A Tale of Two Cities Connected by Art

Cities are a bit like marmite, you either love them or you hate them. Portugal is a place where you are spoilt for choice and you can’t help but love Lisbon and Porto which are both connected by art


Spend a colourful, art-filled 24 hours in the sizzling metropolis of Lisbon with all its tall skyscrapers, urban highways and graffiti and its classical historic heart. Street art brings the city to life, and each drab grey surface has been transformed into a beautiful art space smoothing out the sharp edges. Many talented artists are finding the perfect canvas in this urban jungle to make statements about the environment. In Lisbon, there is never a dull moment.

The city’s most modern district, Park of Nations, Lisbon’s Urban Art district is the world’s best outdoor museum for outdoor urban art. This is a culturally and entrepreneurially dynamic area that is home to innovative restaurants, a thriving music scene, some of Portugal’s biggest tech companies and a wide range of family attractions. The careful urban renewal programme that followed the World Expo has resulted in a neighbourhood surrounded by iconic architecture, unique parks and gardens, a marina and sports facilities such as an outdoor gym, street basketball, a pump track and numerous walking and biking trails.

The area and the wider city are a canvas for Bordalo II famous for recycling rubbish to create unique animal sculptures that alert people about the dangers of pollution. His work can be found under bridges, on houses in the city centre and even in the Park itself. Bordalo II’s Iberian Lynx installation is a central piece here, echoing his animal protection, non-consumerism and sustainable message. His work can even be found inside the new Martinhal Lisbon Oriente just recently opened. This creative quarter is right by the majestic Tagus River and The Vasco da Gama Bridge. Other prominent artists in the area include Fernanda Fragateiro and Hundertwasser. Discover the colourful streets adorned with captivating murals on a Street Art Tour with Street Heart Portugal, where knowledgeable guides will lead you through the winding alleys, revealing the stories behind each captivating mural. From thought-provoking social commentaries to awe-inspiring displays of creativity, witness the transformative power of urban art on this informative adventure. Tours start from 15 euros per person. For a cool twist on an art tour, hop aboard a Lisbon Street Art Tuk-Tuk Tour with a guide who will share fascinating insights into the city’s street art scene. Marvel at the intricate details, bold colours and imaginative designs that grace the city walls. The Oceanário de Lisboa, a gigantic aquarium fully dedicated to oceans and their conservation, Pavilion of Knowledge, cable car and the Park of Nation’s outdoor spaces are ideal to explore along the way. Right in the heart of this area is the Martinhal Lisbon Oriente, where art blends seamlessly with luxury accommodation. The hotel showcases an impressive collection of contemporary creations throughout the property’s communal areas and restaurants and within the individual apartments. As well as being a great place to stay, Martinhal showcases some of the best of Portugal’s creative arts scene including pieces by Kruella D’Enfer, Graça Paz, Pedro Batista, Vasco Águas and Tamara Alves as well special installations by Bordalo II. The Koala – which is featured in his 7-minute film, REWILD, is proudly displayed on Terrace’s wall.

Martinhal Lisbon Oriente combines luxury hotel amenities with five-star luxury studios and apartments for a luxury city experience for short and long-term family stays in Lisbon. Furthermore, it has extensive facilities for children including on-site babysitting, a childcare concierge, a kid’s pool and family-friendly dining. It opened in June 2023. Designed by Architect Eduardo Capinha Lopes, Romano Design & Epoca, on offer are sophisticated studios to spacious three-bedroom apartments, which offer chic living areas, some with tree-adorned balconies. All apartments have well-equipped kitchens and feature an array of designer brands including Bruma, Smeg, Artemis and Ferreira de Sá Econyl rugs.


‘Terrace’ restaurant, café and bar – a unique culinary experience through oriental and Mediterranean fusion cuisine, an exceptional coffee or tea experience with other artisanal delights and creative cocktails and tapas-style options. Guests can grab Portuguese pastries served with homemade Martinhal jams, Royal Rawness coffee, Companhia Portugueza do Cha teas, homemade ice creams and fresh bites. Alternatively, step out for a bite to eat at Cantinho do Avilliez, helmed by Jose Avillez a Michelin star restaurateur serving a Meagre and shrimp moqueca, or enjoy Alentejo-style pork, a stew of pork delicious with vino verde.

