If you want to step back in time to 1920s Porto and indulge yourself with a treat than have a meal or simple cup of coffee whilst devouring a plate full of amazing cakes at the Majestic Cafe. You will find it near the Mercado do Bolhao market at 112 Rua Santa Catarina. Plan your visit carefully as it is closed on Sunday.
The Majestic Cafe
This cafe has class. The waiters wear a smart classic uniform. No jeans and T shirts allowed to be worn by staff engaging with customers. There is no dress code for the customers. It is a little bit more expensive than some of the other local restaurants and cafes but you have to pay for that service and atmosphere. It is normally packed with tourists from all over the world. The prices mean that local Portuguese are in the minority. Be patient when trying to ask for the bill in busy periods. You will see that the staff are run off their feet. Take the time to soak up the atmosphere. Do not expect fast food. Expect well prepared cuisine and leisurely dining.
It used to be the cafe the Portuguese intellectuals, artist, merchants and Government Officials would meet. It was also the place to be seen. Portuguese high society held the Majestic cafe in high esteem and as it was in the middle of one of the better shopping streets of Porto it was also convenient. Although the majestic Cafe built its reputation as one of the finest coffee houses they also serve a very good cup of tea (the local beer is good as well) Portugal is one of the few places in Europe that the British can feel at home when ordering tea. Most cafes sell English Breakfast black tea and it is the same taste and strength that you get back in Britain (unlike the Lipton's yellow label tea). Make sure you order COLD milk as well.
The Majestic Cafe interior. The mirrors make it look bigger than it is.
Rather than ordering the same type of food you would have at home try something different. Have a look at their cake display and experiment by ordering a baked treat you have never had before. You may be in for a very pleasantly surprise like I was. My personal favourite was the Portuguese Custard Tart. If you want something more substantial they do a very good Port Francesinha. The large layered thick toasted sandwich covered in cheese and a rich red sauce. My advice is only order one between two people. They are very filling. The Sangria is very refreshing.
If you have teenaged children tell them apparently J.K.Rowling used to come here whilst she was writing the Harry Potter novels. Look out for the uniformed Portuguese school Children, during school term time, because legend has it that whilst she was sitting in the Majestic Cafe watching them go by, she decided to base the Hogwarts school uniform on these children's uniforms. Everywhere in Porto seems to claim to be the location where J.K.Rowling was inspired by or wrote Harry Potter and this is no exception. In the biography of J. K. Rowling, written by Sean Smith, it states that when the writer was living in Porto, she spent much of her time at the Majestic working on the first book of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone'. Only the author can tell the truth.
The Majestic Cafe ornate bar and coffee making area
They cafe looks much larger than it actually is because of the cleaver use of very large wooden framed Flemish mirrors that line both walls. It also reflects the light in from the front and back of the building. The ornate interior displays a confluence of competing artistic styles from baroque classicism to proto-art nouveau. Joao Queiroz was the architect who was given the project of designing this 'Belle Epoque' marvel. It opened in 1921 and was completely renovated in 1994. It promotes itself as the oldest cafe in Porto.
The striking marble cafe facade, ornamented with beautiful floral elements and winding shapes, is a good reflection of the decorative style of the 1920s. The main facade boasts two elegant columns and three rectangular windows. Over these, a pediment crowns the composition with the Majestic's initials. On each side, two amused little-boy figures seem to invite people in and hold a garland up to help visitors gain entrance.
If you read the many reviews on tripadvisor some people hate the Cafe Majestic whilst others adore the place. Yes the food and drink is expensive compared with the rest of Porto cafes but look where you are. It is the atmosphere and the elegance of the place that is so captivating. You go to the Majestic cafe for the whole experience. If you want fast cheaper food and drink go to McDonalds.
The Majestic Cafe exterior seating area idea for people watching