Visitors to Lisbon will be struck by one of the city’s most historical and beautiful features — its colorful azulejos.
Meaning “polished stone” in Arabic, azulejo art originated in the 13th century as an attempt to replicate the intricate mosaics of Ancient Rome. Although initially influenced by Arab culture, the tiles also grew to represent a blend of Hispano-Moresque cultures. These handcrafted pieces have been admired since the 1200s, but it wasn’t until after the great earthquake of 1755 that the azulejos of Lisbon began functioning as utilitarian additions to buildings. These small panels cropped up on the sides of residences and businesses as a (superstitious) safeguard against future disasters.
Today, azulejos in Lisbon are easily found — if you know where to look. Use this guide to scout out these beautiful tiles, both on the city’s streets and in its many museums and monasteries.
The best museums and churches for azulejos
The Azulejo Museum
Location: Rua Madre de Deus, 4
Hours: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
Why you should visit: The museum showcases some of the finest tiles in Lisbon’s history and also provides an in-depth origin history of the azulejo tradition. The collection features works that date back to the 15th century and offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of these intricate tiles.
Don’t miss: The blue-and-white panel comprised of 1,300 individual tiles that mirrors Lisbon’s cityscape. And be sure to visit the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Miracle of St. Roque, a 1584 work that stands as the first azulejo attributed to Portuguese artists.
Igreja de São Roque
Location: Largo Trindade Coelho, Bairro Alto, 1200-470
Hours: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays
Tickets: $3 USD (about €2.50)
Why you should visit: Igreja de São Roque is both a historical and artistic landmark. As the earliest-built Jesuit church in Portugal, the structure miraculously survived the 1755 earthquake unscathed. Though it was built in the 1500s, the church is still a incredible testament to the craftsmanship and dedication of Portugal’s artists.
Don’t miss: The Chapel of Saint John the Baptist — the most elaborate of the monastery’s houses of prayer — and the intricate azulejo panels found throughout the church.
National Palace of Sintra
Location: Largo Rainha Dona Amelia, Sintra 2710-616
Hours: Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets: $10.50 USD (about €8.50)
Why you should visit: This palace is the only surviving and unchanged structure built by Portuguese monarchs who lived during the Middle Ages. The palace was designed in the Moorish style, borrowing from Arab architectural principles. Renovations undertaken in the 1500s by King Manuel I established the structure as a monument of both art and architecture.
Don’t miss: Ver Galeria, where you can spot fantastic and colorful Mudejar-style tile panels, and the Room of the Coats of Arms, which is a stunning blue-and-white azulejo mural of Portugal’s famous noble families.
Monastery of São Vicente de Fora
Location: Largo Sao Vincente, 1100-572
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays
Tickets: $7 USD (about €5)
Why you should visit: This is one of Lisbon’s most historically significant buildings. Founded in the 12th century by Portugal’s first king, Alfonso Henriques, the monastery remains one of the most important in the country. Dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of Lisbon, the monastery is also home to some of the saint’s many relics.
Don’t miss: The finest example of Portuguese azulejos, which wrap around the interior of the monastery and act as the world’s largest collection of Baroque tiles (numbering over 100,000).
Lisbon’s most beautiful azulejo facades
If visiting museums isn’t your speed, you can still take to the streets of Lisbon and view the city’s lovely azulejo facades in all of their glory.
The most beautiful
Location: Campo de Santa Clara, 124-126
Near: The National Pantheon and Lisbon City Flea Market
Built: Constructed in 1860, the building exhibits Romantic-style features with an abundance of Baroque architectural elements.
Colors: White, yellow, and blue
The most photographed
Location: Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, Chiado
Near: The center of the city — its close proximity to other historical landmarks makes it a hotspot for photographers and art-admirers alike.
Built: Constructed in 1863, the building features tiled panels that depict natural elements and human progress (think: water, earth, agriculture, commerce, and science).
Colors: Gold, orange, and white
The most colorful
Location: Fábrica Viúva Lamego, Largo do Intendente
Near: Viúva Lamego ceramics factory
Built: Built in 1865, this magnificent structure features a broad facade, a balcony with intricate iron work, wide windows with red trim, and a uniquely colorful floral facade.
Colors: Green, yellow, white, blue, orange, and purple
Location: Rua do Sacramento à Lapa, 24
Near: The embassy buildings of the Lapa district
Built: Built closer to the 1900s, this structure is a visual representation of Portugal’s architectural evolution from Baroque style to Art Nouveau. Reminiscent of the Romantic period, this building features intricate azulejos, as well as an abundance of carved decorative window and door frames.
Colors: Blue, white, purple, and green
The most traditional
Location: Fábrica Viúva Lamego, Avenida Almirante Reis
Near: The famous Avenida Almirante Reis and Lisbon’s most colorful facade (mentioned above)
Built: Constructed in the 1800s, this former tile and ceramic factory lives on as both a place of art and as a work of art. The Viúva Lamego factory now houses creative works inside, and the building’s stunning traditional blue-and-white facade draws many snap-happy tourists.
Colors: Blue and white