Lisbon is an overwhelming city. Most visitors take time to get into, to understand, and to really appreciate this city, let alone visiting museums in Lisbon. But, if you miss visiting at least one museum in this city, you will miss at least one of the unreal, incredible stories.
I even dare to say that a second-time visit is easier. People who already got some basic experiences of Lisbon can fully enjoy their second time, a weekend break for instance.
This is a guide to visiting museums in Lisbon. These may not be the best, the most important, or the most valuable museums in the city These are just some museums I find the most enjoyable.
So, whether you are visiting Lisbon for the first time, or you have already been in the city but with no time to visiting museums, this is a handy guide to a lovely museum experience. To embrace museums, start by enjoying them.
1.Calouste Gulbenkian Museum (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian)
Located in the elegant area of Saldanha, a zone where many travelers find nice hotels and apartments to stay, this museum tells a huge story. Calouste Gulbenkian was a businessman and an art collector who lived in Paris before facing the World War Two and the occupation of Paris. He escaped to Lisbon in order to save his collections, eventually passing the last years of his life in this city. As he didn’t have any family, he left everything to the Portuguese state, basically.
Then, he got a museum with one of the most beautiful urban parks I have ever seen. The building was designed to be a museum and it’s somehow connected to the green surroundings. While visiting, you’ll never stop being surprised by the effects of art and nature at the same place. The collection includes Eastern and ancient civilizations as well as works of the finest European artists of several eras, from Rembrandt and Rubens to Monet and Renoir. Outside park area is a sort of “museum of ducks”.
In other words, this is not just a museum. This is a biography told through arts. The place is easy to find; you just need to take the blue or red subway line and exit at the Sao Sebastiao station, and you’ll be face to the place. Also, check if your accommodation is located on the walking distance from there, and enjoy the beautiful surrounding avenues.
See also: How to visit a museum?
2.Fronteira Palace (Palacio de Fronteira)
Spoiler alert: This is a hidden gem of Lisbon. Arguably one of the lesser-known places in Lisbon, this Palace enjoys a particular role in the history of Portugal. Built in the XVII century, nowadays it’s still owned and inhabited by the same family. However, a large part of the historical rooms, including the magnificent staircase, is not used on daily basis. They just live in a smaller part of the palace, letting the rest be a kind of museum.
The opening hours are limited, so it’s important to check when the guided tours start. It’s not allowed to take pictures inside the palace, but the outdoor areas provide enough inspiration.
This is another “museum with a park”. Unlike the previously mentioned museum, this one is a bit hard to find. I recommend you to go on a blue subway line to the station Jardim Zoloogico, and take a taxi/cab to the “Palacio de Fronteira”. The opening hours are limited, so it’s important to check hours of the guided visits.
Main article about this museum: Is anybody home?
Palacio de Fronteira official website (in Portuguese only)
3.MAAT and Electricity Museum (Museu de Arte, Arquitectura e Tecnologia MAAT + Museu de Electricidade)
These are two museums. They are located next to each other and they belong to the same owner and management, so it’s easy to visit them together. Visiting these two museums is another immersive and magical experience in Lisbon.
Let’s start with the Electricity Museum. The building used to be a real power plant that used coal. Inside, you can explore how an old power plant looked like, as the engines are original. Visitors can even climb on some engines the way workers did and see how it looks inside.
The museum also provides a lot of touching and emotional stories about workers. Working in such a space was hard. Working in a power plant was way harder than it’s today; there is no better place to learn about it than in a museum like this one. There are also many games for learning about electricity. Adults like it and find fun, while children love it.
On the side of the old power plant, there is a completely new building. If you were in Lisbon before mid-2016, you did not see this building. It opened in October that year. Ever since that moment, it has been one of the most popular spots in Lisbon. It’s a new viewpoint and a new museum. The inside area is totally unreal (picture above): the atmosphere is not always the same, neither are exhibitions, but there is always a lot of fun and surprises.
These Museums are located at the Belem district; the way to get there is to walk from the Monument to the Discoveries to the side of the 25th of April Bridge – and you’ll be there in about 10 minutes of walking by the river. It’s also not away from the Belem train station, and the National Coach Museum – another interesting museum I sadly had no time to visit in its new building yet! Next time!
