The Best Time To Visit Portugal – Get the Most Out of Your Trip!

The Best Time To Visit Portugal – Get the Most Out of Your Trip!

When I think about Portugal, the first thing that comes to mind is Fado, the most tender and deeply moving music I have ever heard, and the many evenings I spent listening to Amelia Rodrigues and Mariza. Live Fado is one of the delights you can expect to find during your evenings out in Lisbon and Coimbra, preferably with a Portuguese wine for company.

Why visit Portugal

Portugal boasts a large variety of charming cities, 850 kilometers of coastline and more than 30 national parks. The capital of Lisbon isn’t only a gastronomic and cultural hot spot with some of Portugal’s most iconic maritime monuments, but it is also one of the cheapest capitals in all of Europe. Porto is situated just by the Douro River estuary, which earned the city a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1996. Next to the more famous cities, you can also explore a handful of hidden gems to escape the tourist crowds such as the 13th century lakeside village of Ferreira do Zêzere and the ancient, mountain village of Monsanto.

Portugal’s entire western and southern regions border the Atlantic ocean. Back in 2017, the country had gained a higher percentage of Blue Flag beaches than any other European nation, making its beaches some of the cleanest on the whole continent. The popular, sun-drenched destination of The Algarve alone has 86 beaches awarded with the Flag. But even if you favor the quiet spots, you will find that the entire western border is dotted with pristine beaches.

You can take day trips from almost every major city in Portugal and explore some of the country’s natural heritage. The medieval university town of Coimbra, for example, is only a stone throw away from the ancient Buçaco Forest, home to a walled arboretum boasting one of Europe’s finest dendrological collections. Just north of Lisbon, you can visit the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascais, where you hike the unspoiled, rocky coastlines.

And of course, a couple of words about Fado. Fado translates as fate and while it has been recognized as UNESCO Word Heritage since 2011, it has been Portugal’s sweetly passionate soundtrack for 200 years. The delicate yet powerful voice of the fadista mourns death, sorrow and love while being accompanied by mandolins and the 12 string Portuguese guitar. There are two distinct types of Fado and if you are interested in experiencing them in its traditional form, you can do so in Lisbon in the districts of Mouraria and Alffama, and Coimbra. The difference between them? Coimbra Fado was developed by students in the early 20th century and features male voices accompanied by guitar, where Lisbon fado can be performed by both genders. Additionally, the original Fado from Lisbon would often find resignation in sorrow and hardship, where the Coimbra fado would seek a way to overcome it. Which one do I prefer? They are really too different to pick a favorite, but I fell in love with Fado when listening to the immortal Amelia Rodriguez!

The best time to visit Portugal

With 3000 hours of sunshine per year, Portugal can be enjoyed all-year-round. With a pretty mild climate, temperatures rarely reach extremely high or extremely low numbers, although they get higher the further south you go. Take advantage of this and base your time to travel on other things like activities, budget and events!

Average temperatures

JAN

FEB

MARCH

APR

MAY

JUNE

JULY

AUG

SEPT

OCT

NOV

DEC

Lisbon

11 C

52 F

13 C

55 F

15 C

59 F

15 C

59 F

17 C

63 F

20 C

68 F

24 C

75 C

24 C

75 F

22 C

72 F

18 C

64 F

16 C

61 F

12 C

54 F

Porto

10 C

50 F

11 C

52 F

13 C

55 F

15 C

59 F

15 C

59 F

20 C

68 F

22 C

72 F

22 C

72 F

20 C

68 F

16 C

61 F

14 C

57 F

12 C

54 F

Algarve

13 C

55 F

13 C

55 F

15 C

59 F

16 C

61 F

18 C

64 F

22 C

72 F

27 C

81 F

27 C

81 F

25 C

76 F

18 C

64 F

15 C

59 F

12 C

54 F

Best time to visit Portugal on a budget

January, February and the shoulder seasons of late spring and late autumn are your best chances to get a good deal. Avoid the summer months and the holiday seasons.

Budget travelers should also be aware that Portugal has some quality camping grounds and with the highly developed infrastructure, you can road trip through the country and set up camp as you go. Only visit the legally appointed camping grounds! Wild camping is prohibited.

