The 7 Best Libraries in Lisbon to Study and Get Your Work Done

Written By Becky Gillespie

Lisbon is famous for its beautiful and historical buildings, and its libraries are no exception. Several of Lisbon’s libraries are former palaces, tucked into corners of gorgeous museums, or attached to universities. However, some of Lisbon’s biggest libraries are not easy to access for the average person looking for a place to study. They may require an advance reservation, only be available as part of a tour, or be limited to students or researchers studying a certain subject.

Today, we would like to focus on the 7 best Lisbon libraries where you can study and get your work done. We start with libraries in the Bibliotecas de Lisboa (BLX) network and finish with the biggest library in the city.

The BLX network of 17 libraries also includes 3,000 activities per year. From art exhibitions to conversations with authors to theatre, dance, and even video game design, the BLX network makes a strong effort to keep its Lisbon communities educated and connected.

1. Biblioteca de Belém

Belém Library, Photo by Becky Gillespie
Cafe and Garden, Belém Library, Photo by Becky Gillespie

The Belém Library has been open to the public since 1965. It once served as a Natural History Museum and later provided lodging for Naval Academy students. Housed in the 18th century Marquês de Angeja Palace, its rooms have ample natural light and a few cozy chairs for settling in with a book. The sun terrace also offers views of the Tagus River.

Visitors can delve into over 1,700 works on feminist themes in the Ana Castro Osório collection. Unique to the library is its literacy initiative involving dogs that assist children. The library’s location is strategic, surrounded by landmarks like the Jerónimos Monastery and MAAT. And while you’re in the area, you may as well head over to the most famous pastel de nata place in town, Pasteis de Belém.

In addition to reading spaces, the library’s garden hosts the CCC Café. Managed by Corações com Coroa, the café is perfect for a leisurely brunch. The Belém Library offers something for everyone in an important cultural corridor of the city.

Address: R. da Junqueira 295 297

Opening Times: Tuesdays–Fridays, 10 am – 6 pm

Check out the website here

2. Biblioteca de Alcântara

Biblioteca de Alcântara, Photo by Becky Gillespie

The Biblioteca de Alcântara occupies the historic Count of Burnay’s Mansion, a significant 19th-century building that once belonged to the affluent Burnay family. Initially a community fixture, the building hosted the Ferreira Borges Technical School in the 1930s.

It stood near the site of a defining moment in Alcântara’s history, the 1961 assassination of artist and anti-fascist José Dias Coelho by the PIDE, a Portuguese security agency that existed during the Estado Novo regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. José Dias Coelho was memorialized in Zeca Afonso’s song and is also the name of the street where the library is located.

Architect Margarida Grácio Nunes’s design for the new Biblioteca de Alcântara earned acclaim for its social impact, garnering a National Urban Rehabilitation Award in 2020. Embodying the Arab toponym Al-Quantara’s meaning, “the bridge,” the library emerged from engaging community dialogue, integrating a Community Theater even before its official opening.

Boasting a Community Theater, Children’s/Youth Choir, and the “Lives and Memories of Alcântara” project, the library serves as the cultural hotbed of the community. It features a Lisbon and Alcântara-focused collection and a gallery for temporary art exhibitions. The library, envisioned as a second home for citizens, also offers a serene garden, complete with a fountain and a Pedro Croft sculpture, creating an oasis of tranquility and reflection.

Address: R. José Dias Coelho 27 – 29

Opening Times: Mondays–Fridays, 10 am – 6 pm (occasionally, Saturdays will be open instead of Mondays; please check the website)

Check out the website here

3. Biblioteca Palácio Galveias

Situated close to notable institutions like Culturgest and the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Biblioteca Palácio Galveias resides in a 17th-century palace built by the Távora family. After several changes in ownership, including acquisition by the 5th Count of Galveias, it became part of Lisbon’s cultural infrastructure, housing the Municipal Archive, Library, and Museum.

After undergoing refurbishment from 2015 to 2017, the Biblioteca Palácio Galveias beautifully melds historic architecture with modern facilities. The library has inspired and served writers like Maria Teresa Horta and Nobel laureate José Saramago. Horta delved into research there for her book “As Luzes de Leonor,” and Saramago chose this space for his final interview in 2009, underscoring the library’s enduring impact on literary minds.

Address: Campo Pequeno 1049-046

Opening Times: Mondays, 1 pm – 7 pm, Tuesdays–Fridays, 10 am – 7 pm, Saturdays, 1 pm – 7 pm

Check out the website here

4. Biblioteca Camões

The Biblioteca Camões, housed in the historical Palácio Valada-Azambuja, is a beacon of culture in Lisbon. Rebuilt after the catastrophic 1755 earthquake, the palace became renowned for its influential occupants, including the Marquês de Pombal. Eça de Queiroz’s “O Mandarim” attests to the palace’s societal significance with mentions of grandiose gatherings held within its walls.

