There are plenty of great day trips from Lisbon, but one that should not be missed is taking Lisbon’s tram 15 to Belém. Belém has several incredible architectural attractions: the Torre de Belém, Belém Monastery, and Padrao dos Descobrimentos. Most importantly, as any self-respecting foodie, you cannot visit Lisbon without a pilgrimage to the home of the original Pastéis de Belém!
For the complete experience you will definitely want to catch the iconic tram 15 from Lisbon, which rattles and creaks its way along the well worn tracks to Belém. The trams can get very busy in the heights of summer, so if traveling in high season your best bet is to get on at the terminus station, Figueira Square. Even so there may be a shuffle as European tourists elbow their way on to find a seat.
- Tram 15 – A one way trip costs €2.85 (2016). The 15 line runs both the modern and historic trams.
- Alternatively (or on the way back) the cab ride costs around €10 (2016) and can save you some hassle.
- Note: On Mondays, the Jerónimos Monastery and Torre de Belém are closed and can only be viewed from the outside. On the first Sunday of every month these attractions are free!
Pastéis De Belém
Near the terminus of tram 15 you’ll find the world-rerenowned café Pastel De Belém. Take your time, find a seat, and order a coffee to enjoy with some of the most famous sweet custard tarts in all of Portugal.
These are no ordinary tarts! Pastéis de Belém are one-of-a-kind, a truly authentic delicacy, made from an ancient secret recipe. Only 3 people in the world know how to make them! The recipe is never written down, only memorized, and each day the ingredients are mixed together behind a locked door. The Pasteis de Belém are both patented and trade marked, so the similar custard tarts you find around Lisbon (i.e: Pastéis de Nata) are made from a replica recipe. Of course, we recommend you try each and determine the true winner for yourself. The Belém café is rumored to make more than 20,000 tarts a day, baked in an inferno oven at 750 degrees Fahrenheit, 400 degrees Celsius!
Pastéis de Belém were first made in the 18th century, by the French monks from the nearby Jerónimos Monastery. The monks relied on egg whites to starch their clothes and the nun’s habits, so left over egg yokes were used in French inspired cakes and pastries. The monks started selling the Pastéis de Belém to raise funds for the church, eventually selling the recipe to the nearby sugar refinery in 1837. To this day, Pastéis de Belém are made and sold in the exact same location, created from the traditional top-secret recipe.
After your fill of sweet Portuguese pastries and coffee, you will have the energy to explore the rest of Belém!
As you walk west of the Pastéis de Belém, you will come across the Jerónimos Monastery. This is claimed to be one of Lisbon’s best attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The monastery is beautiful with photogenic arches and a serene atmosphere, showcasing the late gothic Manueline style of architecture. The original church on the site was dedicated to Santa Maria, where monks would assist and pray for voyaging sailors.
If you plan on visiting multiple sites in Belém, consider a combination ticket to save a few Euros. On a budget, you can visit the attached church, where entry is free.
Padrao dos Descobrimentos
(Under Restoration – 2016)
The Padrao dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), is currently undergoing restoration so check on its the status during the time you visit. It is a beautiful site. The impressive monument celebrates the Portuguese Age of Discovery and was originally created for the 1940 Portuguese World Exhibition.
To get to the Padrao Dos Descobrimentos, take the underpass from the gardens of the Jeronimos Monastery gardens.
Torre De Belém
The unique Torre De Belém is completely surrounded by water at the mouth of the River Tagus. Elegant sculpted balconies and parapets make you feel like a prince or princess in a majestic ocean tower. The Torre De Belém is a short 10-minute walk along the waterfront from the Padrao Dos Descobrimentos.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort was built as military defensive in the 16th century on orders of King Manual I. Much prettier than your typical military fort, the architecture is built in the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style (much like the Jerónimos Monastery). Nautical details and opulence represent the successes and wealth Portugal had during the Age of Discoveries, expanding their overseas colonies and commanding trade routes that brought riches from Africa, Brazil and the Far East.
Belém and its sites represent discovery, adventure, and risks and rewards. Nowadays you can wander these impressive monuments to get a glimpse of Portugal’s many great achievements, of which we consider the delightful and world-famous Pastéis de Belém among its tastiest.
PORTUGAL CITY GUIDES
If you are planning a trip around Portugal, check out the rest of Sails & Spices Portugal City Guides:
- A Romantic Weekend in Porto
- A Wine Lover’s Dream in the Douro Valley
- Sipping Ginja in Obidos
- Lisbon City Guide
- Pena Palace in Sintra
- A Vegetarian Guide to Lagos