We have been to several museums in Lisbon. We read the tour guides and places “not to miss” – and have concluded that some of them you might want to miss. 🙂 Anyway, we agreed (mostly) on our favorites.
Our top 3 in no particular order, since we could not agree on the order. (Whew, that was an easy solution!)
1. The Gulbenkian Museum – hands down, our favorite museum in Lisbon! It features an art collection from ancient Egypt to Impressionism to Art Nouveau. Don’t miss this one. This picture is from a temporary exhibit on Islamic art, which was breathtaking.
2. The Aljube Museum of Resistance and Freedom – Housed in a former prison, it provides information about Salazar’s rise to power. Both of us are old enough to remember some of these historical events. We loved the story of Salazar’s mechanic, who helped some prisoners escape by driving them out of the prison in Salazar’s car! Talk about balls!
3. The Maritime Museum – Being history lovers, this museum was one of our favorites. It covered the “Age of Discovery” with exhibits on ships and navigation equipment from this crucial period in Portuguese history. We loved the stories of when Portugal was the power house of the world, in the 15th and 16th centuries.
If you have time, you might also want to check out these next museums. They were secondary in our opinions to the ones listed above, but were still well worth seeing.
4. National Tile Museum – lots of lots of beautiful tiles, but the most dramatic exhibit is on the top floor – a panorama of pre-earthquake Lisbon. We thought the map was fascinating, but you don’t need a museum to see tiles in Portugal – they’re all over the place in the old parts of the cities.
5. Fado Museum – We knew very little about this musical genre, so we wanted to learn more about it before going to a live performance. I think learning the history of the music, the instruments and the performers enhanced our appreciation of the music. I would recommend it.
6. Banksy Exhibit – OK, not technically a museum, but a temporary exhibit. I wanted to include it because we enjoyed it so much. It was supposed to pose the question, “Genius or Vandal?” but naturally it led you to believe the genius part. We loved seeing the story of this controversial segment of the artistic world and one of its most influential creators!
And now, the list of museums that you might want to go to, but we just were not as excited about after visiting. A lot has to do with our interests vs. your interests, so you may go to one of these museums – you might even rank one of them as your favorite.
7. São Roque Church and Museum – Build in the 16th century, this church has absolutely stunning gold and precious metals work, but we had a hard time understanding how they justified the expense, when so many Portuguese were ignorant and starving at the time it was constructed. We didn’t feel very spiritual during the visit. We’ve been to other cathedrals where we felt uplifted by the art and architecture, but in this one we just felt weighed down by all that gold.
8. Monastery of Jeronimos – Giant, impressive 16th century white limestone church and monastery. My advice: skip the museum and go to the church, where you will see Vasco da Gama’s tomb. We don’t understand why so many tourists spend the hours in line to see the monastery, when the church is free and much more rewarding.
9. Museum of Ancient Art – Artwork, mostly Portuguese, from the 15th and 16th centuries. Neither one of us thought that this was worth the time, especially if your visit to Lisbon is short. The exhibits were heavy on Medieval religious art – not our cup or tea, since it’s the same mythology repeated over and over. Clay did spend some time in front of the Hieronymus Bosch painting, “The Temptation of St Anthony” just because it’s so crazy.
Other than that, there are rooms and rooms of plates, cups and other tableware. Amazing, but the whole display was overwhelming. We did like the Japanese Nanban screens that depicted the arrival of the Portuguese in Japan. The artists didn’t draw in linear perspective; they drew the more important elements larger than others. So here you can see that they thought a lot about the sailing ship and officers, but not much about the crew.
So there you have it: our inexpert opinion. Feel free to add your comments, we’d love to hear from you. If you haven’t been to Portugal, feel free to come and form your own opinion. I hope you’ll find your trip as rewarding as ours has been.