Main article about these museums: The past and future of industry
4.Navy Museum (Museu de Marinha)
The Age of Discoveries, or maritime expeditions, or whatever we call it, is one of the things Portugal is famous for. It’s natural that most travelers who visit Portugal for the first time want to get some insights into it. This museum is such a place. From fascinating stories about historical ships to original apartments of the royal yachts, this museum is full of fun. It belongs to the Portuguese Navy, so it’s an “official museum”.
This museum also counts with the best location, because it occupies a wing of the adjacent building to the glorious Mosteiro dos Jeronimos at Belem. Therefore it’s one of the best choices to visit alongside the Mosteiro, or even instead of it – if you are not in the mood to stand more than an hour waiting in a queue.
This museum has a great self-service cafeteria. In my opinion, it’s the most value for money place to have lunch at Belem. Not as pricey as some locations at the riverfront, and also not a fast food, this is a place to enjoy mostly typical Portuguese everyday meals. In other words, this is the place to taste the Portuguese lunch break culture.
This Museum’s shop is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. From a large choice of books to souvenirs and luxury products, this is the place to get the most authentic and original products of Portugal to remember your trip.
Museu de Marinha official website (in Portuguese only…)
5.Money Museum (Museu do Dinheiro)
“You know, at the end of the day, it’s all about money”. Or not?
The Money Museum in Lisbon is one of those museums I call “museums of everyday life”. For instance, another museum of that kind is the Hotel and Restaurant Museum in Helsinki. While money is something we talk about definitely more frequently than about arts or sciences, this is a particularly fun museum.
This museum’s building is an old church that was literally moved from another place to be installed where it is not, after the earthquake in 1755. The church had deteriorated much since then, and it underwent deep restoration works, sponsored by the Portuguese National Bank. Opened in 2015, the Money Museum tells the history of money, it also has a lot of content that may help children learning about the abstract notion of value and currency. When I was exploring the museum, it was quite full of families with children and groups of teenagers.
The Money Museum of Lisbon is one of the highest quality museums I have visited. It combines original objects, collections of old coins and banknotes, old financial documents, some pieces of ancient and medieval art whose these were finances and money, with immersive multimedia games, quizzes, challenges, etc. Furthermore, there are archeological ruins below the building.
Other good news: the Money Museum is located on just a few blocks from the Praca do Comercio square and the Rua Augusta street, right next to the Municipal Palace. This is the only museum on this list to have free entrance, how can it be better?
6.National Ancient Art Museum (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga)
The original name of this museum is “Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga”, and translated into English, it may sound misleading. It may suggest a kind of “archaeological” museum or a museum of Classical Antiquity. It’s not the case. This is a museum of classical art, from medieval to 19th century, with painting, sculpture, applied arts, from Portugal, Europe, and Asia. The National Museum of Ancient Art is larger than other museums in Lisbon, but not too large. A highly enthusiastic visitor will spend up to 4 hours inside, exploring the entire exhibition area.
However, if you time is limited to, for instance, one hour, try checking where are the certain collections and take a look at what are you most interested in. It’s easy to get distracted and spend half an hour by seeing only two rooms. The most popular room is the one that features a work of Albrecht Durer and a work of Hieronymus Bosch, and not surprisingly, this is most crowded room most of the time.
Even though it has a structure of a classical museum, it’s quite “visitor-friendly”. It looks glamorous to some extent, because of the shiny floors in some rooms.
Then, here is a garden terrace. There is a great restaurant here. This is a place of inspiration and great views, perfect for relaxing after a visiting a museum like this. Even though it doesn’t seem so, there is a free access to the restaurant and garden area, through the museum’s lateral entrance at the Rua Janelas Verdes street.
This museum rarely ends up on any “must-visit” lists for Lisbon. Even though it’s located a bit outside common exploring routes, it’s easy to find. The tram number 15 (connecting Praca do Comercio with Belem/Alges) stops right below the museum, and the station’s name is Santos.
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If you have been in Lisbon, have you visited any of these museums? Did you enjoy your visit? What is your favorite museum in Lisbon?