Belem is a district west of Lisbon, which historically was Lisbon’s dock area but now is a thriving tourist destination. My original intention for visiting Belem, was a quick trip to buy custard tarts from the famous Pasteis de Belem bakery. It was only when I started reading more about that Belem that I realised there is much more to this district than custard tarts.
Located on the banks of the Targus river, Belem, a green residential suburb is rich in Portugese history and historically was the departure point for many Portugese explorers and caravels. Currently it is home to monuments, museums, an abundance of green outdoor spaces and modern laid back cafes.
The seafaring heritage is visible from the landmarks in the area, with the monument to discoveries and memorial to travellers, located in the middle of the Targus River promenade. The striking Padrão dos Descobrimentos, an imposing moment was built to mark the 500th anniversary of Infante Henry the Navigator and features the bow of a caravel with other prominent explorers. You can access a viewing platform at the top of the monument, which offers views of the Targus river and Belem.
Belem’s most famous landmark, Torre de Belem, dates back to early 1500’s. Belem Tower was built as a defensive fortress to guard the port and protect the city of Lisbon. Head to the tower late afternoon and you will find yourself surrounded by both locals and tourists, waiting for the sun to set from the shore behind this famous backdrop.
Belem is a more relaxed pace than bustling Lisbon. (Other than inside Fabrica Pasteis de Belem off course) Walking along the promenade, take in the sights, sunshine and fresh air. We spent the day in Belem. If you have time on your way back to Lisbon, I suggest going to LX Factory for drinks or dinner. It’s a trendy area ( similar to the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town or Shoreditch / Hackney Wick in London) LX Factory. Old industrial area converted to a modern eatery and hangout.
I did not have to search very long for chocolate in Belem when I stumbled across Arcadia Casa do Chocolate. It is located in the town centre, close to Pasteis de Belem. I tried some Porto filled chocolates and chocolate gelato. This was one of the best gelato’s I’ve had in Europe and the shop assistant was so friendly, she even gave us some tips for local attractions! This chocolate shop is definitely worth stopping at!
Trying Pasteis de Belem:
You will find one of the oldest bakeries and most well known bakeries in Belem. Pasteis de Belem is located next to Jeronimos Monastery. While you can try custard tarts all over Portugal, Pateis de Belem is the most entrenched in Portugese history. Pastéis de Belém was first made in 1837, using an ancient recipe handed down from the Mosterio dos Jerónimos. The same recipe is used today and the pasteis de nata (custard tarts) are still hand made using traditional methods.
If you want to sink your teeth into Belem’s most famous portuguese custard tarts expect very long queues to get them. While most tourists queue to order take aways, there is an option is sit down inside the cafe as well. You may be served quicker inside the cafe than queuing in peak times. The cafe with its blue and white Azure interiors are decorated in the old Portuguese style, making for a more authentic experience and buzzing with excitement for many a tourist having a first bite of the famous custard tart.
We paid 3.45 Euro for 3 tarts, and had them traditionally served, dusted with cinnamon and icing sugar, accompanied with coffee, just how the locals like them.
Tip. If you are going to be in the area for the day, we found going back to Pasteis de Belem after 6pm the queues were a lot become shorter. Thousands of custard tarts are freshly baked throughout the day at Pastéis de Belém, so you will have plenty of time to try them if you get there later.
Take a stroll along the Targus River:
Take a stroll along the promenade and take in the sights of the Targus river. The most notable landmark is Ponte 25 de Abril bridge. This red painted bridge spans the Tragus river at its narrowest point is visible from the promenade.
There are other contemporary buildings and architecture which reflects modern Portugal. The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology are one of this buildings. It has a viewing area at roof level and a bridge which connects the city and the waterfront.
Finding your way around Belem:
After disembarking at Belem station we walked to the centre of town. There are buses you can take as well. I prefer walking also offers the opportunity to find architectural gems but did not expect to do as much as we did in one day. Finding chocolate shops, beautiful azulejos tiled hallways of residential buildings hidden behind doors and ports shops.
Overall this was a day well spent, I highly recommend visiting Belem if you are in Lisbon for a few days.
How to get there from Lisbon:
We took the train from Cais do Sodre, which is connected to Lisbon’s metro. As Belem is located outside Lisbon city centre, metro day passes will not be valid on the train, so we paid an extra 1.50 Euro’s for a one way train ticket. Belem is a short 10 minute train journey from Lisbon. There are options to take trams and buses from Lisbon, which we opted not to take due to longer travel times.
See my previous posts on Lisbon for more information on this city and where to eat.
Until next time, more adventure awaits!