Lisbon is a city of youth, art and design. Small alternative studios have been plopping around the city for the past couple of years and Lisbon has been establishing itself in the new European underground scene. Although as a tourist destination the capital has been one of the top destinations worldwide, the art scene is everything but mainstream.
As an alfacinha myself (little lettuce – nickname for people from Lisbon), I believe this is due to how small we are as a country, in order to make ourselves different and heard, a unified alternative art and design scene has been created here. We are at the tip of Europe, for years neglected by the rest of the continent, as such the artistic community has made itself detached from the rest and very much in their own bubble to both set itself apart and celebrate what is ours and unique. Over the years more and more support and celebration of the Portuguese tradition and culture has been central theme in many art works, this big turn happened when, after a big economical crisis, we realized not only what was foreign was good and that we could find inspiration from within.
Nevertheless, the artistic creed developed in Lisbon is somehow confined to a small elite – the creatives. It is essentially made by artists for artists, as sometimes it is believed within the community that the outer people will not understand the content. And this creates a snowball effect, as artworks are created exactly to be extremely conceptual, indecipherable for outside spectators, for which the artistic society is shunned from the broader community. Still, the artists enjoy this outer realm they belong to, as if by their own means they were superior for creating art, and being so conceptual and different no one would understand them. Although this has been true for some years, nowadays it has been changing and both sides have been trying to make up. Artistic projects have been integrating social causes and the Portuguese society has become less traditional, and so, more open-minded to different ideas.
I studied in the University of Fine Arts of Lisbon and these principals of conceptualism and high intellect were well embedded into the student body. We went to the places no one did, the exhibitions no one cared about and the restaurants no one cared to sit at. As such, I am certified on this matter. There is a well established underground scene in Lisbon and usually unless you were from within it, it was hard to find out about these places, although today things are changing.
So if you want to be part of the gang here is where you have to go:
Multi-purpose space | Alcântara | ££ | Instagram: @lxfactory | Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and gf | Good for art and food lovers
Ok, let’s start easy. This is not that underground anymore, it has grown to the next category – Instagram worthy. This place is proof of the medley I explained before, where the art world is opening up. Nevertheless, when it opened, it was a place only artsy people went to. This is an old complex of factories that was rehabilitated to accommodate some offices, as in animation studios, design ateliers and furniture stores, then came the street art (everywhere), then the restaurants, shops and galleries, the Sunday craft market and finally the Instagram influencers. I have to say this is one of my favourite spots in the city, although far from traditional, there is no other place like it.
Tip: go on a warm Sunday afternoon, enjoy the market and then have a drink at the rooftop bar of Rio Maravilha, and grab a bite there if you’re hungry (it is also a restaurant).
Attached to Lx Factory resides Village Underground a compound of stacked buses in a sculptural-like display that lodges cafés, bars and little shops sometimes. This is the underground nook where the artistic crew moved to when the its neighbouring place got too crowded.
Gallery | Marvila | £ | Instagram: @underdogs_gallery | Good for art lovers
This is an art gallery turned artistic platform and shop that shows you some of the most promising national new artists. If you go on their website, they have a ‘public art’ section that maps some of the best street art in the city – and allow me to stress, we have a lot scattered around. The gallery itself is set on an up and coming area with lots of art cafes and artist studios. They have mainly intermittent exhibitions, so better check their agenda. If you feel like having something to eat, walk to Aquele lugar que não existe – meaning ‘that place that doesn’t exist’ – it’s a self-entitled art café, whatever meaning you retrieve from that, and more than the food I believe it is the ambiance that counts, this is true artsy Lisbon. On that same note, if you only want a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of cake, go to Café com Calma, it’s a similar vibe but more of a café concept. Around this area you can also check what parties are happening at Fábrica Braço de Prata, what concerts are on at LAV and if you walk a little further, you can spend an evening at Ferroviário.
Crack Kids Lisboa
Gallery, Art Supply Store and Bar| Cais do Sodré | £ | Instagram: @tacoshop01 | Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and gf | Good for art and street food lovers
Are you a fan of graffiti and authentic tacos? Then this is will soon turn into your favourite place. This riverfront weird combo identifies itself as an art supply store, stacked with every colour of spray paint, it developed into an art gallery and soon introduced amazing authentic tacos and enchiladas from Taco Shop #1 and managed to do all three perfectly. Are you curious already? This space is an experience in itself and it is very central.
Multi-purpose space and Gallery | Lumiar | £ | Instagram: @centralgerador | Good for art lovers and Portuguese culture enthusiasts
A cultural center focused on the celebration of the Portuguese culture and language. This space is booming with events from exhibitions to talks with designers and artists. It is the contemporary bringing in the traditional. Although this is a pinnacle of what is being done in the cultural Lisbon scene, most of the happenings are in Portuguese and so is the magazine they publish. I would advise you to go there is you have special interest in the language and culture or can understand it. If not, maybe check Carpintarias de São Lázaro instead, a newer cultural center mainly focused on the promotion of new talent, they are continuously looking for the next new artist and conducting Open Calls. They celebrate not only national talents but also lesser known foreign artists. Factory Lisbon is also a place to keep your eye on, continuously promoting artistic and cultural events.
Multi-purpose space, Restaurants and Shops| Amadora | £ | Instagram: @livethehood | Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and gf | Good for art, food and shopping lovers
The Hood is a new addition to the city, on an often overlooked neighbourhood, a new street culture paradise emerged. Comprising an urban wear shop studio, a foodie paradise, a cultural hub and chill outside area, this venue hosts numerous events such as workshops focusing on sustainability and wellness to live music concerts and DJ nights. This is an incredibly innovative space alike nothing else we had until now in Lisbon and is working to improve a less developed area of the city. If you are into street culture, you should definitely check it out.
Multi-purpose space | Anjos | £ | Instagram: @anjos.70 | Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and gf | Good for art and shopping lovers
This is the place of my young artsy years before going to university, one of the first places to host small brand markets, usually national online stores with some followship that would every month join together in a market. Nowadays it has developed to accommodate various other events, from yoga classes, to other types of specialized markets, workshops and even small concerts and parties. A lot of foreigners who have moved to Lisbon are known to love the space and gather here often.
Musa Bar and Factory
Bar and beer factory | Marvila | £ | Instagram: @cervejamusa | Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and gf | Good for beer lovers
This is perfect for Beer lovers. Musa is an independent Portuguese craft beer that has recently opened a bar inside its own factory. There you can try all of their products and indulge in beer tasting while having some great snacks and still hear some live music or enjoy a DJ set on one of the special nights. What else could you ask for?
Another honorable mention bar-wise is Pensão Amor, an old ‘ladies of the night’ club turned bar and sex shop. Through a multitude of adjacent rooms you can find a chill place to have a drink or find one of the music rooms and dance a little. This place is a whole building with different spaces but mind that it gets very crowded on weekends. Also don’t be discouraged (or encouraged) by the sex element, it is not vehemently portrayed throughout the bar, there is just a small sex shop and sex toy display on one of the floors.
If this is not plenty of substance to live your best alternative artsy live, I don’t know what is. The tips given above are gold as I believe many of more mainstream locals are not even aware of the existence of these places. Are you willing to go underground?