The hotel’s owners Chitra and Roman Stern chose to become hoteliers so they could be around their four children as they grew up, which is why family values are at the heart of it. Chitra qualified as an engineer from University College London and then worked for Price Waterhouse in London for six years – qualifying as a Chartered Accountant and then moving into management consulting. Chitra met Roman at Price Waterhouse before she left to pursue an MBA from London Business School. They first developed the flagship Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel in Sagres from scratch and successfully expanded the “Martinhal” brand name across three other properties in Portugal, the Martinhal Quinta Family Resort in Quinta do Lago and Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites comprising apartments and child-friendly facilities, located between Largo de Camões and Cais de Sodre, and their latest Martinal Lisbon Oriente.

If you are looking for traditional art, you’ll find it in the old town of central Lisbon, about 7 km away from Park of Nations, 20 minutes by car. Additionally, the modern “Oriente Station” connects the Park of Nations district both to Lisbon’s old town and airport just 10 minutes away, and also to the North and South of Portugal through its vast bus, train and metro connections. Families can also extend their stay and add on a couple of nights at Martinhal Chiado to explore old Lisbon and its intricate tiled buildings and many cafes. Alternatively, they can head south to Portugal’s Algarve where Martinhal has two further properties also designed for family holidays.

Martinhal Chiado gives guests the chance to enjoy the sights, sounds and the amazing experiences of Lisbon – one of the most popular choices for a family city-break in Europe right now. In this central location, you can get around easily on foot. Get up close and personal with some of the street art or shop until you drop. Martinhal Chiado is another luxury hotel and apartments owned by the Sterns that is perfect for families. It is housed in a 19th Century building, which also has a café that is family-friendly and serves home-cooked food. There is also a kids club that stays open until 10 pm, allowing mum and dad to go and explore. In the city, you’ll find grand historic buildings, tiles as well as lots of green spaces and squares. São Jorge Castle stands at the very top of the city towering above the terracotta-tiled rooftops of the houses and shops and on the corner is a church where local weddings are held. The best vantage point to survey all these sights is Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, a shaded terrace with a garden and a bird’s eye view over the city. There’s also a kiosk that serves delicious refreshments including fresh lemonade. You can also step down to Rossio Square where wonderful cafés and shops await and are ideal for watching the world go by.

Also, take a boat tour on the Tagus River from Park of Nations to Belém. You can find more about their services here. From the boat you can see Parque das Nações, Alfama, Castelo de S. Jorge, Panteão Nacional, Lisbon Cathedral, Praça do Comercio Terreiro do Paco, Lisboa National Museum of Ancient Art, Palácio Nacional da Ajuda, Santuário Nacional de Cristo Rei, 25 de Abril Bridge MAAT – Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Jardim da praça do Imperio, Palácio de Belém, Centro Cultural de Belém – CCB, Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Torre de Belém, Champalimaud Foundation.

Overall, Lisbon is a cultural city with creativity running through its veins. You’ll want to get under the skin of this metropolis over at least a couple of days.

Park of Nations, Lisbon
Terrace Bar, Lisbon

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The second city of Portugal is equally stunning and full of creativity, but a lot smaller and easier to navigate than Lisbon. A place to meander through cobbled alleyways and narrow streets. This ancient port city dates to the Romans and you’ll see evidence of its rich history around every corner. Art is very important to the identity of the city. One can stroll across the Dom Luís I Bridge and peer out across the Douro River over the terracotta rooftops looking for street art including the Half Rabbit in Vila Nova de Gaia, another giant sculpture made of trash by Bordallo II. You’ll also appreciate the incredible detailed tiles and artwork in the grand train station which showcases Portugal’s rich history. Since the 15th century, the Portuguese have made azulejos, glazed ceramic tiles in bold symmetrical patterns. Additionally, there are vibrant markets and cafes that stay open late and a beautiful cathedral. Everywhere you look history and art entwine and make it a beautiful place to spend time. Indeed, like its bigger sister Lisbon, one of the highlights of visiting is art, and many surfaces have been transformed into a canvas.

