Open plaza in Lisbon with view of Christmas tree and archway

December in Portugal: Winter Holiday Weather, Tips and More

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Wondering what December in Portugal is like?

While many associate Portugal with golden beaches and sizzling summer sun, December offers its own unique charm, revealing a side of Portugal that is equally enchanting and often overlooked. Having spent some time in December in Portugal myself, I can confirm that it’s certainly worth a winter visit.

December in Portugal Weather

So, what is December in Portugal like when it comes to the weather? This is likely one of your top questions as you contemplate visiting Portugal in winter.

What is the Weather in December in Portugal?

Portugal weather in December is mild winter weather, with average temperatures ranging from 8°C (46°F) to 15°C (59°F) in most parts of the country. Rainfall is more frequent, especially in the northern regions, while the south usually remains drier.

The days are shorter and sunlight is less intense than in summer months, but you’re still likely to enjoy sunshine as Portugal averages approximately 300 days of sunshine a year!

Does it snow in December in Portugal?

Snow in December in Portugal is quite rare, but not impossible. In the mainland, snowfall is typically limited to the highest mountain regions, such as the Serra da Estrela which is home to Portugal’s only ski resort.

In the major cities and coastal regions, you can pretty much expect a snow-free season, as these areas often experience milder winter temperatures. Rather than snow, you’re more likely to experience rain in Portugal in December.

Is it warm in December in Portugal?

Lisbon portugal where to stay

“Warm” is a relative term depending on your hometown and comfort zone. For me personally, as a Chicagoan, December in Portugal felt extremely pleasant!

For most, Portugal in December is not typically considered warm in a traditional sense. However, compared to many European countries, the temperatures are mild. The daily average temperature ranges between 8°C (46°F) and 15°C (59°F), which can feel pleasantly cool rather than cold.

The weather is comfortable enough for exploring the cities and even enjoying outdoor dining. Even in the warmest cities of Portugal in December, like Albuferia or Madeira, temperatures will tend to be in the 60s (F).

Where to go in Portugal in December

From bustling cities, vineyard valleys, small towns and coastal surf spots the country of Portugal offers a lot more than you might expect. What Portugal destinations should you add to your December itinerary?

Lisbon

View of Christmas tree, black and white tiled sidewalk and yellow building in Lisbon Portugal in December

Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is still worth visiting in December. The streets sparkle with twinkling lights, adding a festive glow to the city’s historic architecture.

Christmas markets, such as the ‘Wonderland Lisboa’ in Parque Eduardo VII and the ‘Feira do Natal’ in Rossio Square, spring up across the city, offering unique local crafts, gourmet food items and festive entertainment.

On my latest visit to Lisbon in December I stayed at this hotel which even overlooked the festivities in Rossio Square!

The weather in Lisbon during December is typically mild with average temperatures hovering around 15°C (59°F). While there might be some rain, it’s usually light and intermittent. You’re likely to experience clear and sunny days as well.

December is also an excellent time to visit Lisbon due to smaller crowds. You can explore major attractions such as the Belém Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, nearby Sintra and the Alfama district at a leisurely pace, without the hustle and bustle of summer tourists.

Plus, the local ‘pastel de nata’ tastes just as delightful, if not more, when enjoyed with a warm cup of coffee on a cool December day. Soak in the cozy vibes!

Porto

view over the red rooftops of Porto Portugal

Portugal’s second city, Porto, embraces December with a charm all its own. This northern city, famous for its port wine and stunning river views, offers a more laid-back, authentic Portuguese experience.

Porto also transform into a festive wonderland in December. The city squares are illuminated with enchanting holiday lights, and Christmas markets pop up offering everything from traditional Portuguese crafts to irresistible holiday treats.

One must-visit is the ‘Mercado de Natal’ at the Palacio de Cristal, which runs from December 1st-23rd and offers an array of local crafts, food and wine.

The weather in Porto can be a bit chilly, with temperatures normally ranging from 5°C (41°F) to 14°C (57°F), so pack warmer clothes. Rain is also common, but the wet streets only add to the city’s character as they reflect the twinkling holiday lights.

Similarly to Lisbon, visiting Porto in December also means fewer tourists, which allows for a more relaxed exploration of the city’s gems like the Livraria Lello, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world, and the historic São Bento Railway Station, known for its intricate tilework.

