Santarém is A beautiful city placed on a high plateau overlooking the river Tagus as it winds itself over large sandbanks towards the last stretch of its journey into the sea.
Situated in Central Portugal 70 km north of Lisbon and 140 south of Coimbra, the city is connected by the main Lisbon – Porto highway and railway.
Santarém is not overrun by tourists who tend to travel more to Lisbon and Coimbra, yet it has the ideal setting.
Go Eat Portugal wants to tell you about its best views, restaurants and local delicacies in the hope that you will see the reasons to detour your trip and visit this beautiful and peaceful city and of course with a little help from us, eat like royalty in one of its interesting restaurants.
Portas do Sol – The old Moorish citadel on the highest point
Santarém has an amazing history, which goes back to pre-historic times.
It is surrounded by the beautiful landscape of the Ribatejo wine district and filled with aesthetically pleasing, historically important, and here and there impressive pieces of architecture.
Walking through the city and its surroundings you can travel through the many centuries of Portugal’s history and end up in the modern shopping ‘churches’, of our own time.
On the way, you will meet crouched and weather-worn old ladies in black and gatherings of card-playing men mixed with a modern younger crowd carrying their newly acquired bags of designer-label clothing.
These people are not stressed and the crisis doesn’t seem to have hit as hard here as in some other parts of Portugal.
The Santarém people enjoy their roots and history and mix it with all the aspects of modern consumerism without going overboard. They seem to maintain a nice balance between cultural heritage, neighborly attachment, and the MTV & Mc Donalds infiltration of the last years.
Looking away from its people, habits, and architecture you might find some of the views taking your breath away.
The city is a lot smaller and a lot quieter than the close by the capital of Lisbon and restaurants are generally cheaper.
The city planning does resemble some of Lisbon’s older neighborhoods with its small medieval winding streets and narrow pavements climbing up its mountain slopes but the climb is shorter and at a lesser angle, the traffic more patient and the crowds less ‘crowdy’.
Where Lisbon is bustling, exciting, and diverse, Santarém is relaxing, unified, and peaceful.
Praça de Sá da Bandeira – The cathedral of Santarém
There is a little bit of nightlife but this is probably not the most important reason to visit this city.
The district of Santarém has been occupied for 3000 years but the foundation of the city is credited to the Romans who during their occupation in the second-century ad founded the city and named it Scalabis.
Today you will still find the remains of the Romans, be it in small measures.
The most impressive remain is the podium of the temple of Scalabis in the historical center of Santarém, Marvilla.
The temple dates from the 1st century BC and was discovered accidentally during the excavation of the district currently known as the Alcáçova de Santarém.
The site excavated in the last decade of the 20th century has given added clarity to the early history of Santarém dating the Roman occupation, which goes as far back as the 8th century BC.
Alcáçova de Santarém is also the home of the Portas do Sol gardens surrounded by the old Moorish castle walls dating back to the 11th century and offering from its towers and walls some of the best views over the Tagus
The park itself is a pleasant place to relax and walk.
It’s not the Romans who dominate the architecture anymore, or the Moorish influences, though prominent in some of the smaller streets and inner patios and especially in the beautiful Moorish citadel with its amazing view over the valley.
It’s the medieval Christian legacy that is evident throughout the entire city,.
With its grand churches and gothic tendency,.
The large squares are spread throughout the city.
The squares are connected by small winding streets and here and there medieval stairs connect the different levels to each other on the hills that nowadays make up Santarém.
Just as attractive is the calm of the Santarém people who frequent the many squares and walk the streets.
Much of the rebuilding and restoration of the historical site is to be thanked to Francisco Moita Flores a former criminologist and screenwriter who is openly mason and since 2005 major of Santarém. His many reforms have cleaned up and rebuild much of the city bringing it back much of its old glory.
The medieval path from the castle down the mountain to Ribeira da Santarem
Santarém is not a city that promenades itself with big gestures, it’s a city of subtle and persuasive historical reference backed by its city planning, historical architecture, scenic views, and cultural heritage that is inherent in its streets, buildings, people, and food
Site seeing and restaurants in Santarém.
Santarém has many restaurants and bars worth a visit and a food tradition that needs tasting.
Let’s start at the old food market in the city center.
Until 1920 the market was open-air until Cassiano Branco was commissioned to provide the traders from the surrounding districts and the buyers with a building protecting them and their supplies from the scorching sun or winter rains.
