Day 2. Sintra and the Belem district of Lisbon

After breakfast, we caught a train to the charming small town of Sintra from the beautiful Rossio Station in Lisbon’s city centre.  Train travel for the 40 minute journey is included in the Lisbon Card making the card extremely good value.  Sintra is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Portugal’s most beautiful towns.

Sintra Town Hall
Sintra Town Hall

From the station it was a pleasant 15 minute stroll into the town centre and entering the town it felt like a fairy-tale land with its enchanting palaces, castles and historic villas set amid pine clad hills.

National Palace, Sintra
The National Palace

Dominating the main square was the National Palace (Entrance €10) which we had spotted from afar with its white exterior and two distinct cone shaped chimneys.  From the late 14th century it was a summer resort for numerous kings.  The interior has been fully restored to how it would have been in the 1910’s making the palace a key attraction to visit whilst in Sintra.  We then enjoyed a stroll through its gardens from where there are some good views of the town with its narrow alleyways.

View of Sintra from the gardens of the Royal Palace
View of Sintra from the gardens of the Royal Palace

Wandering through the town we then called into the tourist office to visit the Sintra Myths and Legends Interpretative Centre (admission €3.50 and included in the Lisbon Card).  Using audio guides the exhibition featuring 17 zones took us on a journey into the myths and legends of the town by means of its history, music and literature.

Exploring Sintra's steep, narrow streets
Exploring Sintra’s steep, narrow streets

On a previous visit to the town we followed the trail up to the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros) which is something I would also suggest first time visitors doing.  As we had made other plans for the afternoon we decided against doing this again and opted instead to return to the station to board the next train back to Lisbon.

Platforms at Rossio, Station, Lisbon
Returning to Rossio Station in Lisbon

A sun drenched patio not far from the station looked to be the perfect place for a spot of lunch and it was a joy to be able to remove our coats and enjoy al-fresco snacks in mid-winter.  After relaxing there awhile we then caught Tram 15E to the Belem district west of the city centre.  Originally this suburb was home to the city’s docks and shipyards and although they have long since gone, it’s rich seafaring heritage continues to this day with its stunning monuments and grandiose buildings.

Jeronimos Monastery, Belem, Lisbon
Jeronimos Monastery in the Belem district of Lisbon

We began our tour of the area with a visit to the Jeronimos Monastery (Mosteiro Jeronimos), undoubtedly the most magnificent of Belem’s buildings.  This vast monastery was built to honour the voyages of discovery by Portuguese explorers and was financed by the wealth of the new trade routes to Africa, Asia and America.  Constructed in 1502 the monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage monument characterised by its elaborate sculptural and maritime motifs.

The double level cloisters at the Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon
The double level cloisters at the Jeronimos Monastery

The cloisters were my favourite part and absolutely stunning with their supporting columns uniquely carved with decorations designed around sea explorations.  Entrance to the monastery is €15 (included in the Lisbon Card) however entry into its richly decorated church is free of charge and shouldn’t be missed.

Igreja Santa Maria de Belém
Igreja Santa Maria de Belém

Leaving there, we crossed the road to walk along the attractive riverside path as far as the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos).  This 52m high monument commemorates 500 years since the death of Prince Henry the Navigator who sponsored a great deal of exploration along the west coast of Africa.  The imposing structure is shaped in the form of a caravel (sailing ship) with figures of the leading explorers of the time carved onto the monument.  Normally it’s possible to take the lift to the observation deck at the top of the monument for superb views along the river and of Belem, however this was temporarily closed at the time of our visit due to COVID.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon,
Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon

Continuing further, our riverside walk led us to the Old Belem lighthouse and just beyond there Belem Tower (Torre de Belem), one of Lisbon’s most iconic landmarks.  This small fort dating from the 16th century was built to guard the Tagus estuary.  The extremely ornate exterior is a joy to behold and it would have been interesting to view the interior but this again was closed at the time of visiting, (entrance €8.50 and included in the Lisbon Card).

Belem Tower, Lisbon
Belem Tower, Lisbon

All this sightseeing was making us feel quite hungry so it was just as well that we had somewhere in mind for our mid-afternoon rest.  From Belem Tower we retraced our steps along the riverfront until we reached the Pasteis de Belem cafe located in a parade of shops just beyond the Jeronimos Monastery.  This bakery was the first business in Portugal to begin selling the delectable Pastéis de Nata custard tarts and now produce several thousand each day baked to their own secret recipe.

,Pastéis de Bélem cafe, Lisbon
The Pastéis de Bélem cafe in Belem

There was quite a long queue snaking its way outside the entrance but it moved swiftly and it wasn’t long before we were being guided to a table in one of the spacious dining rooms.  The cafe was much bigger than we expected with the premises having been expanded over time with a large extension to the rear.  Despite the modern addition not being quite as characterful as the original rooms, it was still very pleasant with table service.

Tea and custard tarts in the Pastéis de Bélem cafe, Belem
Tea and custard tarts in the Pastéis de Bélem cafe, Belem

There was no need for us to study the menu as like almost everyone else we had come to sample their very own custard tarts.  I adore these dainty Portuguese tarts with their creamy custard filling encased in crisp pastry shells and have munched my way through many over the years on my travels from Macau to Madeira and enjoyed each and everyone of them.

Inside the Pastéis de Bélem cafe, Lisbon
Inside the Pastéis de Bélem cafe, Lisbon

The ones served in this cafe were warm straight from the oven and tasted absolutely delicious accompanied by our large pot of tea.  If you are visiting the Belem district I recommend popping into this cafe as its mouth-watering cakes, attractive setting and reasonable prices are a winning formula.

