Are you planning on visiting Portugal in the winter?
One of the best winter sun destinations in Europe, this Southern European country has a mild climate and plenty of year-round things to do.
My first trip to Portugal was on the first week of January one year when I left the frosty UK in the middle of winter and touched down in Lisbon – which was positively balmy in comparison.
Despite festive decorations only just being put away, it felt less like a winter trip, and more like Spring had sprung!
However, this isn’t the case in all of Portugal – there is even one skiing destination.
So, whether you want relatively warm weather, snow or somewhere with a great festive atmosphere, you’ll find it in Portugal.
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Portugal in winter!
What’s Portugal like in winter?
Portugal in winter is much milder compared to its counterparts in Western Europe.
In some areas of the country, temperatures can hover around the late teens C throughout the cooler months – so it’s the perfect weather for hiking or outdoor activities!
The average weather for Faro in the Algarve in January is 16°C (61°F) and in Lisbon, it’s 15°C (60°F)
However, the north of Portugal can be chillier, with a high of 14°C (58°F) in Porto in winter.
Atmosphere-wise, Portugal is still a buzzing place to visit throughout the cooler months.
Places like Lisbon and Porto have plenty of year-round attractions that you can enjoy whatever the weather!
Plus, many cities have great festive markets throughout December.
The only thing to note is, if you’re visiting beach destinations like Faro or Vilamoura, some activities like boat trips may not be running.
However, you can of course still enjoy the beaches independently if the weather is warm enough!
Reasons to visit Portugal in winter
You can get a great deal on flights in the winter months – I once flew to Lisbon from the UK for less than 25 euro! Hotels will also generally be cheaper, and you might get better deals in restaurants.
Portugal is one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe anyway, with lots of affordable cities and all-inclusive beach holidays, but in the winter, you can have a real budget break there!
Portugal’s top tourist destinations are so much quieter in the winter months, which means less time spent waiting in line for attractions, and more spent enjoying them!
As an example, on a recent summer trip to Porto, I couldn’t ascend Clerigos Tower without a pre-booked ticket – and the slots were sold out for three hours.
This wouldn’t happen in. the winter months!
Even the Algarve, which is a firm contender amongst the warmest places in Europe in March, is virtually crowd-free this month and earlier in the winter.
Many areas of Portugal can be far too hot in the summer months, so locals tend to welcome the cooler temperatures of winter!
In the summer, it can be a hot and sweaty country, but in winter, the temperatures are much more comfortable (although milder than in Northern Europe, of course).
Portugal is a Catholic country, and although it’s not quite as religious as other places in Europe, the Christmas spirit is strong here.
If you want a festive city break without being too cold, head to Lisbon or Porto!
Things to do in Portugal in winter
Portugal has some beautiful cities.
Lisbon and Porto are the most famous, and although they’re not as warm during the winter months, you can visit them and escape the cold winter weather!
There’s so much to do in Porto and Lisbon. We’ll go into them later on in this post, but they’re ideal for winter city breaks.
Or, visit lesser-known Portuguese cities like Braga and Sagres.
Try Portuguese food
Whether you fancy fresh seafood or Francescina, a staple from Porto, there’s a great food scene in the country.
During winter, enjoy delicious pastels de nata and fresh codfish – a Portuguese Christmas speciality. Oh, and don’t miss Bolo Rei, which translates to King’s Cake and is the most popular festive dessert.
Walk along beaches
Ok, it’s not quite sunbathing weather in winter, but you might be lucky enough to still enjoy some bright sunshine during the cooler months.
The Algarve, Madeira and Azores are definitely winter sun destinations where you can sit out and enjoy the sunshine – and in the Azores, you might even see dolphins!
Take in other hiking trails
As well as the epic cities, Portugal has plenty of natural wonders!
You can take in some of the amazing beaches of the Algarve, as well as plenty of dramatic shores on the Atlantic Ocean.
Plus, the hiking trails in Madeira are really something special.
While the water’s a bit cooler in the winter months, it’s actually peak season for surfing.
