Jeronimos Monastery (or Mosteiro dos Jeronimos) truly is a work of art. One of the few surviving examples of Manueline architecture, the monastery was built in 1502 on the spot where Vasco da Gama and his crewmen stayed before embarking for India. In 1983, the monastery unsurprisingly became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The monastery cloister is an absolute must-see and the charm of the building isn't lost even when the place is overflowing with eager tourists. The connection between the monastery and the ocean is pretty obvious; the cloisters feature many motifs reminiscent of sea exploration including coral and coils of rope. The cloisters are set on two floors and afford great views of the picturesque inner courtyard. An avid photographer could spent a lot of time here seeking out the minute details that make this place such a magical place to visit and experience.
If you want to take your time exploring the cloisters in relative quiet, I would recommend visiting at around lunchtime before the afternoon tour buses arrive and when the morning tour groups have been and gone! I did this and by the time I left, the crowds at the doors were swelling.
The highlight of my visit to Belem in March 2011 was taking in the breathtaking views from the viewing platform on top of the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos).
So much so, that when I returned to Belem again in December 2011 (this time with my girlfriend and her parents in tow) a return visit to the top of the monument was my first priority!
The Monument to the Discoveries is 52 metres tall and stands on the banks of the Tagus river. It is easily reached from the centre of Lisbon on tram number 15. We disembarked the tram outside Jeronimos Monastery and made our way across the road to the monument.
There is a ticket office inside the monument on the ground floor and a lift that takes passengers most of the way to the top. The lift goes as far as the fifth floor and then there are a couple of small flights of stairs to climb before reaching the open air, rooftop terrace. The terrace is small and becomes very cramped when there are more than a handful of visitors up there.
At the time of our visit, tickets for the viewing platform cost €2.50 (concessions: €1.50).
The views from the top are breathtaking. Facing the Tagus river and looking left, you will see Lisbon's famous 25 de Abril Bridge and, behind that, the Christ The Redeemer statue on a hilltop in Alameda. Looking to the right, you will see the unmistakable Torre de Belem.
Facing away from the river you will see the huge Jeronimos Monastery and, on the hillside behind it, the stadium of local football side Belenenses. You will also get a great bird's-eye view of the elaborately tiled compass and world map that lies in the square in front of the monument and the surrounding riverbank promenades and marinas.
Excellent panoramic views from the top of the Monument of the Discoveries! A must-see while in Belem!
After enjoying Lisbon take a bus, train or quaint yellow tram to Belem just outside the city. Bring you camera for photos of the Discoveries Monument, Tower of Belem, etc. Visit the Coach Museum or the Jeronimos Monastery.
Before I review the Coach Museum, I want to say that if you visit this museum, do it when there is full sun, as I visited it this last time near the evening and it was difficult to see the many beautiful coaches. I am glad that this was my second visit.
Nothing had been changed in the past 35 years, except that they had added a few more items and there were some musical artifacts upstairs. This is one of the largest collection of coaches in the world.
If you have never seen those old coaches used by Royalty and the rich, this is a must see. You will marvel at the carvings and the careful way they made them. They were not just made for comfort, but made to show their power and money. These were a statement, just as nowadays some people make a statement with fancier cars and clothes.
You can spend an hour here, and then walk over to the waterfront and down to the Belem Tower.
Not expensive to enter, and after you can visit the famous pastry shop nearby.
This large monument along the waterfront is called Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Erected in 1960 to honor the seamen of Portugal I found it to be sort of in a fascist style, but not being an expert in this sort of thing I just marveled to the many different carved men all in different actions. These are found on both sides of the monument.
You can go inside and take the stairs to the top for a great view of the Monastery and the Belem Tower, both within minutes of walking.
This area is very nice and lends itself to sitting and watching, or even a picnic. The city keeps it very clean and it has a pleasant view across to the other ports and also of the bridge in the direction of Lisbon.