The market by itself is an interesting example of modernist architecture, by the famous Lisbon architect Cassiano Branco, build in 1928.
Cassiano Branco is better known for his famous buildings like the Café Imperio and the Hotel Britânia both in Lisbon, both impressive pieces of modernism but the market does have interesting aspects and shows partly the development of Cassiano as an architect and modernist.
The outside is tiled in typical Portuguese style with scenes related to the market and its food supply from the surrounding countryside. The tiles were not in the original plan but added to the facade in the 1930s and even though some have been replaced, most of the tiles are the originals from this period.
The scenes are an interesting historical reference and traveling into the countryside around Santarém you might notice their relevance even today.
Close to the market are many good quality traditional restaurants grouped together on the Rua dr Jaime Figueiredo.
The restaurant that gets our attention is O Fabio situated at number 21. This restaurant from the outside doesn’t look that interesting, its door is hidden at the end of a staircase, and views into the restaurant are not provided. Once inside one enters a new world. The restaurant is large and comfortable, typically Portuguese, friendly, and inviting.
The food is very cheap but fresh, well prepared, and served in large portions. The restaurant is particularly suited to hungry meat lovers, as on the menu you’ll find a large selection of traditional Portuguese meat grills and dishes.
They serve a good house wine and have a nice selection of local and national wines on the menu.
For budget and value, this would be our choice in Santarém.
Taverna do Quinzena
A typical tavern with a national and regional menu.
Friendly service, nice menu, local.
This is a place to eat regional dishes in a pleasant, comfortable tavern surrounding.
Cabrito no forno (goat oven cooked) and Bacalhau with garlic and Magusto, both regional dishes served in Taberna do Quinzena
Across from the market, in the Jardim da Republica, you’ll find the 13th century St. Francis Monastery where king Ferdinand the 1st is buried. The monastery has a nice gothic cloister and can be seen from the terrace of El Galego lounge
El Galego lounge is part of a El Galego Gruppo group of 5 restaurants in Santarém that offer traditional food with a twist and more west European (trendy) foods all with a touch of ‘something special
in El Galego lounge its crisps or a salad with balsamico. Pesto and sun dried tomato.
For those not interested in the ‘fancy stuff’ a standard ham / cheese, ham or chicken combination is still a possibility.
El Galego lounge Has a large selection of sandwiches, French rolls, Tosta’s and small dishes such as asparagus risotto or smoke salmon pasta, crepes (as well as savoury crepes), cakes and ice cream at more than reasonable prices.
Ok they don’t serve brown bread that would be my only criticism if I felt like giving one, in Portugal finding brown bread in restaurants is more or less like looking for the holy grail, hopefully, one day it will become part of the normal menu here also.
The music is ambient and the clientele is as fashionable as the ambiance but gladly pretentious is not part of the décor or atmosphere.
The staff is always helpful and friendly, the food and drinks are always good.
Many customers spend hours there reading, talking or working on their laptops using the free WIFI connection, during the day it’s a very relaxing place to reside, at night it’s a great place to meet people.
Young people meet and listen to the music, parents enjoy lunch or a drink while the kids play in the playground next to the lounge
El Galego lounge with a view of the Franciscan monastery
From El Galego lounge with the monastery in our backs, you are a few minutes walk to the left is the cathedral of Santarém build in 18th century it’s a nice example of mannerist architecture with a baroque interior. The main square in front of the cathedral is a nice place to sit and have coffee and pastries, while enjoying the quiet and surrounding architecture.
The Portas do Sol Route.
Starting at Santarem shopping in the centre of Santarem (which has a parking garage)
Follow the Portas do Sol Route which leads you right through the historical center to the Moorish citadel Portas do Sol.
At the start of this route, you’ll find Another El Galego ‘favorite’ is more traditional and less trendy, than the lounge. Though very popular
Tasca (the Portuguese word for Tavern) placed right in the center of Santarém in a small street that seems to join the old historical neighborhoods with the modern freshly build popular designer label melting pots in a small format making it both a nice and handy place to eat before or after a successful shopping spree and a historical site seeing day.
The Tasca is small and very popular and reservation could be a good idea, although waiting at the bar or terrace outside for a table to be free generally doesn’t take that long on weekdays.
