When deciding what best Lisbon coffee shops for coffee and pastries to feature, I only included two iconic cafés that you can’t miss in Lisbon. Not because everyone swears is a must-see and you’ll miss out if you don’t visit, but because they hit the tri-factor of iconic Lisbon coffee shops (in my book): you’ll take a little piece of local History with you when visiting, they put their heart and soul into providing a good service, and they still make a damn good cup of coffee that pairs perfectly with their most famous pastry.
As for the rest of the list, they range from classic pastries to international creations with a Portuguese twist.
About the Café Culture in Lisbon
While walking around Lisbon, especially in the busy downtown area of Baixa-Chiado, you will notice there’s, at least, one café in every corner. Some will split their clientele between regular customers and tourists looking for an affordable quick bite at different times of the day. You see, in Lisbon (and the rest of Portugal), there isn’t a specific time to have coffee, neither an etiquette rule that tells you when to grab a pastry with your espresso shot.
The first coffee shops in Lisbon known as cafés opened after the Great Earthquake of 1755, as a place where locals bought coffee (produced in Brazil, then a Portuguese colony) and a place where they caught up with the latest news in the city. While planning the reconstruction of Lisbon, the then Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal was quite strict (yes, that’s why Baixa looks so geometric compared to the rest) and demanded that all commercial establishments needed a sign clearly stating their business. The word café has, since then, been used for both the drink and the place.
In the beginning of the 20th century, cafés in Lisbon became a place to discuss literature, politics, and social life. Later, during the dictatorship, they would harbor anti-regime activists who needed a safe and inconspicuous meeting place.
Café culture is deeply rooted in the daily routine of the Portuguese. In fact, we use the expression “let’s have coffee” as a way to say “let’s meet up”. Most of the times we do meet at cafés but have something else to drink.
We may not be the greatest connoisseurs of coffee (nor even the world champions of coffee brewing), but I dare anyone in the world to compete with us when it comes to baking the perfect pastry. I’m on a quest to find out why cafés also serve pastries (let me know in the comments if you know why) but I’ll take the wild guess that it’s probably because most of the times the bica we are served is so bitter that we need a sugary treat to take the edge off.
The Coffee Shops in Lisbon You Can’t Miss
I could list all coffee shops in Lisbon where you can have pastries and be done with it, but that would blow the whole purpose of Tripper as a sustainable cultural tourism blog. I’d rather share my carefully researched and curated top five.
These are places where you can order an espresso but where coffee is not the main attraction, just a nice complement to your sweet-tasting experience.
1. Pastéis de Belém
I don’t know of any foodies guide to Lisbon that doesn’t include a mention of Pastéis de Belém. You will hear contradicting opinions about the place: some will say it’s a tourist trap, not worth the trip all the way to the far West side of the city and some will say it’s the best and most authentic experience in Lisbon.
Well, I’m with the latter but I would tone it down a bit and say it’s just one of the best and most authentic experiences. For those who say there are better pastéis de nata in Lisbon, I agree. There are. But pastéis de Belém you can only find in one place and it’s at this 1837 café and pastry shop.
Is a pastel de Belém the same as a pastel de nata? Technically, yes. But the secret recipe that makes them unique is theirs and theirs alone. You can have a pastel de nata in any café in Lisbon (and I do mean any), but not a pastel de Belém.
What I paid for coffee + pastry: €1.90/US $2.24
Address: Rua de Belém, 84-92
Opening hours: 8am-11pm (Oct-Jun) and 8am-midnight (Jul-Sep) (Closes at 7 pm during Christmas and New Year)
How to reach: Tram E15, Buses 728 and 714 from Praça do Comércio
2. O Moço dos Croissants
This croissant bakery has been the talk of the town for the past month or two. Everyone raved their French-inspired butter-crispy croissants so much that even I, who am not a hardcore croissant fan, had to go take a look for myself.
Well, where do I begin? The flaky factor? The lightness of the dough? The out-of-this-world chocolate filling? These are some damn fine croissants, people. And, yes, I know it’s not a typical Portuguese pastry but O Moço dos Croissants adds a Portuguese touch.
Most of the croissants we had in Lisbon, so far, were really massive and heavy. It was almost like having a meal. But not these, despite the fact that I stopped counting calories after the first bite (hey, living dangerously!).
The place is super small. You can sit outside if it’s not too cold or you can have your coffee and croissant to go. The sitting areas are an add-on because the purpose here, like in other cafés, is not for the customers to lounge around with coffee and croissants. But, given that the Portuguese like to sit to eat, I understand the executive decision of adding a few seats (they still serve coffee in paper cups, though).
What I paid for coffee + pastry: €2.20/US $2.59
Address: Rua Coelho da Rocha, 91A/B
Opening hours: 9am-7pm Mon-Sun
How to reach: Trams 25E (from Praça do Comércio) and 28E (from Martim Moniz), bus 709 (from Restauradores). Get off at the stop near the church. The café is on the street behind the market Campo de Ourique.
