Creative Getaway: What to See in Lisbon

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Looking for your next inspiring getaway? This quick guide on what to see in Lisbon (excerpted from the HOW magazine 2017 International Design Annual) has you covered. 

what to see in LisbonThe Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT) in Lisbon; photo © EDP Foundation

The Lisbon creative scene isn’t just booming because publications like Fortune and The Guardian are calling it the next Berlin—though that certainly doesn’t hurt. The Portuguese capital is filling up with young entrepreneurs who are transforming it into a hub for tech startups. The historic city, crowned by a charming castle, offers low rent and an affordable lifestyle.

With a population of 600,000, Lisbon is recovering from an economic slump after Portugal turned to the European Union for a bailout in 2010. Over the past few years, a touristic buzz has overtaken the city—its Belém district opened the new $21 million Museum for Art, Architecture and Technology in late 2016. And along with its tech scene, the creative community has launched innovative projects and companies to help bring Lisbon to the forefront of international tech and design. Since 2016, the city has hosted the annual Web Summit, Europe’s biggest tech conference. And local startups, business accelerators and incubators are being co-funded by the government and venture capitalists, who pledged $550 million in donations.

In Lisbon, abandoned spaces are being turned into community hubs for art galleries, restaurants and cafés. Design exhibitions and triennials are bringing in public projects to the city, and abandoned factories are being turned into co-working spaces.

In the coming year, Lisbon will see its Belém district—rich with historical landmarks, a growing metropolitan scene and a variety of museums—bloom into a cultural destination. Now, before everyone jumps on a plane to Portugal’s stunning capital, check out some of the best art and design hotspots in the city.

What to See in Lisbon: 6 Inspiring Places to Check Out

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology

This new museum opened in October, proving to be the city’s latest piece of sci-fi architecture, set in the Belém district. “It will draw people from the heart of the city to the panoramic views along a riverfront area that has long been neglected, but thanks to MAAT, will become a vibrant new destination within Lisbon,” says António Mexia, chairman of the EDP Foundation, which funded the new museum. The London-based architecture firm AL_A designed this $20 million building, and its inception is a sign of hope. It’s part of the urban revitalization  of Belém, a 40,000-square-foot, formerly industrial site. “It will be a hub for attracting people who come here to enjoy art and architecture,” Mexia says. The building is covered in 15,000 glazed white tiles that are meant to reflect the water, according to Amanda Levete, principal of AL_A. “Our design draws on the context of the site, creating both physical and conceptual connections to the waterfront and back to the heart of the city.”

what to see in Lisbon MAAT Central Tejo; photo © EDP Foundation

“The World of Charles and Ray Eames” Exhibit at MAAT; photo © EDP Foundation

MAAT photo by PauloCoelho © EDP Foundation 

LX Factory

Built in 1846, this brick building was once home to a fabric company. Today, the factory has become a “creative island” where design studios, photographers, architects, musicians and advertising executives share studio and office space. That’s not where it stops, however. It moonlights as a lively creative hub with theatrical plays, art exhibitions and film screenings lighting up the space after office hours. Even if you don’t have a meeting here, it’s worth a visit for the in-house restaurant A Cantina, which offers a modern twist on traditional Portuguese dishes (it’s a great place to network, too). Here you will also find a three-story book shop called Ler Devager. To peruse the offices and studios as a visitor, drop by during their Open Day, which is held every May and November, to see the workspaces and cutting-edge projects of the local startups.

what to see in LisbonLX Factory, a co-working studio, office space and creative event hub

Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa

Set in the 16th-century Pombal Palace, walk in to find peeling walls, vintage chandeliers and hand-painted ceiling murals, as the curator of this project space has left it unfinished. Founded in 2009, the concept is to invite artists from abroad to create site-specific, special projects for the exhibition space, which has 17 rooms and 30 workers who operate the space daily. Now owned by the city, it’s a World Heritage Site that won’t allow any further refurbishment. All in all, it remains a place of play. This is truly the place to see divine experiments in contemporary art in Lisbon.

Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa, an experimental art exhibition space

what to see in Lisbon

what to see in Lisbon

O Apartamento

This concept shop is set inside a five-room apartment in a residential building with programming that changes every three months. Since May 2015, project manager Vasco Águas de Oliveira and his team have been bringing together creative minds to curate this empty space—their goal is to connect people through their network. Some of the events they’ve hosted in the past include pop-up shops, curated dinner parties, art exhibitions, workshops, the launch of Brownbook magazine, gastronomic events like tastings led by local chef Marlene Vieira, and artistic how-to workshops. They even host live-in creative residencies where artists stay in their guest room for a period of time to make new work. The design pieces here, both prints and objects, blend into the décor. It’s a pretty free-flowing space where, as Águas de Oliveira puts it, “The only rule is sharing.”

O Apartamento, a space for pop-up shops, curated dinner parties, art exhibitions and workshops

Museu Colecção Berardo

This contemporary art museum has an epic presence—set in Belém, this is where one can find some key pieces of 20th-century art by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. There are exhibitions by local artists, too, such as Maria Helena Vieira da Silva and Helena Almeida, who is famed for her conceptual painting from the 1970s. With a collection valued at over $300 million, the museum was founded by Portuguese business tycoon José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo, who started collecting art in the 1980s. Berardo opened the doors of the museum in 2007, and it proved to become one of Europe’s best art collections, and in turn, a fascinating cultural attraction that walks one through modern art history. 

what to see in LisbonMuseu Colecção Berardo, a contemporary art museum in Belém

what to see in Lisbon

what to see in Lisbon

Museu Do Design E Da Moda (MUDE)

This design museum will soon shine in the Belém district. Set in a former bank that is now on its third renovation, this museum showcases design and fashion from the 19th century onward. Currently closed and working toward a new eight-floor building, it will host a permanent collection and rotating temporary exhibitions. The MUDE also plans to implement designer residencies, educational workshops and a design documentation center, showing that the ongoing revamp of Lisbon’s design scene is neverending.

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