The National Coach Museum is one of the most unique and fascinating museums in all of Europe. This is because, as the name implies, its collection has some of the most beautiful and important coaches, berlins, carriages, and other types of vehicles in the History of Portugal!
Located a few meters from the Tagus River and the National Palace of Belém (the official residence of the President of the Republic), the National Coach Museum is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in this tourist area of Lisbon!
So, do you want to know more about the National Coach Museum: Best Tips For Visiting In 2024? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of the National Coach Museum
- What to See at the National Coach Museum
- Practical Guide to the National Coach Museum
- More Posts about Portugal
- More Posts about Museum Guides
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Brief History of the National Coach Museum
The Royal Coach Museum or Museu dos Coches Reaes (the first of its kind in the world) was inaugurated on May 23rd, 1905, in the hall of the former Royal Riding Arena. The idea for the creation of this space came from Queen Amélie of Orleães and Braganza (wife of King Carlos I), who intended to display the Royal House‘s vehicles in a single place.
Until then, the dozens of coaches, berlins, and carriages of the Portuguese Crown were scattered throughout the country, “hidden” in the stables of the various royal palaces. And Queen Amélie, recognizing the historical and heritage value of these vehicles, thus found a way to enhance and preserve them.
With the Implantation of the Portuguese Republic (on October 5th, 1910), the collection of the Royal Coach Museum grew exponentially, with the arrival of all vehicles from the now-extinct Royal House and others from the Patriarchate of Lisbon and several noble families.
The following year, the site was renamed the National Coach Museum – but the lack of space never allowed the entire collection to be exhibited. Only after more than a century did all coaches see the light of day, with the inauguration of the new building of the National Coach Museum on May 23rd, 2015!
What to See at the National Coach Museum
First of all… What’s a coach?
The Coach is a ceremonial and travel vehicle that emerged at the beginning of the 15th century, in Kocs (Hungary). In fact, the term “coach” (used in English) derives from the name of this village, which inspired linguistic adaptations in other European countries: “coche” (in Portuguese, French, and Spanish), “cocchio” (in Italian), “Kutsche” (in German), etc.
Despite being called National Coach Museum, the collection of this museum consists of almost 80 vehicles of various types that belonged both to the Portuguese Royal House and to figures of the clergy and aristocracy. In addition to coaches, you’ll find berlins, chaises, litters, sedan chairs, carriages, landaus, and much more!
Coach of King João V
One of the first must-see vehicles in the National Coach Museum is the Coach of King João V.
With more than 6 meters in length, it’s another symbol of ostentation and power of this monarch, who compared himself to Louis XIV of France!
This ceremonial vehicle is the result of the work of four artists: the sculptor José de Almeida, the gilder Félix Vicente Almeida, and the painters José da Costa Negreiros and Pierre-Antoine Quillard.
The excessive use of reddish and golden tones is characteristic of this extravagant era in the European courts and the refined decoration anticipates the heyday of the Rococo style.
Coach of the Oceans
In my opinion, this is the most stunning vehicle in the National Coach Museum. It’s a triumphal car with over 7 meters and designed in Roman style (ie, with an open body), being all painted in gold and covered in red silk velvet.
The Coach of the Oceans was one of the five thematic coaches that integrated the procession of the Portuguese Embassy to Pope Clement XI, on July 8th, 1716.
My favorite part is the scene depicted in the rear: the Atlantic Ocean shakes hands with the Indian Ocean, as a symbol of the crossing of the Cape of Good Hope. They’re accompanied by Apollo (in the center) and by the figures of Spring and Summer, while those of Fall and Winter are on the other side, next to the coachman’s seat.
Coach of the Coronation of Lisbon
The Coach of the Coronation of Lisbon is another of the five embassy coaches that participated in the procession for Pope Clement XI in Rome. This ceremony was very important for Lisbon, as the city gained a Cardinal-Patriarch.
Italian model with an open body, upholstered in red silk and ornamented in gilded woodcarving with episodes from the Portuguese Discoveries (very similar to the Coach of the Oceans).
As the name implies, this triumphal car portrays Lisbon (in the center) being crowned by Fame (on the right) and Abundance (on the left). Completing the scene are two genies (above), as well as a winged dragon (the symbol of the Royal House) amidst the figures of Africa and Asia (below).
Coach of King José I
The Coach of King José I was created by two artists who worked on the conception of the Coach of King João V (José de Almeida and Félix Vicente Almeida), as well as by the painter Cirilo Volkmar Machado.
Another detail in common between the coaches of the two monarchs (who were son and father) is the fact that they were inspired by the French royal coaches – in this case, those of the courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV, respectively.
One of the decorative elements that stand out in this specimen on display at the National Coach Museum is the statue of an Imperial Eagle, the hallmark of royal power.
Carved in gilded woodcarving, the bird crowns a picture of winged geniuses holding garlands of exotic flowers and fruits – a reference to Brazil.
This unusual coach was known as the Table Coach, because of the removable table that decorates its interior and which was used for meals. And unlike the coaches mentioned above, this one has a closed body – which allowed for longer trips or in adverse weather conditions.
The Table Coach was also marked in the History of Portugal, as it was used in an episode known as “The Exchange of the Princesses”. In summary, the two Iberian crowns decided to organize a double marriage after the War of Spanish Succession, to consolidate their political relations.
Therefore, the Portuguese Royal Family traveled from Lisbon to “deliver” Princess Maria Bárbara to Prince Fernando (future Fernando VI, King of Spain). And the Spanish Royal Family traveled from Madrid to “deliver” Princess Mariana Vitória to Prince José (future King José I, King of Portugal).
