Lisbon is one of those European cities that has it all– a rich history, stunning river, beautiful architecture, nearby beaches, and of course, a fantastic food scene. In Portugal, food really is an experience of its own. The Portuguese know how to eat and eat well. They are deeply passionate about both the quality of their food and the quality of the eating experience. It’s a country of freshly baked breads, delicious wines, local cheeses, mouthwatering seafood, melt in your mouth pastries, and rich espresso sipped slowly after a meal. And that’s just the beginning. Portugal’s gastronomic culture is absolutely packed with delectable items for travelers to discover.
Wondering what to eat in Lisbon? It might seem a little overwhelming at first when you find yourself surrounded by so many tempting foods. However, there are a select few that simply can’t be missed. For self proclaimed foodies and hungry travelers alike, these 7 gastronomic experiences should be on everyone’s Lisbon list.
What to Eat in Lisbon
1. Pastel de Nata
First of all, the pastel de nata is a Lisbon classic. It’s the number one must-try food when visiting the city. Any trip to Lisbon would be incomplete without sampling these lovely treats. Take one bite and you’ll understand why. The Portuguese pastel de nata is pastry perfection.
The sweet and flaky custards originated in the nearby town of Belém. At the Jerónimos Monastery, Catholic monks began making the pastries before the 18th century. Because they used so many egg whites to starch clothes at the monastery, the leftover yolks could go into the production of pastries. In 1820, the monks began selling the pastries to a local sugar refinery. Eventually, they sold the recipe to the refinery too, and the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém opened in 1837.
Where to have it:
Although the pastel de nata is served just about everywhere in Lisbon nowadays, the very best come from the site of their invention. Take the train from Lisbon’s Cais de Sodré station to Belém (or work up an appetite with a picturesque 8km walk along the river) and sample the best pastel de nata around. Served straight out of the oven and dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon, the custards from Belém can’t be beat.
If you want something a little closer to the city center, Confeitaria Nacional is the place. Founded in 1829, this beautiful old café in the heart of Lisbon is the oldest confectionary in town. It serves a variety of enticing treats, including one of the best pastéis de nata. With a charming atmosphere inside, it’s a nice place to enjoy a pastry or espresso between seeing the sights.
This sweet and strong cherry liqueur is the traditional beverage of Lisbon. It’s made from infusing the ginja berry in alcohol and served in a shot glass. This shot, however, is meant to be savored slowly.
Tiny ginja bars are hidden over the city, inviting tourists and locals alike to stop in and order the lovely liqueur. For the best experience, ask for the shot in a dark chocolate cup and enjoy the perfect combination of flavors.
Where to have it:
In the center of the city, a little ginja bar called A Ginjinha has been serving the stuff for decades. This place isn’t just for the tourists, either. Plenty of locals love to frequent the bar as well. You can often find them standing outside, taking a break from their busy day for a ginja or two.
When it comes to good gelato, it seems like Italy might be the typical place that comes to mind– but Portugal also has its own ice cream scene. There are a variety of lovely gelato shops in Lisbon, including one that they say serves the very best ice cream in the world. When you hear a statement like that, you just have to try it for yourself. So where is the world’s best ice cream? Look no further than Gelados Santini. It all started in 1949 with Italian immigrant Attilio Santini who focused on creating the very highest quality ice cream possible using only the freshest ingredients.
Today, Santini’s is the most famous ice cream parlor in Portugal, and for good reason. The shop’s quality ice cream is 100% natural and contains to additives. They continue to follow the old Santini family recipe to this day and offer an extensive menu that allows customers get as creative as they like with flavor combinations.
Where to have it: While the original Santini’s opened in Praia do Tamariz, shops can now be found in Cascais, Estoril, and in the city center of Lisbon. The ice cream parlor might be crowded, but it’s well worth the wait in the long line to sample Santini’s artisan gelato and decide for yourself whether or not it really is the world’s best.
Bacalhau, or codfish, is an absolute staple in Portuguese cuisine. In fact, some say there are so many codfish recipes in Portugal that you could try a different dish every day for a year. Every Portuguese restaurant in Lisbon will have Bacalhau on the menu, so choose the version that sounds best, order a nice white wine, and enjoy a very traditional Portuguese experience.
5. Mercado da Ribeira
Mercado da Ribeira, or the Time Out Market of Lisbon, is a gastronomic gem. This is no traditional market. It’s a complete food and beverage experience. At the unique Mercado da Ribeira, locals and visitors can enjoy traditional Portuguese cuisine of the highest quality. The market hall is a foodie paradise, lined with vendors selling all kinds of tempting treats. Long wooden tables fill the center of the hall, inviting guests to socialize and enjoy their meals, snacks, or drinks. The market also sells several traditional Portuguese products, so it’s a great place to stock up on authentic souvenirs as well.
6. Travesseiros de Sintra
The pastéis de nata might steal the pastry show in Lisbon, but there’s another local must-try for travelers with a sweet tooth. Travesseiros are light and fluffy almond puff pastries that originated in the beautiful town of Sintra, about forty minutes from Lisbon by train. Their name directly translates to “pillows” of Sintra, and these sugary little pastry pillows will melt in your mouth.
Where to have it: This is one delicacy you’ll have to travel outside Lisbon to enjoy, but it’s absolutely worth it because the town of Sintra is like a fairytale come to life. After visiting Sintra’s beautiful Pena National Palace and Moorish castle, stop into a charming café called Piriquita where these locals sweets are most famous.
Finally, no day in Lisbon is complete without at least one espresso. The unique coffee culture of Portugal is something beautifully simple. It’s not the place for lattes, americanos, or cappuccinos. The Portuguese enjoy their caffeine without all the frills. Consequently, espresso in Portugal is some of the very best. After every meal, it’s customary to prolong the experience while sipping on tiny cups of strong espresso. Try this ritual of Portuguese food culture once and you’ll be hooked. There’s nothing better to finish off a delicious meal than a shot of perfectly roasted espresso.