Lisbon is a fascinating and fun city – it’s easy to relax and get “stuck” in the city center, enjoying the sights, museums or just hanging out in the trendy neighborhoods of Chiado or Bairo Alto. But it’s worth tearing yourself away and head to Belem to enjoy the historic sights or some modern art, there is a lot to choose from!
Why you should go: Lisbon has a long proud history and the city has done a great job in conserving that history and in presenting it to the public. The many sights in Belem are no different. There is a lot to see and each of the sights is well done and easily accessible. Check out my selection below and pick one or two that interests you the most!
Coach Museum: One of the most unique sights in Lisbon is the National Coach Museum. It was founded in 1905 and holds one of the finest collections of carriages in the world. While I’ve seen all kinds of carriages and coaches in museums before, I’ve never seen a museum dedicated to them and that makes for an interesting exhibit! The coaches built for Royalty or the Catholic Bishops in the 16th through 19th century are splendid vehicles meant to impress and demonstrate the wealth and power of the people inside. With huge dimensions, beautiful carvings and elaborate red & gold decorations, they make a Rolls Royce look like understatement in comparison. You can also see some carriages for the “common people” and the development over time.
The Coach Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00-18:00 and admission is EUR6 (free with Lisboa Card).
Jeronimos Monastery: If the coaches gave you an idea of the immense power and wealth Lisbon accumulated in its golden years, the Jeronimos Monastery will drive that point home. It was inaugurated in 1495 and took 100 years to be finished. It is a massive construction that tells the story of the influence the religious orders had at their time. It was funded initially by taxes on the trade to Africa and the Orient, resulting in tremendous wealth funneled into the construction and maintenance. It was closed to common people for centuries and the order was dissolved in 1833. We all are fortunate to be able to see the well-preserved buildings today. The ornate portals to the outside, the chapel on the inside and the decorative arches around the courtyard are great examples of the architecture of its time.
The monastery is open 10:00-17:30 Tuesday to Sunday and tickets are EUR10 (free with Lisboa Card)
Modern Art Museum: My favorite art museum in Lisbon that surprised me with its large and well curated exhibition, was the Museum of Modern Art. If most modern art museums just leave you scratching your head or thinking “my five year old could do that”, this museum might change that. They have done a fantastic job at describing the art from 1900-1960 and 1960-1990, explaining the environment of the artists, the sentiment of society at the time, what was driving their art and what they are trying to express. Seeing how some of the art fit into the time of the First World War, the golden 20s, the depression or the time after the Second World War made it more interesting to me! While I still might not want it in my living room, I developed a better appreciation of the art work.
The Berardo Museum is open Monday to Sunday from 10:00-19:00 and admission is free!
Tower of Belem: If you haven’t had the perfect selfie moment in Belem, the Tower of Belem is a great spot for it! The fortified tower on the river front was part of the defenses of Lisbon built in the 16th century. The tower has a small museum with historic cannons on the ground floor. You can access the top of the tower for great views over the riverfront and the bastion around it, for those great selfies with the tower in the background. It is a busy destination with narrow staircases up the tower, so it’s worth seeing early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.
The Tower of Belem is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:30-17:00 and admission is EUR6 (free with Lisbon Card).
Travel Tips: You can reach Belem with one of the hop-on-hop-off buses and most tours, making it easy to reach, if you have a lot of sightseeing on your itinerary. If you prefer to travel independently, you can take the train from the Cais do Sodre station. Make sure that you take a “local’ train – not all trains stop at the Belem station. You can also take a modern bus or the old-fashioned tram No15 – it’s a little slower, but much more fun to ride through the winding streets of Lisbon.
As most of the museums around Lisbon and Belem are closed on Mondays, make sure to plan your visit for another day. Most tour buses arrive mid-morning through mid-afternoon, so you should come early or late, if you want to avoid the crowds.
If you are planning to visit multiple of the museums, consider buying the Lisboa Card, which will get you into all of the museums listed above for free.