The utterly delicious pastéis de nata is as ingrained in the fiber of Lisbon as the tiled facades and old-school trams. Finding them won’t be hard since they’re as ubiquitous as the pastelarias they’re sold in, but what you are after is finding the very best.
If you try only one of the many (MANY!) local pastries in Lisbon, it has to be pastéis de nata. The famous palm-sized pastéis de nata is made with only a handful of ingredients but don’t let that fool you. It has a flaky casing filled with an oozy custard made of cream, egg yolks, sugar, flour and sometimes lemon zest. But that simplicity does not mean that egg tarts are nothing special. It is a nation staple – Lisboans have them every day. They eat pastéis de nata at breakfast, in the midmorning, after lunch, or in the evening — any time they’re craving a snack.
Serious though, how many natas can one eat in a day? Turns out, a lot! They are suprisingly addictive and just the kind of pick-up you crave when taking on the seven hills of the city. Utterly satisfying in all of it’s eggy goodness and the perfect start to a day of Lisboa ‘eatsploration’.
The birth of a nation’s favourite
The recipe dates back to before the 18thcentury and was created by Catholic monks at the Hieronymites Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) in Lisbon. At the time convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching their religious habits. The leftover egg yolks found its way into cakes and pastries resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes, amongst which the delicious nata.
An old Portuguese proverb says that “A bride who eats a pastry will never take off her ring” and so it is fairly common to see newlywed couples, dressed as bride and groom, at Lisbon’s most Portuguese bakery. Portugal is a country of traditions and, on a wedding day, these are definitely not overlooked. Following the reception, the bride and groom come to the bakery to indulge in a sweet Belém Pastry.
Criteria for finding the best pastéis de nata
These morish tarts are best eaten slightly warm with a dusting of canela (cinnamon) and a bica (espresso), or meia de leite (half coffee, half milk) on the side. The crust should be buttery, thin and crispy, even when cold; the filling should be velvety and just a little runny with a bit of caramelisation on top. Most importantly, the flavour should be nuanced, and not too sweet.
The best of the best
Find prime examples at our ultimate list of bakeries and cafés who have built special reputations as the best spots for a creamy, sugary, nato-filled fix!
#1 Pastéis de Belém
Who can possibly argue with history? This historic landmark is were all the nata-deliciousness originated. First sold here in 1837 it was the start of a nations love affair with egg tarts and the recipe has remained exactly the same ever since.
In the early 19thcentury, in Belém, right next to the Jerónimos Monastery, there was a sugar cane refinery connected to a small shop. The 1820 Liberal Revolution led to the closure of all Portuguese convents and monasteries with the workers and clergy expelled from them. To make ends meet, someone from the Monastery started selling sweet pastries in the small shop, which quickly became popular and earned it the name “Pastéis de Belém” (Belém Pastries).
Today long queues snake outside the door of this iconic, traditional bakery and a staggering 20 000 pastries are made and sold here every day. Over special weekends this number can go up by almost double. Tourists flock to this special spot to get a taste of the ‘real deal’ but surprisingly locals also still make the trek. These pastries are just that good, and have a special place in the hearts of Lisboetas.
Don’t mind the queues, just get yourself over there. Tasting a Belém pastry is like a rite of passage for every serious nata-explorer. There are the obvious reasons to go, including the original interior and sense of place, but more importantly it is not all hype, the pastries are really good and definitely at least in the top two.
The Belém pastries are prepared in the Ofina do Segredo (secret Atelier) and only six people, including three master bakers, knows the city’s most famous secret recipe. All of them contractually bound to secrecy. The baking process is in plain view and visitors can watch the pastries emerge from the oven all puffed up and golden.
Although very similar, technically speaking the Pastéis de Belém and Pastéis de nata is not exactly the same thing. Belém pastry only exists in Belém and its singular recipe guarantees a unique and memorable experience.
The tart shell is super crispy and shatters as you bite into it and the filling is creamy and not so sweet. Fresh out of the oven alongside a glass of port wine it is one of the best custard tart experiences you can have.
Better even there are incredible sites to explore nearby such as the Jerónimos Monastery, the Tower of Belém and MAATT (the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) giving you ample excuse to use up enough energy to warrant biting into a Pastéis de Belém twice in one day.
