Lisbon Street Art: A Vibrant City Attraction

Lisbon is a city that does street art well. I knew that before I arrived in Lisbon for my 15-hour layover while on the way to Cape Verde, and so I walked around with my camera, snapping shots of every compelling image I saw that had repurposed public space for canvas. I liked Lisbon so much that I came back for an extra four days at the end of my trip.

Terracotta rooftops and cobblestone streets are angled sharply in the town of Lisbon, a place that can’t help but remind travelers of San Francisco, and some of the best art in Lisbon can be found between those cobblestone streets and terracotta roofs. Also situated atop seven hills alongside a bay, utilizing cable street cars for public transportation, triumphing despite a history with severe earthquakes, pouring glasses of phenomenal local wine and boasting brightly colored buildings, the 25 de Abril Bridge cements (or should I say bridges?) the comparison between the two cities – as it should since the same company behind Lisbon’s famous bridge built the Golden Gate Bridge. But the fact that both cities exude remarkable street art is a commonality that secures my appreciation for Lisbon as a parallel universe of San Francisco.

%Gallery-194249%Art, in the broad sense, has a way of amplifying all other elements of a place. Street art, unlike any other form, does this especially well since it transforms a place from the outside and exposes those who aren’t necessarily searching for art to art. Street art provides for us a glimpse into local social commentary, regional values and cultural movements. The messages are relayed instantaneously while the transient art form draws an onlooker to the present to take in that which might not remain tomorrow.

Lisbon’s street art has not only helped to shine light on the vibrant arts community within the city, but the art itself has also been attracting tourists. The city of Lisbon has clearly embraced the role street artists play in the larger scheme of things, at least to some degree. While staying in The Corinthia Hotel, I couldn’t help but notice the murals of animals beneath the nearby overpass, painted in an effort to bring attention to the nearby Lisbon Zoo. Meandering through the slanted city streets offered me views of the varying city recycling bins – many of which are individually painted in a street art style, but clearly the result of a concerted and collaborative effort orchestrated by Galeria De Arte Urbana. Even stencil-type art on plywood surrounding construction is beautiful in Lisbon.

I went out walking in Lisbon one day and didn’t stop until my feet couldn’t physically bear the brunt of another step. My perseverance was mostly at the hand of my inability to quell my quest for views of street art. I purposefully lost myself in the city, taking spontaneous turns and not referring to a map. At one point in time, I happened upon an alley full of street art and a street artist hard at work on one particularly impressive piece. I didn’t dare interrupt him, certain that what he needed to say that day would be said on the wall before him once he was finished.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Barrio Alto in Lisbon

48 Hours In Lisbon: In Search Of Coffee, Tiles And Sun


All truth be told, Lisbon was never a city I had given any thought to. In fact, I couldn’t even come up with anything linked to it. Give me a list of other European cities and there was at least one or two things that came to mind.

Stockholm: Old Town and the archipelago.

Paris: croissants, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

London: pubs, fish and chips and Big Ben.

Venice: canals, gelato and carnival.

But Lisbon? My inability to come up with anything symbolic of the Portuguese capital was embarrassing.

Come to think of it, it wasn’t just embarrassing; it was a little odd. For centuries, Portugal was a powerhouse, conquering remote parts of the world from Brazil to Timor (even today, seven of Portugal’s former colonies still have Portuguese as their official language), bringing back exotic luxuries that would later become European staples – chocolate and coffee come to mind. And yet here I was unable to come up with a connection to Portugal whatsoever. It was obviously time to improve my cultural understanding.

Enter the 48-hour trip – like a quick dip into the sea, the kind of thing that sort of gets you acquainted, but really just leaves you wanting more.Although it’s the capital of Portugal, it only has around 550,000 habitants. This makes it the kind of city that feels like a city, but still small enough, with plenty of animated neighborhoods, that it’s manageable enough to explore.

Sitting on Portugal’s west coast, Lisbon is Europe’s westernmost capital city, and with the meeting of the Atlantic Ocean and the Tagus River, water is a central part of the city’s history and identity. The smell of saltwater and a cool ocean breeze is never far.

“Ah, the San Francisco of Europe,” said a friend when I told her I was going. She was right, the mix of bridges (one looks almost exactly like the Golden Gate), colorful buildings, streetcars, an artsy vibe and proximity to the ocean makes the two cities feel very similar.

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Lisbon has an organic feel. It certainly isn’t rural, but it’s one of those amazing places that manages to seamlessly combine the natural world with the urban one. Maybe it’s the lack of overly tall buildings in the center of town, or the fact that it has a more Mediterranean climate than other cities, but this is a place where there are trees and foliage everywhere. Restaurants have gardens with trees growing in the middle, and if you leave your window open, you’ll be woken up by birds chirping.

We were staying near Bairro Alto, a neighborhood known for its nightlife. Right on the outskirts we were close enough to be within walking distance of the city center, but far enough that it felt like we were living like locals – for 48 hours at least.

That’s the key when traveling: immersing yourself, even for just a hot minute.

That meant ordering a morning cafe and pastel del nata at the corner kiosk in the park one block away, picnicking at the waterfront and not taking the yellow streetcar (although you can be sure I snapped a picture of myself in front of it).

Forget public transportation cards and days inside of museums. With only 48 hours, sunny Lisbon was beckoning me to explore it on foot for as long as my body put up with.

