Belém is located about 6 km west of Lisbon, on the Tagus River. Its name is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem. There are four main sights: the Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery, the Monument to the Discoveries and the Belém Pastry Shop.
The Jerónimos Monastary and Church of Santa Maria occupy a lot of ground just north of the river. Both the interior and exterior are decorated in a flamboyant style known as Manueline Gothic. This is very ornate with many nautical themed icons. The explorer, Vasco de Gama is buried here in the church.
The Belém Tower is also constructed in the Manueline Gothic style. The tower was part of the fortifications built to protect the monastery and the river. Originally, it sat in the middle of the river, but over the ages, the river banks have receded almost 400 meters, leaving the tower now at the present river’s edge.
The Monument to the Discoveries was constructed in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. It stands on the river’s edge and is about 300 feet tall. There is an elevator in the monument that reaches a platform, providing grand vistas of the area.
There is a shop/restaurant in town that makes the famous Belém pastries. Known as pastel de nata or pastel de Belém, it is believed these were first made before the 18th century by the nuns of the nearby monastery. Nowadays, the famous shop sells these custard-filled, puff pastries hot and fresh out of the oven to thousands of people a day.