Museum of Coaches, Lisbon
The National Coach Museum in Belem

After enjoying our afternoon sweet treats we were raring to go once again so continued along the road a short distance to the National Coach Museum (€8 and included in the Poznán Card).  This vast building contains the world’s largest collection of royal coaches and is yet another ‘must visit’ museum whilst staying in Lisbon.  The museum first opened in 1905 in an 18th century riding school that  formed part of Belem Palace. To celebrate its 100th anniversary it re-located to its present home nearby enabling more carriages to be put on display.

National Coach Museum, Lisbon
National Coach Museum, Lisbon

I started taking photos of the coaches and couldn’t stop as each of them were magnificent with their decorative embellishments.  On display are several coaches that belonged to European royal families including a 19th century coach built in London and last used by Queen Elizabeth II on a state visit.

MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) Lisbon
MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) Lisbon

Leaving there we rounded off our afternoon in Belem with a visit to MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology), Lisbon’s new cultural centre.  Entrance €5 and included in the Lisbon Card.  The museum is partly housed in the former Central Tejo Power Station which is connected to a new building designed by a British architect.  The imposing power station on the banks of the river is one of Lisbon’s most prominent industrial heritage landmarks and we were fortunate that it remained open until 7.00 p.m. allowing us an opportunity to fit in a visit.

Furnaces, boilers and generating equipment on display at MAAT, Lisbon
Furnaces, boilers and generating equipment on display in the former power station

This large museum integrates art, architecture and technology with a series of permanent and temporary exhibitions.  Although we found it all of interest the galleries in the former power station were our favourites.  These told the story of the building with its lovingly restored furnaces, boilers and electrical generating equipment on display alongside interactive presentations.

Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, Lisbon
Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, Lisbon

In addition to the museum, the outdoor park surrounding it is beautiful and offers views of the Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge, and across the River Tagus which looked particularly beautiful whilst we were there with the setting sun.

Restaurant in Cais do Sodre, Lisbon
Restaurant in Cais do Sodre, Lisbon

As it was getting late we decided to eat out before returning to the hotel and quite by chance found a cosy little restaurant in one of the narrow streets of the Cais do Sodre district.  Here we tucked into a tasty meal washed down with some local red wine.  A perfect end to another fun-filled day exploring Lisbon.

 

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Sintra & Belem, Lisbon

 

62 thoughts on “Day 2. Sintra and the Belem district of Lisbon

  1. Pingback: Day 2. Sintra and the Belem district of Lisbon – Downtown Toronto Rentals

  2. jasonlikestotravel

    My trip to Lisbon was one of my earliest adventures and my lack of preparation meant I had no idea Sintra existed until a good while later haha. Definitely a reason to go back to Lisbon!

    I have to say, it’s nice seeing a few different photos from the area. Ordinarily I only see the same handful of photos / views on the likes of Instagram which whilst pretty, get a little repetitive. Nice to see a bit more depth to Sintra and Belem 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Belem is packed full of wonderful historic buildings, museums and a delightful riverside walk so it’s unsurprising that it’s popular with tourists. Not so many when we were there but slowly trickling back. Hope your week is going well. Marion

      Like

  3. Anonymous

    it is so beautiful this article and of course the others, i just love the way you tell us about all the beautiful places you visited. Thank you so much for your precious information.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sounds like you had a great time out! I really enjoyed walking along the waterfront there and visiting the monastery and Belem Tower when in Lisbon. I was super impressed by the Monument to the Discoveries. It was very interesting and the carvings are so intricate.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sintra is a beautiful little place and perfect for a day trip from Lisbon. Did you visit the Pena Palace there? Its colorful exterior is certainly Candyland-esque! Belém was one of my favorite districts in Lisbon: from the majestic Belém Tower to the stunning Jerónimos Monastery, it was such a wonderful area to wander in. I also popped into the Patéis de Belém shop, but I only took the patéis de nata to-go…still delicious, though! Can’t wait to see where else you went in Lisbon (and Portugal, overall)!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sintra is beautiful and it was so good to discover that visiting there by train was included in the Lisbon Card. Winter in Lisbon was just right, sunny days meaning we could sit out on restaurant terraces without our coats, yet not stifling hot, leaving us with plenty of energy to wander around. Thanks for commenting Hannah and I hope the week ahead goes well for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That Lisbon Card is really getting a good workout! Such a great day exploring with you Marion. I love it when we find a cosy restaurant by surprise. It looks surprisingly warm for this time of year..

    Liked by 4 people

  7. The town centre of Sintra is beautiful and definitely looks enchanting. This looks like such an interesting place to wander around. That’s neat that you had an audio guide that tells you more about the legends and history of the town. The Jeronimos Monastery in Belem also looks gorgeous. The attention to detail is just incredible.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. We stayed very close to Rossio Station when we were there – your photo of the station brings back wonderful memories. The inside of the church in Belem is really beautiful and I remember seeing the Monument of the Discoveries while on the hop-on-hop-off bus (normally we will walk through a city, but since we would be walking 620km for the next few weeks, we decided to make use of the bus to see all of Lisbon’s beautiful attractions). Oh, those Pastel de Nates … I had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day – they are the best!
    Thank you for taking me on a trip down memory lane!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It’s so good to read that you enjoyed taking a look at Lisbon’s sights before embarking on the Camino. I can’t think if a nicer treat than those Pastel de Nates tarts at any time of day on your epic walk Corna. Thank you as always for taking the time to comment, it’s much appreciated.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s definitely on my radar but I’ll proably go for longer and tie it in with a visit to friends who have moved to southern Portugal. I’m sure your posts will be full of inspiration and helpful tips.

        Liked by 2 people

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