Having seen the oldest part of Lisbon on your first day, head this morning to Belém, a neighborhood in the southwest that is associated with the most famous period in the country’s history, the Age of Discovery. In the 15th and 16th centuries, figures including Henry the Navigator, Bartolomeo Dias, and Vasco de Gama explored the world and established an expansive empire in the process.
The 16th-century Torre de Belém
was built as part of Lisbon’s maritime defenses, and today it is, along with the nearby Jerónimos Monastery, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. While the elaborate Manueline architecture gives the tower, an icon of both Lisbon and Portugal, the look of a fantastic folly, it in fact played an essential role in several conflicts over the centuries. (It also served as a customs house and prison at different points.) A visit in the morning offers the best light to photograph the landmark. Afterwards head to the nearby Pastéis de Belém
for a breakfast of coffee and one of Portugal’s most famous dishes: pasteis de nata
, egg custard tarts.
Once you have refueled, you’ll be ready to explore the Jerónimos Monastery
, an enormous building funded by the riches from Portugal’s young empire. Construction began in 1501 and took a hundred years to complete, all financed by a tax on trade with Asia and Africa. It is famous as one of the pinnacles of Manueline architecture, an elaborate Gothic-inspired style that incorporates maritime motifs—twisting ropes, anchors, shells, and strings of seaweed are recreated in stone. For more than 300 years, until the monastery was dissolved in 1833, the monks here prayed for the success of the expeditions that departed from Lisbon. Get a late lunch at Enoteca de Belém
, a local favorite that’s a little off the beaten tourist path. Fitting with the maritime history of the neighborhood, the restaurant specializes in seafood, both in traditional Portuguese dishes and some Asian-inspired ones as well. Its wine cellar has been recognized by Wine Spectator
and other publications.
After lunch, head from Lisbon’s most famous historic landmarks to one of its newest ones: MAAT
(short for the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology), in a stunning tiled building by the British architect Amanda Levete. If you have had your fill of culture and are more in the mood for shopping, the LX Factory
is also located between Belém and central Lisbon. This 19th-century textiles factory has been restored and now houses cafés, designer boutiques, and bookstores, as well as some performance spaces.