20 places you should visit for free with the Time Out Lisboa Card
The construction of this arch of triumph was scheduled in 1759, in the midst of rebuilding the city after the 1755 earthquake. But the Arco da Rua Augusta was only completed in its current form in 1873. It celebrates the grandeur of what was then the Portuguese Empire. At the top of the arch, you can read "VIRTVTIBVS MAIORVM VT SIT OMNIBVS DOCVMENTO.PPD”, which, roughly translated, means “To the Virtues of the Greatest, so they may serve as an example to us all. Dedicated to public expenses”. In 2013, an elevator was inaugurated to go up to the top of the arch via an exhibition on the history of the monument.
Ordered by King Manuel I in memory of Prince Henry the Navigator, this has been a National Monument since 1907, and a World Heritage Site since 1983. Erected in the 16th century, it was donated at the time to the monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, and in 2016 it earned the status of national pantheon. In the monastery’s church (Santa Maria de Belém Church), you can find, amongst others, the tombs of Luís de Camões, Vasco da Gama and King Sebastian, whose remains were brought there by King Philip I in an attempt to annihilate the messianic myth according to which King Sebastian would return to save Portugal. But few people actually believe the body resting at Jerónimos is that of the Desired King.
A National Monument since 1910, this building is a former royal residence turned decorative arts museum, as well as the headquarters of various Portuguese cultural institutions and the setting of many official ceremonies. Guided tours are available, and the museum regularly receives exhibitions that take visitors on a stroll through history. To trace the origins of this palace, we need to go back to 1755: the royal family was staying in its habitual Quinta de Belém residence when the great earthquake happened. After that, King José I refused to live in old “brick and mortar” buildings, so another, safer location had to be selected. And it’s not hard to see why they picked the Ajuda National Palace in the end.
Considered one of the most recognisable Lisbon landmarks, Belém Tower started out as part of a defence system on the Tagus river, and today it is an architectural icon of the reign of King Manuel I. Classified as a World Heritage Site in 1983 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), it was also elected one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal in 2007.
Before it became the final resting place of Portuguese cultural icons, the Pantheon was the Santa Engrácia Church, a religious site ordered in 1568 by Princess Maria, daughter of King Manuel I. Construction stretched over several centuries and it was only in the 1960s that the building’s cupola was completed - it was imagined by architectural engineer Edgar Cardoso, who is also responsible for the Arrábida Bridge, in Porto. The Pantheon was finally inaugurated in August 1966, and today it holds the cenotaphs (tombs without a body) of people linked to the Portuguese Discoveries, such as Saint Constable Nuno Álvares Pereira, and the tombs of many writers and former presidents. The only woman there is fado singer Amália Rodrigues, and the only footballer is Eusébio - a decision the caused quite a bit of controversy. Don’t miss the views from the top of the building.
The never-ending lines of tourists would almost make you forget that this is part of the public transport network, and therefore compatible with VIVA cards. This National Monument inaugurated in 1902 is the work of Porto engineer Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, and it is beautiful on the outside, where you can admire the cast iron filigree work that’s different on every floor, and on the inside, with a wood and brass cabin.
About 40 km from Lisbon is a piece of history of almost four hectares that’s over 300 years old, believe it or not. Mafra National Palace dates back to the 18th century and was ordered by the eccentric King João V, quickly becoming the most significant baroque construction in Portugal. The visit includes a walk through the Convent, which holds a large collection of sacred art, and the famous Mafra National Library, which counts almost 36,000 books. You can also visit the Basilica that occupies the central part of the building: inside you’ll find a unique collection of six historic organs, a special order made when the king ordered the construction of the Palace.
This National Monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 12th century, which makes it the first example of gothic architecture in Portugal. It was built for Cistercian monks (also known as white monks), and it’s impossible to go to the town of Alcobaça without entering it. Inside the church you’ll find various royal tombs, but the most symbolic ones are that of King Pedro I and Queen Inês de Castro, which are traditionally visited by couples in love. Getting there from Lisbon is easy: take the A8 to the Alcobaça/Nazaré/Valado dos Frades exit, and then the EN 8-5 towards Alcobaça. It’s 117 km by car and takes about an hour and a half.
This landmark is located just over an hour and a half away from Lisbon - much shorter than the two centuries it took to build it. Construction of the Santa Maria da Vitória Monastery, better known as Batalha Monastery, started in 1386 and ended in 1563. Associated with the Dominican Order, it was ordered by King João I as an homage to the Virgin Mary after the victory against the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota. This late gothic and Manueline-style building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and achieved the status of national pantheon in 2016. It houses the sepultures of King João, Queen Isabel, King Fernando, King Afonso V, King João II, King Duarte and the Unknown Soldier.