The classic beaches of Faro, Cascais and Sagres have waves so big that international surf competitions are held here.
Portugal isn’t known as one of the best ski destinations in Europe, but there’s one ski resort in the east of the country, near the border with Spain. Head to Serra da Estrela to hit the slopes.
Just down the road sits Cabeca, which is known as the Christmas capital of Portugal!
Places to visit in Portugal in winter
Portugal’s buzzing capital and largest city, Lisbon is thriving day and night with arts, culture and history.
There’s so much to enjoy here, from the winding roads of Alfama to the historical district that was built after an 18th-century earthquake.
While Lisbon is popular in the summer months, it can be very, very busy and sweaty – so much so that I actually prefer Lisbon in winter.
On my January trip, the sky was clear 90% of the time and the temperatures reached 17°C!
Nearly all of Lisbon’s attractions are accessible in the winter months.
Hike up to a viewpoint to admire the city views (much more pleasant in the mild winter weather!), take in the history at Belem Tower, brighten up your winter break at the pink street, roam around the fairytale castle of Sintra, get lost in the winding streets of Alfama and eat as many pasteis de nata as you possibly can.
A popular city for digital nomads, Lisbon is just as alive in the winter months as it is in the summer!
The Portuguese capital in winter is an absolute delight!
Portugal’s second city, Porto is situated in the north of the country. This means that it can be a little chillier than Lisbon, but still warmer than Northern European destinations!
There are so many things to do in Porto, with gorgeous Moorish architecture dating back to the 14th century, cobbled streets and incredible churches.
Visit the cathedral of Sé do Porto (and climb to the top for an epic view of the city!) and don’t miss Igreja de Santo and Igreja do Carmo, two churches whose facades are clad with typical azulejos.
Another must-do is to go over other side of the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia.
This is where the port wine cellars are located.
A glass of port wine will certainly warm you up on a cooler day!
You can also do a boat cruise down the River Douro to see the best sights.
Speaking of local specialities, don’t miss Francesinha – a sandwich consisting of toasted bread and meat, bathed in melted yellow cheese – the most characteristic dish of Porto.
Visit Franceschina de Baixa for a few different specialities, including a vegan option.
Covered with vineyards, the landscapes of the Duoro Valley contrast with the blue river, and provide inspiring scenery even during the cold season.
The Douro covers a vast region, home to many pretty towns such as Pinhão, Tua and Peso da Régua which is located by the river.
The Linha do Douro travels along the valley from Porto and is often considered the most picturesque railway line in all of Portugal.
Of course, the most famous thing about the Douro Valley is Port wine.
This is the only area where grapes for the wine can be made, and the wineries are open even in winter.
In Peso da Regua you can visit the Douro Museum, which shows its history and the culture related to the production of wine in this region.
As some of these wineries are quite remote, the best way to see them is on a tour.
Since Faro is the capital of the Algarve region, and an international airport is also located here, it’s quite a popular destination in Portugal, both for a city break and beach getaway.
It’s a bit cooler for beaches in the winter season, but the cooler weather makes it the perfect time to explore Faro’s many attractions.
See the old defensive walls and the system of towers, built by the Moors of the 9th century, museums, dozens of churches and a beautiful baroque cathedral.
The Cidade Velha, the Old Town of Faro is the historical core of the city.
Partially surrounded by 16th-century walls built on Roman foundations, the focal point of which is the imposing Sé cathedral with a dazzling baroque interior with gilded, lacquered wood carvings and delicate azulejo tiles.
The old town is just a step away from the beautiful harbour full of yachts and boats.
Right next to it there is an interesting Maritime Museum and the famous Cabo de Santa Maria lighthouse.
The coldest month is January, with daytime temperatures of 12°C, which makes the region one of the warmest in the country.
Lagos is one of the main holiday cities in Portugal and a favourite destination for plenty of tourists even in winter, as the weather is still relatively mild and sunny.
Beaches are the main attractions here – head to Meia Praia, Vale de Lama and Praia de Camilo for starters.
