Ah, Sintra. This land of soaring Renaissance palaces and mystical Moorish castles, of fantastical mansions and mind-boggling building work that could be plucked from Alice in Wonderland is surely one of the true cultural gems of the Lisbon region. If you’re heading in early to escape the crowds – and we wholeheartedly recommend that you do – then this guide to the best breakfast Sintra has to offer could be gold dust.
It runs through seven of the most acclaimed morning eateries in the vicinity of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ve gone for a good mix. Some are full-blown kitchens with pastries and cheese-topped breads beckoning on the menu. Others are more casual coffee joints, offering a fly-in cup of joe on your way to the sights.
We’ve also tried to offer a good range of locations. The bulk of the spots will be within walking distance of Sintra’s great landmarks. However, because lots of folks travel down from the surf beaches on the coast and in from the big city of Lisbon, there are also one or two picks en route from those. Happy breakfasting…
Café Saudade is a well-rated family breakfast spot in an old building on the cobbled streets leading up to the historic heart of Sintra. Basically, you leave the train station or the parking area right at the base of the hill and start the slow incline up to the sights. Then, there it is, spilling out onto its own patio terrace with its taupe-painted façade, blooms of pink flowers, and age-stained iron balustrades marking the windows above.
Aside from really looking the part of a café that also offers perhaps the best breakfast Sintra can muster, Café Saudade is usually a hubbub of life in the early hours. Granted, that hubbub is mainly travelers heading to the high-perched palaces and castles, but it’s still a good vibe, especially if you manage to bag one of the few outdoor seats to people watch over the steady stream of day trippers.
Food wise, it’s the grilled cheese and ham sandwiches that take center stage for us. They’re made on crispy sourdough and come with griddle-pan marks worthy of Burger King. The sweet offering is also particularly brilliant, what with strawberry-topped cakes and meringue pies, apple tarts and Portuguese sweet bread up for grabs. Some sugar can’t hurt with that hefty climb ahead of you, right?
Calling all veggies and vegans – Mela Canela is a cracking place to drop in for a late-morning bite to eat that’s not got an iota of meat involved. It doesn’t open until 10am, which isn’t the perfect time if you were hoping to beat the crowds to the Park and National Palace of Pena (arguably the highlight of Sintra). Still, the establishment actually sits just below that iconic monument, in a daffodil-yellow building that’s surrounded by plane trees.
Inside is very compact and tight knit, with just a cluster of small seating areas tucked into the alcoves. There’s a lovely outdoor terrace across the road, though, which is by far our favorite spot. You’ll be able to settle in there and eat while enjoying the relaxed vibes of this side plaza in the lower reaches of the town.
For breakfast, there are loads of healthy options. You can pick from hummus-topped toasts and tofu mash, fruit salads made with fresh-off-the-tree oranges and apples, or more hearty veggie burgers. There’s a vitamin-brimming medley of drinks to match that, in the form of lemonades and carrot juices. You can also score a whole range of herbal teas and coffees, which can be made with vegan milk alternatives.
Black Vanilla Portugal
Black Vanilla Portugal isn’t in Sintra itself. Instead, it’s just a few clicks to the north in the town of Várzea de Sintra. That makes it a fantastic pitstop for your morning chow if you’re traveling down from the popular beach resorts and surf towns on the Mafra coast and beyond – Ericeira, Peniche, Praia de Santa Cruz.
The place itself isn’t that big but it’s been garnering a reputation for some of the best breakfasts and brunches around. Feeling hungry? Go for the whole shebang – a platter of grilled mushrooms, salty bacon, toast with cheese and ham, chorizo sausages and batata fritas (fried potatoes). That’s sure to keep you fueled up while you unravel the mix of Egyptian and Gothic architecture that Sintra has to offer.
There are also some smaller bites if the stomach isn’t yet grumbling. They come in the form of artisan pastries, sweet bonbons, cinnamon cakes, macaroons, and small toasted sandwiches. There’s indoor seating but the most sought-after spots are the outdoor tables, which are under the shade of an extended cover right out front. There’s also free, dedicated parking for those flying through.
