The museum was created in 1833 by Dom Pedro IV in the height of the city Siege, as Museum of Painting, Engraving and other Beaux Arts objects. Its mission was to preserve heritage goods coming from the extinct convents and from estate confiscated to those loyal to Dom Miguel, who lost the war in Porto. It was first located in Santo António’s Convent. Queen Maria II confirmed the museum by a decree signed in 1836, naming it Museu Portuense (Museum of the City of Oporto). With the liaison with the Academia de Belas-Artes do Porto (Beaux Arts Academy of Porto), more art pieces were added to its collections, given the contribution of students and academic work.
In 1940, already named Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis, it moved to the neoclassical palace where it is presently located. The building was created in late 18th century to host the factory and house of the Morais e Castro family, commonly known as Carrancas.
During the Siege of Porto (1832-33) it was used as residence but also as headquarters of Dom Pedro IV army, but only for 4 months, because its location made it an easy target for Dom Miguel batteries, stationed on the opposite side of the river, near to Serra do Pilar.
Presently, the museum is dedicated to preserving and valuing 19th and 20th century art, related to the Escola do Porto (School of Porto), as well as decorative arts from various periods and proveniences.