The best time to visit Portugal is as soon as you can! Seriously though, this country has so much to offer throughout the year that there is no bad time to come. Obviously, this depends to some extent on what you want to do when you’re here as certain activities are more seasonal than others.
In this guide to when to visit Portugal, I’ll give you an overview of what to expect from each season and pros and cons of choosing certain months for your Portugal trip. Note that these tips mostly apply to mainland Portugal rather than the subtropical islands of Madeira and the Azores as their climates are quite different.
Portugal seasons and the weather
I haven’t bothered including any of the temperature charts you’ll see on other websites as they are, frankly, useless and inaccurate from what I can see. The weather in Portugal is an increasingly unpredictable beast and lately, the seasons have been all over the place so nothing is a sure thing anymore. Add to that the various micro climates around the country and the best anyone can give you is a rough idea of what you are likely to experience.
However, it’s still possible to make some generalisations and the key is to be prepared for unseasonable weather by checking forecasts before you pack – see my Portugal packing tips.
Jump to a specific season:
Spring in Portugal (March to May)
Spring is my favourite season and possibly the best time to visit Portugal. I love it when the countryside starts to wake up with fresh green foliage and colourful wildflowers. Tourist related activities and services that closed for the winter period throw open their doors at Easter and the number of visitors steadily increases from April onwards.
I often travel in Portugal in spring and am usually able to do the things I want to without the weather seriously scuppering my plans. It does help to have some flexibility in your itinerary if you intend to do outdoor activities though.
There will likely be some heavy rain, which has been known to last for several days at a time. Rainy days are usually interspersed with some warmer periods and blue skies, albeit a little cloudy. Dry spring days are ideal for walking, although temperatures start to heat up from May onwards.
Spring events in Portugal
There are cheese festivals in my area (As Beiras) in March and April, a major fish festival in Lisbon in April, a chocolate festival in Óbidos and a flower festival in Madeira in late April or early May. Revolution Day, April 25th, is a public holiday and often celebrated with concerts and events.
One of my favourite festivals is also the craziest – the Iberian Mask Festival held in early May in Lisbon. Other events include FIMFA, an international puppets festival in Lisbon, and Bracara Augusta, a Roman-themed festival in the ancient city of Braga.
Things to consider when travelling in spring
Accommodation prices are considerably lower in March and April although May can be pricey in popular places. May is one of the most popular months for the Portuguese Camino de Santiago, pilgrimages to Fátima (May 11th to 13th) and for visiting the Douro Valley so book ahead.
Summer in Portugal (June to mid September)
Summer weather in Portugal
June and September are usually just about okay for walking around without melting, as long as you avoid the mid afternoon heat – temperatures often reach the mid 30ºCs, especially inland. There is still a chance of rain but it’s less likely than in spring or autumn. For these reasons, both are popular months for the Camino, especially the Coastal Route. June and September are also good times for walking the Alentejo coast.
July and August tend to be the hottest, driest months although the last couple of years have been more erratic than others with some cooler days that make it a pleasure to be outside. On very hot days, especially inland, temperatures can soar into the high 30ºs or even 40ºs (Celsius), which is often too hot for me to be outside except for early morning and in the evening. Al fresco lunches may still be possible on those baking hot days if you have a sea or mountain breeze but otherwise, an air conditioned restaurant will make your mealtime more enjoyable.
Beaches naturally get busier during the hotter months and beach cafés and restaurants are in full swing. Note that river beaches only function during summer months. Some are open from mid June to mid September while most are only fully operational in July and August. The same applies to lifeguards at most coastal beaches.
Tip: If you plan to do much in the way of sightseeing in summer, try to organise your itinerary so that you are in air conditioned museums, or at least places with shade, during the heat of the day (3-5 pm is usually the hottest).
Summer events in Portugal
June is a very active month, especially in Lisbon, which is pretty much em festa, i.e. in party mode, for the whole of June with the biggest celebrations being on June 12th and 13th in honour of St. Anthony. Northern towns and cities, especially Porto, favour St. John with an all night party on June 23rd.
Other events include cherry festivals, lots of big music festivals, including Festival Med in Loulé. Medieval fairs do the rounds, notably in Óbidos, Silves and Santa Maria da Feira. Almost all towns and villages will have some kind of local festival, usually in honour of a saint, especially in July and August.
Popular holiday destinations put on extra events, including free outdoor concerts, craft fairs and food-related festivals to entertain the summer influx of visitors.
Things to consider when travelling in Portugal in summer
Many Portuguese emigrants take the opportunity to come back to visit friends and family in August, artificially swelling the population in some areas. Those Portuguese families without visitors will often go on holiday themselves during August (the Algarve and other beach destinations are favourites) and the atmosphere in cities is noticeably different and more tourist-oriented than in quieter months.
Many independent businesses and restaurants shut up shop for a couple of weeks in August, or even the entire month, so check in advance if you have your heart set on visiting a particular establishment. Some restaurants prefer to take a break in early September after the summer rush has died down.
Accommodation prices are higher in summer, especially July and August, and places fill up fast. It’s best to book as far ahead as possible if you intend to visit Portugal in the summer to get more choice and better prices – see my Portugal accommodation guides.
It is likely to be hotter outside than in so if you are not staying in a place with air conditioning, you need to manage the heat by keeping windows and doors closed once the temperature rises and using shutters and curtains to stop the sun from streaming in and turning rooms into ovens.
