A quick 5 minute train journey or a much longer (trust me!) tram ride from Praca do Comercio, is the district of Belem. This is an absolute must-see destination for anyone visiting Lisbon and although most guides suggest a 3 – 4 hour visit, we spend almost a full day along the banks of the Tejo River exploring its wonders and enjoying its (unusually) flat terrain.
Our first stop was outside the beautiful Mosteiro dos Jeronimos … and what a serendipitous choice it was! We arrived at the exact place, on the exact date and at the exact time that Lisbon’s bombeiros (professional firemen) were parading in celebration of their 621st anniversary. What a sight it was, fire engines, ambulances, all manner of rescue vehicles and troop upon troop of bomeiros proudly marching past in their unique ( read very odd) fashion.
Feeling peckish, we then made our way to the much celebrated home of Portugal’s most famous tarts, Pasteis de Nata. The Cafe Pasteis de Belem reportedly sells over 10 000 of these deliciously flakey egg custard tarts every day and we just couldn’t resist buying a budget-beating 6 pack. Needless to say, none of them made it home with us!
A little further down the road is the Palacio Nacional Belem, but as there is little to see besides its bright pink walls, it’s best given a miss, as is the next door Coach museum, unless your interest’s specifically run to such things.
The nearby parklike Square of Afonso de Alburquerque is the ideal place to find a shady bench for an icecream or perhaps any remaining Pastais de Nata before strolling along the waterfront to the Discoveries monument. This very impressive structure celebrates all the great Portuguese explorers of old and offers a great view of the statue of Christ the King on the opposite bank of the Tejo.
A little futher along the waterfront is the unremarkable Belem lighthouse, which is completely overshadowed by arguably the greatest attraction and the best views of the massive 25 April suspension bridge are to be found after a steep, heart-pounding 93 step climb to the top of the delightful Torre de Belem. Perhaps a good way to pay penance for all the delicious “de Nata’s” consumed during the day?
After making our way down from the tower, there was just enough time to stop off for a reviving Sagres beer at a waterside cafe before heading back to Lisbon for the evening, well satisfied with our day of sightseeing.