Sweet Lisbon: the best places to get your sugar fix
Stroll the hilly backstreets of Portugal’s capital and you’ll soon come across evidence of the Lisboetas' love for all things sweet. Hidden in the districts' cobbled streets, rows of tiny tiled bakeries await, each serving up their own delicious array of pastéis de nata – Portugal’s famous egg custard tart.
It’s a sweet relief to the flipside of the city’s food scene – salty seafood such as percebes (barnacles) and snacks like pregos (garlicky steak sandwiches) – Lisbon’s chefs don’t hold back on the seasoning. Any food lover heading to the city must also embrace the locals’ penchant for sugary pastries and pies. Even better, it’s possible to indulge guilt free, Lisbon is a city of seven (very steep) hills, so you’ll be burning off these delights with every calf-quivering footstep.
Pasteis de Belém
All pastry pilgrimages must begin at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, in the Belém suburb of the city. It’s well known on the tourist circuit, but for good reason – these are hands down the best pastéis de nata in town. Outside, tourists line the hot street for pastries to go, but inside, the warren of blue- and white-tiled rooms (a heavenly maze of custard, cinnamon and coffee aromas) are packed with locals sitting down for a tart or two. Old ladies come for a natter, and then leave with towering boxes of soft-centred treats, flaky pastry piled high above their heads. So popular are they that the shop sells an average 20,000 of these tiny custard parcels a day and up to 50,000 at Christmas.
A visit here is best tied in with a visit to the intricately beautiful Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. In fact, one of the monastery’s former monks is partly responsible for the success of this heavenly bakery. Before the 18th century, monks and nuns were the only people in the city allowed to make a profit from baking custard tarts. When the Liberal revolution of 1820 ousted the monks, several escaped to the bakery (formerly a sugar mill) and baked pastéis de nata to make an income. In 1837 the recipe was then sold to the owners of the sugar mill, who opened the existing Antiga Confeitaria de Belém. The rest, as they say, is history.
Despite the chic exterior of this pretty little cafe, the prices at Tartine are ludicrously good value. Combining French techniques with Portuguese traditions, this elegant spot in the pretty (and hilly) Chiado district is the perfect location to say 'bom dia' and kick start your day. Five pastries and two lattes will come in at an impressive €10, linger over them on the sunny outdoor terrace. Favourites include the chocolate and almond (yes, together!) filled croissant and their soft, decadently rich version of pastéis de nata. But don’t leave without trying their signature treat – a generous shortbread tart filled with sweet apple compote, topped with condensed milk foam and finished with a dusting of cinnamon. Bom dia indeed.
Reopened in May 2014, the Mercado da Ribeira is a hub of 35 kiosks serving regional specialities from Alentejo ham to tempura runner beans. Popular with locals and tourists, it's open late throughout the week and is the place to visit for a pre- or post-bar sugar fix. Peruse the stalls, but be sure to stop at Santini – the kiosk counterpart of Lisbon’s gelato institution. Famous across the city for their signature red and white stripes, this Italian-inspired gelato shop was founded in 1949, and the same closely guarded recipes have been used ever since. Flavours change daily and range from cinnamon to bitter chocolate, and as it is 100% natural with no additives, it’s worth trying a few.
Potentially one of the most delicious slices of chocolatey goodness ever created, the chocolate cake at Landeau is what sweet dreams are made of, although 'cake' does not begin to do this treat justice. Super soft and gooey, each slice is dangerously rich, with a delicious hint of salt. The original site is in the fashionable LX Factory – a creative hub of warehouses a short tram ride from the centre – but the second site, in the steep hills of hip-and-happening Bairro Alto, is a little more convenient. The whole ethos here is on sharing, sharing tables, sharing cake. But why would you? It undoubtedly deserves a slice each, and if you really love it you can even buy a whole cake to take away. Located near the top of the very steep Rua da Flores, you’ve definitely earned it. So do as the locals do and take your sugar-based pit-stops and worry about the dentist when you get back, Lisbon's cakes and pastries are a vital part of this sweet city's identity.
Last updated in October 2017