Lisbon: Personal Favorites

The Pleasures of Lisbon:  Personal Favorites

Special places in Lisbon, virtually all reachable by Metro, tram or bus.   Most museums are open Sunday until 6, closed on Monday.  

  1. The Tile Museum/Museu do Azulejo, in the Madredeus convent.  Well, of course!  This lovely old convent is a treat for the eyes by itself, and the fabulous collection of tiles just leaves you stunned.   Secret: restoration of the columns in the upper cloister gave one of them a charming anachronistic tram curling around the top.  Special pleasure: lunch in the café in the spring or summer when you can sit outside, entranced by the very minimalist fountain – with a Moorish touch – and the food is good and reasonable.  The tiles in the dining area are a joy.  A good shop.  (Bus 104/105 from Praça do Comercio, or taxi)
  1. The Museu de Arte Antigua.  This lovely, medium-size museum has a fine collection of paintings (don’t miss the Bosch “Temptations of St Anthony” triptych) and an unrivalled collection of Asian and African art from the early days of Portuguese exploration and colonization in Burma, Goa, Japan, Africa, etc.  Then there is the extraordinary porcelain and silver, and the reliquaries, and….Allow more time here than you think is needed!  The café with terrace on the ground floor (not easy to find, but keep looking and asking) is a good and inexpensive place for lunch, especially on a sunny day.  Excellent shop.  (Bus 27, 40, 49, 70, or Tram 15)
  1. The Naval Museum (Museu da Marinha) is an incredible storehouse of maritime history, from the early explorers to the pleasure boats of the last Portuguese monarchs.  Whatever your interest, you’ll find something here.  There’s a small café at the end of the boat pavilion, with a nice small shop.  The Museum occupies one end of the giant building of the Jeronimos monastery in Belem.  (Tram 15, Bus 28)
  1. The City Museum (Museu da Cidade).  Established in a former palacio, this museum traces the history of Lisbon from Roman times, or even before, with the aid of fascinating models, posters, paintings, tiles, architectural drawings, and the like.  Outstanding: the kitchen with its wonderful tiles of the provisions.  In the back, a nice garden of the period with real creatures – a garden snake crossed my path, but jumped back into the ivy at the vibration of my footsteps.(Metro Campo Grande)
  1. The Botanic Garden (Jardim Botânico).  (Metro Rato) This was really a surprise.  When I first visited, late on a December afternoon, there was no one in the booth; when I exited, and tried to pay, the guard said, “But, Madam, there was no sun, you had no time, you will come again and then you will pay.”  I fell in love with this mysterious place, hidden away in the center of the city, where you can sit for hours with a book and admire the beautiful avenues and and rolling slopes of this ever-so-slightly shabby site – like so much here, apparently shabby but beautiful.  Lisbon is full of gardens - the Tropical Garden in Belém is another treat, and the palace gardens at Queluz are fabulous.
  1. São Vincente de Fora and Pantheon (not the national pantheon, that is in the nearby Santa Engracia church), by the vertigo-inducing Tram 28.  Atop the church you have one of the best panoramic views of the city, and in the monastery are ancient foundations, plus interesting tiles (one courtyard is said to show a Dali-style clock draped over the wall, if you find it please tell me!), and a chapel with extraordinary pattern-cut and inlaid marble.  The pantheon, containing the tombs of nearly all the Bragança kings beginning with Joao IV (died 1656), is very moving.  The simplicity of the room is a surprise; the carved white marble figure of grief, standing by the tombs of Dom Carlos I and his son Luis, assassinated in 1908, for a moment seems to be an actual mourner.  
  1. Many wonderful small museums:  the Arpad Szenes-Vieria da Silva museum is a very pleasant stop on a Sunday morning, especially if you can sun yourself in the park in front (Praça das Aguas Libres).  The Museum of Music, which really means musical instruments, at the Alto dos Moinhos metro stop.  Here is an extraordinary collection of Western European musical instruments, including many fine Portuguese ones, from the last several centuries; many of these elegant instruments are no longer used, but all are beautifully made.
  1.  The Pavilhão Chinês.  This incredible bar/watering hole/billiard room contains collections of everything –Soviet arms, toy soldiers, hats, you name it, and the most comprehensive list of drinks, alcoholic and not, whatever and more you can imagine. .  There was a version of this in Madrid, with Franco memorabilia, etc.  but it seems to have closed; the Lisbon original, one hopes, will go on forever.  Metro Campo Grande
  1.  Food!  The Cantinho da Paz for fabulous Goan food.  Sua Excelência, for just an amazing experience listening to the owner explaining the food in five languages.  Comida de Santo.  O Policia, created by, yes, a retired policeman (or the son of one, depending on whose version you hear).  AssóPorco and Picanha, each for one dish menus (spareribs or rump steak) with great accompaniments, at reasonable prices.  Via Graça, for the best views of the castle.  Grilled sardines by the shore.  And many, many more wonderful places.  

This is not a complete list - the Gulbenkian, closed now until early 2000, of course belongs here - nor is it a final list; I have yet to go to the Costume Museum, or the Flea Market, for example.  In the meantime, enjoy!

© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Richard W. Tripp, Jr.