What’s so special about the Torre de Belém?The Torre de Belém was built as a defensive fortress on the orders of King Manuel I of Portugal and completed in 1519. It was initially named the Castle of St Vincent, after Lisbon’s patron saint. Philip I of Portugal once referred to the castle as ‘useless’, but the tower was used as a customs control point, prison, and barracks over centuries, and survived the Great Lisbon earthquake in 1755. From 1940 it was handed over to the Ministry of Finance, which began conservation efforts, and in 1983 it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also been on the Seven Wonders of Portugal list, created by the Portuguese Ministry of Culture, since 2007.
How long does a visit take?A visit to the tower takes between 30 minutes and an hour, with additional time for ticket lines if you decide not to book in advance.
Is there an elevator?There is no elevator inside the Belém Tower, so only parts of the interior are available to visitors with limited mobility. The tower’s terrace is on the 5th floor, and the staircase is a narrow and reasonably steep spiral. Visitors are advised to bear that in mind when planning your visit.
What is there to do nearby?Other sites or attractions in the district of Belém include the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Jerónimos Monastery) which contains royal tombs as well as that of explorer Vasco da Gama, the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology (or MAAT), which is stunning inside and out, and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos or Monument to the Discoveries. There’s also the Maritime Museum and the Coach Museum, plus you’ll get to walk along the picturesque banks of the River Tagus.