And of course, no visit to Porto would be complete without a visit to the port wine cellars for a wine tasting session. In December, you can enjoy this experience without the usual crowds, making it even more memorable.

Algarve

Known for its stunning coastal landscapes, breathtaking cliffs, sun-kissed beaches, and charming villages, Algarve offers a milder winter experience compared to the rest of the country.

In December, the temperatures in this southernmost region of Portugal generally range from 12°C (54°F) to 19°C (66°F), making it one of the warmer places in Portugal during the winter. You can still enjoy long walks along the beautiful beaches, although maybe with a light jacket to keep you comfortable.

Algarve’s towns like Faro, Lagos, and Tavira are less crowded this time of year, allowing you to fully soak up their traditional charm. Various Christmas markets and events take place throughout the region, where you can pick up unique handicrafts or indulge in festive treats.

Although swimming might be off the table for most (unless you’re a brave soul), many water sports like surfing and kiteboarding continue to attract enthusiasts due to the active sea conditions.

Visiting the stunning natural parks or playing a round at one of Algarve’s world-class golf courses are other excellent outdoor activities to consider. And let’s not forget the region’s fantastic seafood cuisine, best enjoyed with a sea view and a glass of local wine— guaranteed to inspire festive cheer in Algarve in December!

Madeira

Madeira, an archipelago located in the Atlantic ocean, is another fantastic choice for a December visit. Despite its location closer to Africa than Europe, it maintains the charm and culture of Portugal with a tropical twist.

In December, Madeira experiences a subtropical climate with average temperatures ranging from 16°C (61°F) to 20°C (68°F). It’s the ideal destination for those seeking warmth and sunshine even in the heart of winter.

Madeira is known for its New Year’s Eve celebration, one of the most spectacular in the world. In 2006, Madeira achieved the Guinness World Record certificate for the largest fireworks display! If you’re planning to be there in December, I highly recommend sticking around for this unforgettable celebration.

Even before the New Year, Christmas in Madeira is a joyous time. The streets of Funchal are adorned with festive decorations and the ‘Mercado dos Lavradores’, a local market, is a buzz with activity. Here, you can find unique fruits, flowers and traditional holiday treats like ‘bolo de mel’, a local honey cake.

Nature enthusiasts will enjoy exploring Madeira’s unique terrain, from its dramatic cliffs and rugged coastlines to its lush forests and serene levadas (irrigation channels). The weather in December is comfortable for outdoor activities such as hiking and sightseeing.

And don’t forget to try the local Madeira wine, which has a rich history and distinctive taste. You can even visit some of the historic wineries and enjoy a tasting tour. In the end, a trip to Madeira in December is a perfect blend of relaxation, adventure and cultural immersion.

Things to do in Portugal in December

There are plenty of ways to enjoy Portugal in December for a worthwhile trip. Here are some ideas to help you plan your trip.

Celebrate Christmas in Portugal

christmas tree and christmas market in central square in Portugal

If you’re visiting Portugal in December, join in the holiday celebrations!

In Lisbon, don’t miss the ‘Árvore de Natal’, a giant Christmas tree located at Terreiro do Paço in front of City Hall. Another Christmas highlight in Lisbon is Wonderland Lisboa, which features a festive market, ice rink and carousel rides.

In Porto, you can enjoy a Christmas concert at Casa de Música or a multimedia show at Clerigos Church. And, don’t forget to visit the Mercado de Natal at the Palacio de Cristal.

The Obidos Christmas village is another highlight as the city transforms into a winter wonderland this time of year. Here, visitors can enjoy a range of festive activities and explore the nativity scenes, made with thousands of figures arranged in different settings.

You can also attend midnight mass, hear Christmas carolers and admire the holiday lights all around Portugal.

Enjoy Fado Music

No matter when you visit Portugal, you should plan to attend a Fado music concert. Iconic venues like ‘Clube de Fado’ in Lisbon and ‘Casa da Música’ in Porto host a variety of performances every night.

Fado is a traditional form of Portuguese music, often melancholic but also full of emotion. It’s usually performed by a solo vocalist accompanied by one or two guitarists. The lyrics often tell stories about the hardships of life and love, which is reflected in the haunting sounds it produces.

