The best museums in Porto
Lisbon’s northern rival, Porto is a vibrant river city of medieval lanes, sun-drenched squares and high vantage points overlooking the Douro. It’s also a city that loves the finer things in life: fine arts, football and wine.
The city’s impressively diverse museums provide a useful introduction to Porto’s unique facets, from its centuries-old winemaking traditions to more recent triumphs on the sports field, with detours by the city’s painted trams and works of art. pioneering arts.
You’ll also get a deeper insight into Portugal’s history through galleries filled with historical relics and stunning interactive exhibits aimed at appealing to the toughest critics (namely the under-10 crowd, which is welcomed in Porto).
The historic Ribeira district has the densest concentration of museums, but it’s worth wandering around the city to see the best museums. Getting from museum to museum is part of the adventure, not the cumbersome, given the city’s excellent public transport network. Plan your trip around these seven brilliant museums (and discover unique parts of Porto along the way).
Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis: the best of Portuguese art
Even before you step through the door, you will feel the dominating importance of this great museum, facing the 19th-century Carrancas Palace and housed in one of Porto’s finest neoclassical buildings. As you ascend the granite staircase, you will follow in the footsteps of Arthur Wellesley (aka the first Duke of Wellington) and Dom Pedro IV, who both lived for a time in the building. Original frescoes and Italian stuccos adorn the rooms inside, along with one of Porto’s finest art collections.
Besides architecture, Portugal’s oldest museum displays a wide range of artistic treasures, including paintings by 16th-century Portuguese Renaissance master Vasco Fernandes and 19th-century naturalist Henrique Pousão. Pride of place goes to works by the artist whose name the museum bears – sometimes referred to as the “Michelangelo of Portugal”, sculptor Soares dos Reis created works of haunting realism, including O Desterrado (Exile)exhibited alongside several other dos Reis masterpieces.
World of Wine: Best for Wine Lovers
In the port town of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto proper, the world of wine is not one museum but seven. Here you can learn not only about winemaking in Portugal, but also on other key industries integral to the Portuguese identity, including cork harvesting, chocolate and textiles. There’s a museum that covers Porto’s complicated past and another devoted to drinking vessels – over 1800 goblets, bowls and chalices from around the world that provide a unique window into this interesting facet of human history.
Museums are only part of the Breathtaking experience. Visitors also have plenty of opportunities to partake in another beloved Portuguese tradition: namely, eating. The complex includes a dozen different restaurants, bars and cafes, each with a unique purpose. You will find vegetarian dishes, steaks, haute cuisine, tapas and desserts. Naturally, good wines are ubiquitous, but if you want to learn more about local wine traditions, take a class or workshop on site. Wine School.
Casa do Infante: the best for the history of Porto
If these walls could talk, the cacophony would be deafening considering everything that has happened in this 14th century building over the years. Among other things, the Case do Infante is where the future Prince Henry the Navigator – the father of Portuguese exploration – is said to have been born in 1394.
Stepping inside, you’ll learn all about the royal notable, who played a key role in Portugal’s maritime dominance and Portuguese colonization of Africa, Asia and South America, while also getting an insight into Portuguese history.
The exhibits dive even further back in time than the Age of Discoveries, thanks to the accidental discovery of Roman ruins beneath the museum. Don’t miss the display revealing an impressively designed ancient Roman mosaic floor.
Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves: the best of avant-garde art
Hop on the 201 bus and take a 30-minute ride west of the center to Parque de Serralves. Here, nestled among manicured French-inspired gardens, you’ll find the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Portugal’s most important contemporary art museum.
The exhibitions change regularly and feature stimulating works by artists from Portugal and beyond. Recent successes include performances by Joan Miró, Ai Weiwei and filmmaker Manoel Oliveira. The striking modernist building, designed by famed Porto-based architect Álvaro Siza Vieira, plays a supporting role – as does the outdoor garden, with oversized windows in the gallery framing the artful designs of nature outside.
World of Discoveries: ideal for children
Dragging the kids through a museum can be a tough sell. The World of Discoveries, however, brings a touch of Disney-esque excitement to the past, with interactive and hands-on exhibits. You’ll travel back to the 15th and 16th centuries and when Portuguese explorers set out into the unknown, and see the lands they encountered including North Africa, Brazil, Macau and India.
There are rooms where you can walk inside a ship, learn about navigation through touch screens, and discover barrels of cinnamon and other spices brought back to Europe. The highlight is an ‘around the world’ boat trip, passing life-size tableaux with knights, camels and jungle creatures along the way.
Museu do Carro Eléctrico: ideal for transport enthusiasts
Porto’s beloved yellow trams take center stage at this charming museum near the banks of the Douro River. Located in the cavernous interior of the old thermoelectric station that once powered the tram network, this museum features around 20 different trams, including oddities such as an 1872 mule-drawn tram and the boxy Vagoneta 80, which was used to transport fish from the quays of Matosinhos to the markets of Porto.
No prizes for guessing the only acceptable means of transport to get to the museum! The scenic tram line 1 winds along the river from the Ribeira district to the entrance of the museum. It’s a memorable 10-minute ride, and after visiting the museum, you can continue to Passeio Alegre for more glorious tram time.
FC Porto Museum: ideal for sports fans
Located below 50,000 seats Estadio do Dragaohigh technology FC Porto Museum immerses you in the history of one of Portugal’s most beloved football (soccer) teams. Carefully designed exhibits and interactive screens tell the story of FC Porto since its founding in 1893, covering its deep connection with the city, its most famous players and its greatest victories.
Don’t miss the exhibit dedicated to Rabah Madjer’s backheel goal in the 1987 European Cup final against Bayern Munich – which led to Porto’s first European Cup title. For a few extra bucks you can add on a stadium tour and take a look at some of the key areas of ‘Dragon’s Den’.