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The best Lisbon museums

Looking for a fix of culture but not a clue where to start? Here are ten of the top museums in Lisbon

© Casa das Historias

From Classical art to Modernism, from historic palaces to buildings designed by contemporary architects, here’s a brief guide to the the best Lisbon museums.

The best Lisbon museums


Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Housed in an elegant 17th-century palace, this national art museum has a vast collection of mainly Portuguese works dating from the 12th to the 19th centuries. It harbours the famed Panels of St Vincent, a six-part work by Nuno Gonçalves, a Bosch tryptich, fine Chinese porcelain, and many other treasures. Last year a third floor was opened up, allowing the display of hundreds of works long kept in storage.

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Museu Nacional dos Coches

After years of construction work and delays, the National Coach Museum reopened in May 2015 in a handsome new building in whose upper part the main collection of carriages and other horse-drawn vehicles has room to breathe. Downstairs, the mini- carriages used by Portugal’s princes and princesses may bring a smile to visitors’ faces. The Coche dos Oceanos (Oceans Coach), part of the lavish mission that king João V sent to the Pope n 1716, is the museum’s most over-the-top piece. On a more sombre note, bullet holes remain visible in the Landau that was carrying the king, Dom Carlos I, when he was shot dead in 1908.

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Museu Calouste Gulbenkian

Inside is Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, paintings by Rembrandt and Manet, a marble statue of Diana that once belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia, and an Art Nouveau dragonfly-woman brooch that stands out even amid an impressive collection of René Lalique jewellery. The garden surrounding the Gulbenkian Foundation building was designed by leading landscape architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles; it has lakes with ducks, works of art and other secrets waiting to be discovered.

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São Sebastião

Museu do Oriente

The Museum of the Orient illustrates the long history of Portugal’s relations with Asia, with sumptuous works from the age of the maritime Discoveries but also some rare and unusual pieces, such as the Namban hat in lacquered paper that the Japanese invented in imitation of the pointed hats of Portuguese traders. On Sundays the museum restaurant does brunch with a river view, featuring specialities from Asia.

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MUDE - Museu do Design e da Moda

Building work from July at the Museum of Design and Fashion means displays will be moved to another space in the city for the latter half of 2016, but until then exhibitions are on at this former bank building on Rua Augusta. Items range from a radio designed by the Castiglioni brothers and a giant lamp by Gaetano Pesce to furniture by Le Corbusier and clothing by Gautier... and even an audio cassette player.

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Baixa Pombalina

Museu Colecção Berardo

The agreement between the Portuguese state and art lover José ‘Joe’ Berardo that has made it possible for his collection to be on display at the Centro Cultural de Belém since 2007 comes to an end this year. The goverment has promised to keep the collection in Portugal – it has yet to be seen in what form. In the meanwhile there are 862 reasons to visit the CCB, in the form of a collection that spans the 20th century. It includes two Picassos and a 23- metre canvas by Chagall that has been valued by Christie’s at €316 million, and much more.

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Museu Do Aljube

This little museum near the Sé Cathedral opened in 2015 in a building with some dark memories. The Aljube was an ecclesiastical prison, then a jail for women and, from 1928, a place where political prisoners were held by the dictatorship of António Oliveira Salazar. The secret police were key to the regime’s functioning, and the museum’s collections include documents that reveal their role and that of censorship. You can also 'attend' a 3D underground meeting with pamphlets tapped out on a typewriter shielded with wood, to deaden the sound of the keys.

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Santa Maria Maior

Casa das Histórias

This building designed by prize- winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura is the jewel in the crown of the Bairro dos Museus in Cascais, a ‘Museum District’ created to generate synergies between 12 local institutions. It stages two temporary exhibitions a year but 22 paintings and 29 drawings by Rego, one of Portugal’s best- known artists are permanently on display; among highlights are Centaur (1964) and Angel (1998).

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Palácio Nacional da Ajuda

It is hard now to imagine the shack made of wood and cloth that Dom José I, king at the time of the 1755 Earthquake, had built here in the aftermath of the disaster. This, Portugal’s last royal palace, was built on the site of that shack and today houses items dating from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Since 2014 it has been possible to visit the queen’s private chapel, where you can see a late work by El Greco, The Veil of Veronica,thatistheonly painting by the artist in Portugal.

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Museu Nacional do Azulejo

In the former Convent of Madre Deus, built in the 15th century, visitors are transported back in time to when mosaics progressed rom being pavements to become decorative elements in their own right, thanks to Moorish influence. Dom Manuel I started the fashion in 1508, when he ordered 10,000 azulejos (ceramic tiles) from Seville for his new royal palace in Sintra. But this museum has lots more to offer, including a 23-metre tile panel depicting the city of Lisbon before the 1755 Earthquale.

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By: Time Out Lisbon editors