Lagos’ cultural highlights include the remarkable Museu Municipal and the adjoining cathedral, Igreja de Santo António, which has one of the most ornate interiors in the region.
Off the coast of Lagos stands Fort Ponta da Bandeira, which was built around the year 1690 to protect the city from attacks by pirates.
The Ciência Viva de Lagos Science Centre is also an interesting place to visit. Here, you can explore interactive attractions and experiences.
Also, don’t miss Castelo dos Governadores, Lagos’s castle.
If you seek relaxation in luxurious surroundings this winter, Vilamoura is the perfect destination!
Vilamoura Beach is a large stretch of sandy coastline between the marina to the west and the port of Quarteira to the east.
In the heart of Vilamoura, there is a marina that can accommodate over a thousand ships.
The marina is surrounded by large hotels as well as a casino, golf courses and sports facilities.
This is the Portuguese Algarve, and it’s a popular place for a beach getaway, but while it’s a bit cooler in the winter months, it’s generally still warm enough to sit outdoors.
Just down the road from Vilamoura, also in the Algarve, sits Albuferia.
Albufeira town offers pristine beaches such as Pescadores, Oura and Sao Rafael.
It also boasts several interesting museums as well as a local promenade with dozens of benches decorated with beautiful azulejos.
The city has two main tourist centres:
- Areias de São João, which is a car-free street with clubs, discos and restaurants, famous for its nightlife and
- The Old Town, a magical maze of narrow streets with historic tenement houses. Here you will find the main church in the city – Igreja Matriz.
Did you know that Portugal has its own Christmas village, located far away in the Serra da Estrela mountains?
Cabeça, hidden in the serpentine mountain roads of Serra da Estrela, comes to life during the Christmas season and turns into a Christmas village.
Every year, the village is decorated with natural materials like bark, moss, branches of conifers and vines, natural bristle brooms or wool.
All the Christmas decorations on the houses are then lit by LEDs, which creates a magical ambience in the evening!
A festive atmosphere, traditional snacks and handicrafts await here for anyone wishing to traverse the winding mountain roads of the Serra da Estrela.
It’s one of the most charming villages in Portugal, especially during Christmastime!
Braga is a diverse and fascinating city and one of the most interesting day trip destinations from Porto.
Tourists come to Braga not only for the atmosphere of this city during the cold season but also for the history that you can see and feel here at almost every step.
Braga is considered the centre of religious worship in Portugal, with the cathedral being the most important place of worship, in fact, it’s one of the most important places of worship in the country!
In Braga, you’ll find one of the most impressive monuments in Northern Portugal.
This is the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This beautiful church is known for its baroque steps that climb the slope of a steep hill, symbolising the ascent to heaven.
In addition to Braga’s numerous churches, here you’ll find charming shopping streets, elegant baroque palaces and magnificent squares.
Due to its location, Braga does not enjoy as much sun as, for example, Lisbon or the Algarve.
It rains very often here, and the winters are quite cold for this part of Europe.
However, if you’re exploring Northern Portugal, especially if you’re in the Porto region, it’s well worth taking a side trip to this lesser-known city!
Sagres is a charming town in Southern Portugal, and it’s also one of the most well-known surfing destinations in the country.
Explore epic nature and spectacular views over high cliffs. It’s the southernmost point of Portugal and Continental Europe.
Sagres is known for its high waves and perfect conditions for surfing.
Majestic cliffs, beautiful beaches and the power of the Atlantic Ocean are ideal for surfers, but there’s plenty more for beach lovers – even in the winter months!
Praia do Martinhal is a wide sandy beach that’s popular with tourists and surrounded by numerous hotels.
The lighthouse located here is visible from 50 km in the ocean and has the longest range of light in Europe.
Sagres is considered to be the link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, so you should see Cape St. Vincent when you’re here.
This is the most southwestern point of continental Europe, which was considered the end of the world centuries ago.
Peniche is a traditional fishing town that has turned into a popular tourist destination over the years thanks to the wonderful beaches of the region.