The major artists are Mr. Dheo, Liqen and Hazul Luzah who decorated the city centre along with Bordalo II and Pedro Podre. Get up close and personal with their work on various art tours or simply meander around and stop for breaks in the various coffee shops enjoying a pastéis de nata. There’s also the Serralves Foundation a blush pink art deco villa and angular concrete building designed by Álvaro Siza Vieira set within 18 acres of gardens. Furthermore, visit the Classical Igreja do Carmo and the Rococo Igreja dos Carmelitas separated by the Casa Escondida — a one metre-wide, three-storey-high “hidden house” that was built to separate the monks.

The Centro Historico and Sé do Porto Cathedral and Torre de Clérigos are worth exploring. This is Porto’s tallest bell tower built by Tuscan architect Nasoni, who is buried in a small chapel below. Climb to the top for splendid city views over the Cais da Ribeira waterfront. In the evenings, enjoy Fado shows performed in many bars and restaurants. And if you want some green space, try the Jardins do Palácio de Crystall, where you can feed the ducks in the lake and watch the peacocks as they strut their stuff against the bank of the Douro.

Live the high life with an exquisite port tasting at the famous Graham’s distillery overlooking the river for a fascinating insight into the drink which has protected status. Enjoy a generous port tasting with your best friends before strolling down to the river over the famous bridge and along the riverbank where people dance in the streets to live music. Follow your nostrils into the enticing taverns and as you climb the hills of the city to the Ribera district enjoy majestic views of her famous bridge.

Over the bridge in Gaia, an uber-trendy district, you will find The World of Wine, (WoW) a purpose-built complex dedicated to the juice of the gods. At Pink Palace you can discover everything about the Rose’ variety and have some fun with your friends jumping in a ball pit, posing by a pink Cadillac or popping out of a bottle of wine. Afterwards, enjoy a drink at Angels Share, in the WoW complex, an uber-luxe bar with VIPs. It is perfect for enjoying sundowner drinks, snacks and sweet treats washed down by gold label award-winning Prosecco and Taylor’s vintage port.

The Douro River strikes an impressive scene against the coloured houses and the curved bridge as you head downhill to the waterfront. Enjoy traditional Portuguese food entertained by Iive music, then stock up on sardines at Mundo Fantastico. There’s also one in Lisbon. Alternatively, enjoy the opera next door while eating the wonderful cheese and fish bites called Pastéis de Bacalhau.

Book lovers will adore the wonderful Liveria Lello, described quite rightly as the most beautiful bookshop in the world. It is said to have inspired JK Rowling with its sweeping red staircase. Afterwards, enjoy a cold beer in the garden bars before lunch and walk back to work up an appetite. The food here is hearty and filling. Locals are very proud of their loaded francesinha, loaded with meat and topped with cheese and an egg, then smothered in creamy beer sauce. Being close to the sea enjoy fresh seafood such as salmon topped with almonds and fresh salads as well as a selection of pastries including the famed almond tart or a custard variety. Vegans are well catered for with trendy food bars and supermarkets have fresh fruit.

Porto is also not far from the coast. Take the tram to La Foz or the Praia du Titan which is a family-friendly beach. Swimming in the sea is a great way to reconnect with nature bathing in the cool Atlantic Ocean.

Stay at Editory House situated at the heart of the historic UNESCO heritage site of the Ribeira district. This modern hotel is a home-from-home for guests, with stylish and elegant rooms. You will be well placed for exploring the Palacio da Bolsa and the Ferreira Borges Market. 

All in all, Porto is an art-filled flirty city and a place for wine lovers and history buffs, perfectly placed for a fun weekend break just a two-hour flight from London Stansted.

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Donna Richardson
Travel Journalist