Freedom Day in Lisbon
Every year in Portugal, April 25th marks perhaps the most important event in modern history for the people of this land.
When looking at historic military-based events around the world, the word “peaceful” is rarely used in description. Over forty five years ago the Portuguese military attempted, and was successful in, a movement that would shape the course of their government for years to come.
If you’ll find yourself in Lisbon over this important day there are a few things you need to know to stay in the loop.
What to You Need to Know About Freedom Day in Lisbon
In 1974 and the fifty years prior, Portugal was under rule of an authoritarian government. This was an oppressive and tense time for the Portuguese people, having never known even basic democracy or obtained rights to vote in an election.
Walking through Lisbon today, you’d never suspect that this country underwent such a drastic change of governance not that long ago (Read more about Discover walking tours).
In 1961 a violent and costly colonial war broke out between Portugal and the many colonies that they obtained throughout Africa. The desire by the nationalists living in the colonies in question was that Portugal should relinquish their reign over these lands and end colonization once and for all.
This was a huge driving force behind the events of April 25th 1974.
Being based in the colonies because of the ongoing war, the Portuguese military was able to organize a full military coup without the government catching wave of their plans.
The coup was to be a bloodless movement, which draws back to my mention of the word “peaceful” not often being heard with these kinds of events.
On April 25th the military persons throughout Lisbon and the major Portuguese cities mobilized and marched against the government with carnation flowers down the barrels of their guns. And so saw the day of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal.
The revolution sparked the end of Portuguese colonialism and just one year late the people of Portugal took part in their first democratic election.
April 25th was dubbed Freedom Day, though it is sometimes also called Liberty Day on the streets. Lisbon’s biggest bridge was also named after this great event, one can see the gleaming red Ponte 25 de Abril from most of the Tagus River coast.
What to Expect on Freedom Day in Lisbon
Since the event is celebrated yearly, Freedom Day is an official public holiday. Workers are given the day off and there is no school for children and university students.
Naturally, the major cities in Portugal see the biggest celebrations of this day within the city centers.
In the days leading up to Freedom day you can expect to see graffiti art popping up around the streets depicting the Carnation Revolution. Soldiers are painted in animated fashion with red carnation flowers poking out of their guns.
Messages of love and positivity are also commonly seen on street posts and restaurant windows. There are multiple free concerts hosted around the city that are usually not advertised; left to the luck of someone passing the information on to you or you simply walking by the commotion on a whim.
On actual Freedom Day expect chaotic streets, loud celebrations and lots of port wine! The Portuguese are a festive people, you can only imagine the energy that a day as significant as this brings out of them.
Where to Go on Freedom Day in Lisbon
The Freedom Day celebrations in Lisbon range between the meticulously planned and the completely spontaneous. Sometimes simply being on the streets as part of a free guided walking tour on this day is enough to get you right in the thick of the action.
The city of Lisbon have been known to fly helicopters over central neighborhoods and drop thousands of carnation flowers from the sky. Right place, right time — I hope you’ll be so lucky!
Parque Eduardo VII
The Parque Eduardo VII is one of the largest parks in Lisbon and hosts Freedom Day celebrations for the public every year. Entrance is entirely free and it’s a great environment for families with children. Expect games, concerts and art displays.
Avenida da Liberdade
Rossio Square is Lisbon’s main square from the Middle Ages. It is west of the Alfama. Every Freedom Day there is a public parade open to people of all nationalities and ages that takes place from the Avenida da Liberdade through to the square. This event usually commences around 3pm, but has been known to change year to year depending on the weather.
Lisbon’s Town Hall
For those who are interested in the history of this event but aren’t so drawn to the crowds, one should head to Lisbon’s Town Hall. The entire building is opened up to the public free of charge and one can roam through the passages of history. The hall contains the works of many influential Portuguese artists, some of whom made works relating directly to the Carnation Revolution.
Museu de Aljube
For a more targeted curation of Freedom Day art one can also head to the Museu de Aljube, a museum dedicated solely to the 25th of April.
Freedom Day events at the Museu de Aljube change depending on the focus that the curators choose for the year. One can expect a range of exhibitions, film screenings, open workshops and panel discussion spaces on the day as well as in the days leading up to the main event.
Jardim do Campo Grande
If you’re traveling to Lisbon with little ones I recommend keeping off the streets and rather heading to the Jardim do Campo Grande. Here they throw Freedom Day themed parties for children every year, complete with bouncing castles and musical entertainment.
Ponte 25 de Abril
In my opinion there is no better way to kiss Freedom Day goodbye in Lisbon than to watch the sunset behind the bridge named after the very day in question.
A walk over the Ponte 25 de Abril would be most ideal, however this is the only bridge in Lisbon that doesn’t have pedestrian crossing facilities. Settle on the banks of Santo Amaro amongst the many others who have the same idea and bid yet another year of Portuguese democracy farewell.