It was the street art that drew me to LX Factory, the regenerated 19th century industrial warehouse complex in the Alcântara neighbourhood of Lisbon. From Stokes Croft in Bristol to the CBD in Christchurch, it’s the artist communities that move into spaces others ignore, take a brush to it and transform whole areas into outdoor galleries. For LX Factory, once the murals appeared the shops, restaurants and tourists soon followed.
There is a main thoroughfare you can wander down of course, but without a bit of research you could easily miss the best parts of LX Factory, walk the length of the place in 30 minutes and leave wondering what all the fuss is about. We arrived as the Heavens opened, popped our raincoat hoods and turned right, walking away from the crowds and towards the car park – the first step in finding the hidden gems of LX Factory. This is how I spent almost a full day at Lisbon’s colourful artist complex:
Yes, I’ll say it again: LX Factory is a treasure trove for art hunters. Pieces dominate entire buildings, paste-ups hide in alcoves, stencils and sculpture are placed super high up or just hang out in empty, mostly-ignored corners. You can’t possibly find it all, but you can absolutely spend a good few hours playing eye spy away from the main crowds.
I loved the giant azulejos by Add Fuel, bringing the iconic Portuguese tiles into stereo, adding modernity to something associated so much with tradition. He paints these faux ceramics on buildings all over the world and they are so delicate looking, especially in such industrial spaces.
Also hidden behind the main buildings is a giant capitalist bald eagle by Hygienic Dress League. Placed in an area that isn’t as updated, it suggested to me that this quiet, undisturbed part of LX Factory is being scoped out for future regeneration. An omen, a prediction or an assumption? Time will tell. More abstract colour comes from Derlon, a Brazilian artist who channels religious iconography and paints in a cutout style, through to Lisbon local Bordalo II who creates art from trash – his creation of a giant bee must be one of the most photographed pieces in LX Factory. Keep your eyes peeled and take a detour away from the beaten path – that’s how you’ll really make the most of all the art available to discover.
One of the world’s most beautiful bookshops
For a meticulous holiday planner, it was a total oversight to miss Ler Devagar off my itinerary. It was thanks to a second torrential downpour that I literally stumbled into the hallowed shelves of fame, shaking off raindrops and doing a slow motion ohhhhh myyyy gahhhhhhhd as I realised where I was. The books stretch from floor to impossibly high ceiling, attainable with ladders and stretching deep into the cavernous corridors beyond the main atrium.
The ground floor cafe is a scene of reserved European hedonism that would never fly in a British book shop. A perfectly put together person blows smoke rings from their Vogue cigarette as they read Sartre; two beautiful hipsters share a bottle of red wine, a stack of art history anthologies on the table between them. I simultaneously wanted to paint them and be them, such were their intimidating levels of cool.
Away from the living embodiment of Wallpaper magazine, the shop is famous for the moving cardboard sculptures hanging from the ceiling. Within the belly of the store is a mini museum detailing the history of the pieces, but it’s also the workshop of their creator, an eccentric and gleefully happy man called Pietro. He will readily show you around his Caractacus Potts’ inventions and loves to meet visitors from around the world. Be sure to go and say hello to him!
Two routes to a sugar crash
Having eaten an amazing meaty mezze for breakfast at Mercado da Baixa before visiting LX Factory, I was in the market for a sugary interlude shortly after arriving. I lost all chill and went in for a freakshake at LXeeseCake which frankly, was enough sugar to keep me buzzing for the next few hours. A freakshake with cheesecake not just in it, but on top of it AND on the side is a level of ridiculous that I approve of. The biscuity crumb rim is like a kid’s margarita and the whole thing totally defeated me.
But I gave it an hour and powered through to try a slice of iconic chocolate cake from Landeau. Now, I will famously rather smash a huge savoury dish over anything sweet but my WORD. This is a cake that would transform me into Bruce Bogtrotter should the opportunity arise. It is a silky smooth gateau with an exquisite dark chocolate mousse layer that my fork slipped right through. It was a true melt-in-the-mouth experience which I washed down with a glass of cold milk; any other drink would have tarnished it completely.
A drink with a view
I bet if the sun was out, Rio Maravilha wouldn’t have been so hard to find as hoards of people would’ve been flocking there. It’s up on the fifth floor of one of the main buildings and it’s a case of follow the music and you’ll eventually find the entrance. It is pretty gaudy inside and the beer I had (the only one available on draft) was gross, but it’s the view that makes it worn the trip.
LX Factory sits under the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge and from Rio Maravilha you see it cross the Tagus river and head towards the Cristo Rei statue, an impressive, but petite take on Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer. The bar’s colourful mirror patchwork statue holds out her arms in a reciprocal hug from the outdoor balcony and even though we had the sort of drizzle that truly made me feel like I was in the UK, it was a spectacular viewpoint.
And an added bonus….
Take a stroll down to Village Underground
Potentially the coolest co-working space ever?! A five minute walk away from LX Factory is the much more under-the-radar Village Underground, a similarly colourful, artistic transformation of a bog-standard nothing area, but with an entrepreneurial purpose. As the clouds had parted (finally), we took it as an opportunity to relax with a beer in the sunshine, moving from all manner of makeshift seating areas starting with a water-logged sofa to rickety swing to stacks of truck tyres.
Co-working spaces are in stacked double-decker buses and walkways allow you to spot various murals in amongst flowerbeds. You can also get up close with the dreamy ‘Lisbon is the new Lisbon’ container design by the typographic geniuses at Halfstudio, before walking the perimeter walls covered in hilarious designs by Wasted Rita. As we started getting hungry, the early evening drinkers began arriving and I’m sure it’s a fun place to while away an evening if a pastel de nata is not calling your name from afar.
LX Factory felt like home, it is a piece of Lisbon that speaks to my love of gritty exteriors with beautiful purpose and potential. Spend a day, not just an hour there, explore beyond the crowds and find the areas that make it feel like yours.
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More posts on where to find street art
Exploring Street Art in Ehrenfeld, Cologne
The Crystal Ship: Europe’s Largest Street Art Festival
How Street Art Has Transformed Christchurch, NZ