Belém is the touristy district in Lisbon you cannot miss.
It’s a 15-minute bus ride from downtown Lisbon, just past the 25th of April bridge. I spent a solid four hours there, fascinated by the juxtaposition of the 15th- and 16th-century buildings there in the Manueline style, with the modern, urban setting and of course the imposing and somewhat out of place 20th-century monument on the banks of the Río Tejo. Belém is an exciting mix of the modern and the historical, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
First off, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos was easily one of the most spectacular religious buildings I’ve visited since coming to Europe this year (right up there, if not more impressive than, the Catedral de Sevilla and some of Granada’s most beautiful churches).
I’d read a bit on the Manueline style of architecture, named after the Portuguese King Manuel I with whose reign the development of this style coincided, but the intricacies and extravagance of this style were so much more breathtaking in person.
The cloisters (pictured above and below) were probably the most awe-inspiring part of the entire Mosteiro, in my opinion; I couldn’t get over just how detailed everything was.
The cathedral was also an incredible sight. I was particularly fascinated with the gorgeous, outrageously high ceilings, and the ornate, lavishly decorative columns.
The stained glass windows were also simply beautiful.
And it was also really cool to see the tomb of Vasco da Gama, the famous 16th-century Portuguese explorer and the first European to reach India by sea.
Overall, the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos left a lasting impression on me, such that it was hard for me to get myself to leave to continue on to the other two Belém monuments.
But, much to my delight, neither the Padrão dos Descobrimentos nor the Torre de Belém were at all lacking in a “wow” factor.
The Padrão dos Descobrimentos was completed in 1960 to honor Portuguese success in the Age of Discovery (15th-16th centuries). It is a MASSIVE monument, and one of the most unique ones I’ve ever seen.
And of course the views from up top were fantastic (and also rewarding, given my choice to climb all 267 of the monument’s steep stairs).
The top of the Torre de Belém also afforded panoramas of greater Lisbon, the 16th century tower also in the Manueline style that was built as part of a defense system at the mouth of the Río Tejo and as a ceremonial gateway into Lisbon.
There wasn’t much on the inside besides cannons and the places on the ground floor where it is believed prisoners were held, but still, the Manueline style was awesome and unmistakable.
What capped off my whirlwind four-hour tour in Belém, though, was a scrumptious pastel de nata, a warm, creamy custard tart with cinnamon and powdered sugar sprinkled on top, from the famous café Pastéis de Belém. Absolute HEAVEN.
Suffice it to say I am extremely glad I got the chance to visit Belém; it made my overall experience of Lisbon that much richer.