The Best Independent Guide to Lisbon
Lisbon offers an enthralling selection of museums, art galleries and cultural exhibitions. The varied selection of museums range from classical art collections through to niche and contemporary galleries, along with informative museums. This article will detail the best museums in Lisbon and highlight the standout exhibits for each.
The distinctive blue and white glazed Azulejo tiles could be considered as Portugal’s most popular art form, adorning grand palaces through to humble houses. The Museu Nacional do Azulejo presents the progression of this traditional painting, from the conception in the Moors era (10th century) through to modern designs, and displays some of the finest pieces.
The exhibits are aligned in chronological order, and many of the images are of a religious theme, but there are some notable exceptions, such as the"“Chickens Weddin"!
The museum is housed in the characterful Madre de Deus convent, and the exhibition rooms surround the central cloister. The nave of the convent has been restored and is a beautiful example of Baroque craftmanship and excessive gold gilding. The second cloister has been converted into a summer garden and is a great setting for lunch.
Museum Highlight: The “Panorama de Lisboa”, a 35m long Azulejo of Lisbon waterfront, painted before the devasting earthquake in 1755. The tile painting is fascinating as certain buildings are still recognisable (Se cathedral, the castle, Torre Belem) while other areas are completely different.
Useful Information: The Museu Nacional do Azulejo is 2.5km from the city centre and surprisingly difficult to travel to. The only method to travel to the museum is to catch the 759 bus service, or to hire a taxi (€5-6)
Official website: http://www.museudoazulejo.gov.pt
The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is the national art gallery of Portugal and houses a vast collection of over 40,000 items, among which are many of the country’s most important works of art.
The museum was originally founded in 1834 to collate and secure important religious art, after the dissolution of religious orders in Portugal (and the abandonment of convents and monasteries). The collection has since grown to include national treasures and significant Portuguese art, and now contains a diverse and interesting collection, which can easily fill a half day.
The “Panels of Saint Vincent” a series of six panels which portray the veneration of Saint Vincent by King John and his children.
Japanese Namban screens, showing the arrival of Portuguese caravel ships. These panels are fascinating as they were never intended to be shown outside of Japan and depict the Portuguese as dirty barbarians.
Official website: http://museudearteantiga.pt/
The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian houses one of the world’s finest private art collections, and this museum is a highlight of any cultural trip to Lisbon. The extensive collection spans a diverse selection of eras and genres; from Greek, Oriental-Islamic and Egyptian artefacts through to classical European Renaissance art and French silver work.
The collection was amassed by Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian oil tycoon, who emigrated to Lisbon during WWII. His immense oil wealth allowed him to acquire only the finest artefacts and art, and there is a distinct emphasis on quality over size, within the museum. The Museu Calouste is surrounded by peaceful gardens, and there is the Coleção Moderna, a museum celebrating Portuguese contemporary artists.
Our Advice: The Calouste Gulbenkian and Nacional de Arte Antiga complement each other, and there is very little overlap between the two collections. During your visit to Lisbon we would recommend visiting both, but on separate days.
Highlights: The “Portrait of an Old Man” by Rembrandt (1645)
The sculpture of “Diana” (1780), sculpted for Catherine II of Russia, but was removed from the court as it was considered too explicit and naked.
Tourist information: English guided tour Every Sunday and Monday at 11:00
Official website: https://gulbenkian.pt/
The Museu Nacional dos Coches is one of the hidden gems of Lisbon’s cultural scene. The museum brings together one of the largest collections of horse-drawn carriages, once owned by Portuguese, Spanish and French royal households.
These stately and magnificent vehicles radiate wealth the power of the European nobility and are lavishly decorated with ornate wooden carving and sumptuous interiors. The collection primarily focuses on ceremonial carriages but also includes mail carriages and even carriages for children.
Don’t miss: The Nacional dos Coches museum was originally locacted in the royal riding arena, part of the Palácio de Belém. This magnificent building can be visited with an additional ticket.
Highlights The carriage used by King Filipe in 1670 – the oldest carriage in the collection
The carriage in which King Carlos and his son Luís Filipe were assassinated in, in 1908
The miniature carriages designed for children.
Official website: http://museudoscoches.gov.pt/pt/
If you tire of all of the religious and historical art of the previous museums, then the Museu Coleção Berardo is the destination for you. This private art collection is bold and contemporary with surrealist, abstract and pop works by such artists Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol.
This excellent museum divides its permanent collection in two time periods (1900-1960 and 1960-2010) and has a highly rated series of artworks. The Coleção Berardo museum is located in the CCB, close to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and is the perfect location to escape the hordes of tourists who visit the Belem district.
The Lisboa Story Centre details the history of Lisbon via interactive displays and an audio guide. The museum provides an overview of the city and offers context to many of the historical sights which will be seen during your holiday. This museum is best visited before you start sightseeing.
Official website: https://lisboastorycentre.pt/
The MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) is the innovative sweeping complex whose exhibits divides visitors’ opinions. There are two clear sections to the museum; the impressive power station (which was originally the electricity museum) and the ultra-modern building which hosts temporary exhibits.
The power station section of the museum has lovingly restored the old furnaces, turbines and generators and is a must for anyone with an interest in massive industrial machinery. The main temporary exhibit rooms are within the lower levels of modern building. The roof of the MAAT building provides a wonderful view over the Tejo Estuary.
Advice: The temporary exhibits are sometimes of an abstract nature and not of interest for all. Before paying for the admission fee check that the exhibits are worth visiting and check current reviews on trip advisor.
Official website: https://www.maat.pt
The Museu de Marinha commemorates the maritime history of Portugal. The first section of the museum is within the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and displays maritime memorabilia and replica models of the Portuguese ships. The second wing contains royal barges and early seaplanes.
Official website: https://ccm.marinha.pt/pt/museu