The Interesting, the Challenging, and the Whacky – Lisbon’s Best Museums

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Marcus Dean

30 July 2018

Time to Read


Who doesn’t love a museum? These wonderful learned places not only teach us about things we were too impatient to learn about in school, but they also provide us with an endless source of entertainment – and usually for free. Gone are the days where museums were stuffy affairs, now they represent places of genuine interest – with many offerings all over the world covering the interesting, the challenging, and the downright whacky. 

Lisbon is a city worth visiting for many reasons, with unique architecture, delicious custard tarts, and amazing weather, but one underrated reason is the sheer variety of museums on offer. Boasting something for everyone, a Lisbon city break is full of interesting museums, and we’re here to talk you through the best of them. Well, our favourites anyway. 

National Tile Museum

Museu Nacional do Azulejo

Yes, there is a whole museum dedicated to tiles. And if you’ve ever been to Lisbon, or countless other Portuguese cities, you’ll realise that this isn’t as strange as it first seems. If there’s one thing the Portuguese do well, it’s tiles. These amazing ornate pieces adorn many buildings in the Portuguese capital, but they actually hold much more significance than a purely aesthetic one. The museum has what is believed to be the country’s first ever tiles and from then until the present day, tiles have been seen as a source of social status. They were used to map cities, decorate altars, and differentiate the class gap within the city. A trip here is an unexpectedly illuminating lesson on how important tiles were to the country’s history, and also, they’re very pretty to look at.

The National Museum of Ancient Art

Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Not your average art museum, the National Museum of Ancient Art specialises in, as the name suggests, works of art from yesteryear. Displaying glassware, silverware, ceramics, marble tables, and a host of quirky furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries that definitely wouldn’t fit in your semi-detached house, the museum gives you great insight into art pieces that would never be made today.

The Orient Museum

Museo do Oriente

Not all museums in Lisbon focus on strictly Portuguese subjects and this fascinating Asian-focused museum is a clear example of that. Relatively new, the museum opened in 2008 and has a mix of permanent exhibitions and temporary ones. From masks and puppets to classical religious artefacts from Buddhism and Hinduism, the museum offers an incredibly diverse range for you to take in.

Lisbon Puppet Museum

Museu da Marioneta

Another museum that isn’t specifically focused on its host nation, the Lisbon Puppet Museum has an array of bespoke puppets from all over Southeast Asia, Africa, and Portugal. Not content with just showing off the puppets, the museum also tells the interesting history behind them. When you’re finished here, you’ll scoff at any mention of Punch & Judy as it’ll be way below your newly acquired knowledge.

The Benfica Museum

Museu Benfica 

One for the football fans - learn about one of Lisbon’s biggest clubs and their rich history. The club has had numerous European triumphs and was responsible for making a star of footballing, and Portuguese legend, Eusébio.

Museum of Resistance and Liberty

Museu do Aljube - Resistência e Liberdade

A challenging but supremely fascinating museum, the Museum of Resistance and Liberty is housed in a former prison and is dedicated to exploring the rise of fascism, how political prisoners were treated, and the colonial collapse of Portugal. Though definitely not as light-hearted as other museums on this list, the excellent English translations really bring to life a turbulent period in Portugal’s history under the reign of its former dictator. Some accounts are tough to take in, but the stories they tell are exceedingly important. 

The Best of the Rest

And that’s just a small selection of museums in a city where there’s so much more. Modern art fans can revel in the Museu do Design e da Moda, travel enthusiasts can head to the Museu Nacional dos Coches for a lesson on the evolution of transport, and those royalists among you can take in the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda and compare it with other royal abodes. And that’s without even sparking your interest in the Museu da Eletricidade, a whole museum dedicated to electricity. 

Regardless of which one takes your fancy, Lisbon is a city that really does offer something for everyone. 

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