The chosen location was the Caia river, which borders Elvas (in the Alentejo Region, Portugal) and Badajoz (in the Extremadura Region, Spain). The ceremony took place on January 19th, 1729, and is mentioned in the novel “Baltasar and Blimunda” (1982) by José Saramago – the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998.
Berlin of Queen Maria I
The Berlin was invented in the city of Berlin (in Germany) – hence the name – in the second half of the 17th century. Compared to the Coach, it was a much more comfortable means of transportation (for those who traveled inside the body) and stable (for those who drove it).
The oldest berlins on display at the National Coach Museum were ordered by King João V to Parisian manufacturers. However, the Belin of Queen Maria I is a Portuguese work from the 19th century in a neoclassical style, whose simpler decoration contrasts with the exaggerations of the Rococo period.
The Mail Coach began to circulate in Portugal in the late 1850s, after the completion of a new road linking Lisbon to Porto. It was a vehicle designed for long journeys and it took 34 HOURS to travel between the two cities! Now I understand why it was replaced by the train…
Along the way, it stopped at 23 stations to change horses and for passengers to rest and eat. These traveled in the two lower compartments, with the roof serving to transport luggage. As for the mail, it had a reserved box in the center of the carriage.
The Prisoner Carriage on display at the National Coach Museum is the oldest animal-drawn vehicle for the exclusive transport of prisoners. The box practically closed in its entirety had six cells (three on each side) where the locked inmates followed.
Each of the six-cell doors had a small metal plate, which the guards opened to keep an eye on or communicate with detainees – just as happens in solitaries in prisons. Outside there’re no windows – the ones you see are fake – just vents. Access was via a single back door.
The only car in the National Coach Museum is probably the most important in the country. All because it’s the first automobile that circulated in Portugal, in 1895! Made in France, it’s a motor car from the Parisian brand Panhard et Levassor.
With a 1300cc petrol engine and 3 horsepower, the car could reach a top speed of 26 km/h! Crazy, isn’t it? This four-seater model belonged to Count Jorge of Avillez and was a cause of great excitement when he drove it in the streets of Lisbon.
The Landau was invented in the German city of the same name and was considered a luxury carriage, reserved for royal and noble families. It’s easily recognized from the other vehicles of the National Coach for its folding leather hoods, which joined in the middle to form a closed carriage.
However, this specific landau became one of the most famous vehicles in Portugal for its tragic fate: on February 1st, 1908, the Royal Family had just arrived from Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa and was crossing the Terreiro do Paço, when there was an attack!
Queen Amélia and prince Manuel (future Manuel II, the last King of Portugal) escaped with minor injuries, but King Carlos I and Prince Luís Filipe (heir to the throne) were murdered. It’s still possible to see the bullet marks in the “Regicide Landau”, the most photographed vehicle in the National Coach Museum!
Practical Guide to the National Coach Museum
No matter which area of Lisbon you’re in, it’s very easy to reach the National Coach Museum by car or public transportation. This is because the museum is served by bus (lines 28, 714, 727, 729, 751), tram (number 15E), train (Cascais Line), and even by boat/ferry!
If you’re driving, you can park at Afonso de Albuquerque Square (in front of the National Palace of Belém and the National Coach Museum), or next to the Tagus River, in the Terreiro das Missas car park (between the Belém Dock and the Belém Fluvial Station) or the Electricity Museum car park.
1. Plan a Whole Day in Belém
The National Coach Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 6 pm. As for the original museum located in the former Royal Riding Arena, it’s open from Wednesday to Monday, also from 10 am to 6 pm. In both museums, the last entry takes place at 5:30 pm.
Since Belém has such a rich heritage when it comes to museums, palaces, and other monuments, why not dedicate an entire day to getting to know this historic area? For example, in the vicinity of the National Coach Museum, you can visit the:
- Belém Cultural Center (and the Berardo Collection Museum)
- Calouste Gulbenkian Planetarium
- Jerónimos Monastery (and the National Archaeology Museum and Navy Museum)
- MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology
- Monument to the Discoveries
- Museum of Popular Art
- National Palace of Belém (and the Museum of the Presidency of the Republic)
- Pastéis de Belém House
- Tower of Belém
- Tropical Botanical Garden (belonging to the National Museum of Natural History and Science)
2. Decide between a Single or Combined Ticket
A single ticket to the National Coach Museum costs €8 and one to the Royal Riding School costs €4. However, there’s a combined ticket for €10 (the Ticket Coaches) and even another option for €12 (the Ticket Calçada Real), if you want to visit the National Coach Museum together with the National Palace of Ajuda!
In either case, can enjoy a 50% discount: visitors aged 65 or over, holders of the Student Card and/or Youth Card, as well as anyone who wants to purchase the Family Ticket (available for 1 adult and 2 under 18 years old at least).
Concerning the free entry, that’s available every Sunday and public holidays until 6 pm for all citizens residing in Portugal. Other than that, some groups are always entitled to this exemption, such as children under 12 years old – but check the National Coach Museum official website to read all the information.
3. Visit another National Museum in Lisbon
As the capital of Portugal, the city of Lisbon hosts a large number of National Museums, which you can (and should) add to your itinerary. In addition to the National Coach Museum and the National Museum of Archaeology (both located in the Belém area), you can also visit the:
- National Museum of Ancient Art
- National Museum of Contemporary Art of Chiado
- National Museum of Costume
- National Museum of Ethnology
- National Museum of Natural History and Science
- National Museum of Theater and Dance
- National Museum of the Azulejo
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