Art Museums in Lisbon: where to go, how to reach, and what to see

Art Museums in Lisbon: where to go, how to reach, and what to see

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The following list of art museums in Lisbon is far from complete (and others will argue there are places in this list that can barely be called art museums). Still, each of these places is here for a reason, which is a personal choice, nothing else.

I’ve visited them all, some of them more than once. Some museums are missing from this list, some of the more recent, but you can easily find them in every other listicle or travel guide out there – no sweat. This isn’t a rank of the top art museums in Lisbon; therefore, they are listed in no particular order.

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (MNAA)

Look for any listicle on the best museums to visit in Lisbon, and the MNAA is on it. Yes, it holds an impressive collection, and, yes, it takes you at least two hours to visit it thoroughly. 

However, I hardly spend time on the floors without paintings. In recent years, I’ve lost interest in looking at any piece related to the so-called “Age of Discoveries.” Particularly those that the “Discoverers” “brought” to Portugal.

When I visit, I split my time between the first floor (European paintings and decorative arts) and the third floor (Portuguese paintings and sculpture). 

The piece known as “The Panels of Saint Vincent” (by Nuno Gonçalves, c. 1460s, oil on oak) attracts the most visitors. The six panels were found in 1880 in the Monastery of Saint Vincent (hence the name). Different interpretations around its origin and meaning followed.

The most common interpretation of who is depicted in the panels is the one we hear in school history classes. From left to right: Panel of the Friars, Panel of the Fishermen, Panel of the Prince (presumably featuring Prince Henry), Panel of the Knights, and Panel of the Relic.

 

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm 

Tickets: €6.00 

Address: Rua das Janelas Verdes (Santos) 

Public transportation: Bus 714 from Praça da Figueira - stop R. Janelas Verdes (Museu Nac. Arte Antiga) 

MNAA official website

Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado (MNAC)

I put off visiting this museum for years, and the first time I did was on a work assignment. My goal was to go in, look around, take notes, and leave. And then, I stayed for three hours.

The museum has mostly Portuguese art pieces from the second half of the 19th century to contemporary artists. It’s perfect for someone with a very particular interest in these art periods and Portuguese artists.

If you want an overview of the works by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, Almada Negreiros, Júlio Pomar, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Paula Rego, don’t skip this museum. For those looking for a more in-depth experience of Negreiros, Pomar, and Vieira da Silva, there are other options listed in this blog post.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm 

Tickets: €4.50 

Address: Rua Serpa Pinto, 4 (Chiado) 

Public transportation: Metro Blue Line and Green Line - stop Baixa-Chiado 

MNAC official website

Museu Coleção Berardo

Before visiting cities like Barcelona and London, this museum was one of my favorites in Lisbon for a long time. Now that a few years have passed, I’m not dying to visit it any time soon, unless it’s required for work.

I don’t want to dismiss it as worthless, though. It does hold an impressive private art collection with some of the greatest names of the 20th century — Picasso, Dalí, Warhol, Bacon. I think it’s curated well but not mind-blowing anymore. And, because I don’t live under a rock, it Instagrams nicely.

I find it too “packagy,” in the sense that when in Belém, you have to see it because it’s part of the packaged experience of the neighborhood. Then again, so is the Museu dos Coches (Coach Museum).

Okay, let me back up a second. I’m not selling this art museum very well, am I? I think a lot of people went there because it was free, but that changed in 2017. And who doesn’t like to be face to face with that Judy Garland pop-art portrait by Andy Warhol? I know I do.

When in Belém, go for it. Would I honestly tell you to go all the way to the West side of Lisbon just to visit? Probably not.

Opening hours: Every day 10 am - 7 pm

Tickets: €5.00

Address: Praça do Império - Centro Cultural de Belém (Belém)

Public transportation: Bus 714 or Tram 15E from Praça da Figueira - stop Belém / Mosteiro dos Jerónimos 

Museum official websiteBuy tickets online

Museu de Arte Popular

Museu de Arte Popular was closed for a long time, to the point I no longer believed it would ever open again. But let me put this into context first.

For the Portuguese, talking about the Salazar-headed dictatorship (1933-1974) is tricky. Most people want to forget about it and move on with their lives. Still, the fact is it happened, and we have to acknowledge that it happened, so History doesn’t repeat itself. This museum is from “those days,” so for many years, and for other budget-related reasons too, I assume, reopening it wasn’t a top priority.

