The glories of Portugal's explorers and the Age of Discovery

Lisbon's most monumental and historical area is Belém. It was from here that many of the great Portuguese explorers embarked on their voyages of discovery: Prince Henry the Navigator and the first overseas expedition to conquer Ceuta in Morocco, Bartolomeu Dias to round the Cape of Good Hope, the first voyages of Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama to discover the sea route to India, and Christopher Columbus stopped here on his way back to Europe after discovering the New World.

During this time Lisbon flourished with riches pouring into Portugal and saw the construction of great monuments like the Belém Tower and Jeronimos Monastery. Today these monuments and their surrounding museums are essential viewing for any visitor. 

With so much to see, the Ajuda Palace and its ostentatious interior is often overlooked, but combined with the opulence of the popular Coaches Museum, it's the best place to see the regal grandeur of 18th century Lisbon and of the European royal families.

For short breaks there are cafes housed in attractive traditional houses with outdoor sitting along Rua Vieira Portuense next to the garden in front of Belém Palace. But the best place for a drink and pastries is the cafe Antiga Confeitaria de Belém which has been serving delicious custard tarts in its rooms adorned with tiles since 1841. You can have a few inside or buy a dozen to savor by the riverfront as you admire the monuments, the river, and 25 de Abril Bridge.

Belém's attractions warrant a full-day visit, but don't go on a Monday, when many of the sites are closed.




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