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.