Holidays in Portugal Lisbon, the street art capital of the world
Over the last few years, the walls of Lisbon have undergone a real revolution, turning them from simple structural elements into true canvases. Sponsored by local creators like Vhils and by the Galeria de Arte Urbana (Urban Art Gallery), a municipal organization dedicated to promoting and legalizing artistic interventions, the whole city has been beautified and transformed into an open air museum that’s a joy to discover. The tour starts in the heart of the city and ends in unexpected neighborhoods that are bursting with inspiration.
To help you enjoy these experiences, we encourage you to book and discover our Iberostar Selection Lisboa hotel in Lisbon, Portugal. Its unbeatable location is in the proximity to Marquês de Pombal Square, Avenida da Liberdade that is full of luxury stores, and Eduardo VII Park which is a perfect place for you to start exploring the city streets that captivated the celebrated Fernando Pessoa.
Get ready to learn, have fun and snap some pics!
It all began eight years ago. One spring morning, Avenida Fontes Pereira do Melo—one of the most exclusive streets in the city—turned three of its properties into huge canvases for the most famous urban artists of the time: Gémeos, Blu and SAM3. Commissioned and created by Alexander Fartos (aka Vhils), the Cronos project was conceived to raise awareness about the importance of street art in the city and, incidentally, to save buildings that were condemned to be demolished and disappear. They still stand today, and have become some of the most famous and inspiring examples of artistic “vandalism” in the whole world.
More than just a local phenomenon, this factory, which is located under the Alcántara Bridge, has started a global revolution. This is an example of an industrial building being handed over to creators, generating a kind of parallel universe where imagination has no limits. The flow of ideas is infectious, with the power to brighten up any day. And, of course, in this ecosystem of shops, bars, studios and bookstores, urban art has found a place. It acts as a disruptive and undeniably inspiring aesthetic discourse, broadcasting to the world that here, something is really cooking.
Exploring both the inside and the outside of this complex, you’ll find microcosms where artists leave behind evidence of their own imagination. Bordalo II, with its impressive bumblebee, proves that one man’s trash is another man’s colorful collage. Mário Belém has drawn a larger-than-life parade of dolls, characters and creatures (pictured) emerging from somewhere between his childhood memories and adulthood daydreams. Another of the most Instagrammable interventions is the phrase projected on a brick wall by the collective MaisMenos, which reads, "Until debt tear us apart," a quote adapted from the famous Joy Division song.
The Underground Village is a coworking space built on imagination. Right next to the LX Factory, in this spot—which was originally part of a Lisbon tram station—unused shipping containers and double-decker buses from London (yep, brought straight from the British metropolis) have accumulated into what looks like a junk graveyard. However, its interior has been refurbished to host hipster offices and cafés, and its exterior walls turned into large, colorful canvases that herald what awaits inside. Exploring each space means navigating balconies, metal walkways and even swings.
One of the initial objectives of the GAU (Galeria de Arte Urbana) was to prevent the Bairro Alto district from being covered with graffiti and tags, which are ultimately the antitheses of this underground discipline. To do this, it encouraged and urged the most brilliant local artists to recover the muralist tradition and reclaim their streets. The results are works like the Fresco Revolucionario de la Travessa dos Fleis de Deus, the creation of Antonio Alves and RIGO, which pays tribute to the posters that spurred on the Carnation Revolution in the 70s.
Local imagination is also on display in other corners of Lisbon. Throughout the narrow streets and hills of the historic Alfama neighborhood, fado music takes over the walls in various ways. The most monumental example is Vhils’ tribute to Amália Rodrigues in a little park on Rúa São Tomé, in the form of a cobblestone mosaic. Another is Fado Vadio, an enormous mural that decorates the São Cristóvão staircase with folklore, telling the story of this genre and starring Fernando Maurício and Maria Seveda.
Going down (or up) from the castle to Baixa means making your way through a pedestrian maze where new styles of murals fit in perfectly. Their presence brightens the path, peppering it with unexpected photo ops in front of hypnotic images like the Segue eyes in Beco do Maldonado. In addition to the initiatives of individual artists, Alfama has secured its significance in the 21st century with festivals like Paratissima, which promotes a kind of intervention focused more on art than activism.
Calçada da Glória
Another essential stop on this tour is the Calçada da Glória, famous for its cable car of the same name that climbs all the way to Bairro Alto. Huge canvases were improvised along this steep street a few years ago, to be periodically painted by local graffiti artists. It’s a Galeria de Arte Urbana initiative that works to combine heritage with contemporary art... and street art.
Vhils not only encourages and creates; he’s also managed to make Lisbon street art more sophisticated. A few years ago he opened Underdogs, an art gallery dedicated to his fellow graffiti artists where he exhibits the most important works and trends in the medium. Its presence has enhanced the Marvila neighborhood, turning it into the new go-to spot for the most creative travelers and brightening its walls with works like those of Okuda San Miguel (pictured). The reason is simple: whenever an artist exhibits work in this gallery, they also commit to painting something on the walls outside.