From a museum dedicated to the Portuguese azulejo tile to a gallery celebrating Lisbon‘s vibrant street art scene, these are our pick of the Portuguese capital’s cultural must-sees, bookable with Culture Trip.
Lisbon has long been a city brimming with art and history, and it has the cultural institutions to prove it. You’ll find museums stuffed with everything from Medieval paintings and classical sculptures to traditional Portuguese tiles and antique horse-drawn carriages. Art lovers are equally well-catered for, with a mix of galleries exhibiting work by proficient Portuguese artists, big international names and exciting up-and-comers in the street art scene. There’s something for everyone in our pick of Lisbon’s best galleries and museums.
Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado
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The Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado (MNAC) covers the development of Portuguese art from the mid-19th century to the present day. Among the museum’s more recent acquisitions are the distinctly Portuguese, yet Pop art-inspired paintings of Sá Nogueira, pieces by Lisbon-based sculptor José Pedro Croft and the experimental video work of Alexandre Estrela. It has also displayed temporary exhibitions by leading Portuguese artists, including Vasco Araújo’s Botânica, a compelling reflection on Portugal’s colonial legacy.
Museu Nacional dos Coches
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With a collection of over 70 coaches, (the largest and most valuable collection of its kind in the world) including the carriage King Philip II used to travel from Spain to Portugal in 1619, this museum is among Lisbon’s most visited sights. Formerly housed in the palatial Picadeiro Real (which is possible to visit with an additional ticket), the Museu Nacional dos Coches moved to a brand-new building designed by prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha in 2015.
Hangar is one of Lisbon’s most well-established art centres and gallery spaces, perched on a hillside in the quiet neighbourhood of Graça. It seeks to establish connections between artists, researchers and the public to stimulate the development of new artistic practices and to encourage the critical discussion of emerging contemporary art. In addition to exhibitions, it also hosts a thought-provoking programme of seminars, workshops, performances and film screenings.
Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
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The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) is Lisbon’s answer to the Tate Modern or MoMA, focussing on the intersection of technology and contemporary art. Housed in two distinctive buildings on the banks of the Tagus – one, a former thermoelectric power plant, and the other, a purpose-built structure inspired by the gentle waves of the river – the MAAT’s dynamic programme of temporary exhibitions and events make it one of Lisbon’s most exciting cultural institutions.
Courtesy of Underdogs Gallery
Opened in 2013 by Vhils, is the country’s most celebrated street artists, Underdogs Gallery has quickly developed a reputation for showing and commissioning innovative street art from Portugal and around the world. You’ll find work by artists such as ±MaisMenos±, whose politically charged designs can be spotted across Portugal and Add Fuel (whose intricate artworks are inspired by Portuguese tile-making traditions). There’s even a store for limited editions and merchandise.
Museu Coleção Berardo
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The Museu Coleção Berardo was established in 2007 to showcase millionaire José Berardo’s collection of modern and contemporary art. Its impressive permanent exhibition comprises over 900 works, providing a comprehensive tour through 20th-century art movements – expect big names such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and many others. Meanwhile, the museum’s excellent temporary exhibitions regularly feature major international artists. The museum offers free admission to its permanent collection every Saturday.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo
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If you’re interested in learning more about Portugal’s characteristic azulejo tiles, seen on buildings all over Lisbon, a visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo is a must. The museum’s permanent exhibition, which occupies the rooms of a 500-year-old convent, tells the fascinating story of the Portuguese azulejo from the 16th century through to the present day. Unfortunately, many of Lisbon’s azulejos are now at risk of destruction due to lack of conservation, so the museum’s role in preserving them is all the more important.
Museu do Aljube Resistência e Liberdade
Tucked just behind the Sé Cathedral, the Museu do Aljube Resistência e Liberdade is a must-visit if you’re interested in Portugal’s recent political history. Its permanent exhibition covers the four-decade reign of the Estado Novo – led by dictator António de Oliveira Salazar – during which tactics of torture, coercion and censorship were widely employed. Fortunately, the exhibition concludes on a more positive note with a recount of the peaceful Carnation Revolution, before opening out to a café on the top floor, which provides panoramic views of the city and plenty of time to reflect.
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
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If you’re interested in something with a bit more history, pay a visit to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga to learn about Portugal’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. Founded in 1884 and housed in an imposing 17th-century palace overlooking the Tagus, its massive collection of over 40,000 items includes paintings, sculptures, textiles and metalwork dating back hundreds of years. Be sure to check out treasures such as the Belém Monstrance, made from gold brought back by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama.
Museu do Fado
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Before you head to Alfama for a night of live music (and plenty of wine), learn more about Portugal’s famous musical tradition at the Museu do Fado. The word fado means fate, and these hopelessly emotional songs, usually performed in intimate bars, restaurants or special fado houses, are sure to leave you teary-eyed. The museum takes you on a fascinating journey through the history of fado, with plenty of memorabilia on display, so you’ll know your Amália Rodrigues from your Cristina Branco in no time.
Opened by young French artist Skoya Assemat-Tessandier in late 2016, The Switch is a recent addition to Lisbon’s art scene. Located just outside the city centre in the trendy, residential neighbourhood of Arroios, it occupies a former converted grocery store on an unassuming side street. This small and relatively unpretentious space is just the spot to discover something unexpected, as Assemat-Tessandier ensures a steady supply of eye-catching contemporary art on the gallery’s walls.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Helen Armitage.