For many, Portugal is synonymous with the pastéis de nata, the traditional egg pastry tarts enjoyed the world over. But there’s more to Lisbon cafes than the humble pastel. Indeed, the Portuguese have a long history of pastries traceable to the convents and monasteries of the 18th century, where egg whites were used to starch clothes, leaving a surplus of yolks. A stroll around Lisbon today will reveal countless pastelarias on every street, from heritage spots like the famous Pastéis de Belém to the sumptuous, Parisian stylings of Pastelaria Versailles and the bohemian Pastelaria Mexicana. With so much choice, we’ve selected the cream (custard?) of the crop – perfect for visitors looking to hunker down with a warming cup of coffee and a pastry…or two, or three
With its beautiful stucco façade and perfectly preened waiting staff, the Pastelaria Versailles is one of the more popular Lisbon cafes for those craving a bit of old-world glamour. The wide range of pastries and cakes is fresh and generally veers towards the traditional, but they do serve something quite unique: the pastel de chocolate. This chocolate flavour variation on the traditional pastéis de nata makes for an indulgent chocolaty treat, especially when paired with a steaming cup of cocoa.
Originally founded in 1837, Pastéis de Belém is regarded by some as producing the best pastéis de nata in the city – and the snaking queues of tourists, particularly during summer, suggests that word’s got out. The service is brisk and efficient if you queue so it’s worth fighting for one of the indoor tables, especially if you plan to order seconds. Which you almost certainly will.
Pasteleria Aloma has won awards for its pastéis de nata in the past, but its pastry selection is excellent across the board. We’re particularly fond of the Bola de Berlim, which is the Portuguese take on the jam-filled Berliner doughnut. While it isn’t as grand and atmospheric as some of the other Lisbon cafes and pastelarias on this list – it has a more neighbourhood feel – it’s the freshness of their pastries that makes Aloma an essential stop-off.
Located near to the upmarket Avenida de Roma, Pastelaria Mexicana is a true local hangout with plenty of history. In business since 1946 (and still run by descendants of the original founders), the café’s long been a meeting point for artists. It’s also a designated public interest site, with its striking decorative ceramic panels almost (almost) drawing your attention away from the sweet offerings. We recommend grabbing a hot chocolate and one of their renowned Bolo Rei (King Cake, an old-fashioned Christmas treat) and settling in for an afternoon of people watching.
This traditional Lisbon teahouse in the Bairro Alto is one of the more elegant pastelarias in Lisbon. Less fraught than the nearby Café A Brasileira, the long, brass-finished counter is filled with a huge range of tempting cakes and local pastries. Whether you’re starting out here with one of their indulgent chocolate croissants (baked fresh in store) or rounding a day off with afternoon tea, Benard’s warm and cosy atmosphere is always conducive to lingering a little longer.
Located a little further out in the Restelo district and popularly known as Pastelaria do Restelo, if you’ve made the trip to Careca, you’re probably here for one thing: the croissants. Dense with butter and sugar, these pastries are quite distinct from their elegant French counterparts. If you’re after something slightly lighter on the carb count, opt instead for one of their excellent palmier pastries. Hugely popular among tourists and locals, be warned that this bakery can get a little crowded at times.
Ideally placed for a mid-shopping refuel, the original Manteigaria is cleverly situated in Lisbon’s chic Baixa shopping district. Like Pastéis de Belém, there are inevitably queues, but those with the patience to wait will be rewarded with a pastel and espresso at the counter. If you’re not one to queue for cake, there’s another branch of this popular little pastelaria down the hill in the Mercado de Ribeira’s Time Out Market. Plenty of picnic tables accommodate those wishing to linger a little longer.
This beautiful little patisserie appears as if it has been lifted from the streets of Paris, with its lens focused firmly on the choux. Eclairs are, of course, done to perfection in this sophisticated but unassuming café, with 10 ingenious combinations prepared each day. Not a fan of the creamy batons? There are macarons, cakes and cookies aplenty, with a steaming pot of Marriage Frères tea to savour alongside.