We always try to get out at the weekend. It’s the one day we get to spend as a family, with no distractions, no phones, no computers.
Last weekend we were a little wary of going further than our local park. Lisbon had been invaded by hoards of football tourists for the Champions’ League Final, and anything remotely interesting was bound to be overflowing with Madrid fans (lovely as they were, not my idea of a peaceful sunday!).
Then I remembered the Botanical Gardens in Ajuda. We drive past them every single day, glance over the sign, comment how we would like to visit sometime, but then always forget they exist.
After parking by the presidential palace, we strolled past the hundreds of tourists queueing up to get their ‘pastel de nata’ at the famous Pastelaria de Belém, another hundred or so queuing up to get into the monastery, and several hundred more just wandering around the beautiful area. Less than two minutes up the road, we saw the gardens’s gates, paid our €2 ticket each, and walked in.
There was only another small family there: it was all ours to explore! You’d think that being located in the tourist hot-spot Belém quarter, and only across the street from the Jeronimos Monastery, the gardens would have more than just a few visitors on one of the year’s busiest days.
But that’s why it was so special, an unpolished type of special. The XVIII century garden didn’t have the grandeur it once held, the majority of buildings lay in ruin, its romantic bridges and pathways grow dark with age. But the trees stood beautifully tall in their years, the ducks, geese and chickens were happily walking around and there was a real magic vintage feel in the air. It felt inspiring, peaceful and hauntingly stunning. All we could have dreamed of.
Cholly loved the freedom of running around, climbing tree roots, saying hello to a brand new family of baby ducks (argh, the cute!) and looking at the fish & ducks. I loved photographing the ruined greenhouses and former palaces, walking through the lush gardens and escaping the city noise. I think the picture speak for its wonderfulness… As usual for all tips & useful info scroll down to the bottom of the post.
Belém as a whole is a fabulous place to take children to. It has a good playground, lots of green spaces perfect for running around, tons to see, wonderful pastelarias to fill them with sugary pastries and child-friendly restaurants with outside seating.
HOW TO GET THERE:
- Public Transport: Tram number 15, several buses (exit at Belém), Lisbon’s sightseeing tour bus.
- By car: There are 3 car parks – one just in front of the presidential palace, in front of the monastery and at the cultural centre.
WHERE TO EAT:
- Breakfast: For yummy pastries, and dozens of types of bread on offer go to Padaria Portuguesa (a few doors down from Pasteis de Belem) (€3 for coffee + pastry)
- Lunch: I love the East/West menu at the Cultural Centre (pizza or sushi – better than it sounds) (€20-€30)
- Dinner: If you’re still here at sundown, then your best option for a nice meal will be right by the riverside (after crossing the bridge), in one of the restaurants by the marina. Not cheap, but it should be a nice meal. (€30-€40)
This city is filled with forgotten gardens, each preserving beauty from early twentieth century glamour and romance. This post is part of a new series exploring Lisbon’s Forgotten Gardens. Does your city have a secret garden? We’d love to hear your comments 🙂