Pasteis All Day
Belem is the waterfront neighborhood in the east of Lisbon, and is a magical otherworldly heaven. Everyone we spoke to about Lisbon insisted we spend at least half a day in Belem, and they were CORRET. My French friend Melanie (whose last name I’ve just realized I don’t know?) in particular could not recommend it enough, and I SECOND THAT.
We intended to take the 515 bus from Rocio Square, but the station was super crowded at 11am and the bus was taking a while, so we “splurged” for a 9 Euro taxi instead. We learned that taxis around Lisbon were totally reasonable, and for the time saved (on the few occasions that we didn’t walk), entirely worth it.
Our first stop was a walk along the River Tagus to the Tower of Belem, a medieval structure looking over the 25 de Abril bridge and the statue of Christ mirroring Rio de Janiero’s “Christ the Redeemer.” Another fun fact – the bridge looks just like San Fran’s Golden Gate because it was built by the same American architecture team. The bridge was initially named after the dictator Salazar, but changed to reflect the date of the 1974 revolution.
The line to go to the top of the tour was approximately three years long so we skipped it, preferring instead to sit by the water and bask in the glory of it all. Down the road a bit is the Point of Discovery statue (which I kept referring to as the Point of Departures, not sure what that Freudian slip is all about), of which we DID climb to the top since the line was maybe two minutes long at most. The view was gorgeous, especially the vantage point we had of the palace gardens across the street.
SPEAKING OF ACROSS THE STREET. After the Point of Discovery we had a totally fine, not particularly memorable but not bad lunch at one of the waterfront cafes, and headed to tour the palace and cathedral. The architecture was grand AF. I love love love medieval arches, and the series of arches surrounding the courtyard (built in the 1500s) slayed me.
BUT THE REAL KICKER OF BELEM, FOLKS: Pasteis de Belem. You’ll see this on every tour site and guidebook, and FOR GOOD REASON.
Let me back up. Portugal has a national pastry, aka pastel de nata, because of course they do. It is delicious no matter where you have it, but at Pasteis de Belem it is QUEEN. They serve the pastel piping hot with all of the powdered sugar and cinnamon that your heart desires.
And pro tip: the takeout line is another few years long, but the line for table service is nonexistent. We walked past said takeout line and straight to a table, where we were served immediately. Do this! Also order at LEAST two pasteis per person, and if you’re a coffee drinker, have their cappuccinos. It’s espresso topped with whipped cream, but the freshest whipped cream you can imagine, none of that canned nonsense. No exaggeration, this was one of the culinary highlights of my life.
After this, we wandered around the botanical gardens, because Doug and I freaking love a good botanical garden. The weather was PERFECT on Belem day to boot. To top it off, we wandered around the Vasco de Gama park and the coach museum, where we got a peek into Portugal’s carriage history.
This took us to about 5pm, at which point we half walked, half cabbed to the LxFactory, an outdoor art / food / local shopping warehouse district. My hipster artsy side flourished for the couple of hours we spent there. I bought a beautiful little frame and a couple of metal stamps for my jewelry making habit, because they just HAD THOSE at the cutest antique shop. We had some wine and a charcuterie board in an outdoor cafe, because duh.
After exploring Lx we popped back to the AirBnb and did NOT nap, but did pick up some warmer clothes because the temperature had dropped to 60-ish degrees F. (I brought my custom Lingua Franca sweater which I cannot get enough of, and the one pair of jeans I packed was a floral embroidered Zara pair that are comfy as anything.)
We then popped over to the outdoor restaurant/bar on the terrace of the Carmo Convent ruins. This, friends, was one of the most beautiful evening treasures. I could have come back every night if there weren’t so many other spots to try. The menu was entirely in Portuguese so we ordered cocktails, the ingredients of which we only vaguely understood (mine had egg whites, surprise!). They were delicious.
For dinner, we ended up at Officina do Douque because we walked past it and it looked delicious, and IT WAS. I had the mackerel and Doug ordered the pork, and we split them. The dishes were insane, tender and lightly seasoned to perfection. It’s always so fun to find a place just by wandering that ends up being one of your most recommended spots!
Exhausted, full, and high on life we returned to the Air BnB to dream of Pasteis. Day. Handled.