If you’re anything like us, you’ve heard about the botanical garden in Belém but either you can’t find it, or you found it and couldn’t get in. The latter happened to us three times. This seven-hectare tropical garden is located next to the Jerónimos Monastery, is run by the University of Lisboa, is managed by the Museum of Natural History and Science and the Botanical Garden of Lisbon, and is classified as a National Monument, so one would think it would be easier to get into. One would be wrong…or just unlucky.
The garden was founded in 1906 by order of the king. The aim was to organize colonial agricultural services and Colonial Agronomy Teaching at the Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine, which I guess explains the wide range of indigenous people forever memorialized in stone busts around the park.
The park and greenhouses of the Tropical Botanical Garden are home to over 600 species of plants originating from several continents. Huge magnolias, towering palms, cacti of dozens of shapes and sizes, prehistoric-looking ferns, and several species that are presumed extinct in their natural habitat can be found on your walk through the grounds.
Particularly awe-inspiring are the abandoned — or only seemingly abandoned — greenhouses you can find along the way: one skeleton buried under wild ferns and cacti, another glassed-in grand house from 1914 that barely remains intact, and another, which seems in use, that’s closed to the public but can be seen across a grove of bamboo. Tiled benches, fountains, walkways, and more are tucked in among the green, while peacocks, ducks, geese, and chickens roam freely under the shade of giant trees.
At the back end of the park is the beautiful Palácio da Calheta, which is unfortunately not open to the public through the gardens. The scroll-cut hedges and towering cypress of the garden in front of it are free for you to roam through, so go on and live out your very own Alice in Wonderland fantasy if you so choose.
Visits to the Palácio da Calheta are available every second Saturday of the month at 3pm thanks to the Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical. This’ll cost you 5€. The garden and all its nooks and crannies are a feast for the eyes, and all for only 2€…unless you’re a commercial photographer or filmmaker, then the price goes up significantly.