Lisbon for Food Lovers
If the first thing you plan on a trip is your meals, we feel you. It's pretty much at the top of every Jetsetter's must-do list whether visiting America, Europe, Asia or beyond. Lisbon is often overlooked as a prime European dining destination but, trust us, has no shortage of delicious food. To help organize your culinary tour, we’ve put together a list of the most iconic dishes and where to try them. Dig in.
Pastéis de Nata
Pass by almost any bakery window and you’ll spot pastéis de nata, round Portuguese egg tart pastries with delicate, flaky crusts, caramelized tops, and custard centers. Their invention is credited to the enterprising monks of Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Belém who used egg whites to starch their clothes and the leftover yolks to make baked goods. At that time, Belém was difficult to get to from the city of Libson and was mostly accessed by steamboats, but word of the delicious treats spread and people made the journey just to try them.
After the liberal revolution in 1820 all religious institutions were eventually shut down, and the secret recipe of the monks was purchased by the sugar refinery next door who opened Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, which still sells the tarts made from the monks’ secret recipe to this day. With such an incredible origin story—and with the Belém neighborhood now easily accessible by public transit—you can expect a line for these sweet treats best enjoyed with bica, an espresso-style coffee.
You can still visit the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which also houses the National Museum of Archaeology (among the most important museums in the world for ancient art of the Iberian Peninsula) and the Maritime Museum, which details Portugal’s integral role in the Age of Discovery. A short stroll away sits the iconic Belém Tower, a prime example of Portuguese Manueline style architecture built in the early 16th century, which overlooks the River Tagus.
Sardines are among the most popular fish in Lisbon. There’s even a Sardine Festival every June when Lisbon celebrates its patron St. Anthony: legend says he preached to the fish while delivering a sermon in Italy, and the sardines lined up along the shore to listen.
There are plenty of places to sample sardines in the city. One local favorite is Farol de Santa Luzia in Alfama, which serves fresh grilled sardines alongside baked potatoes and roasted red and green peppers. It’s the perfect place for lunch before a visit to the historic Castelo de São Jorge, just a short stroll away. On the way, stop by Miss Can to pick up the ideal souvenir for sardine lovers: artisanal tinned fish.
Legend has it that there are more than 1,000 recipes in Portugal for bacalhau, dried and salted codfish, and it’s indisputably one of the country’s most important ingredients. You’ll find a wide variety of ways to enjoy the dish in Lisbon, but for a breath of options under one roof head to Casa do Bacalhau, which offers cod prepared 25 different ways (among the most traditional is à Braz, cod mixed with fried potatoes, onions, and scrambled eggs).
From the restaurant, located in what is believed to be the old stables of the palace of the Duke of Lafões, it’s a 15-minute walk to Museu Nacional do Azulejo, the National Tile Museum, where an incredible collection of Azulejo (hand-painted ceramic tiles Lisbon’s buildings are famous for) are housed in a 16th century convent. There’s also a restaurant decorated in 18th century tiles that once graced a palace kitchen, which overlooks the museum’s Winter Garden. It’s a great place to stop for drink or, if you’re up for more bacalhau dishes, sweet/savory takes like codfish au gratin with pine seeds and raisins.
The bifana is both delicious and cheap, which explains why it’s Lisbon’s most well-loved sandwich. It’s traditionally made with pork seasoned with garlic, spices, and white wine served up on a roll, but each place offers it’s own take. Locals head to tiny, casual Casa das Bifanas in on the historic Praça da Figueira in Baixa. Open Monday to Saturday until midnight, it makes the perfect pit stop for lunch, dinner, or a late-night snack. From here, you can head to the Elevador Santa Justa lift for stunning city views, stroll along Rua da Augusta (one of the city’s grandest avenues), and go for a drink at an outdoor café on Rossio Square.
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Another incredibly popular dish throughout Portugal, “green soup” is traditionally made with potatoes, collard greens, olive oil, garlic, and onions, with some spots throwing in chouriço sausage or ham hocks for a dash of protein. Try it during a night out at one of Lisbon’s fado venues like Clube de Fado, where the meal is served alongside the soulful Portuguese music. Brush up on the history of fado beforehand at the nearby Museu do Fado, which details the urban music’s evolution, then take in one of the the city’s best views from at Miradouro de Santa Luzia, an observation deck overlooking the red tile roofs of Alfama and the River Tagus.
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