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Glazed tiles (or azulejos in Portuguese) are perhaps one of Lisbon’s top attractions and most times you don’t have to spend a dime to see them. But for those who want to buy tiles in Lisbon as a souvenir, there are a couple of things you need to know first.
Start here: Tile Museum in Lisbon
I guess the blue-and-white tiles are the ones that draw the most attention in Lisbon, but there are plenty of other styles before and after them.
This will depend if you’ll have the time or not, but I suggest an initial visit to the National Tile Museum to learn more about the uses of glazed tile in Portugal, going back to the 16th century.
Alternatively, if you’re on a really tight schedule, you can take a virtual tour of the National Tile Museum on Google Arts & Culture. It’s not the ideal solution, but at least you’ll be able to see the different styles over the years.
Understanding where tiles at Feira da Ladra (might) come from
I’ve seen it happen to the most informed of travelers: a trip to Feira da Ladra and the prospect of buying something authentic and antique makes them lose their ground.
To be clear, not all azulejos at Feira da Ladra (or other similar flea markets happening elsewhere in Lisbon) are historical or stolen or authentic. But sometimes they can be all three, and supply always follows demand.
I don’t judge anyone for coming across a great deal and the chance of heading home with a unique souvenir. But, as the photo on the cover of this blog post shows, there’s a big chance you’re walking away with a stolen tile.
SOS Azulejo is a project created by Polícia Judiciária, the Portuguese branch of the police that deals with major crimes. PJ has a whole department dedicated to the theft of azulejos, that’s how important and valuable glazed tiles are in Portugal.
According to their official website, since its inception in 2007, they’ve managed to reduce the theft of historical and artistic tiles by 80%. In the near future, they also hope to limit and control selling old tiles.
Unfortunately, most of their website is in Portuguese except for this page in English explaining the project and how it came to be.
That said, you can browse the photo gallery of stolen tiles (most of them unrecovered yet) without the language barrier considering they’re mostly just photos and original address/location.
Where to Buy Tiles in Lisbon
I have a confession to make about tiles. I respect and understand the craft (artisanal and industrial), I appreciate their value, but I’m not the biggest fan of azulejos.
However, for people traveling to Lisbon from countries where tile is nothing more than a construction material for kitchens, bathrooms, and maybe subway stations (and morgues? and butchershops?), I get the appeal.
Before I chose the shops where you can buy tiles in Lisbon (supporting local businesses, of course), I focused on what kind of azulejos I was looking for but came up with nothing. I’m not an expert so how do I say that this place sells a “good” tile and the other one does not?
Is it the weight? The coloring? The finish?
Does it make a difference if it’s artisanal or industrial? Is one more valuable than the other?
How can I add value with a blog post on where to buy tiles in Lisbon?
I chose to focus on the businesses, their background, what kind of tiles they sell and, lastly, their location. All three shops are easy to reach, close to Metro stations and/or touristic areas. Basically, I’m not sending you halfway across town just to find local businesses selling authentic tiles. I want to show you that in a sea of tourist traps it’s possible to find local character.
Fábrica de Sant’anna (Chiado)
Remember how I previously said I wasn’t that much of a tiles fan? Well, case in point, I walked by the Sant’Anna store dozens of times and never felt like going inside. And then for the sake of this blog post I did. And I was terrified I’d trip and break something because that’s how full and fragile the shop felt to me (and I’m the notorious tripper, so…).
There is *a lot* to take in once you walk through that door. You’ll be surrounded, top to bottom, by blue-and-white tiles and ceramic pieces. Precisely the ones you expect to find in a typical decorative tile store.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this shop will soon change address too. They’re moving to the back of the building because (what else?) the whole block will become a hotel (or something like that; it was sold). I don’t want to dwell on this, but Sant’Anna is a 120-year-old shop. The oldest tile store in Lisbon.
But let’s focus on tiles for now. Despite the weathered look of the azulejos on sale here, they’re not antique. They are handpainted, though. That classic feel, let’s call it that, comes from the fact they still use the same manufacturing processes since 1741.
You’ll hardly buy two tiles that look exactly the same here. That’s the quirkiness of buying artisanal tiles. Drop by their factory for a guided tour to see the whole process.
Cortiço e Netos (Intendente)
To be as clear as the shop owners are: Cortiço e Netos sells industrial tiles, from the 1960s to the 1990s exclusively. No point in walking in looking for some 17th-century handmade gem or replica.
Now, I’ve been following these guys for a while, including their eviction story (quite common these days in Lisbon) which led them to a change of address. But, you know, that’s water under the bridge.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time around the Intendente/Anjos area, outside of the gentrified zone. This is the part of the neighborhood where you still find grocery shops, small cafes, and hardware stores. And that’s precisely the vibe I got when I got inside number 37D of Rua Maria Andrade – walking in a hardware store looking for a specific tile I would need to mend my grandmother’s kitchen wall.
The story of this shop goes back to when Joaquim Cortiço started a business of buying discontinued industrial tiles and selling them. This resonates with me because one of the lessons I learned from my father was to buy an extra box of tiles when I was renovating my apartment. You know, in case later in life I had to replace a chipped tile in the bathroom?
Cortiço passed away in 2013, but the store is now run by his four grandsons (hence the netos on the company name).
A word of advice: if you’re not looking for something specific, come with a will and patience to browse. There’s a lot of color and a lot of patterns, but the shop is bright and airy so you have room to breathe.
XVIII – Azulejo & Faiança (Alfama)
I noticed this store while taking a paid tram tour and I remember thinking “wow a tile shop in Alfama that’s not a tourist trap!” An employee inside wearing a white labcoat was painting a tile panel by hand, which reassured me that this was, indeed, not the typical souvenir shop you’d find across the street from one of the most famous viewpoints in Lisbon.
Later, when I visited, I confirmed it: this is a tile shop in Alfama; not a souvenir shop nor a tourist trap. XVIII – Azulejo & Faiança is dedicated to selling artisanal tile, produced using the same techniques of the 18th century (hence the name).
Come here if you want something new with an antique look. Buying here instead of buying an antique tile at Feira da Ladra means you’re not contributing to the demand/supply cycle that leads to stolen pieces and you’ll be valuing the work and skill of the artisans working at the store. Plus, you can see the artisans working at the store in case you’re curious how it all happens.