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Lisbon's Café Society: Celebrated Coffeehouses in the City



Lisbon cafés number some of the most enchanting places to eat and drink in the Portuguese capital. Celebrated for their amazing architecture, culinary diversity and endearing appeal, some are historic landmarks in their own right; others date from a more recent epoch. All however are endowed with a singular character that helps define the city’s thriving café society. One of the most original establishments is Café 28. Located near the castle, this place is designed to resemble the interior of a streetcar, the well-known number 28 tram. The Royale Café in Chiado wins with its smart décor and front and rear terraces, both ideal for al fresco get-togethers. If you like a good book with your coffee, open a page at Ha Café no Alfarrabista, a café that doubles up as a secondhand bookstore. Very novel! For a glimpse of the Art Nouveau, pop into Pastelaria–Padaria São Roque where the original early 20th-century décor whets anybody’s appetite. The laidback vibe at Pois Café attracts a youthful travelling crowd to this popular hangout up near the cathedral. On the other hand, if you’re in Belém and seeking refreshment on the waterfront, drop by Café À Margem where drinks are often served with a stunning sunset. The venerable Café Versailles in the city’s Saldanha district remains one of Portugal’s most esteemed cafes with its glorious 1920s interior and classic atmosphere. Similarly, the 200-year-old Café Nicola in the Baixa (downtown) district maintains a suitably historic and cultured air about it. Nearby in Chiado, the aptly named Café no Chiado is still one of the best places to soak in Lisbon street life while just around the corner is the charming Café Pastelaria Benard, serving customers since the late 19th century.  


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Many tourists overlook this charming teahouse for the guidebook favourite, the neighbouring Café A Brasileira. But this is a mistake because Benard is a far more authentic experience, and its beautiful interior really does evoke a genuine late 19th-century atmosphere. Furthermore, its yummy range of cakes and pastries knock the competition into touch. This is a wonderful place to indulge in morning coffee and one of the café's famous chocolate croissants. Alternatively, late afternoon tea is a very civilized way to end the day. The pavement terrace fills up quickly but venturing indoors will reveal Benard's true character, refined and ever so slightly posh. Before you leave, take a look at the restaurant. The period detail alone is reason enough to book a table.

Read more about Café Pastelaria Benard →


Owned by the National Centre of Culture, this historic dining venue is one of Lisbon's most picturesque cafes. It's located opposite the Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos and stands on a street served by the No 28 tram. It's a favourite meeting point for city intellectuals â€" artists, writers and musicians, among others. The outdoor terrace quickly fills during the warm summer months when customers linger over their coffees and snacks. The café is also a well-known restaurant and it can be difficult to secure a table during lunchtimes. The scholarly atmosphere extends to the interior where shelves groan under the weight of books and periodicals. The arched block-stone ceiling reinforces the historic impression.

Read more about Café no Chiado →


This is one of the most celebrated cafes in Lisbon, and its prime position overlooking Rossio Square also makes it one of the most popular. Once the haunt of the city's late 19th-century literary set, the cafe's interior of polished marble and Art Deco furnishings is further enhanced by a series of remarkable canvases depicting scenes from the work of 18th-century Portuguese poet Manuel Barbosa du Bocage. Nicola also serves as a restaurant â€" diners are occasionally serenaded with a performance of fado. During the day the outdoor terrace is perfect for people-watching over a bica (expresso) and the atmosphere is pure European café society. Incidentally, Nicola is named after the company that imports the rich dark beans from Brazil and the African island nation of Sao Tome e Principe â€" one of the world's premier coffee producers.

Read more about Café Nicola →


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Campo Grande/Campo Pequeno


An absolute gem of a café, Versailles dates from the early 1920s and stands replete with original marble-clad walls, decorative stained glass panels and dripping chandeliers. The bygone ambiance is immediately disarming and customers can spend several minutes taking in the scene before remembering to order. The speciality here is hot chocolate, a rich dark concoction that can only be drunk slowly, especially if coifed with a dollop of whipped cream. Staffed by a small army of bowtied waiters in smart tunics, Versailles is always busy, mostly with locals who still appreciate the yesteryear elegance of Lisbon's most famous teahouse.

Recommended for Cafés because: No other tea house exemplifies the charm and elegance of yesteryear Lisbon than Café Versailles.

Paul's expert tip: Sundays see some elderly Lisbon residents dressing up on purpose to take their morning coffee, a delightful reminder of days gone by.

