Belém and Restelo

Situated on Tagus River bank, Belém itself is like an open-air museum offering many significant historical attractions of Discoveries era as well as panoramic views for its visitors. Belém can be considered the starting point of discoveries: In 1415, the first overseas expedition left Belém to conquer Ceuta in Morrocco. In 1493, Columbus stopped in on his way back from discovering the Americas. In 1497, Vasco de Gama set off his trip to discover a maritime route to India. Having noted the historical importance of Belém, a visit to Belém is a must. (Note: Everything is closed on Monday.) The best way to get here is to catch the modern No. 14 tram from Praça do Comércio or Praça da Figueira. Alternatively, you can catch the trains from Cais do Sodré to Oeiras, which stop at Belém.

Here you can visit Torre de Belém, one of Lisbon’s most recognizable symbols. A World Heritage Site, Tower of Belém was built in Manueline style during the Age of Discoveries in 1520 and surrounded by the river on three sides. Tower is also a great vantage point, providing spectacular views of River Tagus and the Ocean. During summer, the tower hosts several concerts and exhibitions.

Nearby is Centro Cultural Belém, or CCB, one of the great cultural centers in Europe. Located in a gigantic modern building, CCB hosts modern art exhibitions, concert and performances. Inside is the superb Museu do Design.

Another leftover on the marina is Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Inaugurated in 1960, there you can see the sculpted figures of Portuguese Discoverers.

Opposite the marina are Museu de Marinha, which features the collection of historical maps, boats, model ships, charts, instruments related to Portuguese Navy, Merchant Navy and other maritime activities dating from the Discoveries to the present, and Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, another World Heritage Site in the zone, displays a fascinating combination of late-baroque and the Renaissance styles in the 16th century and contains the tombs of Vasco de Gama and Luís de Camões.

In Rua de Belém, it is a must to stop at Pastéis de Belém, a pastry shop exists since 1837 serving creamy custard tart topped with cinnamon and sugar. It is the unique place to taste these traditional tarts that gave the café its name. The place is always packed with people.

The other great cultural attractions of the area are, right across the CCB, Planetário Calouste Gulbenkian (the Planetarium), the National Archaeology Museum, a little further the Ethnology Museum, and Coach Museum. A short bus ride from Belém will take you easily to Palácio Nacional de Ajuda or to National Museum of Ancient Art. Don’t miss them!