To really get to know the traditions and art of a country, there’s no better place to start than its museums. Portugal has a wide range of cultural exhibitions in an amazing array of museums to suit all tastes. To make your search easier, here’s a list of the museums you must visit when you go to Portugal:
Art, history and science
Museo Calouste Gulbenkian (Calouste Gulbenkian Museum) Lisbon: This museum is one of the most visited and important in the country, named after the British philanthropist of Armenian origin who dedicated his life to promoting art, education and science. The museum has a magnificent and extensive collection of art and artefacts of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Asian and European origin.
Museo Serralves (Museum of Contemporary Art), Porto: This contemporary art museum par excellence in Portugal was designed by the award-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira. With an extensive permanent collection and very varied temporary exhibitions, each visit is guaranteed to be a unique experience. Be sure to visit the vast and luxurious gardens, where many events and concerts are held.
Museu da Ciência da Universidade de Coimbra (Science Museum of the University of Coimbra), Coimbra: Located in one of the oldest universities in Europe, this museum includes an interesting historical scientific collection of several of the university's departments. Here you can find everything from 18th and 19th century physics instruments to botanical, zoological, anthropological and mineral collections.
The monasterial legacy
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Ancient Art), Lisbon: In 1830, Portugal experienced an abrupt decline in the power of the monasteries, whose treasures and works of art ended up in various museums around the country. In this museum you can find the best collection from primitive Portugal and a wide range of gold and silver objects, plus other historical items from the Age of Discovery. The Painéis de São Vicente, one of the most important pieces of art in the country, is exhibited here.
Museo Nacional Soares dos Reis (Soares dos Reis National Museum), Porto: Just like the previous one, this museum contains samples of art, pottery and jewellery belonging to ancient monasteries and convents that lost their power. The museum's main work is the Pedra de Eiró, a stone engraved with spiral motifs typical of Western European megalithic art.
Air, sea and land
Museu Nacional dos Coches (National Coach Museum), Lisbon: This curious museum, one of the most visited in Portugal founded by Queen Amelia of Orleans in 1904 when carriages were beginning to become obsolete, is located on the old riding track of the Belém Palace. It contains one of the most important collections of historical stagecoaches in the world, including magnificent state carriages, some decorated with representations of Portugal's maritime discoveries.
Museu da Marinha (Maritime Museum), Lisbon: An homage to the country's rich history of naval achievements and the era of Portuguese domination of the seas, this museum houses a collection of more than 17,000 nautical items. Its collection includes seaplanes, reconstructions of royal barges and its oldest artefact, a wooden figure of Raphael's Archangel that accompanied the famous navigator Vasco de Gama on his famous voyage to India.
Museu do Ar (Aerial Museum), Sintra: This museum exhibits more than 100 aircraft and 9,500 pieces related to aviation, such as navigation instruments and maps. In the gigantic main hall are 42 airplanes from different eras including truly unique pieces such as the Junkers JU-52 and the Havilland Dragon Rapide. Don’t miss the original model of Lisbon airport or the first flight simulator used by the company TAP to train their pilots.
Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), Lisbon: Located in the Madre de Deus convent, this museum is dedicated to one of Portugal's most iconic items, the humble tile. Make your way through the history of Portuguese pottery with a collection of azulejos of every style and country: Arabic, Oriental, Rococo, Baroque, Renaissance, Modernist.
Museu do Fado (Fado Museum), Lisbon: Before enjoying a live fado show, what better than to learn a little more about this renowned Portuguese musical genre? The Fado Museum pays tribute to this historic musical style and the artists who popularised it. Here you'll find posters, photos, instruments and other articles to help you become an expert on the subject. Also, don't forget to check your visit dates in case they coincide with a concert or special event!