When I was researching what to do in Lisbon, there was one destination that everyone, from colleagues to friends to travel guides, mentioned – Belem. Mostly they spoke about the Pasteis de Belem, the area’s renown custard tartlets, but additionally to the pastries Belem is a lovely spot to explore.
We decided to head to Belem on the Sunday of our long weekend – the shops downtown were closed, and we wanted a quieter day after the busy days previously. Except the 35 degree heat meant that no matter what we did, we would be absolutely sweltering the entire time!
The easiest way for us to reach Belem, which is a neighbourhood outside of central Lisbon in the same direction as the beach destination Cascais, was to take the tram. We walked from our Airbnb in the Alfama neighbourhood about fifteen minutes down to the Praça do Comércio (Commercial Square), where we could catch tram 15 all the way Belem. The tram ride took about 20 minutes and was blissfully air conditioned!
Belem lies at the mouth of the Tagus river which leads into Lisbon. In fact, we were quickly corrected by our Portuguese friend whom we met up with on our first two days, when we kept referring to the beautiful view of the ocean. What you can see from most of Lisbon is actually the Tagus river, and only after Belem do you reach the ocean.
We started our visit to Belem by disembarking the tram in front of the Pasteis de Belem bakery – the massive line encouraged us to start our visit elsewhere and hopefully come back once the queue had diminished. So we walked past the Jeronimos monastery and up toward the waterfront and the discovery monument.
The Jeronimos Monastery has a long history dating back to the 16th century when it was built in all its grandeur. It’s possible to visit, although we elected not to.
The Discovery Monument sits on the waterfront, is a tall tower that was first a temporary structure for the world fair in the 40s, and was permanently constructed in the 1960s to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The basement of the monument houses an exhibition space, and its possible to climb to the top of the monument for a view over Belem.
From the Discovery Monument we walked along the waterfront and harbour to the Belem Tower. Due to its location Belem was ideally situated as a part of the Portuguese defence system to guard the entrance to the port. Belem tower sits out on a small island and is also available to visit – with quite a line when we were there!
With all the walking in the heat, we needed to take a break before heading back towards the bakery. Next to the Belem tower was the Cafe do Forte, a small cafe with a sizeable outdoor terrace shaded by the surrounding trees. It was the prefect place to have a drink and rehydrate before continuing on.
When we got back to Pasteis de Belem, by some stroke of luck the crowd had seriously diminished! In any case, the line up outside the bakery is for the take-away portion of the shop. We had already been advised that the best method is to grab a table inside the shop (and they have surprisingly a lot of space!) where we would be to enjoy the pastries immediately and also order for takeaway.
This bakery is the only true place to get the iconic custard pastries. While you can find similar fare all over Lisbon, the actual recipe is a well kept secret that only a few people know. We started off with one pastry each, before quickly ordering a second round. And we couldn’t help ourselves – we grabbed two more each to take back to our apartment for breakfast the next day! Call us addicted.
It was the perfect way to end our day in Belem. We decided to forgo the tram back to the centre, and instead took up the offer of a tuktuk driver for breezy ride back into the city for just five euros each – worth the extra money and we avoided what was sure to be a crowded tram!