Sat by the manicured fairways of a golf club just off the main A16 as it runs north from the Estoril Coast and Cascais to Sintra, the Lake House is a great option for those coming in from the beaches to the west of Lisbon. It opens at 8am, mainly to cater to the crowds who have their sat navs set for the UNESCO wonders.
Morning menus run the gamut from sweet to savory. You could play it like the locals do and go for a sugary pastel de nata (a famous Portuguese breakfast tart that’s packed with gooey custard and topped with a crème brûlée-style crispiness). That goes perfectly with a bitter espresso or a black americano for balance. Alternatively, there are cheese sandwiches, waffles, scrambled eggs, and plenty more to boot.
One of the best things about the Lake House is the outdoor seating area. That rings the front and back of the establishment, but the back area has stunning views of a wooded body of water, the curvaceous outline of the country club greens rolling away in the distance.
Espaço Edla, or Edla’s Space, is a quaint café that draws inspiration from the royal inhabitants that once called Sintra home. It’s named after the Countess d’Edla, Elise Hensler, who helped design some of the magnificent structures that lurk up between the trees of the Parque da Pena in Sintra’s famous UNESCO zone. True to those roots, the establishment is a grand affair of crystal-glinting chandeliers and gloss tiles, housed in an old building with big internal archways down by the train station.
The food is a well curated medley of chocolate tarts and fruit cakes, fresh sandwiches packed with local hams and cheeses, and European pastries like macaroons and croissants. It’s served delicately on silver platters and stainless cake stands, all on faux-vintage tables with faux-vintages chairs, in a setting that’s riddled with art and antiques that date back decades.
Despite the unique style and nuances that await inside Espaço Edla, we actually particularly like the exterior. There, the café spills onto a wooded deck space to offer some breezy sitting areas that are kept neatly away from the buzz of the street below. You can also stay here – there’s a handful of boutique rooms with plush double beds on offer upstairs.
Mocambo Café & Deli
We include Mocambo Café & Deli on our list of the best breakfast Sintra can offer but it’s not actually in Sintra. Again, this eatery sits outside of the historic town, well placed on the main highways rolling towards the palaces from the Portuguese capital in Lisbon. It’s a route that many travelers will take because day trips to Sintra are one of the best ways to see the sights, and breakfast on the road is a sure-fire way to beat the crowds in the high summer.
But Mocambo Café & Deli is also an enticing place to chow down in the early hours regardless of its convenient position. It’s a stylish venue in the suburban heart of Amadora in north-west Lisbon. Part deli, part café, it has a long front bar with fresh-baked tarts and croissants, along with a menu of cooked eggs, toasts, burgers, and sandwiches.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, what with a dark-painted sign and a ramshackle apartment block rising overhead. Duck inside, though, and you’ll find newly refurbished seating areas with spotlights and culinary-cartoon art on the walls. The downside? There are no real outdoor spaces to eat.
Right in front of the main train station entrance as you emerge into Sintra, Palace Caffe spills out onto the uneven cobbles. Its tables hide under the boughs of a gnarled plane tree that look like the twisted fingers of a petrified giant. Its building is a sun-kissed beige with iron-wrought window covers and vintage design flurries that hearken back to the days of the 1920s and 30s.
To put it another way, this is an elegant little breakfast stop right by where the trains come in. It’s both convenient for those on their way up to Sintra, and on the way down heading back to Lisbon. The joint also has some fantastic outdoor seating, right on the sidewalk and opposite the bus station. There’s endless people watching on offer and you can join up with a tour moments after finishing your espresso. Easy.
Talking of espresso…it is mainly coffee here. There are some bites to eat, a few ice creams, and bar snacks on offer, but the vibe is mainly a caffeine-and-go sort of thing. That said, the coffee itself is wonderful and there are all the usual variations, from mochas infused with cocoa to short, sharp drams that go well with a sweet Portuguese pastry.
The best breakfast Sintra can offer – the verdict
This guide to the best breakfast Sintra has up its sleeve is just scratching the surface of what’s on offer in the UNESCO town to the north-west of Lisbon. There are oodles more coffee joints and bistros offering morning meals. You could also widen your search to include the salt-washed cafes of Cascais on the Estoril Coast and the local bakeries in pretty towns like Mafra and São João das Lampas, as they are also within reach.