When I visited it for the first time, and so far the only one, I was more excited to find out what was in it than about the collection itself. It was going through a sort of soft opening phase.

Because, honestly, how do you sell this place? The chatty ladies at the ticket office are cheerful enough for small talk, but, you know, so are any other chatty ladies at other ticket offices. They were, however, proud and happy that the museum was open again. They, too, lived in “those days.”

It is what it is. It’s worth the visit for the Modernist murals depicting life as it was then in each of the 13 regions of Portugal (to not be confused with districts).

I agree that the building probably has more historical interest than the art inside, with the Padrão dos Descobrimentos nearby. They were part of the 1940 Exposição do Mundo Português (Portuguese World Expo), a propaganda event showcasing the world’s Portuguese dominance.

There’s a mockup in one of the rooms of how the expo grounds looked like that is worth seeing.

Opening hours: Wed-Sun 10 am - 6 pm

Tickets: €2.50

Address: Avenida de Brasília, near Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Belém)

Public transportation: Bus 714 or Tram 15E from Praça da Figueira - stop Belém / Mosteiro dos Jerónimos

Museu de Arte Popular official website

Fundação Árpád Szenes-Vieira da Silva

I wasn’t a fan of museums entirely dedicated to only one artist (and that might be one of the reasons why I wasn’t that excited about Picasso’s and Miró’s in Barcelona). And then, one day, I listed the Fundação Árpád Szenes-Vieira da Silva as one of my assigned tasks for the month.

I had zero knowledge (and curiosity) about the work of Lisbon-born, Paris-based Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992). Having absolutely no expectations helps the work to flow; that has been my experience as a freelance writer so far.

The atmosphere of the place helped me rate this art museum as one of my favorites in Lisbon — bright and white, empty but not echoing, curated like an art gallery of sorts, the dark-wood beams on the high ceilings, the “Lisbon-ness” of the artist all around (born on the 13th of June, Lisbon Day).

Two hours later, I would find out on the official website that the building was the former silk factory, the artist’s personal choice for the museum and a reflection of her work.

Alongside her pieces (from 1926 to 1986), you’ll find her husband Árpád Szenes’ (Budapest 1897-Paris 1985) work from 1911 to 1985 and art from friends and mentorees of the couple.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm

Tickets: €5.00

Address: Praça das Amoreiras, 56 (Amoreiras)

Public transportation: Metro Yellow Line - stop Rato + 5-min. walk or Tram 24E from Praça Luís de Camões - stop Jardim Amoreiras

FASVS official website

Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar

My first visit to Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar was both intentional and work-related.

I have no idea what struck me about Júlio Pomar’s work (1926-2018), and I have no idea if he indeed was one of the great Modernists of his time, like every critic claims. But his work resonates with me as down-to-earth, uncomplicated, ever-growing and ever-learning, never-ending.

That’s reflected all over at this museum/workshop, a beautifully restored warehouse designed by Portuguese architect Siza Vieira, across the street from Pomar’s house.

Scattered all over the walls, in the same disorganized organization of the cosmos, his work shares the same space with younger artists, selected by Pomar himself.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 1 pm & 2-6 pm

Tickets: €2.00

Address: Rua do Vale, 7 ("The Triangle")

Public transportation: Tram 28E - stop Cç. Combro

Official website: www.ateliermuseujuliopomar.pt 

Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar official website

Coleção Moderna - Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

I always tell people to take a day to visit the Gulbenkian Foundation properly. Spend the morning at the museums, then lunch at the cafeteria, and follow with a lazy afternoon in the modernist-styled gardens.

The foundation has two museums in two separate buildings. One is frequently promoted as a must-see. The other is referred to as one for visitors with a specific taste.

Both are worth visiting, and the ticket includes both, although I go to the one listed here more frequently.

The CAM building (formerly known as Centro de Arte Moderna and now called Coleção Moderna) is a piece of art, as is everything at this one-block complex. Inside is the most complete collection of Modern Portuguese art in the country. Mind you, the most complete, not the largest.