If you appreciate a nice and calm place to relax and don’t mind wearing a windbreaker while walking on an empty beach, this is the perfect destination for your winter travel!
The surrounding beaches are famous for their epic surf waves that attract seasoned fans of the sport, even during the colder months of the year.
Peniche is the most popular surfing holiday destination in Portugal and it has been selected as a permanent spot every October for the World Tour of the World Surf League.
In the south of Peniche is Supertubos, officially known as Praia do Medão, which is exposed to the might of the Atlantic Ocean, but at the same time sheltered from the violent northern winds.
This creates long, tunnel-like waves, making it a surfing paradise.
One of the best attractions of this region is the Berlenga Islands, the oldest nature reserve in Portugal, which also houses the spectacular São João Baptista Fort.
The islands can be visited on a day trip from Peniche, with regular boat trips departing from the port.
Serra da Estrela
The most famous mountain range in Portugal, Serra da Estrela has the highest peak in the country’s mainland and throughout winter, snow is guaranteed here.
If you want to practice seasonal sports, the snowy Serra da Estrela will not disappoint!
It is the only place in Portugal where you can ski and snowboard in the winter.
Comfortable mountain hotels and hostels with relaxing spa centres are the perfect place for a romantic getaway for two, an adventurous weekend with friends or a family winter holiday.
While in Serra da Estrela, enjoy the glacial valleys of Loriga and Manteigas, Covão d’Ameia, Poço do Inferno and the springs of Zêzere and Mondego.
The highest village in Portugal, Marvão used to be described as an eagle’s nest hidden in the mountains.
With a panoramic view of the vast plains of the Alentejo region, Marvão is a castle-filled town surrounded by mediaeval walls, from which there is a wonderful promenade to the area.
Marvão is undoubtedly perfect for a walk among the white houses and visiting the Medieval castle from the 13th century.
It’s perfectly well preserved, which makes it one of the most popular castles in all of Portugal.
Besides the Castle, there is also the Museum of Marvão, Santiago Church and Portagem Beach.
Madeira is an archipelago on the Atlantic Ocean that basks in eternal spring, making it one of the most popular islands in Europe to visit when it’s cooler!
Winter there is very mild and sunny – you’ll usually just need a light jacket.
However, the weather changes very quickly, so you must be prepared for sudden rain and drops in temperature.
There’s lots of hiking, epic views from incredible vantage points and amazing beaches.
The richness of nature and many types of flowers mean that for many, Madeira is a garden of paradise.
Madeira is an ideal choice for people who like to spend their time actively, especially hiking in the mountains or walking in nature.
The local trails along the levadas or crossing steep volcanic slopes are unique and full of greenery.
There’s also Santa Cruz Water Park, which is open year-round, even in the winter!
The Azores Islands are an archipelago of nine volcanic islands lying in the middle of the Atlantic.
While it’s much milder than mainland Portugal and a lot of the rest of Europe, winters can be very rainy.
Most tourists visiting the Azores concentrate on the island of Sao Miguel, which is the most accessible and is fully packed with tourist attractions!
Visit the historical centre of the capital of Ponta Delgada, the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno viewpoint, the colourful lakes at Lagoa das Sete Cidades and the porcelain factory in Lagoa or the Nossa Senhora Do Monte chapel.
Although the Azores are famous for whale watching, winter might not be the best season for doing that. Fewer species are migrating during that time, so you’re less likely to see them.
But you can still see them in winter!
Don’t miss seeing lagoons or visiting the hot springs on the island.
In the Azores, be sure to visit the only tea plantation in Europe, with a free tea factory tour and beverage tasting.
The best things to do in Portugal in the winter!
So, if you want to experience one of the cheapest countries in Western Europe, with charming villages, amazing beaches, and beautiful cities, then head to Portugal!
Whether you want to experience the culture and ancient cities of Northern Portugal or the warmer temperatures of the Algarve in the south of the country, you’ll have a fantastic time if you follow this winter in Europe guide.