Unashamedly ostentatious, Belém’s waterfront monuments and vast open spaces are a tribute to Portugal’s Age of Discoveries and legendary nautical adventurers.
Fifteenth century Portugal thrived in the fields of navigation, astronomy, mapmaking and shipbuilding. Under the direction and legacy of Prince Henry the Navigator, pioneering local seafarers undertook perilous voyages of exploration; their goal: to discover—and ultimately control—the sea routes of the highly lucrative spice trade.
By the mid to late 16th century, scores of Portuguese colonies and trading posts linked the coasts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia: the Portuguese Empire had become history’s first global empire.
Visit Belém`s waterfront monuments
Belém’s monuments and exhibitions celebrate every momentous journey—Ceuta, North Africa in 1415; Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in 1488; India in 1498; Brazil in 1500; Thailand in 1511; China in 1513and Japan in 1542 to name but a few—and immortalize every pioneer: from Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama to Pedro Álvares Cabral and Diogo Cão.
Highlights of this iconic district include:
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery): the exquisite 15th century UNESCO-listed monastery built to celebrate the maritime route to the Indies;
Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries): a 52-meter-high tribute to 33 key figures from Portugal’s Golden Age. How many can you identify..?;
Wind Rose: a 50-meter-diameter marble mosaic (and map) gifted to Portugal by South Africa in 1960. (Climb the Monument to the Discoveries for the best photos);
Torre de Belém (Belém Tower): the original 1525 fortress in the middle of the water, now a UNESCO World Heritage site and impressive tourist attraction;
Centro Cultural de Belém: a multi-purpose arts center that houses the free-to-enter Museu Berardo (Berardo Museum) of Modern and Contemporary Art.
Last but by no means least, head to Antiga Confeitaria de Belém: home of some of the most worthwhile discoveries available in Lisbon today—Pastéis de Belém!
This undisputed original and best Portuguese custard tart shop attracts daily crowds to rival any of its surrounding monuments. The recipe has remained a closely guarded secret since 1837. Savor the creamy delights within the shop’s tile-covered interiors or take a bag away….maybe to the lush waterfront gardens of the Cultural Center of Belém—the perfect spot to catch your breath after a long day’s sightseeing. From here, bask in views of the Ponte 25 de Abril (25th of April Bridge) to the left—sister bridge of San Francisco’s Golden Gate—and the Cristo Rei statue (a Rio de Janeiro replica) to the right. As the dazzling sunset reflects off the sparkling Tagus onto Belém’s magnificent monuments, ponder another perfect day in the city that shaped the world.
– Antiga Confeitaria de Belém for the unique custard tarts
– The vast square cloister of Jeronimos Monastery and the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís Vaz de Camões
– Garden of the Cultural Center of Belém
– The Tower of Belém
– The Berardo Collection of Contemporary Art