Lisbon’s captivating history and rich cultural heritage are matched by its fantastic contemporary art and world-class exhibitions. To help guide you through all the city has to offer, here is Culture Trip’s curated list of the best art galleries and museums in the Portuguese capital.
Once the metropolitan centre of a vast overseas empire, Lisbon has long been a diverse and global city, brimming with captivating history and culture. Today, its many museums are full of hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered, from Medieval paintings and classical sculptures to traditional Portuguese tiles and antique horse-drawn carriages. If you’re interested modern and contemporary art, Lisbon’s vibrant cultural scene has grown significantly in recent years, with plenty of cutting-edge art galleries and cultural institutions exhibiting work by great Portuguese artists as well as big international names. Here are the best art galleries and museums in Lisbon.
Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado
Art Gallery, Art Museum
Continuing on the theme of modern and contemporary art, the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado (MNAC) covers the development of Portuguese art from the mid-19th century to the present day. Among the museum’s more recent acquisitions are the distinctly Portuguese yet Pop art-inspired paintings of Sá Nogueira, pieces by Lisbon-based sculptor José Pedro Croft and the experimental video work of Alexandre Estrela. It has also displayed temporary exhibitions by leading Portuguese artists, including Vasco Araújo’s Botânica, a compelling reflection on Portugal’s colonial legacy.
An entire museum dedicated to horse-drawn carriages may sound unusual, but this is among Lisbon’s most visited sights. And with the largest and most valuable collection of its kind in the world, it is easy to understand why. Formerly housed in the palatial Picadeiro Real (which is possible to visit with an additional ticket), the Museu Nacional dos Coches moved to a brand-new building designed by prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha in 2015. With a collection of over 70 coaches, including King Philip II’s carriage used to travel from Spain to Portugal in 1619, this charming museum is an enchanting experience.
Hangar is one of Lisbon’s most well-established art centres and gallery spaces, perched on a hillside in the quiet neighbourhood of Graça. Run by artists and curators, its ambitious goals are impressive as well as numerous. Hangar seeks to establish connections between artists, researchers and the public to stimulate the development of new artistic practices and to encourage the critical discussion of emerging contemporary art. In addition to exhibitions, it also hosts a thought-provoking programme of seminars, workshops, performances and film screenings. And, for any artists out there, Hangar offers several international residency programmes – so you may be spending longer in Lisbon than expected!
The Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) is Lisbon’s answer to the Tate Modern or MoMA (the museum’s current artistic director was a curator at the latter). The MAAT focusses on the intersection of technology and contemporary art, housed in two distinctive buildings on the banks of the Tagus. One building, a former thermoelectric power plant, contains a fascinating exhibition on its history, as well as space for art exhibitions. The other, a purpose-built structure inspired by the gentle waves of the river, has over 3,000 square metres of gallery space. While the MAAT has a permanent collection, its dynamic programme of temporary exhibitions and events make it one of Lisbon’s most exciting cultural institutions.
Underdogs Gallery specialises in Portuguese street art | Courtesy of Underdogs Gallery
Underdogs Gallery celebrates Lisbon’s fantastic street-art scene, specialising in graphic and visual culture inspired by the city’s urban environment. Opened in 2013 by Vhils, one of the country’s most celebrated street artists, the gallery has quickly developed a reputation for showing (and commissioning) innovative street art from Portugal and around the world. You’ll find work by artists such as ±MaisMenos± (whose politically charged designs can be spotted across Portugal) and Add Fuel (whose intricate artworks are inspired by Portuguese tile-making traditions). If you’re interested in investing in some reasonably priced (and ridiculously trendy) artwork, there’s even a store where limited editions and merchandise are available for purchase.
The Museu Coleção Berardo was established in 2007 to showcase millionaire José Berardo’s collection of modern and contemporary art. Its impressive permanent exhibition comprises over 900 works, providing a comprehensive tour through 20th-century art movements – expect big names such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and many others. Meanwhile, the museum’s excellent temporary exhibitions regularly feature major international artists, with recent solo shows featuring Portuguese artist André Romão, Chinese photographer Lu Nan and British filmmaker John Akomfrah. The museum offers free admission to its permanent collection every Saturday.