Read more about Café–Pastelaria Versailles →


Ideal for winding down in after a walk along Lisbon's Belem waterfront, the riverside Café À Margem offers down time in sophisticated and minimalist surroundings. While known as a restaurant venue, this strikingly designed shimmering white structure works equally well as a café, and one with a superb view of the River Tagus. Food and drink options extend to healthy and revitalizing natural juices, smoothies and herbal infusions, fresh crunchy salads, bruschetta and cheese platters, and wine is available by the glass. The patio tables are quickly snapped up early evening, especially if the weather forecast predicts a blazing sunset.

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Castelo/Alfama

A favourite with travellers who appreciate a slice of bohemia with their cup of coffee, Pois Café has garnered a reputation for its casual drop-by attitude, a fact illustrated by its oddball collection of crushed velvet sofas, rickety old tables, mis-matched chairs and bow-legged shelves crammed with hand-me-down novels and out-of-date travel guidebooks. Customers can pop in and browse this secondhand library over a perfectly brewed bica (expresso), or lounge around over something more substantial, like one of the café's delicious homemade soups followed by quiche and green salad. Food choice changes daily. The tagliatelle with courgette, herbs and lemon sprinkled with Parmesan cheese is a favourite. So too is the smoked salmon fritters. If it's on, order the cauliflower curry with herbs and lentils.

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Bairro Alto/Principe Real

Founded in the early 20th century and a splendid example of Art Nouveau architecture, this little gem of a café is noted for its ornate domed ceiling and honey-coloured columns topped with capitals adorned with angels and fruits in golden tones. Equally exuberant are the azulejos (tiles) resplendent with geometrical motifs in shades of green and orange typical of Spanish-Moorish tile decoration. An array of cakes and pastries are displayed under glass panelling set across a marble smooth curved counter. The café also sells fresh bread baked on the premises and serves various soups and light snacks. This is a lovely place to relax over morning coffee or an early evening aperitif surrounded by an historic and artistically pleasing interior.

Read more about Pastelaria–Padaria São Roque →


Alfarrabista means second-hand bookseller, and bookworms seeking a good read with their boca (espresso) should head for this delightfully offbeat café. Hundreds of hardbacks and paperbacks (some rare) plus magazines line floor to ceiling shelving set around tables in a "library" located at the back of the premises. Available in all sorts of languages, the books can be leafed through during lunch or snack. If you find a real page-turner, put in an offer at the counter and take it home with you. The menu lists tangy fruit juices, pancakes and tuna, chicken or vegetarian wraps, among other tasty homemade snacks. They even do a pretty good take on the "English breakfast".

Read more about Ha Café no Alfarrabista →




Chef Dolores Lopes is justifiably proud of the menu she's created for this elegant bistro. The cuisine speaks of healthy and balanced eating, of textures and flavours typical of Portugal and southern Europe. Appetizers draw on Mediterranean influences, with options like Greek Tzatziki and North African hummus. Her culinary prowess is further exemplified by contemporary arrangements of traditional Portuguese recipes to produce "Magusto" chicken thighs stuffed with chestnut and smoked sausage and octopus with potato and turnip greens, to name just two dishes. The "Royale Desserts" include an indulgent chocolate cake with forest fruits and ice cream. Some excellent wines (try the Fartote from the Douro) complement the food, and the restaurant also has a selection of artisan beers. On Sundays and Bank Holidays the kitchen rustles up a fine brunch.

Recommended for Cafés because: The wholly appealing Royale Café remains a fashionable meeting point for residents and visitors alike, and exudes a refreshingly understated ambiance.

Paul's expert tip: The backyard terrace features a verdant plant wall and provides a wonderful setting when it's warm and dry, particularly at lunchtimes. In summer, tables are also set on the esplanade outside.

Read more about Royale Cafe →


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Castelo/Alfama

Often cited as one of most originally designed cafés in Lisbon, Café 28 is named for the city's iconic number 28 tram. But it goes one stop further: the entire café actually resembles the interior of the famous streetcar. Housed within the walls of a disused townhouse located near Lisbon's castle, Café 28 serves a range of snacks, light meals, pastries and ice cream to "passengers" who take their seats by windows that frame a series of black and white photographs depicting the history and evolution of the Portuguese capital's tram system. Information panels in English and Portuguese provide further insight. Besides the salon (with its free WiFi), customers also have the choice of relaxing at a table on a small outside terrace, but it's nowhere as much fun.

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Meet Paul Bernhardt

Paul Bernhardt cut his teeth as a press photographer in England before leaving the UK to settle in Portugal, where he has lived for over a decade, and where he started to focus on more...  More About Paul

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