For an authentic experience of Fado music, book this unique tour that allows you to connect with locals for a more meaningful evening.

Ring in the New Year

Ring in the New Year in style with Portugal’s vibrant New Year’s Eve festivities. Whether you’re in the bustling cities or serene countryside, there’s no shortage of ways to bid farewell to the old year and welcome the new one.

In Lisbon, join the lively celebrations at the Praça do Comércio, the city’s main square, where thousands gather to watch a majestic fireworks display as the clock strikes midnight. With music, dancing, and an atmosphere of joyous revelry, it’s guaranteed to be a night to remember.

For a more tranquil celebration, head to the northern city of Porto. You can spend New Year’s Eve strolling along the picturesque Douro River, enjoying a meal at a riverside restaurant, and watching the spectacular fireworks display from one of the city’s many vantage points.

If you’re in the Algarve, you can celebrate New Year’s Eve at one of the many beach parties or open-air concerts that take place along the coast. With live music, a festive atmosphere and a fireworks display over the Atlantic Ocean, it’s a unique way to ring in the New Year.

Meanwhile, Madeira hosts one of the world’s most famous New Year’s Eve celebrations. The island’s capital, Funchal, is renowned for its incredible fireworks display, which lights up the entire bay and creates a truly magical sight.

Indulge in cozy Portuguese meals

Pasteis de Belem pastel de nata

The December chill in the air makes it a perfect time to indulge in hearty Portuguese meals. Traditional Portuguese cuisine is known for its robust flavors, using simple ingredients that are impeccably prepared. Here are a few dishes to savor during your winter visit.

Caldo Verde

Caldo Verde, which translates to ‘green soup,’ is a Portuguese staple and a perfect comfort food for the chilly December evenings.

This nourishing soup is made with potatoes, collard greens or kale, olive oil and a slice of ‘chouriço’ or spicy Portuguese sausage. It’s served with a slice of cornbread on the side, making it a wholesome meal.

Bacalhau

No visit to Portugal would be complete without tasting Bacalhau, a codfish dish considered the national food of Portugal. There are said to be more than 365 ways to prepare Bacalhau, one for each day of the year.

In December, one popular version is ‘Bacalhau Consoada,’ a traditional Christmas Eve dish that features codfish, thinly sliced potatoes and hard-boiled eggs.

Cozido à Portuguesa

Another hearty winter dish is Cozido à Portuguesa, a traditional Portuguese stew. Ingredients vary by region, but it typically includes an assortment of meats (beef, pork, chicken), sausages, and a variety of vegetables. It’s a slow-cooked dish, allowing all the flavors to meld together beautifully.

Rabanadas

Finally, for dessert, you must try Rabanadas, the Portuguese version of French toast. It’s a traditional Christmas dessert, made by soaking slices of bread in a mixture of milk and eggs, frying them, and then sprinkling them with a mix of cinnamon and sugar.

Remember, in Portugal, food isn’t just a meal; it’s a culinary journey that tells the story of the country’s rich history and culture.

Ice skating

Christmas tree with red and gold ornaments againt yellow castle walls in Sintra during a December in Portugal

A classic activity for winter fun is ice skating, and you can find ice skating rinks around Portugal in December where you can glide to your heart’s content!

In Lisbon, Wonderland Lisboa hosts a large open-air ice rink. The atmosphere here is festive and welcoming, making it an ideal family activity.

In Porto, the Christmas Village at the Palacio de Cristal sets up an ice rink where both kids and adults can skate while enjoying the festive decorations and lights.

There’s also an opportunity to ice skate at Cascais Christmas Market, in front of the church in Óbidos, and more.

Participate in Winter Sports in Serra da Estrela

For those seeking a bit of exhilaration, Serra da Estrela, the highest mountain range in mainland Portugal, is a must-visit. Mid-December marks the beginning of the ski season and this natural park transforms into a winter sports paradise.

The main ski resort, Vodafone Ski Resort, offers a range of winter activities most famously including skiing and snowboarding.

Whether you’re an experienced skier or a first-timer, there are slopes and equipment rentals to suit all levels. Don’t worry if you’re a novice, as the resort also offers professional lessons.

