Ultimate Itinerary filled with Things to do in Belem: A Day in Belem with Kids

Are you wondering how to get to Belem and what to do in Belem once you’ve arrived? Well you’re definitely not alone. Along with a day in Alfama, a day enjoying all the great things to do in Belem is one of the top things to do in Lisbon! While many talk of spending a day in Belem, as if it’s a like a daytrip from Lisbon to Sintra, Belem is actually a part of Lisbon, located 6km from the center of the city. It’s so close to the downtown area that most visitors will stay that it’s easy to visit for a few hours or a full day. We recommend spending a full day in Belem and once you get there, you’ll be happy you did!

A Day in Belem: A Little Background on this Amazing Lisbon District

Think back to your younger years in school? Do you remember learning about amazing explorers that voyaged around the world in search of new lands? This is the history of Belem. It all centers around this amazing period in time where explorers left for years at a time and returned, hopefully, with treasures from around the world. Belem was the last place that explorers saw as they left Portugal on their voyages and the first place they saw on their return. The night before their departure, they would pray at the Jeronimos Monastery and when they returned, the Tower of Belem was their first sight of home. The architecture of Belem is stunning and so unique. It’s a style we had never seen before. Called Manueline, after King Manuel I who ruled at the time it was built, the architecture is detailed, delicate and almost lacy. These buildings in Belem survived the great Lisbon earthquake so its one of the best locations to see this Manueline style.
white marble lacy carvings visible during a day in Belem
An example of Manueline architecture. So pretty!
The king had the monastery built to thank the Portuguese explorers for their discoveries. It was financed in part by a tax on spices that were brought back to Portugal from India. The church beside the monastery was built where a small chapel used to exist. Sailors spent their last night before their voyages in prayer at this small chapel.

How to get to Belem

If you’re wondering how to get to Belem, it is only a short tram, bus or train ride away from central Lisbon. We stayed near the Praça da Figueres so we hopped on Tram #15. Tram #15 has three stops that you may wish to use when visiting Belem. Be sure to check out the latest Lisbon transit schedule before you leave. At the time of our visit, the first stop is “Belem” which is located near the National Coach Museum. The second stop “Mosteiro Jerónimos” stops, well, in front of the monastery. The third stop is “Centro Cultural Belém”, located on the main street past the Monument of the Discoveries, and the fourth stop is “Largo Princesa”, about a 10-minute walk north of the Belem Tower. We got off the tram at “Mosteiro Jeronimos”. Our trip was enjoyable, comfortable and took about 40 minutes. You could also tram or walk to the Cais Sodré and take the train which is only a 10-minute trip. You can easily spend a full day in Belem. We only had a morning and we started late so we had to narrow down our sights and unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit some of the amazing locations. But you can learn from our mistakes! Start early and arrive before 9:30am. We arrived much later and since we were travelling with kids, and this was our last day so we were kind of tired, we decided not to visit the Monastery. This will likely stay with me the same as the decision to not climb Vesuvius in Pompeii several years ago because it was really hot. We have to return for Italy to climb Vesuvius and we’ll have to return to Portugal to visit the Jeronimos Monastery. That said, we had a wonderful day!

Starting your Day in Belem

If you want to avoid the lines, it’s best to get an early start to your day. Make sure to plan your day so that you arrive in Belem by 9:30. You can hop on Tram #15 like we did or if you’re staying closer to Cais de Sodre, you can hop on the train. We prefer the tram because there are various stops in Belem from which you can choose. The train and the first tram stop “Belem” arrive closer to the National Coach Museum. You can either take the train and walk a short distance to the Monastery, our first stop, or you can take the tram and debark at the Monsterio Jeronimos tram stop.

Things to do in Belem

For anyone wondering what to do in Belem, you’ll be amazed by the variety of amazing things you’ll be able to see and do in this historical district.

