Do you think that visiting museums and exhibitions is boring? Not in charming Portugal, a country with rich history and culture, unspoiled nature, delicious food, friendly people, and advanced infrastructure for easy travel.
Portugal is unique – it has experienced rapid ups and downs throughout its history. In the 16th century, it was a world power with many colonies. However, stagnation and decline overtook the country, and it soon found itself at the margins of Europe for an extended period (until the 1960s). Since then and until today, Portugal has been experiencing an economic boom.
In this post, I prepared a list of great Portuguese museums so you can make the most of your cultural trip.
In short, these are the most famous museums in Portugal:
The Lisbon Museum consists of 5 sites located in different parts of the city:
House of the Spikes (Casa dos Bicos)
Museum of Saint Anthony
The West Tower at the Commerce Square
In Pimenta Palace (Palácio Pimenta), an 18th-century summer house in the Alvalade district, you will find a collection of paintings, ceramics, engravings, maps, azulejo tiles, and archaeological finds.
From ancient artifacts dating back to 300,000 B.C. to a model of the city before the earthquake, there are various reasons to explore Palacio Pimenta and the history of Lisbon.
Head to House of the Spikes, a building with a unique facade covered with diamond-shaped figures. It was utterly destroyed in the infamous 1755 earthquake and thoroughly restored to its original design.
Proceed to the Museum of Saint Anthony, a Catholic church. The Church of Saint Anthony was built on the site of the house where Saint Anthony of Lisbon was born; he is considered the patron saint of Lisbon.
The Roman Theater brings together several exhibitions devoted to the Roman history of Lisbon. The main one is the remains of the Roman theater itself. Besides, there is a museum of Roman antiquities and excavations of several neighboring structures.
Finally, visit Commerce Square (Praça do Comércio), the city’s central square, one of the largest in Europe. It is Lisbon’s counterpart to Times Square – just as crowded, noisy, and iconic. It also has perfectly preserved the spirit of a historic corner, where you will see the last site of the Museum of Lisbon – the West Tower (Torreão Poente).
National Tile Museum (Azulejo)
Azulejo is a traditional Portuguese craft that has developed into a unique, unparalleled art of tile paintings. The abundance of glazed riches and centuries of history led to Lisbon’s one-of-a-kind National Azulejo Museum.
Azulejo is a word derived from the Arabic al zellige, referring to ceramics, a mosaic of glazed tiles.
Although the Azulejo museum is not located in the city’s historic center, it is still worth a trip.
It is one of the most visited museums in Lisbon. The museum officially opened in 1905 in the 18th-century Royal Riding School (Picadeiro Real) hall.
The hall was built in the neoclassical style by the architect Giacomo Asolini. The building was finished in a few years, but it took 40 years to complete the luxurious interiors.
The only problem was that the hall could only accommodate 29 carriages. Hence, the government funded a construction of a new modern 40-million-dollar building across the street for the remaining carriages.
In the history of every city, there is a turning point. For Lisbon, it was the earthquake of 1755 that almost completely destroyed the city. However, there were some buildings whose walls survived that disaster. Many of them have been restored, but the Church and Monastery of the Carmelites (Carmo Convent) have remained intact. Looking at it, you can imagine the scale of what happened.
The Monastery of Carmo was founded in 1389 by the Portuguese commander Nuno Álvares Pereira. It was built in the Gothic style and, at the time, had the most prominent church.
An earthquake on November 1, 1755, partially damaged the monastery. The roof collapsed, burying the church furnishings, the tomb of Nuno Álvares, and the people who came to celebrate mass that day. The ensuing fire destroyed the library with over 5,000 books, and only the walls remained.
In 1864, the ruined church became a museum with sculpture fragments, funerary slabs, and other objects of archaeological interest.
Tip Take some Instagram-worthy shots of the impressive ruins.
The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum houses one of the world’s finest private art collections. The works of art come from the private collection of Calouste Gulbenkian (1869-1955), an oil magnate of Ottoman origin. It includes a superb display of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Asian and European art.
Visitors can admire Egyptian relics, Chinese porcelain, and masterpieces of Western art and then stroll through the beautifully landscaped park nearby.
The Maritime Museum showcases the country’s pioneering role in oceanic exploration and houses a significant collection of 17,000 exhibits. You will see historical paintings, navigational instruments, and various 16th-century maps depicting the world as the people of the time knew it.
The most impressive part of the exhibition is the scale models of 15th-century ships, including those from the Age of Discovery.
Many of the pieces on display came from the private collection of King Luis. He had a keen interest in Portuguese maritime history and started collecting exhibits in the 19th century.
Design and Fashion Museum, Lisbon
If you strive for fashion, then be sure to visit the Museum of Design and Fashion (MUDE). This museum is considered one of the richest and best design exhibitions of the 20th century in Europe and houses the works of more than 230 designers.
The collection represents design trends from around the world from 1937 to the present. The exhibits, originating from the private collection of artist Francisco Capelo, include dresses, fashion accessories, furniture, and everyday objects. Visitors can also attend talks, workshops, and educational programs.
Tip The building is currently closed for renovations, check the opening date at the official website.
Tram Museum (Museu do Carro Eléctrico), Porto
You will find the museum in the former heating and power plant building which powered the entire tramcar network of the city until 1940. Until the late 1950s, trams were Portugal’s most popular form of urban transportation.
This museum will be of interest to all those who are fond of vehicles and parents with children. It is relatively small and takes about 45 minutes to visit.
If you are traveling with family members, ask for a family discount.
Uniquely located on the grounds of the Serralves Estate in Porto, the Serralves Museum is one of the 100 most visited museums in the world. In fact, it is the most prominent contemporary art museum in Portugal, with 14 exhibition galleries spread over three floors. They feature world-class modern and contemporary art from around the world.
The museum also offers temporary exhibitions, performances, and educational and public programs to make art more accessible to the public. The museum building is a piece of art, including a movie theater, library, auditorium, and restaurant surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens.
Tip: The best time to visit is early in the morning or right before the sunset (the museum closes at 8 p.m.)
Located in Braga’s beautifully preserved 17th-century palace, the Museu dos Biscainhos is a must-see for art and history lovers. It houses permanent collections of 17th-18th-century art. These include Baroque furniture and ceramics, European glassware, Chinese porcelain, and Portuguese and European paintings.
Every year, the palace delights visitors with its magnificent gardens, laid on three levels and surrounded by a fortress wall. You can also learn about the daily life of the 17th-century aristocrats and chaplains, servants, and enslaved people who lived there.
Image Museum, Braga
The Image Museum (Museu da Imagem) is a Photography Temple in Portugal. Located in a medieval tower near Braga Castle, the museum displays more than 200,000 photos of all time. They cover a wide range of topics and trace the historical development of Braga over the past two centuries.
Every year the museum hosts contemporary photography exhibitions and exhibits showing its historical archive.
Tip Visit the cameras exhibition and the library, which has an extensive collection of books, magazines, and catalogs on photography.
National Museum of Ancient Art (MNAA), Lisbon
The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga features one of the largest art collections in the world.
More than 40,000 pieces can be seen here, including an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, goldwork, furniture, textiles, ceramics, and prints. You can see works of art from the 14th through 20th centuries, including the famous panels “Adoration of Saint Vincent.”
The MNAA is one of Portugal’s most visited museums and a must-see for any art lover.
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