Portuguese traditional desserts and sweets always include two main ingredients (in excessive amounts): sugar and eggs. Sometimes, that’s all they are – sugar and eggs. Depending on where you are in the country, other ingredients are sometimes added like spices (usually cinnamon) or almonds. Surprisingly, despite the common ingredients, all Portuguese desserts and sweets are unique to a certain region of the country.
Because most of these traditional sweets were created by nuns and monks in convents (they used the egg whites to iron their habits stiff and needed to do something with the leftovers. Wasting them was not an option.), they are called “conventual sweets”. So whenever you hear the term, you know you can expect an overdose of eggs and sugar (you have been warned).
The new Alcôa in Chiado (the original shop opened in Alcobaça in 1957) serves nothing else but conventual sweets (and coffee too, obviously). Well, they also have a couple of other pastries, but you’ll be so mesmerized by the right side of the counter when you walk in that you won’t even remember to look to the opposite side.
Are the pastries slightly overpriced? For the Portuguese average budget, yes. But for tourists who are tasting conventual sweets (probably) for the first time, it’s quite affordable.
These guys claim to be the masters of conventual confectionery and, boy, do they deliver!
If you have a moderate sweet tooth, choose the smallest pastry you lay eyes on. It will still be a caloric bomb, but it will be slightly easier to manage (and wash down with only one espresso).
What I paid for coffee + pastry: €3.10/US $3.65
Address: Rua Garret, 37-39
Opening hours: 9am-9pm Mon-Sun
How to reach: Metro Baixa-Chiado (Blue Line)
Okay, I confess I’m taking a detour from the definition of a coffee shop here. This place is actually more of a sweets shop that also serves coffee, so, technically, it’s the other way around – coffee is not their business but they serve it as a nice plus.
Let me first properly introduce you to the Brazilian-born chocolate-ball called brigadeiro. It’s the most simple and delicious bite-size sweet in the world (I don’t even know if it can be called a pastry, but let’s say it can for the sake of this post). The classic version of brigadeiro is made with condensed milk, chocolate or cocoa powder, and butter.
You have probably seen dozens of versions of recipes for brigadeiros but (I can assure you) you haven’t seen them all until you set foot inside the tiny shop BrigaDoce in Chiado.
The two sisters who founded BrigaDoce have embraced their creative vein and reinvented brigadeiros using typically Portuguese ingredients or flavors. For the least adventurous (using a well-known brand of instant cereal for infants as an ingredient might leave you wondering if these women have gone mad), you will find some more down-to-earth varieties like dulce de leche or dark chocolate and orange.
What I paid for coffee + pastry: €1.60/US $1.89
Address: Calçada Nova de São Francisco, 6, Lj 2
Opening hours: 11am-7pm Mon-Sun
How to reach: Metro Baixa-Chiado (Blue Line)
5. Confeitaria Nacional
Confeitaria Nacional was founded in 1829 and, decoration-wise, it hasn’t changed much since then. It’s been in the same family for six generations and it’s one of the most iconic coffee shops in Lisbon, known as the place to come for the best Bolo Rei in the city.
The establishment was once the official supplier of pastries and cakes for the Portuguese Royal Family and all it takes is a quick look around at the clientele to realize how the regular customers are still part of a certain social class (although dress code isn’t required).
I don’t know what it is about their Bolo Rei, but that is one delicious piece of cake. I could almost bet the secret to their recipe lies in the crystallized fruit but it’s probably not as simple as that. Christmas sweets are definitely their calling card but, out of season, anything on that showcase goes, really.
What I paid for coffee + pastry: €2.80/US $3.30
Address: Praça da Figueira, 18
Opening hours: 8am-8pm Mon-Sun
How to reach: Metro Rossio (Green Line)
To keep in mind about coffee shops in Lisbon
There isn’t a set of written rules of etiquette when it comes to cafés in Lisbon. The atmosphere is usually casual and family-friendly, and most of the places won’t push you to have something more than coffee or even make you feel like you’ve outstayed your welcome (yes, even if you’ve been sitting there for two hours with the same empty espresso cup, reading a book or writing your next novel).
However, I’d like to leave you with a couple of notes to keep in mind:
- The busiest time of the year for most of the coffee shops is around Christmas;
- The busiest hours of the day are around lunch time (between noon and 3 pm). If you’re in just for a quick bite, do it at the counter and clear the tables for other customers;
- Most of the coffee shops (especially the older ones) won’t serve coffee to go but you can always ask. In all of them you can, however, have your pastries to go;
- Coffee is always served with a complimentary sugar packet and there is no extra charge if you want one more packet or want to switch to sweetener instead (some cafés will have both options on the counter, ready for you to grab);
- Most cafés accept card payments but make sure you ask before ordering (some may not accept card payments at all and some may have a minimum payment requirement);
- Unless stated otherwise, older cafés won’t probably know the difference between coffee blends or types of coffee roasts (but considering the price and the bitter taste of a typical bica, most of it is of the Robusta variety);