Cities work when they let people meet, hang out and sit; they are less about the buildings than the bits in between. Monocle cracks open a chilled beer and embarks on a global tour to enjoy the best outdoor spaces for sunshine and salutations.
Lisbon’s squares are populated by a key piece of urban architecture: the food kiosk. At midday, students anad shop-owners grab a bite or espresso; after lunch, workers and children have a lanche (afternoon snack); and evenings see neighbours invite friends for something stiff to drink.
A kiosk revival has been underway since 2009 when retailer Catarina Portas of A Vida Portuguesa teamed up with architect João Regal to refurbish some of the city’s ageing stands that had long been boarded up. Decades-old cast-iron decorations were preserved and their Quiosque de Refresco project reintroduced age-old Portuguese refreshments that had been replaced by soda and ice cream at other downtown booths. To drink there’s lemonade, cordial syrups, iced coffee and chilled milk with cinnamon and lemon peel; to eat, pastries or hearty soups served with cornbread.
“Ours are the traditional one-man booths,” says Portas, who plans to unveil her fifth restored kiosk this summer next to Sé cathedral. “Everything served is prepared fresh daily. They might look small but they have a huge impact on the community.”
Competitors have seized on the trend, rolling out newly built replicas with a bigger footprint in parks and plazas. Top Lisbon chef José Avillez has got in on the act with a 1960s-style stand he plans to unveil outside his new gourmet tapas eating place, Mini Bar. It will sell sandwich wraps, cheeses and his line of local wines. Adds Avillez: “Kiosks are part of urban living. They are perfect for the sunny weather.”
“You never know what you’re going to see,” says Andi, a Berlin carpenter with a bottle of beer in his hand. On warm evenings, all of Berlin seems to lounge outside in what becomes a citywide living room and few places are better than on Admiralbrücke, a bridge over the Landwehr canal that joins two dense residential neighbourhoods.
Admiralbrücke is a spot to meet friends and hang out listening to everything from semi-professional cellists to soulfully strumming backpackers. Monocle found political-science students soliciting interviews about EU integration and a couple of Spaniards buzzing kazoos in approval of Berliners showing off their first skin-bearing fashions of the season.
The bridge is suited to nightly gatherings with its conveniently spaced granite bollards perfect for perching on. “The attitude here is that if it is good and doesn’t kill anything, fine,” says Nathalie, an urban planner enjoying the view. There is laughter from a gaggle of high-school students on the southern bank, taking turns on an old-fashioned wooden swing near a kiosk that sells many a cool halbe liter. The sun, framed by the trees along the canal, dives one more time into the dark water; it is hard to imagine why you’d want to be anywhere else.
In the picturesque Basque city of San Sebastián, locals have La Concha beach right at their toes. The undisputed central artery of the city’s social life, the well-trodden esplanade is where Donostiarras head to stretch their legs, stop for a neighbourly chat or see out the day – often with ice cream in hand.
Queen Maria Cristina built her summer residence overlooking the bay in 1893; with royal prestige came ever-increasing holiday crowds. Soon the city authorities decided to capitalise with a bold redesign of the waterfront. In 1910, this immense task fell to recent architecture graduate Juan Rafael Alday.
Alday’s iconic railing curving around the bay has become one of San Sebastián’s defining motifs; many commission replicas for their own gardens. The ornate lamp posts are not just where local youngsters meet before they head down to the sand but also serve as the inspiration for the statuette for the San Sebastián international film festival. Alday’s two signature obelisks continue to stand tall and have since been fitted with a clock and handy barometer.
Those on an evening stroll have plenty of places to stop along the way. A terrace bar and restaurant serve as an ideal spot to sip on an aperitivo while underneath the walkway, La Perla spa is the place to be pampered as you take in views of the Cantabrian sea. A neighbouring disco entertains revellers until sunrise; as many stumble home after exhausting themselves on the dance floor, it isn’t long before the city’s more senior residents begin unfolding their deck chairs below – ready to bask for another day at their beloved beach.
With sweltering Budapest summers regularly topping 30C and no beach in sight, many Hungarians flock to the Széchenyi swimming pool and baths for some cooling relief. But this isn’t your average public pool. Built in 1913, Széchenyi’s ornate architecture and naturally heated mineral water make it one of Hungary’s most famous cultural landmarks.
The largest thermal bath complex in Europe, Széchenyi has 15 indoor baths and three outdoor pools, all of which are set at different temperatures. It also has one of the most generationally diverse social scenes in the city. Older Hungarians come here to take advantage of the medicinal effects of the water and spend hours playing chess while sitting in the pools. Younger Hungarians can be found sunbathing – and, of course, people gazing.
“There’s lots of beautiful girls and happy people here,” says Tamás Turgyán, focusing on the latter pursuit. The 32-year-old waiter comes to Széchenyi “once or twice a week” all year round to socialise with friends or relax in one of the 10 saunas. In addition, every Saturday night the pool transforms into a disco for the Szecska party.
However, for people such as Katie Hamori, 20, visiting Széchenyi remains very much a family affair. On this particular afternoon she is spending a “girls’ day” lounging by the pool with her mother, who has been coming here for the past 20 years. “We have other swimming pools [in Budapest] but it’s so much better here,” she says. “It’s more friendly.”
Hanoi’s streets are dominated by thousands of motorbikes and bicycles laden with fruit and household objects for sale but they are also home to much more than streaming traffic. From sunrise until late evening the pavements, parks and public squares of Vietnam’s capital are filled with ballroom dancers, badminton players and even photography crews, all making use of the city’s public spaces.
While many of the most established dancing and exercise groups gather in Hanoi’s large Thong Nhat park at the crack of dawn, the streets and squares around the city’s Old Quarter offer some of the most picturesque places for Hanoians to meet and exercise together. The wide avenues are lined with colonial buildings built by the French and trees are planted in holes that once served as individual bomb shelters.
In a small square across the street from Hanoi’s famous Metropole hotel, locals string up badminton nets between streetlights and play until late evening. A small CD player sends out a tinny rendition of a Viennese waltz for couples to dance to. In a nearby park, young men play football near older women practicing Tai Chi and ever-contagious laughter yoga.
Outside the hotel itself, young couples pose for pre-wedding photos with the Metropole’s façade as a backdrop, hitching up formal clothes between shots to reveal the comfortable trainers or slippers necessary for easy travel to the next photo spot.
With much of the city built and rebuilt in recent decades by the very people who now dance and play in the streets, Hanoi’s outdoor meeting places are a point of enduring pride for Vietnam.