When you consider travelling to a different country you certainly make many plans to also visit the different attractions and highlights, as well as to enjoy the best of the local culture. A country’s culture is reflected in more ways than one, and even though Portuguese ancient art and architecture are what the country is best known for, the fact is that Portuguese traditions are still very much alive and thriving. One of them is street shopping, which the Portuguese still do on a regular basis whether during the week, during lunch breaks and after work or on weekends making it a family outing.
Walking the historical streets of towns and cities in Portugal has the added charm of providing for wonderful shopping opportunities at quaint stores selling unique Portuguese products. Many of these stores are considered national heritage and are an excellent chance to be part of the authentic Portuguese experience.
Why are Portuguese stores special?
Throughout History, business has always had a predominant role in the cities of Portugal. Some like Lisbon and Porto were even born as commercial posts. You will surely notice that nowadays commerce still plays a determining part in the economic, social and cultural life of the Portuguese cities and towns, allowing for moments of social gathering and often determining the configuration of the different neighborhoods.
Smaller, traditional stores have the unique advantage of having a customized service, in which you can trust while at the same time you will be made to feel welcome and at home. Many of them have a long history that can be identified by their incredible architecture, well-preserved furniture and details in decoration. Most have been passed down through generations in time, thanks to the persistence and patient work of their owners. Choosing traditional commerce for shopping is also a way to contribute to safeguarding this heritage and being part of the local history.
So, when the time to purchase a special item or a souvenir comes, we recommend that you choose traditional stores and businesses and let yourself be surprised by the history of the places, by the tales of the neighborhoods around and of those who live and work there. Let us tell you about some special stores in some Portuguese cities - we are sure that you will want to visit a few to get a sense of what the Portuguese soul is about.
Where to go?
There are numerous traditional stores across the country, as every town or city has their own landmarks, but we are leaving you with a few ideas of places to go in the main cities, so that you get to know a few and hopefully get inspired to set off exploring. As you go along touring the country, we are sure that you will come up with your own, personalized list of unmissable historic stores.
Lisbon has been for millennia a city of traders and of business, and that tradition continues in the 21st century! With historical, cultural or social interest, the stores, whether old or more recent, are part of the identity of Lisbon and of the daily routine of the neighborhoods scattered across the 7 hills city.
With a variety that goes from century-old bookshops, old Art Nouveau cafés, bars, liquor stores, watch and fabric stores or even the old-fashioned haberdasheries in Lisbon, you will be sure to find unique pieces and learn about traditional ways of making things.
In the section of Chiado, at the heart of historic Lisbon, you will come across the Benard pastry shop, which opened its doors in 1868. The exquisite thin crust croissants are a specialty here. Head right next door to the Brasileira Café, which was one of the first places in the city to start selling espresso coffee. The place was also known for being frequented by Fernando Pessoa, a famous early 20th-century poet and intellectual, and for being a cultural hub for artists and writers during the same time. In the same neighborhood, you need to see the oldest bookstores in the country still in activity: Bertrand, founded in 1732 (the oldest in the world!), and further down Ferin, opened in 1840.
Going down from Chiado towards the river, the American Bar and the British Bar are two icons of the city and hold the memory of the first decades of the 20th century, of the time when sailors from all over the world went through here and relaxed from their Atlantic voyages. The names of the bars in Cais do Sodré are even allusive to the nationalities of their clients and foreign cities.
In the downtown area, you can also find pastry stores, delicatessens, fabric and other stores established in town for many years, among which we can highlight the Luvaria Ulisses which probably qualifies as the smallest store of Lisbon, and the Chapelaria Azevedo Rua, with tradition and knowledge in the art of making gloves and hats.
Just before you leave the capital city, end your tour of Lisbon’s traditional stores with a visit to the cherry-liquor stores of A Ginjinha or the A Ginjinha Sem Rival for a taste of the much beloved Lisboner drink!
Trading and business are within the very soul of Porto. The city which is now the second city of Portugal was actually one of the first in the country in the 12th century, and since the beginning it proved to be a valuable location for commerce with surrounding nations, stabilizing Portugal as an independent country throughout times.
In Porto, in one of the busiest districts of the city, the grocery stores A Favorita do Bolhão and Pérola do Bolhão are a reference when it comes to buy sweets, nuts, olive oils, traditional preserves, liquors and Port wines. Nearby, the Majestic coffee shop lives up to his name, as it is a finely decorated cafe with exquisite patisserie - the perfect place to take a break during your city tour. Another choice for a pit stop in a beautiful setting is the Guarany coffee shop, with its esplanade right on the main boulevard, Avenida dos Aliados, and for chocolate lovers a visit to Arcádia, a well-known Portuguese brand, is imperative.
Among many other historic stores in central Porto, a special mention needs to go to the Livraria Lello, in its Art Nouveau, almost whimsical style. But also to Café Pinguim, known for its Poetry Nights, cultural gatherings with poetry slams over drinks of gin and tonic.
If what you are looking for is a different experience, go for a beard trim or a haircut in one of the few traditional barbershops that are part of the city's centuries-old heritage.
Coimbra is also known as the University City, as it is home for the oldest University in Portugal and to the second oldest in Europe! In Coimbra, students' habits have always marked life in the city, so it is only natural that the "repúblicas", or fraternities, also have an important role in its history. The “repúblicas” are places of reunion, bars and cultural circles kept exclusively by students. Among them some are considered special, namely the Republic of the Inkas and the Royal Republic of the Pyn-Güyns, which were crucial to the academic crisis that occurred in 1969, during the New State dictatorship. However, there are several in the city and their doors are open to anyone who wants to visit and get to know them.
Évora was for centuries a wealthy city connected to the royal power. Some of the stores in the historic center date back to centuries ago and are still operating, providing for some of the best quality items in the region. That is the case with the Mercado Municipal, a covered farmer’s market offering the best cheeses, bread and cured meats. You might want to feel like packing for a picknick lunch out in the fields! Go to the Carlos Antique Shop or O Cesto for some of the most beautifully decorated hand-made ceramics. Before departing, go to the main square Praça do Giraldo and sit at one of the 100 tables at Cafe Arcada, an institution in the city, serving coffee to visitors and locals since 1942!
In Madeira Island, or the Garden Island like the Portuguese like to call it, a walk through the historical center of Funchal will include some original stores. That is the case of the António Faustino de Abreu hardware store, that opened its doors in 1940 and since then has always kept the same business. The building is an interesting mix of styles from the late 19th and early 20th century business houses, which no longer exists today.
At the Barbearia Turista, near the Funchal marina, haircuts have been given for at least 125 years. The famous Casa Bordal, operating since 1956, acquired the spare stock from the old embroidery houses that were closing down and created its own Historical Guide of Madeira Embroidery that talks about this 150 years old tradition.
Before leaving, you need to try the famous cookies from Fábrica Santo António that include incredibly delicious varieties such as cane sugar, passion fruit and banana cookies!
Local is better
Going shopping in Portugal is an activity that has deep roots in History. People have been coming together for a day out shopping since centuries-ago, and the fact that many of these historic stores are still operating show how alive and well this activity still is. It is part of the Portuguese way-of-being and soul, and locals value their heritage as part of them. When you go to any of these stores or to many others scattered across the country, you will see mostly locals buying from locals - and in an era of fast consumption and disposability, this is undeniably refreshing! Care to come shopping with us?