I have a thing for Almada Negreiros (1893-1970) since College (which is incidentally across the street from Gulbenkian). As much as I admire Fernando Pessoa’s indisputable genius, Almada dipped his toes into many art forms.

I’ve heard some say that diluted his artistic identity. I think his signature was always there, regardless. If you’re curious, the Coleção Moderna has a great collection of Almada’s pieces (among other artists).

For those without, yet, a favorite but interested in Portuguese Modernism, CAM is the place.

Feel free to roam about the museum, but they suggest you start on the first floor to follow the timeline of art in Portugal in the 20th century.

Opening hours: Every day 10 am - 6 pm

Tickets: €10.00

Address: Rua Dr. Nicolau Bettencourt (São Sebastião)

Public transportation: Metro Blue Line - stops São Sebastião or Praça de Espanha

CAM official websiteBuy tickets online

Museu Nacional do Teatro e da Dança

The National Museum of Theater and Dance is hard to reach and isn’t a priority in most itineraries.

So why do I include it in a blog post about art museums in Lisbon? For one particular section of the second floor: scenography. And, once again, the work of Almada Negreiros.

I don’t expect anyone visiting the city for a short period to hop on the Metro to see a handful of painted sets, but if you have the time, keep it in mind.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm

Tickets: €4.50

Address: Estrada do Lumiar, 10 (Lumiar)

Public transportation: Metro Yellow Line - stop Lumiar + 11 min. walk

Museu do Teatro e da Dança official website

Museu Nacional do Azulejo (MNAz)

Portuguese tile is as much a part of Lisbon’s cultural identity as pastel de nata

The use of tiles and the technique is an inheritance of our Arab past (711-868). Not all tiles have historical importance. Despite some tour guides telling you otherwise, sometimes it’s just beautiful tiles on a building, some of them a reproduction of an older pattern.

The National Museum of Tile (Museu Nacional do Azulejo, or MNAz for short) is slightly off-track but, excuse the cliché, a must-see. 

At this museum, you’ll learn the History and how the industry evolved in Lisbon (and why you still see some odd-looking, misplaced orange-brick chimneys here and there). 

 

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm

Tickets: €5.00

Address: Rua da Madre de Deus, 4 (Xabregas)

Public transportation: Bus 794 from Terreiro do Paço - stop Xabregas + 3 min. walk or Bus 728 from Praça do Comércio - stop Av. Inf. D. Henrique (Ponte Xabregas) + 5 min. walk

MNAz official website

Museu de São Roque

My fascination with religious art is mixed with terror. Growing up Catholic and being a frequent church-goer as a child, I was both scared of and attracted to a particular area of my town’s main church: a poorly-lit, always closed wing, with six-foot-tall religious statues on each side depicting different versions of Jesus and Virgin Mary. The dead silence of the room scared me more than the lifelike figures.

A lengthy introduction to explain that it takes a particular taste or curiosity for religious art to enjoy Museu de São Roque, next to the Baroque masterpiece that is the church with the same name.

Not exactly unmissable but not dismissable either.

Opening hours: Mon 2-6 pm & Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm (October to March); Mon 2-7 pm & Tue-Sun 10 am - 7 pm (April to September)

Tickets: €2.50

Address: Largo Trindade Coelho (Bairro Alto)

Public transportation: Bus 758 from Cais do Sodré - stop Lg. Trindade Coelho, or Glória Lift from Praça dos Restauradores, or Tram 24E from Praça Luis de Camões - stop Lg. Trindade Coelho

Museu de São Roque official website

Museu de Lisboa - Palácio Pimenta

Honestly, I shouldn’t mention this museum but the gardens instead because, to me, the art attraction is there. Although inside the palace, you can see a mockup of Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake, that’s not a complete waste of time.

At the back of the museum, past the main garden where hand-fed peacocks roam, you’ll find a smaller garden with different fauna.

Mind the giant ceramic animals designed by Bordallo Pinheiro on hedges, inside empty fountains, and on the museum’s walls. Probably not worth the admission ticket for a lot of people, but still worth a peek.

Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am - 6 pm

Tickets: €3.00

Address: Campo Grande, 245

Public transportation: Metro Green and Yellow Line - stop Campo Grande or Bus 736 from Rossio - stop Campo Grande Norte 

Palácio Pimenta official website

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