The Museu Calouste Gulbenkian is one of Lisbon’s leading institutions for the arts, comprising two separate collections housed in an expansive cultural centre. The Founder’s Collection is among the best private art collections in the world, with more than 6,000 pieces dating from antiquity to the early 20th century. Meanwhile, the Modern Collection contains more than 10,000 pieces, including early works by pioneering surrealist painter António Dacosta and paintings and drawings by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, considered the forefather of Portuguese modernism. After a visit to the galleries, take a stroll through the Gulbenkian’s beautifully landscaped gardens, and enjoy a galão or vinho verde at one of several cafés.
Any visitor to Lisbon will have noticed that many of the city’s buildings feature colourful tiles, known as azulejos. For those interested in learning more about these unique works of urban art, a visit to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo is a must. The museum’s permanent exhibition, which occupies the rooms of a 500-year-old convent, tells the fascinating story of the Portuguese azulejo from the 16th century through to the present day. Unfortunately, many of Lisbon’s azulejos are now at risk of destruction due to lack of conservation and their illegal removal from building facades (many of them are sold to tourists at the Feira da Ladra market). Therefore, this museum’s role in preserving an important part of Portugal’s cultural heritage is made all the more pertinent.
Tucked just behind the Sé Cathedral, the Museu do Aljube Resistência e Liberdade is a must-visit for those interested in Portugal’s recent political history. Its permanent exhibition covers the four-decade reign of the Estado Novo – led by dictator António de Oliveira Salazar – during which tactics of torture, coercion and censorship were widely employed. Fortunately, the exhibition concludes on a more positive note with a recount of the peaceful Carnation Revolution, before opening out to a café on the top floor, which provides panoramic views of the city and plenty of time to reflect.
Founded in 1964 by Manuel de Brito, a prominent 20th-century art dealer and bookseller, Galeria 111 is now regarded as one of Lisbon’s most prestigious galleries. Located in Campo Grande, its two exhibition spaces have included the work of painter and photographer Fernando Lemos, Berlin-based artist Alex Flemming and up-and-coming painter Rui Pedro Jorge. In early 2014, Galeria 111 celebrated its 50th anniversary with an impressive exhibition titled 50 Anos da Galeria 111, featuring works by Portuguese greats such as Ângelo de Sousa, António Charrua and Eduardo Luiz. Here’s to the next 50 years!
If you’re interested in something with a bit more history, pay a visit to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga to learn about Portugal’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. Founded in 1884 and housed in an imposing 17th-century palace overlooking the Tagus, its massive collection of over 40,000 items includes paintings, sculptures, textiles and metalwork dating back hundreds of years. Be sure to check out treasures such as the Saint Vincent Panels, an important example of Medieval Portuguese art); paintings by Renaissance master Jorge Afonso; and the Belém Monstrance, made from gold brought back by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama.
Another gallery established in the ’60s, São Mamede occupies a historic Pombaline building on the edge of Lisbon’s Príncipe Real neighbourhood. This gallery focusses exclusively on the promotion of Portuguese art, with an extensive collection of works chronicling the breadth of recent Portuguese talent, from the black-and-white photography of Alexandre Manuel to the surrealist paintings and sketches of António Areal and the ultra-modern sculptures of Rui Matos. Despite its focus on Portuguese art, São Mamede occasionally exhibits international artists, too, such as Japanese sculptor Shintaro Nakaoka. As a bonus, there are two other branches of São Mamede in Porto and the Algarve.
Before you head to Alfama for a night of live music (and plenty of wine), learn more about Portugal’s famous musical tradition at the Museu do Fado. The word fado means fate, and these hopelessly emotional songs, usually performed in intimate bars, restaurants or special fado houses, are sure to leave you teary-eyed. The museum takes you on a fascinating journey through the history of fado, with plenty of memorabilia on display, so you’ll know your Amália Rodrigues from your Cristina Branco in no time.
Opened by young French artist Skoya Assemat-Tessandier in late 2016, The Switch is a recent addition to Lisbon’s art scene. Located just outside the city centre in the trendy, residential neighbourhood of Arroios, it occupies a former converted grocery store on an unassuming side street. This small and relatively unpretentious space is just the spot to discover something quirky or unexpected, as Assemat-Tessandier ensures a steady supply of eye-catching contemporary art on the gallery’s walls. While you’re in the area, grab a craft beer at the nearby Flor de Lúpulo or dinner at one of several excellent restaurants in the Mercado de Arroios.