The capital of Portugal, Lisbon is known for its steep hills and yellow tram that rattles around corners at impressive speed. For visitors interested in learning more about Portugal’s maritime heritage and cultural importance, there’s a great selection of museums to visit. Here are a few of the top choices.
An hour outside Lisbon city you find Sintra—once the Portuguese Royal Family’s summer base. There’s a host of different museums to see here, including the Royal Pena Palace, restored Moorish castle, mysterious Masonic initiation wells at Quinta da Regaleira, and Sintra National Palace.
How to visit: Join a small group tour with round-trip transport and entry tickets included.
In the 15th century, before Christopher Columbus set out for the New World, it was the Portuguese who were the first Europeans to explore the world beyond their continent. Lisbon’s maritime museum in Belem traces this history from the early days of ocean navigation right up to the 20 century. Don't miss the collection of royal barges used over the years.
How to visit: Join a hop-on hop-off bus tour and stop at Belem to visit the museum.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum
With more than 10,000 artworks on display ranging from ancient sculptures to works by contemporary Portugese artists, the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon’s Saldanha neighborhood has something to please all art lovers. The museum hosts regular special exhibitions too, and in the summer puts on concerts in its charming grounds—a hidden oasis in the city.
How to visit: Take a hop-on hop-off bus tour, which stops at the museum. Book your visit in advance to avoid waiting in line.
Fado is a type of folk music unique to Portugal, and if you spend any time in Lisbon you’re sure to hear its signature soulful voice and guitar coming from shops, bars, and restaurants in the city. The Fado Museum offers a chance to explore the origins of this emotionally charged music, and takes you through some of the biggest Fado stars of the past decades. Information is provided by audio guide so you can explore the museum at your own pace.
How to visit: Join a tour that includes a hop-on-hop-off tram to reach the Fado Museum in Alfama followed by dinner and a Fado show.
Castelo São Jorge
Lisbon’s St. George castle – Castelo São Jorge – stands proud above the city, visible at almost every turn. The castle in various guises has been used as a defensive outpost since at least the 1st century BC by the Phoencians, Carthinagians, Romans and Moors. Since the 12th century is has been used by the Portugese as a Royal palace and a military barracks before being opened to the public as a museum. You can walk the castle ramparts, check out the archeological finds in the museum and enjoy one of the best views in all of Lisbon from the castle yard.
How to visit: Buy a skip the line ticket in advance; the castle is very popular and often has long lines.