We kicked things off the first evening with the season’s first OutJazz concert – a summer-long series that features outdoor concerts in Lisbon’s public parks and gardens. When you’ve lived in Portland for over five years, you think you know what hipsters look like. But then again, you’ve never hung with the European hipster crowd. Twenty-somethings and 30-somethings scattered all over the park on blankets, drinking wine out of bottles and smoking the obligatory cigarette. The combination of outdoor music, percentage of Ray-Ban wearers and skinny jeans were proof that we were in a city that likes to be hip, and a budget-friendly evening picnic with free bands was a place that we could certainly fit in. It was the beginning of the summer season. There was a noticeable buzz in the air.

That’s what I found in Lisbon: a city that feels very much alive and vibrant. A city that despite its old roots is moving. It’s a hub of Portuguese design. A city that mixes together old and new – classic yet cutting edge all at the same time.

Walking down narrow alleyways, plenty of laundry hanging out to dry in the warm air, it’s hard to not notice the colors that make Lisbon unique. Almost every building, new and old, is covered in bright tiles. The older and non-restored ones are dingier, yet still colorful, the glory of their bygone days showing through. There are so many patterns and colors you can almost believe that you could traverse the city without finding two of the same kind. They are buildings with stories to tell, something I was reminded of while at a flea market in Belem, just outside of Lisbon. There a man sold tiles, chipped and clean ones alike, with a sign atop the table stating, “before you buy a tile, know its history.” Noted.

Beyond exploring the city streets I was on a mission for good coffee. Coming from Paris where the coffee is less than desirable, and the price always way more than any decent human being wants to pay, it doesn’t take much to impress me. Our Airbnb host Joana insisted on us stopping by A Carioca to pick up some infused beans. Open since 1924, you get the feeling that not much has changed since its first days, old French presses and grinders covering the walls, and the smell of coffee so strong that if you’re a coffee addict, you’re in love within one step of entering. We grab a 100-gram of hazelnut coffee for good measure.


The other “must” was a pastel de nata, the typical Portuguese pastry made with custard. “You can get the classic ones in Belem, but I think the place down the street is better,” said Joana as she handed over one of the specialties as a welcome present on our first night. It was still warm from the oven.

She was right. Check out any Lisbon list and it will tell you to stop off at Pasteis de Belem a little further out of town to get the really classic ones, but if you don’t go snag a half dozen of the ones at Nata, right at the edge of Bairro Alto and near the center of town, you’ll be missing out. They’re 1€ a pop, there’s certainly no point in restraining yourself.

We wrapped up the weekend with a trip to Belém – certainly worth a visit given its historical importance. Here is where you’ll find the UNESCO World Heritage site Torre de Belém as well as the Jerónimos Monastery. Go on a Sunday and you’ll score the flea market, full of tourists and locals alike.

When it was time to head back, there was a quick dash to the clean and efficient metro (after coffee at the corner kiosk of course) and soon enough we were on a plane out of Lisbon. That’s how 48-hour trips go after all; they offer mere doses of cities that get you immediately planning your next trip back. As we pulled away from the city I couldn’t help but think about how it’s the places that you don’t know anything about that are often the best to discover.

Here’s to the beauty of the unknown, and always wanting to learn more.

A few budget friendly Lisbon recommendations for when you go:

Terra – In need of vegetarian food? Terra does an incredible vegetarian buffet (they also have a menu of good organic teas and wines) and serves it up in their beautiful garden space behind the restaurant. The lunch menu at 12.50€ is an excellent deal for stocking up midday and eating a lighter meal in the evening.

Lost N – Inspired by India, List In is both a store and a restaurant/bar. Head to the terrace in the early evening for a comfortable spot to grab a drink.

Torre de Belem – at only 5€ to get into the UNESCO World Heritage Site, you get to explore a beautiful monument, and if you make it all the way up to the top, a fantastic view of the city. It’s definitely worth your while.

Portugal To Vietnam By Rails: Are You Up For The Ultimate Train Challenge?

Last year, Michael Hodson and two travel blogger friends challenged each other to take on the world by train. For a month the bloggers traveled on separate routes from Lisbon, Portugal, to Saigon, Vietnam, on a competitive quest to conquer the longest continuous stretches of train tracks currently on the planet. The rails-only expedition was dubbed the Ultimate Train Challenge, and after the bloggers completed the trek, Hodson found he wanted to instill his competitive spirit – and love for travel – in others.

Recently, Hodson announced that the competition would take place again. Only this time, any travelers can take part in the challenge, which is being sponsored by Intrepid Travel, Eurail, Hostelworld and Urban Adventures. Anyone with the month of November free, a $425 entrance fee and additional cash to fund the trip can join in on the 15,000-mile expedition. During the challenge, participants are asked to each raise at least $500 for Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation supporting street children, children with disabilities, the rural poor and victims of trafficking in Vietnam.

Do you think you have what it takes to travel across Europe and Asia by rails?

[Photo by Libby Zay]

Photo Of The Day: Summer In Lisbon

summer in lisbon

Summer in Lisbon is usually pleasantly warm; seldom does Portugal‘s capital swelter. From this vantage point along the Calçada do Duque, a prime tourist zone, clear skies and colorful bunting render Lisbon especially welcoming. Think about a short Lisbon break for a few minutes: good strong coffee and egg tarts for breakfast; grilled sardines and a nice vinho verde for lunch; and an evening stroll before a leisurely dinner.

Flickr user (flicts) snapped this photo earlier this month. Upload your summer images of other European capitals in full blush of summer to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. We choose our favorites from the pool to be Photos of the Day.