Portugal without cafes would not be Portugal. When I think of a cafe, I think coffee, but in Portugal you can have a myriad of drinks, not all made with coffee. You can have sandwichs or one (or more) of their fantastic pastries. My favorite, and I believe, from my observations, everyone’s favorite, is the custard tart. In Portugal the cafe is a lifestyle, a fashion, a hangout. When we were perusing Obidos, the cafes on the street were giving out samples of chocolate cups filled with Port, a sweet, popular liquor. Ummm, delicious, and surprising eleven in the morning.
For coffee, a refreshing drink, or a light meal
Most Europeans love coffee and cakes, but the Portuguese are the ones who officially spend the most time and money in cafes according to a study.
In Lisbon (and all of Portugal), the coffeehouse is an institution. It has been so since the turn of the century when many were the favorite haunts of literary figures. Several hold on to that historical past with their wonderful Art Deco decoration and have become popular tourist attractions.
Every café or traditional pastelaria (pastry shop) serves croissants and pasteis de nata (custard tarts) which is the most popular Portuguese pastry. Many also serve light meals along with the popular strong bica (espresso) or milky galão (latte).
But if you also want to enjoy the outdoors as you drink, you’ll find an esplanada (pavement cafe) in practically every main street or avenue, and there is usually a kiosk café standing by the several hilltop miradouros (viewpoints) — the one by Miradouro da Graça is a good choice for a drink at sunset.
Below is a list with some of the best cafes in the city. We’ve highlighted a few worth going out of your way to visit.
Doca do Bom Sucesso, Belem
This riverfront glass box between the Discoveries Monument and Belem Tower was designed by three architects and is a great place to have a light meal, freshly squeezed juice, salad, or sandwich at the tables outside as you gaze at the Tagus River.
ANTIGA CONFEITARIA DE BELEM
Rua de Belem, 84-92, Belém, Phone: 21 363 7423
If you visit only one cafe in Lisbon, this should be it.
It serves an average 10,000 Pasteis de Belem (custard tarts) a day (the record is a staggering 55,000), a specialty made with a secret centuries-old recipe. You can have them inside the large rooms covered with 17th-century tiles, or use the take-away service that provides special paper tubes holding half a dozen.
Rua Garrett, 104, Chiado, Phone: 21 347 3133
Located next to the famous Brasileira (see below), this is another historic cafe, in business since 1912. It serves the most mouth-watering freshly baked croissants in the city with jam or chocolate, which you can savor as you watch the streetlife of Chiado at a table outside.
Rua Garrett, 120, Chiado, Phone: 21 346 9541
This is the city’s most famous cafe, opened in 1905 with a magnificent art nouveau decor and known for the intellectuals who stopped by on a daily basis in the early 20th century. One of them was poet Fernando Pessoa, whose bronze statue (perhaps the most photographed in the country) stands amid the clientele of both young and old.
CAFE MARTINHO DA ARCADA
Comercio Square, Downtown, Phone: 21 887 9259
Located under the colonnades of Comercio Square, this is the oldest cafe in Lisbon, opened in 1782. It recalls the days when it was a favorite haunt of Fernando Pessoa whose image is painted on the wall. It also has an adjoining restaurant.
Rossio Square, Downtown, Phone: 21 346 0579
Nicola was another of Lisbon’s literary and political meeting points when it opened in 1929. It maintains part of its past in its art deco façade, but nowadays serves mostly as a tourist stop. A branch round the back called Nicola Gourmet sells 25 varieties of coffee beans by the bag.
CNC – CAFE NO CHIADO
Rua do Picadeiro, 11-12, Chiado, Phone: 21 346 0501
Located on a calm street of bustling Chiado next to São Carlos Theater, this café is also a restaurant serving Portuguese cuisine, salads, quiches, and sandwiches (along with some great desserts), attracting local workers, young intellectuals and media types. It offers outdoor seating in the cobbled esplanade and an impressive range of Portuguese and foreign newspapers.
Avenida da Republica, 15a, Uptown, Phone: 21 354 6340
It is worth getting on the metro to the business district of Saldanha to visit this turn-of-the-century cafe and have a sweet pastry, hot chocolate, or coffee in its baroque interior. Crystal chandeliers, carved wooden panels, engraved mirrors, and stained glass decorate this grand space that is still relatively tourist-free unlike the other historic cafes in the city due to its uptown location.
Many locals consider it to have the best pastries in Lisbon.
Figueira Square, Downtown, Phone: 21 342 4470
When it opened in 1829 this pastry shop was considered one of the most elegant in Europe. It has a bright mirrored interior with shiny marble counters, and remains a wonderful place for some glazed pastries. It is mostly famous for its Christmas time Bolo Rei, a traditional cake first introduced by the French.
CULTURA DO CHA
Rua das Salgadeiras, 38, Bairro Alto, Phone: 21 343 0272
Tea lovers will be in heaven at this cafe with a two-page menu of all kinds of herbal varieties from all over the world. There are also various kinds of hot chocolate, shakes, and coffee. It has a sophisticated decor in a softly lit interior. It also serves some light snacks such as salads, quiches, and croissants, along with homemade cakes and pastries.
