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Cutting edge street art in Lisbon

Written by 14 September 2011 31 Comments

A city with narrow cobbled streets and magnificent but derelict buildings is what you would normally think of when hearing about Lisbon, but the Portuguese capital is gradually turning into a huge gallery for innovative street art. On my way to downtown Baixa last year, I passed by something that surprised me, huge cranes were standing next to a block of once beautiful but now derelict buildings. A few days later, they had been transformed into canvases of gorgeous art, making them a different kind of grand. Buildings that people once tried to avoid looking at, are now catching everybody’s eye.

Street-art by SAM3.

The block I first noticed is located in the district of Saldanha, Lisbon’s business district that is full of neglected former homes that could potentially be turned into art. The initiative was started by the Crono Project, commissioning artists to turn these types of urban spaces into art-projects instead of turning them over to developers.

Birds by the British street-art and graffiti artist Lucy Mclauchlan.

The ‘urban curatorship’ receives support from the City Council in providing locations in the city for the purpose of decorating them with graffiti. Local communities, internationally renowned artists work alongside Portuguise artists to establish an Urban Art itinerary in Lisbon.

Art by the Brazilian artists Os Gemeos (left) & BLU (right).

Building located at Saldanha square decorated by the Portuguese artist Paulo Arraiano.

For more cutting edge street-art buildings commissioned by the Crono you should also visit:

Avenida Almirante Reis for art by MOMO
Alcântara for work by the Berlin-based American artist Brad Downey and Alexandre Farto aka Vhils
– Lisbon’s beautiful but touristy avenue Avenida de Liberdade for a colorful piece by ARM
– For the Graffiti Hall of Fame go to Rua José Ferreira close to the shopping centre Amoreiras

Urban art gallery

Decorated bollards by the bike lane between Caís de Sodré and Alcântera. (Do you know who the artist/artists are?)

Graffiti artists in Lisbon have special areas where they can operate legally through the Gallery of Urban Art, in cooperation with the City Council, the Portuguese Tourist Board and MTV. One of my favorite walls in this project is the tribute to the Nobel Prize for Literature awarded writer José Saramago and his wife until his death in 2010, Pilar del Río. Here is a beautiful video of the making of this piece:

Taking the the Glória funicular (costs about 1,40 euros) or walking the steep hill up to Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara (fantastic viewpoint!) you can see several panels with changing street-art expositions.

Montana shop and gallery Lisbon in Bairro Alto has frequent exhibitions and some of Lisbon’s street-art insiders working in the shop, if you’re looking for spray-cans or just some inspiration. To see the best graffiti artists in action, try to figure out when the next Secret Wars event is. Secret Wars is the world’s premier live art battle, currently with 16 European locations – where art-teams compete against each other in creating the best wall in 90 minutes.

Other street decorations

In the medieval quarter of Lisbon, Alfama, I can get lost for hours looking at old stone buildings almost falling apart – decorated with graffiti and with colorful clothes hanging out of every window to dry. Even the most derelict stone building can become a piece of art with poems scribbled on its walls.

Lisbon has a long history of using the streets as galleries. The Moors presence on Iberia introduced tiles on the buildings with arabesque geometric patterns (probably also because many belonged to the Sunni branch of Islam, that prohibited images of living things). The Portuguese continued the fashion after the Moors left, and started producing their own tiles during the 16th century. After the destructive earthquake in 1755, the richer areas really started to decorate their buildings with colors and tiles.

Walking through the streets today, you notice many tiles missing and sometimes be replaced with tiles in different patterns, creating an interesting and colorful patchwork. The missing tiles are often a result of theft, because, if undamaged, they can get very high prices on the black art market. Buildings are left with open “wounds” that not even the best graffiti artist can fix, but at least the piece might lead people to think about the problem.

For a piece of history, stop by the mural depicting the Portuguese democratic Carnation Revolution in 1974 located in Bairro Alto.

Photo: xpgomes7 (CC Licence)

Enjoy the streets of Lisbon and be surprised by all the unexpected places you will discover street-art!

Me in front of an older mural my street-art walk through Alfama.

Kathrine Opshaug Bakke Kathrine Opshaug Bakke, editor at Travelettes from 2009 to 2013, wrote this post. Originating from Norway, she has been living in Berlin, Lisbon, and Stockholm the past 6 years.