Autumn in Portugal (mid September to December)
Early autumn in Portugal is another of my favourite times of year. Temperatures should begin to drop to a comfortable level and evenings will be chilly even if the day has been warm and sunny.
There is more chance of rain than in the summer but if you have some flexibility over which days you want to do any walking or outdoor activities, this is a great time to visit. The hoards have gone home and you might still squeeze in some beach time on warmer days. Sightseeing is more fun because it’s cool enough to walk around during the day and not as busy.
Once we’ve had a few rainy days, the parched countryside starts to perk up again with fresh greenery and even a sprinkling of flowers. To add to the colour scheme, you’ve got autumn leaves, which are quite dramatic in the vineyards and oak and chestnut forests.
To get the best of these autumnal colours in Portugal, go to the forests in the Lousã Mountains near Coimbra, the area south of the Serra da Estrela or Montesinho Natural Park in Tras-os-Montes. While there are wine regions all over Portugal where you can see colourful vine leaves, the Douro Valley is quite spectacular in late October, early November.
Autumn activities and events
Autumn is also harvest season in Portugal, although the grape harvest in southern regions can start as early as August. For the Douro, it’s usually in September, which is another reason why the limited supply of accommodation in this area quickly fills up.
Tip: If you dream of staying on a quinta (wine estate) during the harvest, book your room months in advance – see my suggestions for places to stay in the Douro.
Festivals at this time of year include honey and chestnut festivals like the one in Lousã in central Portugal and Miscaros, which is a fun mushroom festival near Fundão. Chestnut sellers will also be in city streets, tempting you with sweet smoke from their carts. November 11th is St. Martin’s day and celebrated with a magusto, which usually involves the first wine of that year, roasted chestnuts and a bonfire.
If you’ve heard tales of mega waves in Portugal, the best time to see them in Nazaré or Peniche is between November and January.
Winter in Portugal (December to February)
While there is always a chance of rain and storms if you come to Portugal in winter, the dry spells are usually very pleasant, often with blue or slightly cloudy skies and winter sun. It can get quite cold – hats, scarves and gloves may be needed as well as an umbrella – but it’s usually less grim than a UK winter and although the days are short, the earliest it gets dark is around 5 pm in December.
It does actually snow in some parts of Portugal, although there is only one ski resort, in the Serra da Estrela Mountains. Unless you are heading to the hills specifically for the snow, it’s more likely to just be a nuisance if you’re faced with unexpected road closures at altitude. At lower levels, it’s rare to see snow.
If you’re from a cold country and are seeking warmer climes, you could join other foreigners who winter in the Algarve. Although it’s hardly bikini weather, a stroll on the beach in winter is tonic enough. While some tourist-oriented businesses in the Algarve close for the winter there are enough year round restaurants in larger towns to keep you going and the Algarve 365 project offers cultural events outside of peak tourist season.
See my insider tips for visiting the Algarve for more about the Algarve in winter and other seasons.
Thanks to bargain prices and a reduced number of tourists, winter is a good time to visit cities like Lisbon and Porto, which have plenty of indoor attractions so that you can dodge inclement weather. You could even go on an underground art tour using Lisbon’s metro system.
Winter activities and events
By early December, the Christmas decorations are out in force in Portuguese streets, brightening up the dark evenings. There are often Christmas markets in the weeks leading up to the special day, offering extra opportunities to buy some quality souvenirs or tasty treats.
New Years’ Eve calls for celebration all over the country but especially in Madeira, which is famous for its fireworks display. Other cities will have displays, usually over a body of water, and a free outdoor concert in the main square. In the Algarve, the place to head for is Praia dos Pescadores.
If you like smoked meats and want to go truly off the beaten track, the Feira de Fumeiro de Vinhais (Smoked Meats Fair of Vinhais) and the Feira Gastronómico de Porco (Pork Gastronomic Fair) in Boticas are a celebration of the traditional art of curing meat. Monchique in the Algarve region has a similar event at the beginning of March.
Carnival usually takes place in February although this pre-Lenten festival is governed by Easter dates. Some towns, e.g. Loulé, Figueira da Foz and Torres Vedras are renowned for their Brazil-style carnival parades where scantily clad ladies shimmy their goose-pimpled flesh through the streets between decorated floats.
I prefer the more traditional entrudo celebrations which have pagan roots and are mostly tied to northern Portuguese villages. Among the most colourful and dramatic are the Caretos de Podence and the carved wooden masks and bizarre costumes and rituals from Lazarim.
February is also the time for almond blossom to brighten up the countryside. The best places to see these puffs of pink and white are in the Algarve and, slightly later in the month, in the Foz Côa region, which has an Almond Blossom Festival, and the Douro Valley.
Things to consider when visiting Portugal in winter
Note that many Portuguese properties are not well insulated or heated so unless you are staying in a hotel with central heating or air conditioning, you will need to check the heating arrangements before renting an apartment. It’s often warmer outside than inside in winter!
Christmas is celebrated with family on December 24th so lots of restaurants and supermarkets will be closed – plan ahead to make sure you have something and somewhere to eat. On December 25th and 1st January most places are closed so bear this in mind when planning your trip – see my article about Christmas and New Year in Portugal for more information.
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