They serve day dishes between 6-10 euro per dish. Some of the dishes they have served in the past are spicy potato with Portuguese Chorizo, Bacalhau Tasca style, or veal kidneys with garlic.
It’s a pleasant place where you will generally hear Fado music.
It has simple tavern seating, is casual, traditional with a modern awareness. A little bit to squashed for an extensive dinner but a comfortable affordable place to taste the local atmosphere both in ambiance and food.
OF our track but worth a mention and visit Restaurante Adiafo
A little bit away from the historical center and close to the Santarém bull-fighting ring, you’ll find the restaurant Adiafo. The surroundings of this restaurant are not that interesting as it is placed in the large parking area next to an architecturally boring, maybe even messy, bullfighting ring.
The food and restaurant interior is very attractive and you can imagine that on the days that the bullfights take place the restaurant will be bursting with energetic activity.
The restaurant has a typical country fireplace, is large and comfortable.
The restaurant offers many regional dishes under attentive supervision in a friendly family atmosphere.
It’s not a budget restaurant (as often mentioned on the internet) but it’s not to expensive at the average price of 10 -12 euro per meal and it’s definitely an experience to visit. Traditional and local in both its food and ambiance are the best words to describe this restaurant.
Portas do sol restaurant.
How can it get any better, the setting is amazing.
The restaurant is situated on the Moorish castle grounds in Portas do Sol garden. Its window seating overlooks the citadel and the valley below. Santarém is often referred to as the terrace of the Tagus, and here you’re actually on the best part of the terrace risen high above the river overlooking its stretches of vineyards, villages and the movement involved in the production of the Ribatajan wines below, on a warm sunny day breathtaking is the only word for it.
The restaurant is one of the more expensive restaurants in Santarem but stil affordable looking from a Northern European perspective. The menu is interesting and the food very good. Some of the dishes are typical local dishes, some inspired by the French and Italian cuisine. With my meal, I missed some basic sustenance like a small portion of handmade fries with homemade mayonnaise or a simple bowl of rice but the taste of the food served was so good that I managed to get over it really fast,.
The starter was a strange, scrambled egg with asparagus but somehow very enjoyable.
The wine list is extensive and excellent. We suggest you try some of the regional wines for instance the wines from the Quinta da Alorna from the close by town of Almeirim. Read our next article about the Ribatejo wine routes to learn more about this Quinta!
We especially enjoyed our main courses of Prawns with Abacaxi (a type of Pineapple) and steak cooked in wine.
Your table is perfect, the menu good, the wines excellent, the service professional the prices expensive for Portuguese averages but no more than northern
Portas do sol restaurant in Portas do Sol garden
O Quintal do Beco in a small street of the Rua 1º Dezembro, Beco dos /fieis de Deus no 15. Very nice traditional food restaurant offers a great lunch including wine, main-course, bread, olives , dessert and coffee for roughly 8 euro as well as a local menu.
Restaurant Solar nice, affordable, typical dishes in a friendly atmosphere.
Largo Emílio Infante da Câmara 9/12
Food and culinary Information about Santarém
We were informed by the owner of Portas do Sol restaurant that Santarem does not have specific Santarem dishes but a lot of regional food stretching all over the Ribatejo province, it is however famous for it’s sweets and pastries, you can eat these in many places spread throughout the city.
Some of the traditional local dishes are:
Enguias Grelhadas grilled Eel
Ensopado de Enguias Eel soup
Deep fried local Sável fish with Açorda and olives (An Açorda is a Portuguese bread-based stew much like a creamy risotto.)
Sopa de Pedra a rich, spicy bean soup with various local sausage meats
Naco de Boi em Vinho Tinto wild game in a red wine sauce.
And many more check the festivals below for more local dishes.
There are 4 culinary festivals spread throughout the year:
February festival gastronômica da magusto from the 19th of February tot the 8 of march. Magusto is a dish based on Portuguese cabbage, beans and corn bread, mashed and drizzled with olive oil and garlic.
It usually accompanies baked cod and during the festival it accompanies ribs, skewers of beef, veal, petingas (little sardines), octopus, Roast rabbit, suckling pig and other delicacies.
Another nice thing about the Magusto is that without it’s side dish it’s a fully fledged healthy, delicious and sufficient vegetarian main course.