Best time to visit the Portuguese beaches

You can visit the beaches all-year-round, but if you are a keen swimmer, you should note that Portugal isn’t known for having the warmest waters, especially in the north. Even during the early summer months, you may find the waters a little bit chilly. You can enjoy the warmer temperatures between July and September but remember, these come with the biggest crowds too!

Best time to visit Portugal for surfers

Make that seasoned surfers! If you visit Portugal during the winter months, you can expect truly gigantic waves in Peniche and Nazaré. It is even worth a stop just to watch the pros tackle the monstrous waves. If you feel that you are not yet ready for the big ones, head to the beaches around Porto instead.

Best time to visit the Algarve

The Algarve is the most popular tourist destination as well as the hottest region in all of Portugal. The shoulder seasons (Spring and autumn) are ideal to avoid both the crowds as well as the sun. As mentioned before, the water might be a bit too cold for swimming but this is the best time to enjoy some beach time, golf and hiking.

Summer events

  • International Sand Sculpture Festival (FIESA, March – August)
  • Rock in Rio-Lisboa (late June)
  • Festa dos Tabuleiros (July)
  • Festa de São João de Porto (June)

The International Sand Sculpture Festival

In the Algarve has been an annual tradition since 2003. Artists transform 40,000 tonnes of sand into works of art depicting anything from places and people to imaginary concepts in incredible detail. During the day you can attend workshops, demonstrations and competitions, and at night you can explore the masterpieces all lit up.

If you favor a more lively experience, Lisbon’s Bela Vista Park hosts Rock in Rio-Lisboa, a 4-day festival held at the end of June. Rock may be a prominent feature, but there are sounds and flavors for all ages, including an “Electro Tent” welcoming world renowned DJs.

The Festa dos Tabuleiros

Is celebrated every 4 years in Tomar and is one of Portugal’s most unique festivities. The festival has its roots in ancient Portuguese millenarian rituals furthering the ceremonies of the “Procession of the Boys”, “Procession of the Crowns”, the “Arrival of the Bulls of the Holy Spirit” and the “Procession of the Mordomo”. Boys and girls walk in pairs with the girls holding 30 pieces of bread (tabuleiro) on their head. The bread is later shared among the people.

The Festa de São João de Porto

mixes religious tradition with the profane in a midsummer festival that has inspired Brazil’s more flashy version of the event. The festival pays tribute to Saint John the Baptist but also has a pagan courting ritual tied to it, expressed by people hitting each other with plastic hammers or garlic flowers when they like each other.

Autumn events

São Martinho (November 11th)

Autumn bids farewell to lively festivals and is somewhat of a buffer between the hot, Summer celebrations and the Winter carnivals. This time of the year yields some colder but pleasant temperatures as well as less crowds and has one, unique festival worthy of a place on this list. November 11th remembers a Roman soldier who cut of half his cloak to give to a beggar. After this act of charity, the sun appeared and warmed them both. As a result, this day celebrates beginnings. The chestnuts are ripening, the first wines are ready to be savored and the warm, winter sun announces itself. If you want to experience the tradition São Martinho festivities, you should travel north to Beira Baixa, Trás-os-Montes, Penafiel and Golegã.

Winter events

  • Careto (February – most active on Shrove Tuesday)
  • Carnival of Madeira (February – 40 days before Easter)
  • Carnival of Ovar (February – March)

Welcome to carnival season, also the season for one of the oldest and arguably most odd traditions still alive in Portugal. Careto is a Celtic religious feast and ritual celebrated in a handful of regions such as Podence, Varge and Vila Boa de Ousilhão. Men dress up as Caretos, stepping into colorful wool costumes, putting on painted wooden masks and rattling their belts. They appear all over the village scaring people, robbing wineries and pursuing young, single women.

The Carnival of Madeira is known as one of the best carnivals in all of Europe. The famous Brazilian Carnival most likely finds its roots here. This annual festival takes place 40 days before Easter and features two major parades. The first centers around movement and shows the participants dancing to Samba music. The second parade invites everyone to take part, dressed up like caricatures of their own imagination. The Carnival of Ovar, by contrast, is less historical in its origins and more focused on tourists, attracting thousands of travelers every year. Active as recent as 1952, it mixes samba school parades with local traditions.