Beyond the slopes, Serra da Estrela offers nature trails for hiking, lookout points for epic vistas and even a bread museum! If you’re souvenir-shopping, look for socks made from Portuguese woolen fabric called Burel.

After a day of winter sports, unwind with a cup of warming ‘ginja,’ a traditional Portuguese cherry liqueur. Or, treat yourself to a slice of Serra da Estrela cheese, a local delicacy that’s perfectly creamy and satisfying after a day in the cold.

Go Surfing During Peak Season

Despite the colder weather, late winter marks the beginning of the peak surf season in Portugal. The Atlantic coastline of Portugal is renowned for its world-class waves, attracting surfers from around the globe who are eager to ride the winter swells.

I first learned about Portugal’s world-renowned surfing scene myself when chatting with avid surfers I met in Costa Rica.

One of the popular surfing destinations is Nazaré, home to the biggest waves ever surfed. Its North Beach achieved worldwide fame when Hawaiian pro surfer Garrett McNamara surfed a record-breaking wave here.

Although Nazaré’s monstrous waves are primarily for highly skilled and professional surfers, there’s also a range of smaller breaks suitable for beginners and intermediate surfers.

Ericeira, Europe’s first World Surfing Reserve, is another go-to spot, boasting seven separate surf breaks along a 4km stretch of coastline. The beach of Ribeira d’Ilhas, known for its consistent right-hand point break, hosts a World Qualifying Series competition each year.

The Algarve region in southern Portugal is yet another option, particularly for those preferring slightly warmer temperatures. It offers a variety of surf spots that work in different swell and wind conditions, ensuring a good chance of finding rideable waves.

Regardless of your skill level, remember that winter surfing presents unique challenges, including bigger waves and colder water, so be sure to check local conditions and respect safety guidelines.

Consider taking a lesson or hiring a guide if you’re unfamiliar with the local surf breaks.

But braving the winter chill will reward you with uncrowded line-ups and exhilarating rides. Once you’re done for the day, there’s nothing like cozying up with a hot drink in a local café, recounting your adventures on the Portuguese waves.

Explore a Museum

Portugal boasts a wealth of museums, each offering a unique perspective into the nation’s rich history and culture.

In Lisbon, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is a must-visit, housing an impressive collection of ancient and modern art.

Another highlight in Lisbon is the Museu Nacional do Azulejo, dedicated to the azulejo,the blue-and-white tiles that are a common feature in Portuguese architecture. This museum is housed in a former convent, offering another reason to visit and explore.

In Porto, the Serralves Museum is a must for contemporary art lovers. Set in an Art Deco estate, it hosts rotating exhibitions of renowned international artists, along with a permanent collection that focuses on art from the 1960s onward.

For history buffs, the Museu Nacional de Soares dos Reis in Porto, named after sculptor Antonio Soares dos Reis, offers a comprehensive look at the fine and decorative arts from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Lastly, the Museu da Comunidade Concelhia da Batalha (Batalha Community Museum) dives into the region’s history, particularly the Battle of Aljubarrota, the significant event that secured Portugal’s independence from Castile.

In case of a rainy day or chillier-than-comfortable weather, plan to escape the elements by touring a museum instead.

Go Hiking

Portugal’s diverse landscape offers an array of thrilling and beautiful hiking trails, even in December. Walking in the cooler weather, the trails are less crowded, rendering your hiking experience peaceful and serene.

One such trail is the Rota Vicentina in the Alentejo region, which combines stunning coastal views with charming rural scenery. The trails are well marked and managed, and provide a unique opportunity to explore the region’s rich biodiversity.

In the north, the Peneda-Gerês National Park, the only national park in Portugal, offers a variety of hiking trails across dramatic landscapes including waterfalls, valleys, and mountain peaks.

December is a magical time to visit, with crisp air, beautiful light, and the chance to spot wild Garrano horses.

In Madeira, the levada walks offer a unique hiking experience. These irrigation canal paths crisscross the island and were originally created to distribute rainfall from the wetter north to the drier agricultural regions in the south.

The Levada do Caldeirão Verde is one of the most popular, passing through evergreen forest, tunnels, and ending with a stunning waterfall.

Remember, winter conditions can be unpredictable. Always check the weather before you head out, wear appropriate clothing and footwear, and notify someone of your hiking plans.