Your first stop: Jeronimos Monastery

You simply can’t miss the Jeronimos Monastery. It is huge and beautiful!
jeronimos monastery in the distance with fountain and park in front
Jeronimos Monastery and Santa Maria de Belem Church
There was a time that tickets could be purchased online but that option is no longer available, hence the need to arrive early or face long lines. You can avoid some of the line by arriving early and stopping first at the archaeological museum adjacent to the monastery or by purchasing your tickets at a booth across the street from the monastery.
blue sign with drawing of monastery showing entrance for a day in belem
From the entrance, go left to the Jeronimos Monastery & go right to Santa Maria de Belem Church
The Jeronimos Monastery is one of the must-visit locations in Lisbon. The exterior is Manueline and has beautiful sculptures with intricate details. The interior is also Manueline with incredible carvings, especially gargoyles! Have a look to see how many different ones you can find! Wander inside the cloister taking in all the beautiful sculptures and carvings and then find the stairs that lead to the upstairs cloister. Look down from the upper choir above the main door for an incredible view of the cloister you just explored. Don’t do what we did and miss this incredible piece of history!

Your second stop: Santa Maria de Belem Church

The Santa Maria de Belem Church is located next door to the Monastery and, best of all, entrance is free! For us that also meant absolutely no lines or waiting for entrance despite our late start. The exterior of the church is exquisite. The Manueline architecture is stunning … appearing so delicate. If you’ve visited Tomar or heard of the Templar Knights, which were recently made famous in several Dan Brown novels, such as The Davinci Code and Angels and Demons, you’ll recognize some of the carvings in the Manueline architecture. The discoveries of the 15th century were financed by the Order of Christ which, before they were exiled, were the Templar Knights. The crosses of the Order of Christ are a longstanding symbol of Portugal and were found on the currency of Portugal until the early 1900s and the flags flown by Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery. Look closely and you’ll see the cross of the Order of Christ throughout the architecture of the monastery and Santa Maria de Belem Church. You’ll also find them on many other Belem monuments. I’ll point these out as we go. The crosses of the Order of Christ are often placed at the top of the armillary sphere which is a symbol of King Manuel I. As you enter the church, have a close look at the entrance door with the statue of King Manuel I on his knees to the left.
brown double wooden door with manualine carved white arch around it is great things to see in Belem
The interior of Santa Maria de Belem Church is beautiful.
interior of Santa Maria de Belem church from the back including dark brown wooden pews as alter in the distance
Inside you’ll find incredible carvings reminiscent of the sea life that sailors and explorers experienced. The columns are like palm trees and if you look closely, you’ll find ropes, vines, ships, monsters of the sea and artichokes that sailors ate to avoid scurvy. The alter at the front of the church is beautiful. Notice the elephants?!
stone carved elephants holding what looks like caskets with a crown on top in Santa Maria de Belem
As you head back towards the entrance, look at the wooden confessional doors specifically the second one. These carvings represent the people that the explorers discovered around the world. As you leave, you’ll find the tomb of Vasco da Gama. He left Belem with four ships in 1497 and discovered a sea route to India. He was at sea for two years before returning to Belem with a fortune in spices. This was near the beginning of Portugal’s Age of Discovery which lasted two hundred years.

Your third stop: Eat Pasteis de Nada!

It’s the perfect time for a snack! You simply cannot leave Belem without trying the pastel de nada from the Pasteis de Belem.
big blue sign with Pasteis de Belem
We didn’t include any pastry shops in our ultimate list of favourite Lisbon restaurants but if we did, Pasteis de Belem would have absolutely been on the list! This is one of the major things to do in  Belem! This is where the pastries originated!  This wonderful little shop is just a 5 minute walk down the road from the Jeronimos Monastery and the Santa Maria de Belem Church.
interior view of the shop making the pastries
You can buy the pastel de nata individually or in a package of 6 or 12. There was a long line down the sidewalk when we were there but the line moved quickly. Some people decided to eat in the restaurant itself but there was a wait there for a table as well so we opted for take out.
cardboard white container with Pasteis de Belem in dark blue across the front
They also sell other delicious treats as well as great bakers items with their name on them. So cool! Pasteis de Belem doesn’t sell coffee, at least in their take out location, but conveniently, there’s a Starbucks next door! Honestly, I’d prefer a nice little café when in Europe but we were in desperate need for caffeine so this was heavenly. We took our treats and our coffee to …. your next stop.

Your fourth stop: Jardim de Belem

Before visiting I had no idea that this park even existed. It’s such a beautiful location to take a break, eat a snack and relax before heading on to your next few stops. There are benches, a fountain, it’s just all very relaxing. We took a break, enjoyed our pastel de nata and coffee and just relaxed. There’s also a great distant view of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the Monument of the Discoveries.