She loves cities with imperfect facades, photography, traveling by bike, vintage hunting, and everything that comes with cheese. Follow her visual diary at anchoredpaperplane.com.

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  • Katja said:

    great post, kathrine! one more reason to look forward to visiting lisbon one day

  • Weltenbummler*in said:

    WOW! Is that temporary or permanently?

  • kathrine said:

    to my knowledge the art from the crono project is permanent, or at least will not be removed after the project. crono ended in july this year with a final street-art exhibition and conference (but i’m hoping for a second round). : )

  • alfredo said:

    woowo great, great post Kath!! ;)

  • marie said:


  • César said:

    Hi there,

    The building in the fourth picture is now demolished (in case you want to add that information).

    Nice post :thumbsup:

  • Jade Johnston said:

    Great photos! Love how they used the whole building as their canvas…

  • kathrine said:

    thanks césar!

  • Ana O'Reilly said:

    I really hope this art is permanent as I’m going to spend New Year’s in Lisbon. Thanks for the article. The photos are beautiful.

  • Raymond @ Man On The Lam said:

    These are very cool!

  • Sophie said:

    Street art is such fun! I remember seeing the ones in Bairro Alto – bright, colourful and … temperamental. Very cool.

  • Deb said:

    These are some really innovative pieces. Good for them for sprucing up the city. I had never really thought of going to Lisbon before, but your photos have me intrigued!

  • NvGtravels said:

    A wonderful look at Lisbon!

  • jade said:

    Oh, these are awesome! Would love to see them all in real life.

  • kathrine said:

    Thanks to all of you! Lisbon is definitely worth a visit – the street art there is mind blowing and the city is (in my opinion) one of the most charming places in Europe : )

    @Ana, have a nice trip to Lisbon – see here http://www.travelettes.net/category/europe/portugal/lisbon/ for more tips on what to do in Lisbon!
    @Sophie, Bairro Alto is also wonderful! Love the tiny cobbled streets, the nightlife and the colors there.
    @Deb and Jade, GO there! You’ll love it, I promise.

  • Flavio | Lisbon said:

    Lovely post, so nice to see people loving this (new-to-me) city! There is so much to talk about it. I wonder how did you feel biking here, it is really difficult with all the hills around!

    cheers, Flavio from Lisbon

  • Nadia | Gap Daemon said:

    Amazing photos! Really looks amazing, very sophisticated street art. Love.

  • Maria said:

    Thanks for this post. Some of it is incredibly rendered and all of it is provocative. I love turning a corner (anywhere) and be treated to street art. Well done!

  • kathrine said:

    thanks! lisbon is a city worth visiting for many reasons, and the street-art is just breath taking!

    @flavio – it was a bit challenging biking there in the beginning, but mostly due to crazy taxi drivers trying to run me over. you get used to the hills after a week or so + it’s a great workout:)

  • JoAnna said:

    I have always been fascinated with Portugal, and now I have another reason to put it on my travel itinerary!

  • Laura said:

    Very nice! I haven’t seen this street art when I visited Lisbon a couple of years ago.

  • Claire said:

    Very cool, hope to visit Lisbon very soon.

  • kathrine said:


    Go for it JoAnna and Claire! It is such a wonderful city!

    @Laura – they just started decorating the buildings in 2010, so that’s probably why you didn’t see it. A good reason to go back :)

  • DTravelsRound said:

    I am so bummed I missed this when I was in Lisbon!! Granted, I was really sick while I was there and made it out for just one day … but, man!! These photos are really great, and I love that Lisbon does that. I can’t wait to go back and see this for myself. My favorite part about exploring cities is the street art!

  • Rease said:

    I love really great street art. It makes walking through a city such a memorable experience.
    Ps- you look super cute in that last photo.

  • kathrine said:

    @DTravelsRound – hope you get to go back there soon. The pieces in Lisbon are truly amazing and the city has so much to offer.

    @Rease – Me too, great street art really makes a difference! Thanks for the compliment:)

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    Wow! Very different from street art I’ve seen in other parts of the world.

  • kathrine said:

    yes, quite spectacular isn’t it :)

  • Chris said:

    That one by Paulo A. is really cool. Love street art!

  • Luna said:

    Amazing. Does anyone know of any good photography books featuring Lisbon street art like this?

  • Hildegarde said:

    Awesome Web-site, Stick to the beneficial work. Many thanks.

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