Hidden Lisbon: The Garden at Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

As much as we love Lisbon’s urban energy, sometimes we just want to get away from it all.

As cities go, Lisbon is hardly a dreary or stressful place. But it’s still a big city, and one that largely lives life outdoors. That means anything you want to visit, whether it be a miradouro, esplanade, rooftop or park, a few hundred other people have probably had the same idea. Here’s where we go to get a dose of nature—and art—almost all to ourselves.

Lisbon's Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua is home to a spectacular hidden garden that many visitors don't even know exists.

Photo Credit: Ann Abel, Text Overlay: Devour Lisbon Food Tours

Hidden in plain sight

From the outside, the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (National Museum of Antique Art) looks like any other perfectly pleasant Lisbon museum. And inside the galleries, that’s very much the case. The collection of Renaissance-ish-era works is impressive, and the museum is a very nice place to spend a few hours.

What is not advertised behind the yellow facade is the garden out back. You don’t need to pay the museum admission fee to enter it. In fact, you don’t even need to buy anything at the cafeteria. Mostly, you just need to know it’s there.

Not only is Lisbon's Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga a fascinating place to spend a few hours, but it's also home to a gorgeous hidden garden out back.
Garden aside, the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is worth a visit for any art and culture lover. Photo credit: Ann Abel

The garden

Walk past the admission desk and through the door marked “restaurant” (or if you’re confused, ask the front desk for directions) and go down the stairs. To the right is the cafeteria-style restaurant, which serves as a lunchtime cantina for neighborhood students and office workers. Straight ahead is the garden.

It contains a number of tables for drinking coffee, eating lunch or, during off-hours, working undisturbed, as well as about a dozen fine-art statues, a performance area and a terrace overlooking the docks of Alcântara and the river beyond. There are big trees and sweet flowers—and usually, few people.

The garden at the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga is full of whimsical statues and peaceful views.
Let yourself relax in the garden after a day of sightseeing—your soul will thank you. Photo credit: Ann Abel

The restaurant

Truth be told, this isn’t the sort of place one would visit for a great meal. But the coffee is up to Portuguese standards, and the lunch is a good, no-nonsense value. It’s served cafeteria-style, with people behind the counter dishing up food. A whiteboard shows the daily specials, generally one meat, one chicken, one fish, and one veggie dish. A case contains quiches, salads, and other cold meals.

There’s enough turnover that everything stays hot and fresh, and for a tasty alfresco lunch for less than €10, it’s just about the only game in the neighborhood. One dish that is more than “good enough” is the museum’s unique version of the traditional octopus salad. Here, it has white beans and olives, along with big chunks of meat. We still come for the view and the mood, but when the salada de polvo is on the daily menu, we’re extra sure we’ve come to the right place.

The Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga garden cafe is a great spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or a budget-friendly meal in peaceful surroundings.
Few Lisbon terraces offer the serenity of that of the museum garden cafe. Photo credit: Ann Abel

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