Address: 84-92 Rua de Belém, Lisboa, Portugal, +351 21 363 7423, Visit website
Manteigaria (translated as ‘butter shop) opened a few years ago and has taken Lisbon by storm. Definitely a top choice for the culinary-inclined, this pastry shop concentrates on one thing, and one thing only, and that is perfecting the nata. And wow, do they deliver. The Pasteis de Natas are tasty, with a buttery-flaky crust and a light and creamy centre with just the right amount of sweetness.
Their first spot opened on Loreto street in Chiado and a second location followed soon at the Time Out Market. Both ring a bell the moment fresh natas make it out of the oven and you can immediately see a queue form with hungry customers.
Although both of their locations are small and busy, service is brisk and usually you won’t have much of a wait and you can enjoy a nata (or three) without feeling rushed.
If you have to choose between the two locations I would recommend the original location in Chiado where they make about 5 000 natas every day. Here you have a ring-side-seat to watch natas being made, literally before your very eyes, whilst you indulge in the finished product alongside a coffee standing at the counter.
Each day from eight in the morning till midnight locals and tourists alike swing by for their nata-fix. Will this be your favourite nata too? Find a standing spot at the counter, be liberal with your sprinkling of cinnamon on a hot nata and decide for yourself.
Address(es): Rua do Loreto 2, 1200-108 Lisboa & Time Out Mercado da Ribeira, Avenida 24 de Julho, Cais do Sodré, Lisboa, +351 21 347 1492, Visit Facebook page
#3 Pastelaria Aloma
Aloma has been selling natas from their original store in Campo de Ourique since 1943. The area is definitely worth a visit with many great boutique shops and a market, Mercado de Campo de Ourique.
In 2009 the pastelaria was bought by Joao Castanheira who grew the business to various locations in Lisbon, one near Manteigaria, a bit further down the street from Largo do Camões and the other in the Time Out Mercado da Ribeira.
In their own words they sell ‘o melhor pastéis de nata,” or “the best pastéis de nata”. Aloma’s natas are indeed excellent, a fact that is well-proven by their three wins of the number one spot in the National contest of Pastel de Nata competition. Their natas have a slightly crispy top and a creamy filling that’s not too sweet. Despite it’s accolades it maintain a local vibe and feels a bit less touristic than some other spots. You can find more than just your nata fix at this traditional artisanal pastry shop, it is also a good spot to bite into some other famous Portuguese breads, pastries and cakes such as Tartelete de Amêndoa, Bolo-Rei (King cake) queijadas, Jesuita, Pão de Deus, and Palmier.
Address: Francisco Metrass 67, 1350-007 Lisboa, Portugal, +351 21 396 3797, Visit website
#4 Fábrica da Nata
Fábrica da Nata is in a part of Lisbon that is easy to reach, have plenty of comfortable seating and has the nata production process on display for everyone to watch. This is a new pastelaria that has opened only in 2016 but in this short time has quickly racked up some fans.
Probably the nicest aspects of Fábrica da Nata is it’s elaborate design with comfy seating, azulejo mosaics, great coffee and quick service. But do they make the best natas? Well, you will have try it out and decide for yourself. They have several locations in popular parts of Lisbon as well as a branch in Porto.
We think their natas have great things going for it, such as the buttery crust and creamy filling, but it does not quite stack up against the head of the pack.
There are some other aspect non-nata related that you might find appealing though such as the affordable menu deals and quick-bite lunch options, perfect for a quick midday refuel. Ending off with a nata for dessert, naturally.
Address(es): Praça dos Restauradores, nº 62-68 1250-110 Lisbon & Rua Augusta, nº 275 A 1100-052 Lisbon & Rua de Santa Catarina, nº 331/335 4000-451 Port, +351 21 132 5435, Visit website
#5 Pastelaria Santo António
Pastelaria Santo António has only been open for about 2 years but it has already scooped the coveted ‘Melhor Pastel de Nata’ 2019 award. Situated near the São Jorge Castle on one of Lisbon seven hills it is in a more touristic area, but that does not mean that it is a tourist trap. The Pasteis de Natas have a tinge of lemon which makes it a little different from the pack. The flaky crust holds the creamiest of fillings and there is a good amount of caramelisation on top. Try pairing their natas with Ginjinha, Portuguese cherry liqueur, it goes down a treat.
