When it comes to the city of Lisbon, so physically steeped in history and widely described as enjoying a cultural renaissance, articulating a handful of highlights -especially so soon after touching down- seems premature and partisan. Some experiences take longer to percolate and distil in our memory. Whilst only a brief three day snapshot, these highlights say much about Lisbon which demands a repeat visit to gain a fuller insight into what this city really offers.
The scores of derelict buildings which line parts of the elegant sea front elude to a city still transitioning, where much is yet to culturally evolve but where space and opportunity seem to exist, bolstered by affordable rents and studio spaces. The rarity of the latter may in part explain why for the past fews years, numerous articles have proffered Lisbon to be the 'new Berlin'. Although a thoroughly lazy cultural comparison, this suggestion is testament to the new creative energy which has seen major dealers move in, art fairs established, landmark museums and buildings built and pockets of Lisbon re-imagined by new not-for-profits. And this sea change has happened with remarkable speed.
Here are some of my highlights;
If you want to venture to a major, international museum rather than scurry around for something artist-led, skip the crowds at the Gulbelkian and head, instead, to the Berardo Museum which is neatly positioned behind the Belem Tower, another must see. Its simplicity reaps great rewards: well proportioned galleries give way to simply curated art historical surveys which tie together a serious collection of contemporary art. In this straightforward handling of the works, the exhibits and the visitor can breathe. If you like the comforts and associated with large-scale museums - a coffee shop for post-visit debrief, a detailed audio guide or more family-friendly activities- you may be disappointed. This is a presentation space not a heavily commercialised museum and all the better for it.
Two streets back from the seafront in the Barrio Alto you will find Rua de Boavista and spaces which typify Lisbon's contemporary scene. Several artist-led initiatives and smaller galleries are peppered along here including Transboavista and Galeria Boavista. The latter is a small Muncipal gallery run by Empresa de Gestão de Equipamentos e Animação Cultural (EGEAC), who for the last 20 years, have been responsible for managing some of Lisbon’s key cultural spaces and street festivals, developing a cultural strategy and redeveloping down-at-heel parts of the city. Their mission is for 'multidisciplinary, comprehensive, inclusive and democratic programming' and the current exhibition 'Now It Is Light', presents a the results of a young curators open call. It's a compact, ambitious space, well-positioned to make impact.
After wondering through the meandering and largely residential streets of Almalfa, head to the seafront. Take the ferry from Cais de Sodre to Cacilhas. On arrival head immediately right and follow the heavily graffitied path along the water's edge, noting the new co-working space which will no doubt help revive the abundant abandoned warehouses. Not only will you find two great restaurants primed to prepare the freshest fish I have ever eaten (arrive early to secure a table and order the octopus salad and grilled sea bass at Ponto Final), but keep on going and you reach the viewing tower. From below it resembles a Grand Designs style pad and is nestled unobtrusively into the hills. A one euro ticket takes you up to the viewing platform which looks back onto the onto Lisbon's impressive cityscape via the Tagus River.
Ponto Final, R. do Ginjal 72, Almada, Portugal.
Lisbon's many miradouros make the perfect vistas. A seat in the front courtyard at Museu da Farmacia makes the perfect pit-stop from the incessant hills and place to see the sun go down.
Museu da Farmacia, R. Mal. Saldanha 1, 1249-069 Lisboa, Portugal