Lisbon: Exploring Belem and Lx Factory

The area of Belém in Lisbon has a lot of historical importance - it's where the Portuguese explorers set sail from in the 16th century on their voyages of discovery, something that's celebrated today with the rather impressive Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos).

But, if you're heading to Belem first thing, don't start there. Start at Pasteis de Belem for epic Portuguese custard tarts. These were the best pastel de nata we had in Lisbon, though they do refer to them Pasteis de Belem as their (secret) recipe is slightly different. Very delicious. I can't speak for normally as were there in COVID-19 times but we were seated straight away and there were plenty of tables free - you'll definitely have to queue if you want yours to take away though, especially when life is more normal again.

Once you're fuelled up, your next stop is Belem Tower (Torre de Belem). Head from Pasteis de Belem, down Praco do Imperio (ignore Jerónimos Monastery for now) and you should spy just past the Centro Cultural de Belém, Big Raccoon by Bordalo II (above). Bordalo II is a Portuguese street art, famous for making trash art, usually of animals. In fact, he's from Lisbon and his art is dotted all over the city (we spotted another piece at Lx Factory, see below, and I wish we'd hunted out more). We didn't go to the Centro Cultural de Belém, but here you'll find the Berardo Museum Collection, as well as performing arts venues covering film, theatre, music, ballet and opera.

Belem Tower (above), built around 1514, was a fortress back in Portugal's voyages of discovery days. Our tickets were half price because they had restricted access to the top levels because of COVID-19, which we only realised when we were there, so we weren't there very long. (Adult tickets cost €6.) From there we walked back along the river/sea (here in Belem it's where the River Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean), past Belem Lighthouse (Farol de Belem), to the Monument to the Discoveries. You can buy tickets to head inside for exhibitions and to see the view, but we just admired from the outside - and had admired it from our sunset cruise which departed from the marina right next to it (more about that another time!).

Once you've explored here, now it's time to head over the road to Jerónimos Monastery. I booked via GetYourGuide, which does require you to print out your booking confirmation, but you'll be able to skip the rather large queue (yep, even in COVID-19 times there were big queues so very glad we did this; adult tickets cost €10). If you have booked ahead, go to the National Museum of Archaeology, ignore the queues to the left and right and walk straight through the middle doors where you'll show your print-out to the attendant. You'll be sorted out with your actual tickets in mere moments.


Dating from the 16th century, the monastery is beautiful, especially the cloisters, and it's well worth a visit. Don't forget to head into the church (Igreja Santa Maria de Belém) as well when you leave - you will see the church from above if you've bought a ticket but it is worth going in to see all the extra detail at ground level, including the tomb of Vasco da Gama (below) - Vasco da Gama was the most famous Portuguese explorer, the first European to reach India by sea. If you don't fancy paying to see the cloisters, it is free to see the church so do pop in if you're exploring Belem.


Finally, it's not actually in Belem, but after we had visited Jerónimos Monastery we decided to continue walking down the sea/riverfront until we got to Lx Factory - it took us longer than we thought it would, but if you have a full day in this area, halfway between Jerónimos Monastery and Lx Factory is MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology. Part of it is an old electricity power station (like the TATE Modern or Battersea Power Station in London), which is now, funnily enough, the Electricity Museum. If you don't head inside, you can access the roof of MAAT for free which has quite the view of the famous Ponte 25 de April (which looks like San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge).

Located just to the side of the 25th of April bridge, Lx Factory in the Alcantara area of Lisbon is a cool former factory - first a weaving and textile factory, then a food processing factory - which is now home to many creative businesses and restaurants, including the coolest bookshop in Lisbon. (You'll also find another installation by Bordalo II here.) A lot of it was still closed when we were there but we had decent enough pizza at Messe and drinks at O Lote. I'd definitely want to head back here if I ever go back to Lisbon.


What do you think to Belem and Lx Factory? x

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