Portugal is a destination that’s been getting more and more attention in the past years, and for good reason. The ever present Atlantic Ocean as a blue backdrop to small towns and charming, picturesque cities, great food and wine, mountains and tons of outdoor activities, pretty Portugal is becoming more and more requested as a vacation stop. Though the summer means seeing Portugal at its peak, it’s also Europe’s sunniest capital city- Lisbon gets the most sun each year. Coupled with mild winter temperatures, this means that Portugal isn’t just a destination for the summer- it is also perfect for a winter holiday.
For a winter break to Portugal (or really any trip), you absolutely cannot miss a stop in Lisbon. Besides its winter sun, it’s also home to many famous sites that in the off-season will be pleasantly empty. The famous Torre de Belém without lines, a trip on tram 28 without jostling for space- even the famous custard tarts at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon taste just a tad more delicious with less on a wait on line! This active city doesn’t come to a stop in the winter thanks to its almost guaranteed sunny days. Locals still have a drink outside, take long walks, and the cooler temperatures mean that all of the hills Lisbon is famous for are much easier to tackle than in the heat of the summer.
For visitors coming over the Christmas holiday, like other catholic countries in Europe, Portugal and especially Lisbon get “dressed up” for the holiday. The scenic Baixa area also hosts some charming Christmas markets, and is a great place to explore after doing some shopping.
If you have a sweet tooth, Lisbon is the place for you over the holidays. The Portuguese take Christmas cakes and sweets very seriously, and have several the you only find over the holidays, like the famous Bolo Rei cake. Confeitaria Nacional is a historic pastry shop (one of the oldest in the country) and a great place to sample some of these winter delights.
Though you could easily spend a week in Lisbon adding in some day trips to see sites like Sintra (if you have a longer holiday, this is a great idea), your next destination has you heading northwest up the coast to the city of Porto. Both cities have very different vibes and even a bit of a rivalry. Though we love Lisbon’s energy, Porto is smaller and so charming, with bustling life along the river that plays an important part in Porto’s culture. The UNESCO designated Ribeira area is a can’t miss stop for its authentic old town, and also has sweeping views over the city- we actually prefer it over Lisbon’s Alfama district (don’t tell Lisbon!).
Porto in the offseason is also great stop for food and wine. It’s namesake drink, port, can be tasted in many places throughout the city but wine lovers will want to add a day of wine tasting and tours to sample these precious wines- it’s a great way to shake off the chill of the cooler winter temperatures. Another perk visiting this time of year? The Portuguese excel at comfort food. Some of the most famous Portuguese dishes, like the famously decadent francesinha sandwich, a steaming bowl of caldo verde or Porto-style tripe and white bean stew are even more delicious as you warm up with them in the winter. Porto, full of its authentic and small local eateries, is just the place to explore the gastronomy of the country and the city itself. The Christmas season brings other activities for visitors, from light displays to ice skating rinks- a great stop for a family looking to take a break from shopping at the picturesque Christmas markets.
A winter getaway to Portugal is an enjoyable way to experience the country and its culture during the more affordable, less crowded and still sunny offseason. It’s not too late to book a trip for this incoming winter- contact us for more information on how to start planning your tailor made Portuguese winter vacation!