The most famous part of the Convent of Christ is a Manueline-style window full of ropes, seaweed and armillary spheres, all typical of the Manueline way of representing the discoveries. All the mysticism that surrounds the Knights Templar can be found here, since it was linked to this order when construction began in the 12th century. Later, when the Knights Templar disappeared and was turned into the Order of Christ in Portugal, it remained located in this convent. It was expanded and reconfigured many times, therefore the hour-and-a-half trip from Lisbon and the added walk up from the town centre to the hill of the convent take you to a building that bears the distinctive signs of many centuries.
20 places you should visit for free with the Time Out Lisboa Card
This is a unique collection that is much better laid out nowadays, since in 2015 it moved to a new building on Avenida da Índia, a few metres away from the Picadeiro Real, where the coaches had been displayed since 1905, and where you can still find a small exhibition. This museum had felt the need for a bigger space almost since its inception, yet it took over 100 years to make it happen. The first vehicle to be added to the new museum was the Coach of the Regicide, perhaps the most iconic piece in this collection composed of gala and tour vehicles from the 16th to the 19th century, donated by the Portuguese Royal House, the Church and private collectors.
Founded in 1893 by archaeologist José Leite de Vasconcelos, this museum located in the Jerónimos Monastery initially gathered its founder’s private collection and fellow archaeologist Estácio da Veiga’s. Added to these are many other pieces from the former Portuguese Royal House’s archaeology collection, as well as that of the former Museum of Fine Arts. Other objects were donated or bequeathed by collectors and friends of the museum, such as Bustorff Silva, Luís Bramão and Samuel Levy.
The Berardo collection is a journey through the main artistic movements of the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with "Tête de Femme”, a cubist painting by Pablo Picasso. It includes close to 1,000 pieces by over 500 artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Sol LeWitt, Fernando Botero and Andreas Gursky, among many others.
Located at the Alvor Palace, this is the Portuguese museum with the biggest concentration of national treasures and masterpieces. Between painting, sculpture, drawing, gold smithery, furniture, European, Asian and African decorative arts, the museum’s collection has close to 40,000 pieces from the 12th to the 19th century, including the outstanding Saint Vincent Panels, by Nuno Gonçalves, or the Triptych of the Temptations of Saint Anthony, by Hieronymus Bosch.
The azulejo is physical evidence of the practical sense of Portuguese people, who chose this cheap material to decorate their interiors and their façades. In the museum, located at the Madre de Deus Convent, are represented some of the most significant examples of the national azulejo craft, from the 15th century to today.
It’s a treat for Portuguese anthropological history buffs, and on top of that, it has a fabulous view over the Tagus river. Located in Restelo, above the Os Belenenses stadium, it includes a permanent exhibition with seven themed areas. The ticket also gives access to the reserves (guided visit), the Rural Life Gallery (every day at 10.30am and 2.30pm) and the Amazon Gallery (every day at 11.30am and 3.30pm). The museum houses all kinds of objects, between donations and collections made by the institution itself.
Housed inside the São Francisco da Cidade Convent, the Chiado National Modern Art Museum (MNAC) boasts a permanent exhibition that takes you through the history of art in Portugal, a journey from 1850 to modern days. And its cafeteria, Spleen, is a mandatory pitstop.
This former palace and former City Museum is the main of five branches of the new museum (Palácio Pimenta, Teatro Romano, Santo António, Torreão Poente and Casa dos Bicos), created in 2015. The permanent collection shows the evolution of Lisbon from pre-history to the beginning of the 20th century, while the Black and White Pavilions, located in the garden, hold temporary exhibitions.
Forty years have passed since its opening and still the costumes remain: historical clothing and accessories from the 18th century to the present day, presented to the public in the permanent collection as well as in temporary exhibitions. The Costume Museum is based in the Angeja-Palmela Palace, right next to the Monteiro-mor Botanical Gardens. So put on your formal attire and head to Lumiar.
Built under the reign of Emperor Augusto, this was one of the most significant monuments in Olisipo, Lisbon’s name when it was part of the Roman Empire. The Roman Theatre Museum is set in two buildings from different eras, one from the 18th century and the other built at the end of the 19th century as a printing house and luggage factory. And in 2015, it was integrated into the Lisbon Museum. It includes an exhibition area, an archaeological ground and the ruins of the theatre. Multimedia guides are available with information about the theatre and its history, and up-to-date facts about the archaeological conservation and restoration plans. The ruins are one of the main material and artistic testimonies of the classical Roman culture and civilisation that gave the city its form and urban dimension between the 1st and the 5th century.
Want more ideas while you are visiting Lisbon?
With its world-class restaurants, excelling in seafood, its reputation for style and long pedigree in art and culture, Portugal’s first city remains high on every discerning weekend-breaker’s hit-list.
Warning: this list is bound to grow, Lisbon being one of the best cities in the world. So don’t approach the sights listed below as a definitive guide, but rather as a taste of everything Lisbon has to offer, including the activities that are excluded from our recommendations (for now). Wear comfortable trousers and go from there.