A complete guide to spending Christmas in Portugal
Having lived most my life in the southern hemisphere and being more accustomed to a warm and sunny festive season, I had often dreamt as a child of experiencing the magic and wonder of Christmas in Europe.
But, let’s be honest, when most people think of Christmastime in Europe, they may conjure up images of the beautiful lights and trees of Paris, or the bustling festive markets in Germany, or even the absolutely magical Lapland, where Santa has his home. Wherever it may be, Portugal, for some reason, doesn’t seem to always feature high up on that list.
That’s why I’m here to tell you today that spending Christmas in Portugal is in fact, and in my personal opinion, one of the best places to vacation during the holiday season.
Not only is the weather much more bearable, there is so much festive cheer and traditions going around, that makes Portugal the ideal European Christmas destination. Here is the low-down on exactly why I consider a Portugal Christmas as a must do!
Portugal in Winter - The Weather
Compared to some of its European neighbours, Portugal’s climate is much milder and stays fairly moderate in the winter making for a much more pleasant stay. The one downside is that it very rarely snows, so don’t exactly expect a white Christmas, but that’s also not such a bad thing either.
It is also worth mentioning that Portugal’s rainy season is typically through the winter months, but that’s to be expected across Europe anyway.
Winter in Lisbon:
In Lisbon, the average day time temperature in December is around 12 degrees Celsius (53 F) with highs up to 15C and lows down to around 8C to 9C. Compared to other parts of Europe that reach well below freezing, I’d say this is a big bonus for spending Christmas in Lisbon.
The wettest month is also generally around November, meaning that if you plan to travel in December for Christmas, you may be lucky enough to miss most of the rain.
Winter in Porto:
Winter in Porto, about 3 hours up north from Lisbon, is generally speaking only slightly colder than Lisbon with day time temperatures hovering more or less around the same mark as Lisbon or just below. Although rain is more common during wintertime in Porto compared to Lisbon.
Winter in the Algarve:
The Algarve is without a doubt the warmest region in Portugal during Christmastime, with its December average being around 14 degrees Celsius and highs up to 17 degrees Celsius. It also generally rains less compared to both Lisbon and Porto.
Overall, you’ll find that Portugal in winter is rather moderate and pleasant compared to the rest of Europe, making it ideal, weather-wise, to visit during the festive season.
Affordable & Less Crowded
Festivities, Traditions & Portugal Christmas Markets
Since most of Portugal is a predominantly Catholic country, Christmas in Portugal is a very important religious celebration. For many Portuguese it is a time to celebrate family, friends, and all the associated religious holidays and traditions that go hand in hand with the festive season.
Normally celebrations take place on Christmas Eve, unlike in say, American culture. The Portuguese have a large family meal and gift exchange on the 24th, followed by a nighttime mass. After that, Christmas Day, the 25th, is considered a time to rest and relax at home.
The traditional Christmas meal, known as Consoada, varies from region to region. Whilst some enjoy traditional cod fish (Bacalhau) in other areas of the country you could expect to find stuffed Turkey or roasted Lamb or Pork. Then there is also the traditional Portuguese Christmas cake, named Bolo Rei (King’s Cake) and numerous other pastries, desserts and sweets to enjoy.
Christmas in Portugal is also starting to get more and more festive (especially more so over the last couple of years). Many of the major cities and even some of the smaller towns & villages have started decorating streets with lights, Christmas trees and decorations with several food, wine & craft markets popping up everywhere.
Although the decorations, festivities and markets are not on the same large scale as some of the other more traditionally “Christmassy” regarded European destinations, you still get a real sense of the magic of Christmas when walking the streets, admiring the twinkling lights & decorations, the smell of roasted chestnuts and sampling some warm mulled-wines at the markets.
Almost every year since 2004, Lisbon has put up a large, artificial Christmas tree covered in bright lights in Comercio Square in downtown Baixa. It is an impressive height, with the tallest being 76 meters in 2007. It was even entered to be in the Guinness Book of World Records as an entrant for Europe’s tallest Christmas tree. There is an official ceremony for the lighting of the tree at the beginning of December which signals the official start of all the festive celebrations around the city.
In Porto, you can also attend the Christmas Tree lighting and inauguration on the 1st of December on Aliados Avenue. Normally there is an array of festivities, concerts and events that also take place throughout the month making for a very festive experience.