Your fifth stop: Monument of the Discoveries

To reach the Monument of the Discoveries you’ll need to take the pedestrian tunnel under the boulevard. There are several signs as you leave the park.
Monument of the discoveries in the distance as viewed across a busy road
The monument commemorates the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. Prince Henry was the nephew of King Manuel I (remember, the Manueline architecture?), and the son of King Juan I. Prince Henry was the Grand Master of the Order of Christ, the successor of the Templar Knights, and ultimately responsible for Portugal’s Age of Discovery.
back view of the white stone monument with a large sword on the back edge
Do you see the sword? We thought this was such a cool detail! At the very top is the observation deck… can you see a few people there?
As you look at the front of the Monument of the Discoveries, you’ll see Prince Henry leading the ship, followed by many of the Portuguese explorers. The only woman on the monument is his mother, Philippa of Lancaster.
close up of woman on side of monument in white with crown praying
Look at each of the explorers. Many have objects which signify their discoveries.
close up of navigators on monument showing items they're carrying
Have a look at the marble map in front of the monument. It was a gift from South Africa and follows the Portuguese explorers around the world. Once you’ve explored the outside of the monument, it’s time to find the entrance in front of the marble map. Inside is an elevator that will take you to the observation deck on top of the monument. There is a small fee but it is well worth it. From the top there is an amazing view of the marble map below as well as the 25 de Abril Bridge, Cristo Statue and Belem Tower in the distance.

En Route to your sixth stop: Wander the Belem Waterfront

En route to your sixth stop, wander the incredible waterfront from the Monument of the Discoveries towards Belem Tower. It’s a relaxing and beautiful walk with bikers, skateboarders and others like yourself, just out for a stroll. As you wander, notice the float plane to your right. It represents the first transatlantic flight across the South Atlantic Ocean.
beige WWII type airplane

Your sixth stop: Belem Tower

Let me be straight, there is an option to climb Belem Tower. That said, from all I read before our visit, this is absolutely not something you really want to do. There are no advance tickets that allow you to skip the line and as long as the line is outside, it is longer inside as the stairwells are too narrow to accommodate the number of people and it could take hours to reach the top. We didn’t want to take that risk and honestly, neither should you. Since you visited the top of the Monument of the Discoveries, you were able to get essentially the same view without the lines. Belem Tower is a beauty to see from the outside so absolutely don’t miss it. It was used to defend then city and was then a lighthouse and later a custom house.
tower of Belem as tall L shaped castle on edge of river with walking bridge filled with people in front
Look at the stone exterior and try to find the ropes, spheres and the crosses of the Order of Christ. The intricacies in the stone are so beautiful.

Other Suggestions for your Day in Belem

While not being the top locations to visit in Belem, if you’re looking for more things to do in Belem, the following stops have great reviews. If you have more time, you absolutely should consider visiting one or all of these amazing museums. National Coach Museum – Museu Nacional dos Coches The National Coach Museum in Belem holds some of the most important and most beautiful horse drawn coaches in the world. Coaches come from many European royal families including those of England and Spain. National Museum of Archaeology – Museu Nacional de Arqueologia This amazing museum contains artifacts from hundreds of Portuguese archaeological sites along with a great Egyptian section. It is located beside the Jeronimos Monastery so it is easy to access if you have time. Maritime Museum – Museu de Marinha Belem’s Maritime Museum introduces visitors to Portugal’s wonderful maritime history. It even includes model ships from the beginning of the Age of Discoveries. It is located in the west wing of Jeronimos Monastery.

How to return to Lisbon downtown after a Day in Belem

You could return to Lisbon using the same stop and transportation that you used to get to Belem but you don’t have to. Other routes may be much easier, depending on where you end your day. If you decide to add the National Coach Museum to your day in Belem, it would be a better idea to hop on Tram #15 at the “Belem” stop or take the train that returns to Cais de Sodre from Belem. We would have chosen the latter as the trip is much faster but at the time we decided to leave, we were much closer to the Largo Princesa tram stop and we were way too tired to walk the distance back to the train station. We returned to the Lisbon waterfront from Belem Tower by walking a short 5 minutes to Largo Princesa to take Tram #15 back to Lisbon. We had plans that started at the water front back in Lisbon so we got off at Cais de Sodre but we could have stayed on and returned close to our flat at Praca de Figueres.

In Conclusion …

Even if you only have part of a day in Belem, you can see some amazing sights that you really shouldn’t miss so hop on that tram, bus or train and head to see where the discovery of the world began!
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