My favorite Lisbon coffee shops for coffee and pastries
When putting together this list of some of my favorite Lisbon coffee shops for coffee and pastries, I wasn’t sure I should include the ones everyone visits.
I decided to include two of them because they hit the tri-factor of iconic Lisbon shops:
- It’s part of the local History.
- They have excellent service.
- They make a damn good cup of coffee that pairs perfectly with their most famous pastry.
About the café culture in Lisbon
Take a stroll in the busy downtown area of Baixa-Chiado, and you’ll notice there’s at least one café on every corner. Some split their clientele between regular customers and tourists looking for an affordable, quick bite at different times of the day.
There isn’t a specific time to have coffee in Lisbon (and the rest of Portugal), 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. They were places where locals bought coffee (produced in Brazil, then a Portuguese colony) and a place where they caught up with the city’s latest news.
While planning the reconstruction of Lisbon, Prime-Minister Marquês de Pombal was adamant. He demanded that all commercial establishments needed to put up a sign clearly stating their business. The word café has, since then, been used for both the drink and the coffee house.
At 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. We use the expression “let’s have coffee” as a way to say “let’s meet up.”
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 eggy, buttery, sugary pastry. (Okay, maybe we should exclude the French from this competition).
Coffee shops in Lisbon for coffee + pastries
1. Pastéis de Belém
I don’t know of any guide to Lisbon that doesn’t include Pastéis de Belém. You’ll hear opposing 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. Others 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 other café in Lisbon, but not a pastel de Belém.
- What to order: 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 was the talk of the town when it opened. Everyone praised the French-inspired butter-crispy croissants so much that even I, who am not a hardcore croissant fan, had to go see for myself.
Well, where do I begin? The flaky factor? The light dough? The out-of-this-world chocolate filling? These are some damn fine croissants, people. 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 massive and heavy. It was almost like having a meal. But not these, even though 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, unlike other cafés, isn’t 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.
- What to order: Chocolate croissant
- 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: lots of sugar and lots of 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, all Portuguese desserts and sweets are unique to a particular region of the country despite the common ingredients.
Because nuns and monks in convents created most of these traditional sweets, we call them “conventual sweets.” They used the egg whites for ironing their habits and discovered creative ways to not waste the yolks.
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. Still, 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 average Portuguese 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 sweets-making, and, boy, do they deliver!
If you have a moderate sweet tooth, choose the smallest pastry you lay your eyes on. It will still be a calorie bomb, but it will be slightly easier to manage (and wash down with only one espresso).
- What to order: Something small like the castanha!
- 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)
4. 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.
It was once the official supplier of pastries and cakes for the Portuguese Royal Family.
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 candied fruit, but it’s probably not as simple as that.
Christmas sweets are definitely their calling card. But, anything on that showcase goes, really.
- What to order: a slice of bolo rei
- 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)
Good to know about coffee shops in Lisbon
Keep in mind that:
- The busiest time of the year for most of the coffee shops is around Christmas;
- The busiest hours of the day are around lunchtime (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 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 pack 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. Considering the price and the bitter taste of a typical bica, most of it is of the Robusta variety.