There are two tombs of Vasco da Gama (1460 or 1469 – 24 December 1524) in Lisbon, but only one holds his remains. The very and more modern tomb in the Pantheon is empty but was placed there to honor their greatest explorer.
The real tomb is in the jeronimos monastery and when you are there it will be difficult to get photos without other tourists. Made of marble, they carved the likeness of da Gama in a praying hands position.
He died of malaria in Cochin, India, and his body was interred several different times in history.
If you are any bit interested in history this is something you must see when in Lisbon.
This will be one of the highlights of your visit! Originally begun by Henry the Navigator around 1459. King Manuel petitioned the Holy See in 1496 for permission to construct a monastery and when the gold and riches brought by Vasco da Gama the monastery became a place of prayer for the seamen venturing out on voyages from Portugal.
The monastery is massive, expect to spend at least two hours walking around and going up the stairs for many photo ops. There is also another museum to archaeology on the left of the main entrance. Separate fees for each.
You will marvel at the many carvings and architecture of the buildings, a style called Manueline. This complex is also designated a Unesco Site.
Closed (Mondays and on 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 December)
October–April 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
May–September 10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Noted to be the jumping off place for the old explorers, this site is well worth a visit. It is best to walk along the waterfront as you can have many photo ops along the way, the bridge and ports across the river lending viewpoints.
The tower is open for visits and there is a charge. Going up the winding stairs is not for the feint hearted or older folks. Also if your body size is a bit larger than most I would not suggest going up. It is very difficult to pass folks coming down and it is also quite strenuous for folks not used to climbing those small European stairs.
It was later designated to be a prison, prisoners were kept in the dungeon, which must have been a very cold and damp place to be. After this the tower was used for many different purposes.
They have provided benches for folks who want to sit in the sun and take it all in. There is a grassy park behind these benches which would make a nice place for a picnic on the grass.
The famous Jerónimos Monastery is 10 minutes walking from here.
Closed (Mondays and on 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 December)
October–April 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
May–September 10:00 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
In the eponymous square in Belem, you will find a large statue of Afonso de Albuquerque which was built in 1902 in neo-Manueline style by the artists Silva Pinto and Costa Mota tio.
The man himself was the first conqueror of India and his efforts established the Portuguese Empire in the Indian Ocean. He is remembered for being a very adept military man who utilised formidable strategies to forge diplomatic relations with the natives and erode the influence of the Turks in the region. He died in Goa in 1515 and his statue in Belem is a fitting tribute to him.
There are plenty of benches in the tree-lined square where you can sit and enjoy a drink or an icecream while looking at the statue and taking in the surroundings. If nothing else, it's a good opportunity to grab a breather before you move on to another of Belem's many sights.
The Maritime Museum (or Museu de Marinha) can be found in the western wing of Jeronimos Monastery next to the Archeological Museum. On entry to the museum, you are given a leaflet which includes a map showing what route to take around the museum and also detailing a little about the contents of each room.
There are around 2,500 exhibits on view taking in Portuguese maritime history and illustrating Portugal's dominance in Atlantic and Indian trade. Some of the exhibits include interesting globes and maps, ship models and paintings. One of my favourite exhibits was the Royal Cabin Room which recreates the cabin conditions of the Royal yacht Amelia, which was used by King Carlos and Queen Amelia.
Before you leave the museum, you will walk into the Barge Pavilion housed in a newer, airier building opposite the Jeronimos Monastery. In this large space, there are some outstanding examples of barges that were used by the Portuguese Royal family. Some of these barges are huge and highly decorated. There are also some examples of Portuguese seaplanes housed in the Pavilion.
A tour of the museum ends at the gift shop where there is a nice, friendly self-service buffet style restaurant where you can recharge your batteries before more sightseeing! I enjoyed the lasagne I had there and the waitress liked my British accent! :D
Entry to the museum costs 5 Euros.
