Lisbon already lures travelers with its bluesy fado music and dreamy hilltops, but a storied street art scene has also sprung to life in Portugal’s capital. So storied, in fact, that it’s become a pilgrimage site for street art seekers from all corners of the globe.
In Lisbon, this transient art form has its roots in the 1974 revolution that toppled Portugal’s right-wing dictatorship and ultimately sparked a profusion of politically charged street art.
Then the boom went dormant for a couple of decades, until the mid-1990s, when local artists started to deck out city walls with street art subforms of all stripes. Think tags, stencils, large-scale murals, scribbles, paste-ups and spray-paint graffiti.
Like a giant colorful canvas, Lisbon’s got it all, including work by Alexandre Farto, a.k.a. Vhils, a local graffiti master who shot to international fame with his reductive carving technique.
After a period of cleanups, Lisbon city council has opened up its mind and instead of cracking down on street art, it now supports it as a legitimate form of creative expression — which means the city is replete with it! Street artists were given carte blanche at a number of canvassing locations around Lisbon, and now these legal walls make up the city’s cultural fabric.
Street Art Highlights in Central Lisbon
To see the highlights of the buzzy scene, you can head out on a self-guided tour. Just put on good walking shoes for clambering up and down the city’s infamous hills. Lisbon is such a treasure-trove of visual treats that the biggest challenge is choosing what to see among its rich pickings.
In central Lisbon, at the heart of the hilltop Bairro Alto neighborhood, check out Calçada da Glória, a steep street that features one of the city’s iconic funiculars. The paneled walls here are regularly painted by leading street artists from Lisbon and around the world.
Further out, a metro ride away, the so-called Amoreiras Wall of Fame (corner of Rua Conselheiro Fernando Sousa and Rua Marquês de Fronteira streets) is Lisbon’s oldest graffiti wall, where artists started leaving their marks back in 1994; you can still some of the original paint on the wall’s northeast stretch.
There’s talk of demolishing these gems, so before that happens, make a beeline for Avenida Fontes Pereira de Melo, a central avenue where incredible murals popped up between May 2010 and May 2011 as part of the CRONO Project, Lisbon’s first large-scale mural festival. The three facades of boarded-up buildings (between Rua Andrade Corvo and Rua Martens Ferrão) feature work by a who’s who on the global street art scene, including the Brazilian duo Os Gêmeos and the Italian artist Blu.
Go Beyond the Center for Edgy Street Art
The sweet thing about street art is that it shines a spotlight on otherwise neglected neighborhoods. In Lisbon, the formerly industrial areas of Braço de Prata and Marvila in the city’s eastern section have fantastic street art that’s reason enough to trek out there.
Don’t miss Fábrica Braço de Prata, a former factory turned cultural center, and the Underdogs Gallery just to the east, a cultural platform that puts on solo and group shows by leading street artists.
Guided Street Art Tours
For insider intel on both the legends and the latest on the scene, sign up for a guided street art tour. You’ll get insightful commentary and access to some off-the-radar street art locations you’d otherwise skip. For an inside look, Underdogs runs fantastic tours, including one focused on the work of their founder, Vhils.
Lisbon Street Art Tours offers fun walking tours; part of the profits go to support the yesyoucan.spray, an intercultural collective of women who organize creative street art interventions, workshops and paint sessions. There’s even an opportunity to make your own tag and leave it on one of Lisbon’s legal walls (as part of a private experience by Lisbon Street Art Tours).