(www.delidelux.pt) Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, Armazem B, store 8, Doca do Jardim do Tabaco, Alfama
Upon entering, you’ll find a gourmet shop. A cafe is behind those aisles of shelves with fine Portuguese and international products, and outside the window are tables on an outdoor terrace facing the river.
This has become THE place in Lisbon for a weekend brunch.
Rua Garrett, 19, Chiado
Hidden in a courtyard in Chiado, this is nonetheless one of the most popular cafés in the city. You’ll see why as soon as you enter, with its wonderful mix of old furishings and list of reasonably-priced light meals. The atmosphere is young and laid-back.
Rua da Trindade, 7, Chiado
Great organic wholewheat crepes are served at this café which also doubles as a gallery with artwork on the walls.
Rua Anchieta, 3, Chiado
Located just steps from Sao Carlos Theater, this Austrian-owned and Austrian-flavored cafe also serves light lunches and dinners. It stays open until midnight, while on Friday and Saturday nights it extends until 2AM. On Sunday mornings it’s a good option for brunch. Naturally, the menu lists Austrian dishes, with daily specials highlighted in chalk separately, on the cabinet behind the counter.
PASTEIS DE CERVEJA
Rua de Belem 15-17, Belém, Phone: 21 363 4338
This cafe in the historical Belém district has a curious specialty – a sweet pastry made with beer. It originated in the 1920s, and although not as legendary as the Pasteis de Belem further down the street (see Antiga Confeitaria de Belem above), it has remained popular through the decades. If you’re curious to try it, be prepared to feel more the taste of the almond paste than beer. It may not be the most mouth-watering of pastries, but it’s definitely something different to try.
Rossio Square, Downtown, Phone: 21 321 4090
This is one of the city’s historic cafes, although you wouldn’t be able to tell from the renovated, modernist interior and pre-pay system. It now serves mostly as a tourist cafe with tables on the pavement of both Rossio and Figueira Square behind it but remains a good option for breakfast.
PAU DE CANELA
Praça das Flores, 27-28, Principe Real, Phone: 21 397 2220
This friendly cafe with outdoor seating is one of the most peaceful in the city, located in a lovely square in the Principe Real district. It is named after the cinnamon stick that is used by locals to sweeten coffee although it also serves snacks such as quiches and cakes, attracting a middle-class crowd.
(www.poiscafe.com) Rua Sao Joao da Praça, 93, Alfama
Mismatched old furniture and a wide selection of international newspapers, magazines, and books invite you to lounge before or after a visit to one of Alfama’s viewpoints or the castle. Looking very much like a living room, this is a cozy place for brunch (it opens at 11 in the morning) or for a light meal. The salads and sandwiches are excellent, the cakes delicious, and the lemonade a must.
It is owned by a couple of Austrians, so expect to find several Vienna-inspired dishes on the menu.
Rua da Escola Politecnica, 32, Principe Real
Perhaps the most immediately-mouth-watering pastries are on display at this French-style café which has an elegant interior but an even more inviting backyard with tables facing the city’s botanical garden.
PORTAS DO SOL
Miradouro das Portas do Sol, Alfama
Found on the rooftop of one of Lisbon’s most stunning viewpoints, this terrace café makes you feel like you’re at a resort, especially when loungy music is playing and the sun is shining. There is also an interior dining area but you’ll surely sit outside admiring the views and enjoying a refreshing drink.
(www.royalecafe.com) Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, 29 Chiado
A modern cafe in a simple yet refined space that includes an inviting courtyard. It has a laid-back atmosphere and serves organic light meals.
The “royale chocolate” or muffin covered in dripping chocolate (to which may also be added a scoop of ice cream) is already legendary among frequent customers.
Rua do Carmo, 9, Chiado
Ask anyone where is the best ice cream in town and they’ll tell you it’s here. You be the judge as you try the variety of flavors available. Be prepared to stand in line at any time of the day — it’s that popular.
Rua Serpa Pinto, 15, Chiado
This café is one of the few in Lisbon serving pancakes, however the specialty is Portuguese pastries, including its own original eggy “Chiado” cake. Bread is also sold to go at the counter by the entrance while the spacious dining area is found upstairs.
Rua do Norte, 31-33, Bairro Alto
This is the place for cupcakes in Lisbon. It’s found on one of Bairro Alto’s trendiest streets and you may accompany the cakes with a variety of teas and juices in the small-but-attractive space.
Rua Costa do Castelo 26-26a, Castelo/Alfama
Lights meals and fresh drinks or tea are served in a space that could also double as an art gallery. Admire the artwork behind glass cases, and the view over Lisbon as soon as you step outside.
Travessa do Carmo, 4, Chiado
Decorated with mirrors and stained wood, this cafe may have a certain old-style feel, but the crowd is young and relaxed and it serves light (many vegetarian) meals as well as teas. It is a great place to meet friends before going out at night for dinner or drinks in Bairro Alto.
Lisbon cafes are from www.golisbon.com.
My friends even did some business in a cafe, with us sitting with them, while we all enjoyed espresso. The cafe is a great place to bring together circles of friends, chitchat, happy days. It is a way of life. We enjoy our coffee shops here, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Cafe Culture? What do you think?