Lisbon Christmas Markets:
Christmas markets in Portugal have become ever more popular. In Lisbon there are several fairly big fairs & markets as well as tons of smaller ones found scattered around the city.
The Campo Pequeno Christmas Market is one of the largest Christmas markets in Lisbon. This year (2019) it will run from the 29th of Nov through to the 2nd of December. This event attracts around 20,000 visitors annually. Here you will find an array of crafts, jewelry, food & drink and much more on offer too!
The Winter Wonderland Christmas Market & Fair is another of the bigger fairs to take place, and to spend Christmas in Lisbon at. For the whole month of December, the market comes to Parque Eduardo VII, offering everything from beautiful tree ornaments to various crafts, delicious snacks and other forms of entertainment that’ll be sure to keep the entire family occupied. They also have a ferris wheel and ice rink.
Natalis is another fair worth mentioning that takes place from around the 4th to the 8th of December at the convention center at Parque das Nações in Lisbon. This is a fantastic event for the entire family and aimed at selling a wide range of gifts, crafts, accessories, jewelry, decorations, food and just about anything Christmas related. The 2019 event will even see an entire section dedicated to Vegan visitors at the Vegan Square. Not only that, they will also have a host of top chef’s in attendance too, offering up some Christmas cooking inspiration through cooking shows taking place throughout the event.
Other Lisbon Christmas Market:
Throughout the city you will find many smaller markets selling all sorts of crafts, food & drinks. Some of the most well-known ones include the market in Rossio Square, the market at the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara as well as the markets in Cais do Sodre, to name but a few.
Porto Christmas Markets:
Porto is definitely not to be overlooked either and has an entire Christmas program on offer with various events, markets and fairs happening throughout the city making a Christmas in Porto equally as festive as any other Portuguese city or destination.
Porto Christmas Village is perfect for food lovers! It has wine and beer to taste, plus various different traditional Portuguese foods. To top it all off, there is also an ice-skating rink.
The Mercado de Natal do Porto is a Porto Christmas market that’s ideal for those looking to shop, offering clothes, books, ornaments, toys and more. It’s the ideal place to find a gift for just about anyone.
Of course, as is the case with Lisbon, there are a range of other smaller Christmas markets all over the city that you’re bound to stumble upon and get to enjoy. If you happen to be looking for other non-Christmas related tips and suggestions for visiting Porto, then read my post on the Top Things to do in Porto for inspiration.
Other Portugal Christmas Markets:
Throughout other parts of Portugal you’ll find many more Portugal Christmas markets and festivals taking place, here are a few:
Algarve Christmas market – Vila Vita Resort – The Vila Vita Resort in the Algarve plays host a German inspired Christmas market every year around the beginning of December. Normally hosted in their beer garden, the market offers up various German Christmas goodies such as mulled-wine, biscuits and a range of other food & drink options.
Obidos is a medieval walled town that is a must visit and only located around an one hour north of Lisbon. Every year they play host to a wonderful Christmas village that is a big draw card for many visitors!
The Obidos Vila Natal goes all out for Christmas, with loads of attractions like an ice slide, Santa’s house, ice skating and so much more. It’s a great event to visit as a family and enjoy the festive cheer in medieval Obidos.
Obidos is also a fantastic day trip from Lisbon. Go read my post on how to travel from Lisbon to Obidos for more info on how you can easily get to Obidos to visit the Obidos Vila Natal from Lisbon.
Restricted Business Hours
Because most of Portugal observes Christmas, the majority of shops, museums, and restaurants have limited hours, and more so on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. In Lisbon, many places close by 7 p.m. or even earlier on the 24th and stay closed all day on the 25th. You may well find some restaurants open on the 25th, but only a handful.
In other cities and towns, hours are more limited. Businesses tend to reopen quickly after the holiday though, with many post-Christmas sales starting as early as December 26th.
As for public transportation, it is still available, but hours are limited from Christmas eve to Christmas day. If you plan on being in Portugal on Christmas Day or Eve, plan accordingly so you know you will be able to easily get around.
If like me, you absolutely love Christmas time and all the festivities and cheer that goes hand in hand with this season, then I can highly recommend a visit to Portugal.
With its milder temperatures, excellent Christmas travel deals, winter wonderland markets, and plenty of Christmas traditions, festivities and events taking place, Portugal honestly is the perfect destination for your Christmastime adventure.