There’s a lot on show on the streets of Porto: great architecture, vibrant culture and interesting people. But if you really want to get under the skin of this city and discover the powers that shaped it, you need to head to these museums.
Best Porto Museums
Porto’s Military Museum brings together material and onjects relating to war and military life in Portugal and Europe, with plenty of surprises along the way. One not-to-be-missed exhibit is a staggering display of 12,000 lead soldiers representing armies from around the world, from antiquity to the present day. Another is a sword said to have been owned by Dom Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s very first king. There’s also plenty of stuff for the boys: tanks, machine guns and other life-extinguishing kit.
The history of Porto’s Santa Casa da Misericórdia – a royal- backed Catholic foundation to help the poor and needy – is told in this museum. It’s home to the ‘Fons Vitae’ (‘Fountain of Life’), a sixteenth-century Flemish masterpiece depicting the crucified Christ surrounded by earthly nobility. This shares a room with a contemporary work by sculptor Rui Chafes, created especially for the museum, which extends into the street outside. The collection also includes paintings, jewellery and historical documents, and visitors have access to the magnificent baroque Igreja da Misericórdia next door.
The Museum of Transport and Communications has several threads to it, from the history of the building itself – once a busy customs house – to global communication, to a display of the official vehicles of Portugal’s presidents from the declaration of the Republic in 1912 to the present day. It’s also worth having a gander at a vast canvas painted by Júlio Resende that was reproduced in tile form by the entrance to the Ribeira road tunnel.
This fascinating museum looks at the history of medicine and pharmacology across 4,000 years and many different civilisations. Among the many exhibits are two complete pharmacies that have been literally transported to this space: Porto’s own Farmácia Eustácio and an Islamic pharmacy from a palace in Damascus.
Porto’s Jewish Museum is housed in the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, and the visit starts with a tour of its interior and various items and documents that reconstitute the history of Judaism in Portugal – in which Porto has played a major role.
The National Press Museum takes visitors through the history of the country’s print media, including machinery and documents. There are rare items here, such as an eighteenth-century printing press and a manual guillotine (the paper-cutting kind, not the head-lopper) from 1900. Don’t miss the exhibition of entries to the Porto Cartoon competition that the museum hosts annually and which attracts the world’s top cartoonists.
A visit to the former home of sculptor Teixeira Lopes, encompasses his massive artistic legacy, including plaster models of his main works as well as pieces by other artists such as Silva Porto, Marques da Silva and Acácio Lino. The space is also home to the collection of sculptor and collector Diogo de Macedo, with works by some of the leading figures in Portuguese modernism.
The Romantic Museum recreates nineteenth-century interiors, in a former wealthy merchant’s home, the Quinta de Sacramento or Macieiras. The garden is also well worth visiting, as is the whole surrounding area, with its signposted ‘Caminhos do Romântico’ walking trails.
One of the Porto’s top museums, with a superb collections of painting, ceramics, sculpture, engravings, jewellery and goldwork, textiles and glassware from over the centuries. There are fine paintings by Portugal’s own Aurélia de Sousa, António Carneiro, Silva Porto and Henrique Pousão, as well as Flemish and Dutch masters. Other highlights include Japanese screens, Chinese porcelain, Iron Age artefacts and tons more to discover.
The Serralves Foundation’s Museum of Contemporary Art is very much on the international art map. The building alone is worth a visit – a masterpiece by Álvaro Siza Museu Romântico Vieira. It plays host to exhibitions showcasing Portuguese artists and others from around the world. These arty indoor treats are complemented by the beautiful surrounding park and the magnificent art deco house.