Spring events

  • Semana Santa (March – April)
  • Festa das Cruzes (25th of April – 5th of May)
  • Peregrinação de Fátima ( 12th and 13th of May)
  • Feast Day of Saint Anthony (12th and 13th of June)

Spring in Portugal is strongly defined by festivals related to saints. Portugal is predominantly Catholic, but that doesn’t mean these festivals are all purely solemn and religious. The Festa das Cruzes was a religious rite practiced by pilgrims all over the country, but since the 19th century it has seen quite a secular reform featuring horse races, circuses, parades in folk costumes and fireworks.

Still holding on to its religious roots, the Peregrinação de Fátima remembers the 1917 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Leiria-Fatima. After a candlelight procession held on the 12th of May, a second procession is held on the 13th where a statue of the Virgin is carried high altar to the Capelinha das Aparições (Chapel of the Apparitions).

If you are a fish lover, the Feast Day of Saint Anthony, also known as the festival of sardines, could see you fulfilled. The festival celebrates 13th century friar Saint Anthony of Padua, whose words made the fish rise out of the water at a time when the locals wouldn’t hear him. People dress up in friar wigs and enjoy the sardines grilled on the churrascos.

Semana Santa features a whole week of processions with its most stunning ones in Braga and Loulé. While interesting to experience, also note that a lot of local businesses will be closed.

Frequently asked questions

Is it safe to travel to Portugal?

Yes, Portugal is most definitely a safe place to visit. The country ranks 13th in the list of the world’s safest countries and the only real concern is pickpockets at a tourist destination and mugging in the more isolated areas. So, always keep your belongings close (think safety belt) and inform yourself of the areas that are less safe, especially when visiting bigger cities.

Is English widely spoken in Portugal?

You won’t have any trouble finding people who speak English when visiting the tourist hot spots. You might find it a bit more of a challenge in the remote areas but when all is said and done, more people speak English in Portugal than they do in France or Spain!

What is Portugal famous for?

This article has probably given you a pretty clear idea already, but I can reveal a little bit more to you. Portugal’s beaches attract a lot of tourist attention as well as the charming towns and intoxicating festivals, but did you know Portugal has one of the oldest borders in the world left unchanged since 1297? With its 1,214 km, it is even considered the longest uninterrupted border in the European Union.

When it comes to food and drink, everyone knows that the local ports can’t be ignored. But make sure to pick up a few custard pastries, or Pastéis de Nata, and definitely try the kale-based soup Calde Verde, typically enjoyed at celebrations such as birthdays and weddings (If you are a vegetarian or vegan, make sure to order it without the sausage!).

Another aspect that stands out in Portugal, is colour. You may have seen some photos pass by of houses decorates with bright blue tiles, sometimes with immaculately detailed scenery painted on them. Their influence dates back the 13th-century Moorish invasions, but it wasn’t until the reign of King Manual I, that the artistic tile-work truly found its voice.

I suppose I have already made it clear in the introduction but yes, Portugal is also famous for Fado! Try to experience both the Lisbon and Coimbra styles if you get a chance.

Is it easy to get around in Portugal?

Portugal has invested greatly in its public transportation network and all of the larger cities are connected by trains. Lisbon and Porto both have an efficient and reliable metro system which is your best option for exploring the town. Buses are also widely available and you might even get a 40% discount if you book your ticket at one of the yellow Carris booths in Lisbon.

Is Portugal expensive to visit?

If you are travelling during the summer months, you will experience Portugal at its most expensive. But even that is still cheaper than its neighbour Spain, and about half the price of destinations such as the UK. If you are eating out at the tourist hot spots, however, you will pay a similar price than you would back home.

Conclusion

Our advise when traveling to Portugal? Determine what you would like to do and experience rather than how hot it may be outside. There are many ways you can explore the local cultures and traditions and with such a rich heritage, we strongly recommend that you experience at least one local event while here. Budget travelers will find their favorite seasons in winter, spring and autumn which, luck might have it, also frees you up to explore some of the country’s most intriguing festivals.

Further read:

Mieke Leenders

Mieke is a writer and traveler from Belgium. After obtaining her master’s degree in art history, she spent several years working as a freelance writer, project worker, animal volunteer and hotel shift-leader. After she saved enough money, she quit her job and decided to travel through Asia and Latin America. While she was working as an assistant teacher in Costa Rica, she met her favorite student and now husband during an English conversation class. Mieke is currently residing in Costa Rica where she reconnected with her love for writing and is eagerly planning her next adventure.