It takes a bit of work to get up there but you can take free elevators up to the Castelo neighbourhood to avoid the uphill trek.
Address: Milagre de Santo António 10, 1100-351 Lisboa, visit website
#6 Fim de Século
Another winner of the ‘Melhor Pastel de Nata’ award, Fim de Século is situated in the leafy residential Benfica neighbourhood of Lisbon, directly in front of the local market. It opened in 1999 as a simple family pastelaria and has since become a well-known egg tart destination worth travelling for.
Far away from the tourist areas this local spot makes a nata with an extra puffy crust and fresh creamy, deliciously flavourful centre. Owners Gabriela and José Carlos have been testing and perfecting their recipe over the years and won’t reveal their secret. But it is no secret that once you order one, you will immediately want more.
Address: Rua João Frederico Ludovice 28, 1500-205 Lisboa, +351 21 764 9294, visit Facebook page
#7 Pastelaria Versailles
Trapped in a time-bubble of the 1920’s this Parisian style tea room and pastelaria oozes elaborate style and grandeur, traditionally clad waiters included. This stunning Art Nouveau café is a must-visit, if only for the stained-glass windows, black-and-white checkerboard floors, expansive mirrors, chandeliers and intricate woodwork. It also happens to be one of the best places to eat pastéis de nata.
Pastelaria Versailles is well known by locals and often missed by tourists because it is off the beaten path in the business area of Saldanha on one of Lisbon’s main streets, Avenida da República. So if you fancy having your nata shoulder-to-shoulder with black suited politicians and other locals you know exactly where to come.
Arrive hungry, as this café is more than just a pastelaria, the menu is filled with Portuguese classics, both savoury and sweet. Old school favourites such as cordon bleu with esparregado (creamed spinach) and the meat croquettes has a special reputation.
Rumoured to have the longest pastry counter in Lisbon you will naturally want to save some space for sweets. Deciding what to try is the real challenge with line upon line of croissants, madelaines, fruit tarts, creamy doughnuts, cakes, cookies and puff pastries like jewels behind the glass.
Whatever your choice you don’t want to miss out on the natas. Even though Versailles doesn’t specialize in pastéis de nata, theirs are perfect. The delectable egg cream is encased in a slightly taller perfectly crispy flaky pastry. Interestingly you will even find a chocolate custard tart here, although truth be told we don’t reckon it holds up to the classic.
Missed out on visiting Pastelaria Versailles during your time in Lisbon? You can still make up for it at the airport (Terminal 1) where there is a newly opened Versailles. More focussed on sandwiches and ready-to-eat food than the original you can still catch a glimpse of the ambience with their beautiful décor reminiscent of the original restaurant. Luckily there are some of their delicious natas too. The ideal way to say goodbye to a wonderful city.
Address: 15-A Avenida da República, Lisboa, 1050-185, Portugal, +351 21 354 6340, visit Facebook page
#8 Confeitaria Nacional
Another golden oldie that will tranport you back in time. Dating back to 1829 Confeitaria Nacional is one of the oldest and most historic pastry shops in Lisbon. A local institution, this sixth-generation pastry shop has been sweetening up Lisbon since Balthazar Roiz Castanheiro started the confectionary business way back when. It quickly became a local favourite and in 1873 also the official supplier of the Casa Real (Royal Household), no less.
Situated in central Praça da Figueira makes this a popular stop for tourists and locals alike today. Several of the recipes used by Confeitaria Nacional are kept secret, including the recipe for their pasteis de nata.
Their natas are denser and more sugary making it a good choice for those with a sweet tooth. The sweet centre forms a nice contrast to the salty, crispy crust. It certainly is a good nata, although if you prefer your nata less sweet (as we do) then this will not be your first choice.
There are plenty of other reasons to visit though, such as the grand Pombaline-style building it is housed in and the photo-worthy opulent traditional décor with decorative woodwork, mirrored ceilings and marble counters. Then of course there are also the large array of cakes and petit fours that will peak your interest – egg chestnuts, anyone?
You can grab some of Confeitaria Nacional’s delectable goodies at the airport (Terminal 2) for a final sweet fix on your home.
