Lisbon, a hilly, coastal city in Portugal, is typically known for its custard tarts and the medieval São Jorge Castle. But besides the traditional Portuguese fare and its history, the capital city has a booming creative scene, and is gaining buzz as “the next Berlin.”

Yes, Lisbon is becoming the go-to hotspot for young entrepreneurs, creative studios, and startups, and the world’s leading tech entrepreneurs descend upon the capital every year for the Web Summit, Europe’s biggest tech conference.

Two districts in Lisbon in particular are gaining steam for their new architecture and creative spaces; Belém, a shoreline along the city’s southwest, and the downtown Tagus waterfront, where old, abandoned factories are being turned into hubs for the young startup scene.

The Belém shoreline.
The Belém shoreline.

Belém has always been a cultural destination, with a strip of museums along the historical street Rua de Belém that includes the Presidential Museum, the Electricity Museum, and the Folk Art Museum. New cultural hotspots are also popping up, including the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology (MAAT), which opened last October. It’s a science-fiction-y architectural masterpiece set on a former harbour that was neglected for years. The London-based architecture firm AL_A built the $20-million (USD) building, which is covered in 15,000 glazed white tiles that resemble fish scales, and are meant to reflect the water. From afar, the building strikes a resemblance to a futuristic paper plane.

Restaurants and new cafes are also popping up as part of the urban revitalization of Belém. The district now attracts superfans of art and architecture to such destinations as the Museu Colecção Berardo, a contemporary art museum where 20th century masterpieces by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso fill the walls. Meanwhile, a fashion and design museum called the Museu Do Design E Da Moda will soon open its doors right by the new MAAT.

One of the spaces in O Apartamento.
One of the spaces in O Apartamento.

Over in the city’s Tagus district, on the waterfront, old abandoned spaces are being turned into community hubs, art galleries, and co-working spaces. One of these is LX Factory, a brick building that once housed a fabric company, which was built in 1846. It’s now a “creative island” where design studios, photographers, architects, musicians, and advertising execs share studio and office space. That’s not where it stops: after hours, LX hosts theatre productions, art exhibitions, and film screenings, and its in-house restaurant, A Cantina, offers a modern twist on traditional Portuguese dishes. There’s also a bookstore, Ler Devager. Drop by during LX’s biannual open days, which are held in May and November, to tour the workspaces and see cutting-edge projects by local startups and artists.

Steps away is the 18th century Pombal Palace, which has peeling walls, vintage chandeliers, and hand-painted ceiling murals. It now houses Carpe Diem Arte e Pesquisa, a gallery and artist residency space where artists from abroad create site-specific projects for its 17 exhibition rooms.

Also worth checking out is O Apartamento, a concept shop inside of a five-room apartment. Since May 2015, project manager Vasco Águas de Oliveira and his team have been bringing together creative minds to fill the space with creative work and connect with one another. Some of the events they’ve hosted in the past include pop-up shops, curated dinner parties, art exhibitions, workshops, a magazine launch, cooking events, wine tastings, and rug-weaving workshops. They also host live-in creative residencies, where artists stay in their guest room for a period of time to make new work. The pieces they create, both prints and objects, blend into the décor. It’s a free-flowing space, except for one thing: “The only rule is sharing,” Águas de Oliveira says.

Getting there

Ready to check out hip and happening Lisbon? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours to Portugal here.