The pocket travel guide I had bought to carry with me around Lisbon (mostly for the maps, because the guide itself was crap) was breathless over the loveliness of the Jerónimos Monastery in the Belém neighborhood. And it is pretty. It’s an example of late-Gothic Maneuline style architecture–particular to Portugal–and it was quite pretty on the outside.
However. There were a number of things I didn’t realize (and the guidebook and travel app that I was using did not inform me properly) regarding the Monastery and getting to Belém. 1. It takes about 40 minutes to get there on public transit. There are lots of different options when it comes to the busses or trams you could take, but they all take about 40 minutes and there’s every possibility that they will be extremely crowded. Belém has a number of Lisbon’s major tourist sights, so you will not be alone on that bus.
2. Going into the church of Santa Maria is free. It doesn’t have a line and is well worth a look. The architecture is nicely detailed and the tomb of Vasco da Gama is inside. I repeat: the TOMB of VASCO da GAMA. All travelers should take a moment to pause before this tomb and give thanks for his intrepid explorations (not that everything he did was great, but still). We should all get to see so much.
BUT. and 3. here is the kicker: that long line we stood in, partly in the blazing sun, and then paid 10euro apiece for? That was just for the cloister and its attendant chapels. That’s it, that’s all. The cloister was nice. The architecture was fancy. The sky was blue. But I have seen SO MANY CLOISTERS at this point. And unless Alexander McQueen has come back to life and is handing out dresses from his Highland Rape collection inside, I do not particularly care to pay 10euro to go in a cloister. No thanks, no way.
4. Pastéis de Nata (also known as pastel de nata or pastéis de Belém), little custard pastries, are ridiculously delicious. However, the super famous bakery called Pastéis de Belém where your guidebook will tell you to get them and is located half-a-block from the Monastery will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS have a giant line in front of it. It’s up to you how long you’re willing to wait for pastries that can be had from other cafes in the neighborhood (peek into the kitchen if you can to make sure they’re made in house) that are equally delicious. Those things are legit though.
So: Jerónimos Monastery: kind-of overrated, but the (free) church is lovely! The entire complex is free on the 1st Sunday of the month, so if your visit happens to coincide with that date, all the better. Eat pastries and enjoy the blue sky. Mostly good job Lisbon.
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