Once you’ve taken these precautions, you’re sure to enjoy the tranquillity and beauty of Portugal’s winter landscape.

What to Pack for Portugal in December

Packing for December in Portugal calls for a mix of light layers and warmer clothing.

  • Warm clothing: Pack a few sweaters, long-sleeved shirts, and a warm coat or jacket for the cooler evenings. Fleece-lined leggings and jeans are also a good idea.
  • Comfortable footwear: Whether you plan to explore the cities or hike in nature reserves, comfortable shoes are essential. Waterproof boots might come in handy if you’ll be in areas that get rain this time of year.
  • Accessories: Don’t forget a scarf, gloves and a hat to protect against the slight chill in the air.
  • Versatile clothing: Pack some light layers as well, such as T-shirts and light sweaters, as the days can still be quite mild and sunny. This way, you’ll be prepared for a variety of temperatures over the course of your trip.
  • Rain gear: Consider packing a travel umbrella or a waterproof jacket in case of rain. If you plan to stay at a hotel, they may also lend you an umbrella in case of a rainy day.
  • Dressy Outfit: Planning to attend any festive NYE or Christmas celebrations? Pack some dressier clothes fit for these occassions.

December in Portugal FAQ

As you plan your potential visit to Portugal in December, you might also be wondering:

Is it better to visit Spain or Portugal in December?

Personally, I recommend both! But if that’s not possible, consider what you are most hoping to get out of your trip.

Spain is known for its vibrant cities, rich culture and cuisine, and breathtaking natural wonders. And so is Portugal.

On the other hand, Portugal offers a more low-key vibe than Spain, with plenty of quaint towns to explore as well as historical sites and traditional cultural experiences. Although, you could also find elements of this in Spain.

In December, both countries offer mild temperatures during the day that are enhanced by holiday decorations and festive activities. If you want to experience cities in Spain and Portugal to see which adventure calls to you more strongly!

Is Portugal good to visit at Christmas?

Absolutely, Portugal can be a wonderful place to visit at Christmas time. Portuguese cities are beautifully adorned with festive decorations and twinkling lights, creating a magical and warm atmosphere despite the winter chill.

Christmas markets crop up in towns and cities, where you can indulge in traditional treats like Bolo Rei (King Cake), a traditional Portuguese Christmas cake, or shop for unique, handmade holiday gifts.

Many churches in Portugal hold Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, known as “Missa do Galo”, which can be a deeply moving experience whether you’re religious or not. In the Algarve region, the mild winter weather can even allow for a Christmas day walk on the beach.

So, from the festive illuminations of Lisbon to the Christmas markets of Porto, Portugal offers numerous ways to enjoy a unique and memorable holiday season.

Where should I stay in Portugal in December?

In December, finding a place to stay in Portugal depends largely on your interests. If you’re drawn to the festive atmosphere of Christmas markets and holiday lights, staying in one of the major cities like Lisbon or Porto would be a good choice.

Lisbon also offers numerous cultural attractions and its mild winter climate is quite appealing.

If you’re a nature lover, consider staying in the Alentejo region or Madeira. Here, you can enjoy hiking trails with fewer crowds during winter. The Algarve region is also a popular winter destination due to its relatively mild climate, beautiful beaches, and lovely coastal towns.

For those who want a unique cultural experience, staying in the Douro Valley could be an attractive option. Despite it being the off-season for wine production, the region’s stunning landscapes and magnificent vineyards are a sight to behold in the winter.

Lastly, the Azores, with their stunning landscapes and thermal hot springs, are perfect for adventurous travelers.

Regardless of where you choose, make sure to book in advance as some hotels offer great winter discounts that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Conclusion: December in Portugal

Monument of Discoveries in Lisbon

Portugal in December is a great destination for travelers looking to explore its rich culture, stunning landscapes, and warm festive atmosphere. Despite the cooler weather, there are many outdoor activities to enjoy, from hiking trails to beach strolls.

Whether you’re looking for an urban adventure or an escape into nature, Portugal has something unique to offer that everyone can appreciate.

Remember that careful preparation is key: Pack a variety of clothing, comfortable shoes, rainwear and light layers. Most importantly, purchase travel insurance before you go so that you can have peace of mind throughout your trip.