While it’s true that Portugal is bustling in the summer months, you may prefer to plan your trip when it’s not as warm or crowded. In the off-season, tourists have thinned out, leaving you to explore some of Portugal’s most gorgeous cities without droves of enthusiastic visitors.
Plus, you can experience some fantastic events that are set outside of the typical tourist season to gain a more authentic experience about life in Portugal. Here’s a sampling of what Portugal’s cities have to offer in the off-season. If you’re interested in learning about our top restaurant picks for any of these destinations, then be sure to download our short eBook at the end of this post.
Lisbon is Portugal’s capital city and one of the oldest in Europe, and its long history as a major port city means you can see Roman, Moorish and even Indian and African influences. You’ll want to make sure you stop at the Belem Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage site showcasing the architecture and maritime history of Lisbon, as well as the National Coach Museum with its impressive collection of royal coaches. Plan to also visit the Sé Cathedral, sometimes called the Lisbon Cathedral, that’s been standing since the 12th century.
Fish & Flavours Festival
With its stunning location right by the ocean, Lisbon has a tradition of using the freshest fish and seafood in its most famed dishes. The Fish & Flavours Festival that begins in late March celebrates fish with a huge range of different preparations, cooking demos and music for visitors to enjoy.
International Festival of Chocolate
Just north of Lisbon, the city of Obidos holds an annual celebration in mid-March of all things chocolate. Competitions pit renowned pastry chefs against each other while classes can teach you some of their secrets. Don’t miss the chocolate sculptures that are beautiful — if temporary — works of art.
Lisbon Half Marathon
If you enjoy running, why not do it in one of the world’s most enchanting cities? The route starts at the 25th of April Bridge and runs along the Tagus River; both competitive runners and casual walkers take part every March. If you’re not quite ready for the full half, organizers have set up a mini-marathon course just for fun.
Portugal’s second-largest city is well known for the port wine made in the region. In Porto’s center, take a guided tour of the Palacio da Bolsa, a government building that’s anything but dull, and learn about the city’s history. If you’re a soccer fan, the interactive FC Porto Museum can give you a glimpse into the passion surrounding the area’s most popular “futebol” team, or visit the Porto Cathedral that sits above the valley and affords excellent views of the city and surrounding area.
Fantasporto International Film Festival
Fantas, as this film fest is informally known, focuses on the top offerings from fantasy, science fiction and horror producers. More than 100,000 people stream into the city to watch the best of the best independent movies; you can rub elbows with these well-known moviemakers and the occasional celebrity.
Feira do Artesanato do Porto
Designers and artists gather in the center of Porto in mid-December to display arts and crafts created from throughout Portugal. More than 100 artisans take part, and you can spend hours looking for just the right piece to ship home.
This popular vacation spot west of Lisbon boasts a city center with charming cobbled streets and is known for its resort atmosphere and great nightlife.
Where else could you better kick off the new year than in a gorgeous resort town that likes to party? New Year’s in Cascais is a big deal — make reservations for a celebratory meal in one of the fine downtown restaurants, then plan to attend one of the city’s galas or dances. If the weather holds, walk down from Old Town to Pescador Beach to watch a huge display of fireworks sending out the old.
Most cities in European Christendom celebrate some version of Carnivale, a chance to be wild and free before the more reserved season of Lent. Cascais, true to their reputation, hosts a great party atmosphere with a week of parades and parties in February (sometimes early March, depending on the lunar calendar).
This region of Portugal boasts the ancient city of Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage city that encompasses Roman ruins, a medieval wall and a Gothic cathedral. You’ll also want to visit the medieval villages of Marvão and Castelo de Vida, separated by only a few kilometers; if the weather’s pleasant, take the marked walking path through olive groves and farmland.
Quinta do Carmo
Wine lovers will enjoy a tour of Quinta do Carmo, a winemaking facility and center of the area’s Bacalhôa Group production. You’ll be able to visit the cask cellars, after which you can taste some of the group’s popular wines.
The Dolmens of Crato
Dolmens, or prehistoric tombs, are known for their huge and mysterious rock monuments. Crato is home to one of the world’s most famous dolmens, which you can drive right up to. Especially in the off-season, you can walk around the dolmens with few other visitors to distract you from their imposing and ancient construction.
Portugal is filled with cultural and gastronomic events nearly any time of year. If you’re planning an off-season vacation, let us help you plan an itinerary that includes the best events and activities.