Lisbon is a place I’d always wanted to visit. In my mind I had an image of a pretty city where trams clattered down hilly roads, past groups of old men drinking half-pints and eating pastel de nata in cafes that spilled out onto the street. I’d been to Portugal once before when I was very young, but aside from that my perception of the country had been shaped by just three things that I can pinpoint: England’s bitter defeat in the 2006 World Cup, Cafe Madeira in Westcliff, and an episode of Rick Stein’s Long Weekends.
Admittedly this says a lot more about me than it does about Lisbon, but one thing to note here is that unlike Barcelona, Valencia, Athens or Copenhagen, I didn’t have any idea if Lisbon was good for skateboarding.
We arrived in Lisbon on a sunny Friday afternoon in May. Stepping off the plane the air was thick and hot in the way it always seems to be when you land in a Southern European city. We hailed a couple of Ubers and I sat back watching the city emerge from behind the hills, thinking back to what car journeys were like before air conditioning.
Our accommodation was basic. The whole trip was booked only a few weeks beforehand, and the best we could find within budget and in a good location was a couple of rooms in a youth hostel. Over the next few days we realised that most of the guests were living there for long periods of time. The small living area and shared bathrooms were constantly occupied, and at all hours of the day strange silent men patrolled the corridors, only speaking to tell us to keep the noise down.
After setting up boards and swapping shoes we set out towards the city centre along the long Avenida Almirante Reis. This two-kilometre long street was once one of the grandest concourses in Lisbon. The architecture a mix between crumbling facades of garish, grand historical buildings largely of the Art Nouveau and Art Déco period, and solemn and uncomfortable tower blocks built during the Estado Novo dictatorship between 1926-74.
In Lisbon, there are tiles everywhere. Tiles on the floors, tiles on the walls, and tiles on the ceilings. Some are complex kaleidoscopic patterns, others tell stories from history, mythology or religion. It’s the first thing that hits you the moment you throw your board down and try to roll along the cobbled streets of Lisbon. The proper name for these tiles is the Arabic word ‘Azulejos’ – one of many examples of Moorish influence throughout the Iberian Peninsula.
Every single street in Lisbon is an ornate limestone mosaic. In areas of high footfall the stones have become shiny and smooth, but for the most part they have been dislodged and disfigured by subterranean tree roots pushing from below. Thankfully the roads are smooth and the metro is efficient – we didn’t struggle to get around.
The Praça do Comércio is the largest plaza in Lisbon. It’s history is rich as the commercial centre of Lisbon, where traders would convene to sell foreign wares from perilous expeditions to the far reaches of the known world. Today the grand buildings have been turned into restaurants, bars and a beer museum, and on weekends the patch of marble floor and benches outside the administrative buildings becomes a bit of a hub for the city’s skateboarders.
It’s here we met Milton, a local skateboarder who showed us the cheapest place to buy 2 litre bottles of Sagres, and the best spots along the harbour for relaxing after our first afternoon in Lisbon. As we made our way along the riverfront we stopped at the second spot of our trip: a bank at the side of a small stair set. Chilli stepped up with a frontside tailslide to log the first and only clip of the day.
That evening, in search of something to eat we followed a tip-off about a traditional eatery not far from where we were. The large simple restaurant A Merendeira served combo meals of bread stuffed with Chorizo or Fish alongside a leek soup, rice pudding. All this and a can of beer set us back 5€ each – Lisbon is cheap.
The night gets a bit blurry from here. As well as skating we were also celebrating Biff’s stag do, and there’s no shortage of nightlife in the Barrio Alto neighbourhood. The bars get busy after midnight and spill out onto the narrow cobbled street for over half a kilometre. Thousands of tourists and locals mingle over 1€ beers and 4€ big-gulp cocktails.
Our skateboards piled up on the kerb (as well as Biff dressed as Baker 2G-era Jim Greco) served as a magnet for passers by, with every group of lads-on-tour claiming one of them could skate. We made a game of it by offering 20€ to anyone who could land a kickflip first try. Nobody did, although one Irish guy managed a 360 flip on the second attempt. Well done that man.
I woke up on Saturday morning to the sound of Biff wretching into a large bin. To be fair, I wasn’t feeling much better and also failed to keep the contents of my stomach down. It took a few more hours of sleep, but by the early afternoon I managed to leave the hostel with the group in search of the second day’s spots. We left Biff in bed.
We set off in a different direction to the previous day, stopping off at cafes en route to pick up coffee and pastries. Like many skate spots across Europe, the one we were heading towards was in the middle of a post-war social housing block. The quirky flatbank provided enough to keep us entertained for long enough for Biff to join us. He shook off the last of the hangover with a quick switch fs shuv followed by nollie backside heelflip.
As well as social housing estates, universities have always provided plenty of skate spots in our trips overseas. Somewhere near the University of Lisbon’s Institute of Social Sciences Jamie led us to a hip where we pitched up and skated until sunset. He then capped off the day’s session with an expertly popped nollie inward heelflip just as George arrived with the beers. Not a long day, but a good one.
Many of Lisbon’s most famous skate spots are located across the Tagus River in Almada, in the shadow of a huge statue of Christ the Redeemer. As usual, Jamie had done an impressive amount of research before the trip, locating just about every worthwhile skate spot and neatly compiling them on Google Maps.
We caught a morning ferry from the riverfront and disembarked in search of Praça da Liberdade, a wide open plaza with DIY ledges, rails, kickers and endless flatground. We stretched our legs in the 30 degree heat while Biff found a shady spot to take a siesta. The plaza was the perfect place to spend the day, but Almada has a lot more to offer so we woke up Biff and ventured deeper into the high-rise apartment blocks.
Often the best spots are stumbled upon while when we’re travelling from one place to another. After spending a good amount of time filming clips and eating lunch at the yellow tiled spot above, we turned a corner and found a curved 6-set ledge that we recognised from Converse’s Lisbon Story video. Wil stepped up with a boardslide around the bend, despite really liking the graphic on the bottom of his board.
As we were making our way through the housing estate we stopped by a small cafe built into one of the high rise blocks. The elderly owner wasn’t sure about selling us beers to take-away, but agreed on the condition we brought the bottles back. The decor of the cafe was dated but immaculate, with a full-size snooker table beneath a neat display of football scarfs and trophies. His toy dog yapped at my feet as I swapped a euro coin for another ice cold Sagres.
Across the street George had begun trying to nollie over a wall into a tight bank. With my spare hand I grabbed my camera to a shady vantage point beneath a tall palm tree and took my last well-lit photo of the trip.
We didn’t know it at the time, but that evening was to be our last bit of skateboarding in Lisbon. Rain poured down for the next two days meaning we didn’t get a chance to visit and revisit some of the amazing spots we’d seen.
Fortunately there’s plenty more to do in Lisbon than skateboarding, so we spent some time exploring the scenic streets of Alfama and Baixa, hiding from the rain in various record and antique shops. When the rain stopped for long enough, we finished off the trip in the more touristy downtown area of this pretty city, where trams clattered down hilly roads past groups of old men drinking half-pints and eating pastel de nata in cafes that spilled out onto the street.