May Bacalhau com todos 20 – 29 may
The traditional fish dish of Portugal even more important than the touristically famous sardine, Bacalhau prepared in every possible way all according to traditional dishes bacalhau com natas (with cream), bacalhua com Groa (bacalhua with chick pea), grilled bacalhua. and more in many restaurants throughout Santarem.
July Festival Gastronomico de tomate azeita e alho 30 july – 31 august
A festival with 11 partaking restaurants in Santarem a celebration of the ripe tomatoe, olive oil and garlic dishes served are Queixadas no tacho – Fried Pig cheek , bacalhau à ribatejana – Ribatejo Bacalhua dish, Pataniscas com arroz e tomate – pastries with rice and tomato, naco coberto em tomatada – Meat covered with a regional tomatoe sauce, solha com açorda de alho – sole fish with garlic açorda, bife à lagareiro – beef with garlic and olive oil, bacalhau à casa, polvo à lagareiro – octopus with garlic and olive oil, arroz de marisco – Sea food rice, massa de cherne – Chern fish with pasta, arroz de tamboril Tamboril rice, sardinha assada com salada de tomate – oven sardines with salad, choquinhos guisados com arroz tomate – cuttle fish stew with tomatoe rice, frango do campo com amêijoa – Free range chicken with clamps, galinha do campo em tomatada – Free range chicken with regional toatoe sauce, caldeirada de Borrego – Lamb stew, lulas à Provençal e migas de tomate com grelhada mista, molhada de petingas e massa à barrão – Sardine sauce with local pasta.
The objective of this festival is to promote the local cuisine.
October Festival nacional de gastronomia 21st oktober to the 6th of November a national gastronomic festival in which Santarem participates.
Information for vegetarians
Eating out anywhere in Portugal can be a bit of a disaster if you’re a vegetarian as most restaurants offer fish meat potato or rice but little in the way of a ‘real’ filling, nutritious and sufficient vegetarian meal (which would be the first step towards interesting, culinary and with choice, relevant in a modern society with a fast and ever growing group of vegetarians).
The supermarkets have managed to catch up but most restaurants haven’t.
In Santarém you can go to El Galego lounge to have a great lunch of toasted bread with roasted vegetables, pesto and small tomato, fully vegetarian and fully delicious.
They also have other vegetarian dishes on the menu.
Portas do Sol offers various vegetarian pasta dishes
Check out snackbar Naturista Restaurante O Snack do Celeiro
Rua Serpa Pinto, 60 health food restaurant offering various vegetarian dishes, juices and other healthy options.
During the festival of Magusto eat Magusto with salad. Or if you can get it somewhere at other times of the year go for this, ask for Magusto with chick pea and salad, this tastes really good!
We would love to write a long list here, if you can give us more information please contact us!
Shopping in Santarém
Santarém gives all the possibilities for a full day shopping, a lot of the shops are stylish and contemporary. You wont find as many bargains as in Lisbon or the gigantic shopping temples but you will find a lot of good quality local products as well as international labels.
For local wines go to Dom Vinho, right next to Tasca, it’s a typical wine store that even sells there own homegrown brand.
You’ll find most of the major design labels in the center of the city, some of these include Pull & Bear, Benetton, Mango, C&A, Bershka, lanidor and many other designer labels. One of our favourites is ‘She Wears’ on the Rua 1º Dezembro 32 Between Tasca and Portas do Sol. The shop sells a variety of young designer brands such as the Spanish Skunkfunk label, just a little bit different and a bit more individual than the major brands, any age can shop there and go home happy.
Map of our chosen restaurants
Sleeping in Santerem
Stay tuned Go eat Portugal will soon have a little sister called Go Sleep Portugal, she likes sleeping in a nice place, sometimes budget, sometimes first class, sometimes in her ‘own’ house, sometimes in a hotel, she likes things different and better, she will inform you about all the best places to sleep!
Going out in Santarem
Stay tuned Go eat Portugal will soon have a little brother called Go out Portugal, he likes being young, he likes being old, he loves dancing, music, drinking and art, he will inform you about all the best places to go out!
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Note: we visit many restaurants we don’t feel like writing about, we cannot possibly visit all restaurants so there are possibly many other good places to eat in Santarem not mentioned in our article, we make our choices based on FOOD, quality, ambiance and surroundings, sometimes budget, sometimes expensive, sometimes just the greatest family restaurant or the best place for vegetarians or food ingredient intolerant people to eat. All mentioned restaurants have this something special and great taste is the common dominator.
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