The spacious interior of the Jeronimos Monastery is the final resting place for many Portuguese historical figures. The tomb of Vasco da Gama, who discovered India and established a profitable trade route between Portugal and the Asian Subcontinent, has pride of place just to the left of the entrance as you enter. Opposite over on the right side is the tomb of poet Luis de Camões, who wrote the Lusiads about Vasco da Gama's triumphal exploits.
The interior of the church also features stunning Gothic style columns and a beautiful rib-vaulted ceiling. Unfortunately the lighting inside the church is quite low so it was difficult to get good photos. Photography is allowed although you should remain silent at all times when inside the monastery out of respect for those buried there.
Entry to the monastery and monastery cloisters is 7 Euros. The monastery is open 10 am to 6 pm from May to September.
Get the lift to the top of the Discoveries Monument and you will be rewarded with some truly spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Main photo: Look down to get a great view of the mosaic pavement in front of the monument. The pavement shows a large compass with a world map in the centre showing the routes taken by Portugal's explorers. It was a gift from the South African government and very nice it is too.
Photo 2: Take a look towards Belem and you will see the vast Jeronimos Monastery (see separate tip) and the Restelo Stadium of Belenenses, one of Portugal's oldest football clubs.
Photo 3: In the direction of Lisbon, you will see the 25th of April Bridge, a grand suspension bridge that crosses the Tagus. Across the river, near the bridge, you can just about make out the Cristo Rei monument, a statue of Christ with arms outstretched. The statue was inspired by the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
Photo 4: In the opposite direction, you can see the Torre de Belem or Belem Tower jutting out into the Tagus. This is one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture in Belem. I didn't visit the tower this time round but it certainly looked impressive and I have to leave some things for next time!
The Discoveries Monument (or Padrão dos Descobrimentos) is one of Belem's most visited landmarks and a great place to visit for wonderful views over the area. Standing on the banks of the River Tagus, it was built back in 1960. The monument features sculptures of some of Portugal's most prominent explorers such as Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan.
The monument was built in recognition of the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry the Navigator's death. Prince Henry himself has pride of place on the ship-shaped monument looking out over the Tagus.
One of the best things about the Discoveries Monument is the opportunity to take the lift to the summit of the monument and to look out over Belem, the River Tagus, towards Lisbon and back along the Lisbon Coast. It is also a great spot to survey the sites and get a lie of the land before exploring Belem in more detail.
It cost 3 Euros to access the lift that takes you to the top of the monument.
The monument is open everyday between May and September from 10am to 7pm.
The National Coach Museum (or Museu dos Coches) is housed in a former riding arena built in a neo-classical style. The main hall ceiling is very impressive, adorned with late 18th century paintings by Francisco de Setubal and Joaquim Jose Lopes among others.
The main hall is now home to a truly extraordinary collection of stagecoaches and coaching-related items. These include coaches used by the Portuguese royal family, as well as coaches designed for state occasions and papal visits. There is even a grand coach in the museum that was used by Queen Elizabeth II of England on her visit to Portugal in 1957.
Although this is quite a specialist museum, there is no danger of getting bored as the museum guides you through the evolution of stagecoaches through the years. All exhibits are explained in detail in English. In the main hall, you can walk around the sides of the coaches and even peer inside at the upholstery! Most of the coaches are decorated beautifully with intricate door paintings. Be sure to go upstairs for a great view of the main hall from the balcony above. For an impression of the interior of the museum, take a look at the virtual tour on the museum website listed below.
Adult admission is 5 Euros and the museum is open between 10 am and 6 pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.
The church of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos is called Igreja de Santa Maria. Already before entering the building you will notice the rich decoration at the portal. Same richness continues inside. It was Diogo Boitac who started the construction of the church, later in 1517 Juan de Castilho continued the work.
Inside the church in the Lower Choir you will find the tombs of Vasco da Gama and Luís de Camões which were set up here in the 19th century. Many members of the Portuguese royal family also found their last resting place here in the Igreja de Santa Maria.