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.
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.
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.
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.
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Ann Abel came to Lisbon on assignment for Forbes in 2016 and fell in love with the quality of life, fantastic light, endless sunshine, friendly people and, of course, the delectable food and wine. When not eating her way through the capital (and coasts) she travels and writes for Conde Nast Traveller, Departures, Afar, Robb Report and other publications.