You don’t really have to try hard to eat well in Lisbon, Portugal. Travel and food just go together here, a beautiful marriage under sunny skies. From sweet treats to heavy meaty meals, here’s the best places to eat and drink in the city.
A Typical Breakfast
I could eat these things all day long, but the foundation of any foodie trip to Lisbon is a mouthful of the warm, sugary sweet treat pasteis. These small egg tarts are just heavenly bliss – you can find them elsewhere in the world, including some very good knockoffs in Macau, China, but you cannot beat the originals.
Most tourists (and locals!) will head for Antiga Confeitaria de Belém for their fix of pasteis. And without question: they really are the best. I recommended coming here for an early breakfast as in the afternoon the queues can be out the door. Plus who doesn’t love starting their day off with a cinnamon topped sugary treat? The coffee isn’t bad either, and the plain and simple environment is quaint. They say that in the 18th century, the monks in the neighbouring monastery sold this bakery their recipe, to which it remains locked in a secret room today. I guess that would explain why thousands and thousands (yes, up to 50k) of cakes are made here every day! It’s crazy.
Once you’ve had your fill, there are several sights to see here along the river. Some suggestions:
- Belem Tower
- Jeronimos Monastery
- Belem Cultural Centre (featuring a lot of very well known artists – excellent!)
Lunch with a View
Second only to those amazing tarts is the food and drink on the cafe terrace of Noobai Cafe. It’s in the old part of Lisbon, and it has some of the best views in town over the River Tejo. The terrace is in the back away from the street, so you just have this wonderful relaxed atmosphere. Sometimes there is a DJ, but there is always friendly service and good conversation – not to mention plenty of sunshine if the skies are clear.
They have a very innovative menu, with lots of funky sandwiches and unusual salad combinations. But the drinks are the best part: there are refreshing cocktails, beer shandies, and lemonades of all sorts. Its nice because it’s so sunny and warm here a drink is really quite lovely to enjoy, and their drinks all seem to be perfect for the backdrop.
Have a stroll around the neighbourhood to walk off your meal, and perhaps head over towards Baixa/Chiado, maybe checking out the views at the top of Santa Justa’s elevator before heading down hill. The Botanic gardens are also a good choice for a nice long stroll.
Afternoon Wine Tasting
Walk along the main avenues of Baixa or Chiado and head for the shore, where you’ll find the praca do comercio (Commerce Square). A massive palace was here until the 1755 Earthquake, and this grand square was built in its place. There’s often snack vendors and other treats to be had in the square – try a churro if you need a snack. Then head into the square’s real highlight, the Sala Ogival, a free wine tasting run by Vini Portugal (a consortium of Portugese wine makers). There are always a number of wines on offer so you can choose your own or ask for some help, then take the wines away to a table to quietly enjoy and discuss your favourites. There’s a scoring sheet, and if you leave comments and hand it in at the end of the tasting, you’ll get a free gift.
Be sure to have a look at the displays throughout the room, which offer some additional insights into Portuguese wine, especially the map showing off the wine regions – there are loads!
If you find a wine you can’t live without, the kind folks here will help arrange a purchase and delivery to your hotel – some wines are available in the shops and others aren’t.
The Dinner and Drinks Experience
The best dining experiences is to eat at a traditional Portuguese restaurant in the Barrio Alto. You can come here and relax with a cocktail or two before having your meal, then more drinks. The quirky maze of alleyways houses many restaurants and pubs so there is no shortage of choice. Remember, the Portuguese eat very late (e.g. midnight) so you’ll find things very quiet, then all of a sudden there are queues everywhere. Even more odd, you’ll leave your restaurant after the meal, head out into the street thinking it will be a quiet night, and see that you’ll have to squeeze and push through all the folk enjoying the warm air and filling the streets. It is truly an experience not to be missed!
You might want to choose a restaurant offering fado, a traditional music. It’s a lot of fun and a tad crazy, and you’ll pay more for the privilege. But as the saying goes, when in Rome…
What to eat?
- Salt cod – so so yummy, a must for any seafood lover. If that doesn’t sound appealing but you like seafood, just ask what’s fresh for that day.
- Sheeps milk cheese – I thought France had the market cornered for Europe’s best cheese, but wow the Portuguese do a sheep’s milk cheese that is simply amazing.
- Soup – If you like soup, you’re in luck – try the caldo verde (vegetable soup) or sopa a alentejana (garlic/bread/poached egg soup – sounds odd but it is amazing)
- Sausage – You can also find many lovely dried sausages, including a particularly tasty blood sausage. Don’t mistake this for the ‘papas de sarrabulho’ which is, well, frankly just gross.
A great accompaniment to any meal is a glass of vinho verde, what I call Portuguese champagne. It’s light and refreshing, not too sweet, and it has a touch of bubbles, so a great palette cleanser at the start of a meal.
Finish the meal off with a healthy portion of port, of course – there are many kinds, so just ask the staff for a suggestion.