By the 20th century, the building’s role had evolved, serving as the headquarters for “A Lucta,” a prominent Republican newspaper. The transformation continued when, in 1973, it began a new chapter as the Municipal Library for the Blind. The Biblioteca Camões was officially established in 1982, positioned near the eponymous square, becoming a hub for the local community.

The library boasts an extensive collection and diverse programs, attracting children, families, and seniors alike. Art exhibitions are frequently on display, complemented by proximity to the Chiado Museum, situating it firmly within the Bairro das Artes. A highlight for visitors is the exquisite bust of poet Luíz de Camões, crafted by notable sculptor José Joaquim Teixeira Lopes.

Moreover, the Biblioteca Camões prides itself on offering the finest view of the Tagus River. From the Sala das Artes, a glance through the window next to the fireplace reveals a stunning panorama of Lisbon, where the city’s rooftops cascade toward the water’s edge.

Address: Largo Calhariz 17 1o andar

Opening Times: Tuesdays–Fridays, 10 am – 6 pm

Check out the website here

5. Biblioteca de Marvila

The Biblioteca de Marvila, designed by Architect Hestnes Ferreira, occupies an impressive space of nearly 3,000 m2. Incorporated into the historic Quinta das Fontes, the library combines original structures with new additions, including an auditorium for 172 people. This blend of old and new mirrors the library’s setting in Lisbon’s rapidly changing Marvila district, where the vestiges of a rural and industrial past are making way for a vibrant present.

Opened on November 27, 2016, the Marvila Library quickly became a cultural lifeline for a diverse community with a particular focus on inspiring local children and teens to play and create video games. It serves as a crossroads for the exchange of ideas and a space where the past and future of the city converge. Its programs, designed to engage and inspire, attract a wide range of visitors, creating new cultural dynamics.

Key offerings include the “Dias de Marvila,” featuring local events and partnerships, and the “Bibliogamers,” a haven for gaming enthusiasts. The “Human Library” project, recognized for its fight against discrimination, stands out for its social impact. Additionally, community-oriented initiatives like “Sê Bairrista,” “Meio no Meio,” and “Visionários” foster urban regeneration and social inclusion, underscoring the library’s role in community development and cultural engagement.

Address: R. António Gedeão

Opening Times: Mondays–Saturdays, 10 am – 6 pm

Check out the website here

6. Biblioteca São Lázaro

In 1883, Lisbon unveiled its oldest public library, the Biblioteca São Lázaro. Originally serving as Lisbon’s Central Library, it is a landmark of knowledge and history. Situated in the Parish of Arroios, Portugal’s most diverse area, the library has transitioned into a vibrant community space. It focuses on educational programs, including Portuguese language courses for locals.

The São Lázaro Library collaborates with various cultural organizations like Associação Cultural SOU and Carpintarias de São Lázaro. These partnerships aim to foster community growth and shared learning objectives.

Beyond its historical significance as Lisbon’s first public library, São Lázaro entices visitors (and fans of Harry Potter) with its Noble Hall. This architectural marvel has stood untouched since the library’s inception. The hall’s pentagonal design, in addition to its noble wood shelves and a bamboo spiral staircase, captivates all who enter. The expansive mezzanine and central chandelier add to its grandeur.

Address: R. do Saco 1

Opening Times: Mondays–Saturdays, 11 am – 1 pm, 2 pm – 7 pm

Check out the website here

7. Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal

The Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal is the one library on this list that is not part of the BLX municipal network in Lisbon. Although it is not as suitable for daily study, it is still possible to come and enjoy this beautiful building and find a place to study for the day.

Established in 1796, the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal has evolved from the Royal Public Library of the Court, reflecting Portugal’s literary tradition and historical development. With over three million items, the library boasts a diverse collection, including rare manuscripts, cartography, iconography, and music. It also serves as a leading research hub, offering vast resources to scholars worldwide. The library’s mission extends to promoting Portuguese literary heritage globally.

Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal, Lisboa, Photo by Biblioteca de Arte, Flickr

Address: Campo Grande 83

Opening Times: Mondays–Fridays, 9:30 am – 7:30 pm, Saturdays, 9:30 am – 5:30 pm

Check out the website here

Getting a Library Card

Getting a library card at one of Lisbon’s municipal libraries gives you access to all of the libraries’ books, DVDs, and online resources free of charge. It took me about 10 minutes to sign up with a staff member in person and I was given a card right away. 

A library card will also give you access to over 7,000 top publications from around the globe at Pressreader. This includes the Washington Post, Bloomberg Business Week, and the Guardian.

Happy reading!

Library Card, Photo by Becky Gillespie
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