A Masterpiece of History, Culture and Cuisine

Belém, a picturesque district in the western part of Lisbon, is a treasure trove of history, culture and gastronomy. A testament to Portugal’s glorious maritime past, Belém offers visitors a glimpse into the Age of Exploration and its impact on the world. From iconic landmarks and museums to tempting pastries, Belém is a must-visit destination for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in Portugal’s rich heritage.

History of Belém

The name “Belém” is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem, a reference to the district’s religious roots. The area gained prominence in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it served as a launching pad for Portuguese explorers seeking new trade routes and lands. The likes of Vasco da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan embarked on their legendary voyages from Belém’s shores.

Notable Landmarks

Belem Tower (Torre de Belem)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belém Tower is a stunning example of Manueline architecture. Built between 1514 and 1520, the tower served as a fortress to protect the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor. Today, it stands as a symbol of Portugal’s age of exploration.

Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos)
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Jerónimos Monastery is a breathtaking monument showcasing the grandeur of Manueline architecture. The monastery was commissioned by King Manuel I to honor Vasco da Gama’s successful voyage to India, and it houses the tombs of both da Gama and the famous poet Luís de Camões.

Monument of the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos)
This imposing monument pays tribute to the explorers, navigators and visionaries who contributed to Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The structure features a 52-meter caravel with statues of notable figures, including Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Ferdinand Magellan.

Museums and Cultural Institutions

Berardo Collection Museum (Museu Coleção Berardo)
A leading museum of modern and contemporary art, the Berardo Collection Museum features works by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol.

National Carriage Museum (Museu Nacional dos Coches)
This museum boasts an impressive collection of royal carriages, offering a glimpse into the opulence and extravagance of Portugal’s past monarchs.

Belém Cultural Center (Centro Cultural de Belém)
A hub for art, culture and entertainment, the Centro Cultural de Belém hosts a variety of exhibitions, concerts and conferences.


Culinary delights

Pastéis de Belém
No visit to Belém is complete without tasting the famous Pastéis de Belém, a delicious egg custard tart with a crispy pastry shell. The recipe dates back to the 19th century and remains a closely guarded secret. Enjoy this delectable treat at the iconic Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, where it all began.

Off the Beaten Path Attractions

While Belém’s most famous landmarks are undeniably alluring, the district also offers several lesser-known attractions that are well worth exploring.

Tropical Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico Tropical)
This lush, tranquil garden is home to an array of exotic plants from Portugal’s former colonies. Spread over seven hectares, the garden offers visitors a peaceful escape from the bustling city.

Ajuda National Palace (Palácio Nacional da Ajuda)
Once a royal residence, the Ajuda National Palace is an opulent 19th century neoclassical building that now houses a museum. The palace features extravagant interiors and a collection of decorative arts, offering a glimpse into the life of Portuguese royalty.

MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
Housed in a striking contemporary building, this innovative museum explores the intersection of art, architecture and technology. MAAT offers both permanent and temporary exhibitions that challenge and inspire visitors.

Outdoor Activities

For those who enjoy the great outdoors, Belém offers picturesque settings for leisurely strolls and recreational activities.

Belém Riverside Promenade (Passeio Ribeirinho de Belém)
This scenic promenade stretches along the banks of the River Tejo, offering stunning views of the 25 de Abril Bridge and the Cristo Rei statue. The promenade is ideal for walking, jogging or biking while taking in the picturesque surroundings.

Belém Garden (Jardim de Belém)
Located near the Jerónimos Monastery, this peaceful garden is a perfect place to relax, read or have a picnic. Featuring statues, fountains and beautifully manicured lawns, the garden is a pleasant respite from the bustling city.

Events and festivals

Throughout the year, Belém hosts several events and festivals that celebrate Portugal’s culture and heritage.

Belém Art Festival
Held annually in July, this multidisciplinary arts festival features music, theater, dance and visual arts performances at various venues throughout Belém, including the Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Cultural Center.

Lisbon Tall Ships Race
Belém occasionally serves as the host port for the Tall Ships Races, an international sailing competition. The event features a spectacular parade of sail, with majestic tall ships from around the world docking at Belém’s waterfront.