Address: Praça da Figueira, 18B Praça Dom Pedro IV, Lisboa, 1100-241, Portugal, +351 21 342 4470, visit website
#9 Pastelaria Alcôa
Pastelaria Alcôa opened in Lisbon in 2017 on the main shopping vein of Chiado in a space that used to be a tobacco shop. The original tiles and exterior remains but inside tobacco smoke made space for a whiff of sweetness.
Alcôa dates back to 1957 when it first opened in a city called Alcobaça about 120 kms from Lisbon. This city is famed for its incredible convent sweets, a fact that is well illustrated when stepping into their Chiado location.
The pasteis de nata here are nestled in-between mesmerizing convent sweets made of egg yolk and sugar with funny names like ‘nun’s belly’ and ‘the forbidden love’. Transported south from their Alcobaça headquarters daily they look so interesting and unique that it is easy to get distracted from your nata mission, but try and keep you eye on the prize. Their sweet and creamy natas are baked on-site at their Chiado shop using only the best of ingredients and arrive fresh from the oven in a steady stream. We suggest only adding cinnamon as they are definitely on the sweeter side.
Naturally you can’t leave without a box of convent sweets, the perfect snack to enjoy sitting on a bench admiring one of Lisbon’s many beautiful squares.
Address: Rua Garrett 37, Lisbon,1200-309, Portugal, +351 21 136 7183, visit website
Bonus – Pastel de Nata Classes
If you still haven’t had your fill of natas (we never do) there’s no better experience in Lisbon for a food traveller than learning how to make these delectable beauties by hand.
There are a few classes to choose from but these two are our favourites:
#1 Learn how to make Pastel de Nata in a real working pastelaria
This is the only cooking class in Lisbon where you get let into the inner-secrets of nata baking in the heart of an award-winning Portuguese pastelaria. João who will be teaching you was literally born into the food industry, spending the first few months of his life in a cradle on the icecream maker of his parent’srestaurant. He is a 5thgeneration baker and the owner of Pastelaria Batalha in the heart of Lisbon that has been placed 3rdin the 2016 ‘Melhor Pastel de Nata’ award.
The class takes place in the kitchen of Batalha and kicks off with a demonstration of how to make the puff pastry like the pros. Then things get hands-on preparing the custard and making the tarts. It all ends off baked in a professional oven and on your plate to be enjoyed with cofee, tea or Ginja (sour cherry liqueur). Your choice!
#2 Bake natas specially adapted to the home kitchen in a chefs studio
Chef Ana Viçoso created the Lisbon cooking acadamy out of her sheer passion for cooking and teaching. Her English is excellent and she has a comprehensive knowledge of local cuisine and also offers popular Portuguese cooking and market tour and cooking classes.
In her Pastel de Nata classes you get to roll up your sleeves and get in on the action. The class starts with a lesson on how to make the special nata puff pastry from scratch before preparing the filling. The entire class you work only with domestic appliances and equipment making it easy to replicate the recipe at home.
During the class chef Ana keep things interesting by sharing all the secrets and history behind this special tart. It all end of with a nata-feast of course washed down with coffee, tea or juice.
Address: Rua Ilha Terceira 51 A, 1000-172 Lisboa, Portugal, Visit website
So now you have nothing to worry about – when you are back home and the inevitable nata-cravings set in, you’ll be covered. Be sure to book your Pastel de Nata class in advance however, considering the fame of Portuguese tarts, these classes fill up quickly.
Travelling to Lisbon?
If you are looking for a great stay in Lisbon check out our stories on Hotel Valverde for an inner-city sanctuary, or Baixa House if you are the kind of traveller that likes to live like a (stylish) local. Don’t waste a single meal – our neighbourhood foodie guides for each of these spots will keep you well-fed.
Pro Tip: In addition to Pasteis de Natas, be sure to eat other Lisbon food favorites like Bifanas, Arroz de Pato and Alheira during your visit.
Photography: Liezel Norval-Kruger, Pastéis de Belém, Manteigaria, Pastelaria Aloma, Fábrica da Nata, Pastelaria Santo António, Fim de Século, Pastelaria Versailles, Confeitaria Nacional, Pastelaria Alcôa, Pastelaria Batalha, Lisbon cooking acadamy