Lisbon's Belem Neighborhood
On Sunday morning, we took Tram 15 from Praça do Comércio to Belem, a neighborhood further down the river that is home to many of the most iconic Lisbon sites. We arrived at 10:00 a.m., right as sites opened, and quickly jumped in the already long and growing queue for the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos.
Dennis has gotten really good at figuring out ways to skip lines, and after some exploring, discovered some helpful tips:
- There is a second ticket office with virtually no line. This is where he bought our tickets, and we then walked right to the Monastery’s entrance. When we left the Monastery (albeit probably faster than those who get to read exhibits), the folks with us in the line originally were still waiting outside the door.
- Portugal has a real law on the books that allows families line priority, so we could have walked to the front of the line regardless of our hidden ticket office discovery.
- Online research led us to believe that the attractions would be free, given that it was the first Sunday of the month. We were disappointed to learn, however, it was the first month since that program had been discontinued. Oh well, when in Lisbon.
As for the site itself, the monastery, built by Henry the Navigator, has some neat nautical themes woven throughout in the architecture. There is also what appeared to be a well done one-room exhibit that lined up the history of the world with events in Portugal and narrower still, events related to the monastery. I can’t say I was able to take any of that in though. The kids did take some great pictures of paintings of knights and princesses though. While it’s a beautiful space, I can’t say it supported the hype that surrounds it in when researching a trip to Lisbon. It was worth the 15 minutes wait, but I wouldn’t have been happy about spending an hour in the sun to get inside.
After the monastery, we gave it a really good faith effort to attend mass at the attached church. The splendor of the church did not provide enough distraction for our tired little tourists. Cora was due a nap and decided to throw a massive crying fit. I took her outside for lots of pacing and to hopefully get her to sleep in the carrier. A sweet, older Portuguese couple volunteering at the church followed me out to help console Cora. I enjoyed their company, but it pushed Cora over the limit and I never got her settle down. Right before I was expecting them to emerge, Dennis and the older kids exited having not made it to communion due to Henry’s meltdown. We tried.
On the heels of our failed mass attempt, and in the sweltering midday sun, we rushed through the remaining sites on the Belem waterfront. The line at the maritime museum had grown too long, so we crossed that off the list. The Belem Tower is a major landmark today, just as it was during the Age of Discovery when it was the last thing that explorers saw of their home as they pulled out of the harbor. We walked along the water far enough to get a good view, and then turned back. We enjoyed the modern Monument to the Discoveries from the outside.
On our way back to the tram stop, we quickly ducked into the famous Pasteis de Belem, original conveyors of the patel de nata. Again, we found two lines – one around the block, the other right up to the counter. We walked right up to the counter and away we went with a half a dozen delicious custard tarts. Of this I grow more certain with our travels: if there is a line, people will just stand in it.
Belem was beautiful, but Belem was also incredibly crowded. And it is a small area. Perhaps one could see that as an opportunity to see a lot easily, and perhaps in a quieter time of year. We found it hectic and full of tourists. Nothing grabbed our attention or caught our hearts like so much else we saw in Lisbon. And after all of the lines and screaming kids, you might better understand why our next two stops were the Museum of Beer and wine tasting room.