Whatever your choice, it’s worth doing a little extra work to choose the best time to visit Portugal, and to find out what’s going on throughout the year. Luckily, we’ve done the hard work, and put together a comprehensive guide to the best season to visit Portugal.
With its warm, continental climate, and spectacular diversity of scenery, there’s really no bad season to visit Portugal! You’ll find glorious sunshine in summer, dazzling colors in spring, vibrant harvest festivals in autumn, and festive charm in winter. The best time to visit Portugal depends on how you want to spend your trip, and whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach vacation, a city break, or a walking holiday.
Spring is the first half of the ‘shoulder season’ on either side of the blistering hot summer months, and is perhaps the best time of year to visit Portugal. In spring you’ll find blissful sunshine, but the temperatures remain comfortable. In April and May the countryside is at its best, and a carpet of wild flowers brightens up the landscape almost everywhere you go along the coast.
The beach in Carvoeiro, Algarve, on a sunny spring day. Canva/Antonel.
Spring is the best season for almond blossom. Canva/morganvaleks.
If you come a little earlier, at the end of February and March, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the dazzling white blossom in the almond groves of the Duero Valley. In many parts of this region, local groups organize festivals and celebrations dedicated to the beautiful almond blossom season – a treat not to be missed!
Spring is also a wonderful time to experience some traditional Portuguese festivals. Like neighboring Spain, carnival season is big business in Portugal, and the festivities are bright, colorful and extremely entertaining! Carnival is centered on Mardi Gras, which usually falls in February, at the beginning of the religious festival of Lent.
There's plenty of music and singing during the Carnival. Flickr/Gustavo Veríssimo.
Towns and cities across the country are flooded with crowds of people and brightly colored floats, and plenty of music, singing and dancing. You’ll find carnival celebrations everywhere in the country, but the most lavish events take place in Lisbon and the small towns of the Algarve.
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is another important spring festival in Portugal, marking the most important moment in the Christian calendar. You’ll find magnificent processions all over the country, particularly in Braga, where the city center is decked out in lush flowers and beautiful lights. Prices can rocket around the Easter period, so it’s best to book well in advance.
Summer is by far the busiest tourist season, as summer holidaymakers from inside and outside the country flock to the Algarve to soak up the sun and top up their tans. This is the ideal time to laze around on the beach and swim in the turquoise waters of the Algarve, although you may have to share space with hoards of other travellers, and prices are at their peak.
Algarve in the summer. Canva/dangrytsku.
A lazy summer's day in Lisbon. Unsplash/Clifford Yeo.
Summer in Portugal is characterized by glorious sunshine, with temperatures stabilizing around 30° Celsius in July and August, and often rising even higher in the south. It’s best to avoid hiking trips or other activity holidays around this time, as the weather can become uncomfortably hot.
See also: Porto: A Local's Guide
Summer holds other charms besides the beach, and it’s at this time that you’ll find some of the country’s best music festivals. Rock in Rio-Lisboa, an imitation of the famous Rock in Rio festival in Brazil, is one of Europe’s largest celebrations of rock music. This five-day extravaganza usually occurs in late June in Lisbon’s Bela Vista Park.
Festival decorations in Madeira. Canva/twvanurk.
June is also the period of the feast of St. Anthony, patron saint of Lisbon, and on the 12th and 13th of June the city comes alive with traditional food, lights and colorful street decorations. Just a few days later, on the 23rd of June, Porto celebrates the feast of its own patron saint, St. John the Baptist, known locally as São João.
This exciting street festival culminates with the release of decorated sky lanterns and fireworks, and also involves the rather bizarre custom of hitting people on the head with plastic hammers. An equally strange spectacle occurs every four years in July at the Festa dos Tabuleiros in the town of Tomar. This festival is celebrated in spectacular fashion, as girls and young women process through the town with lavish headdresses made entirely of bread.
Other strange and unique festivals occur in different parts of the country throughout summer, and are a brilliant way to relax, party and experience some of Portugal’s rich culture.
The second shoulder season occurs in September and October, and this is really one of the best times to visit Portugal. The weather remains warm and sunny, but the temperatures are lower, meaning that it’s the perfect moment for some serious hiking and cycling. Portugal has a whole host of magnificent natural parks and reserves, and walkers will find plenty of routes to keep them occupied along the Atlantic coast.
It's still sunny during autumn, but temperatures have dropped a bit. Canva/Andrei Bortnikau.
By the time September comes around, the crowds dwindle in most of the major tourist spots, and this is a lovely time to visit the Algarve and enjoy the clear turquoise waters before the weather turns cooler. What’s more, as the fall colors start to emerge in October, you’ll be treated to some marvelous views.
Duero Valley. Canva/ah_photobox.
This time of year is also the harvest season, and there are many local festivals that celebrate the wide variety of produce that Portugal has to offer. In particular, the grape harvest in the Duero Valley, home of Portugal’s wine and port production, offers a wonderful opportunity to experience traditional Portuguese culture.
This is the moment when all the hard work of tending the vines is paid off, and the workers are busy with picking and stomping the grapes and finally tasting the fruits of their labor. This is the ideal time to book a tour of the vineyards of the Duero Valley and get a close-up look at how Portuguese wine and port is produced.
Portugal sees most of its rain in winter, and the weather can be unpredictable so be prepared to get wet. However, this can be an especially rewarding period to visit the country’s cities, which are cool and quiet, so you won’t be fighting for space with hoards of other tourists.
The festive season is best experienced in the capital, as Lisbon’s Christmas markets come alive with plenty of local delicacies, bright lights and shopping opportunities. Many holidaymakers also enjoy spending Christmas in the Algarve, where the atmosphere is fun, bright and relaxed, and the fabulous New Year’s Eve fireworks in Madeira are not to be missed.
Praça do comércio square in Lisbon during Christmas. Canva/rfranca.
Although the sea is too cold for most swimmers, Portugal’s coast attracts a diverse crowd of surfers in the winter months. The crashing waves of the Atlantic offer fantastic opportunities for surfing, and even if you don’t fancy braving the waters yourself, you can always watch the professionals in action at Ericeira, Figueira de Foz, or Sagres.
Surfing is a popular activity during the winter months. Canva/ikostudio_.
Although Portugal is in the most southerly part of Europe, the mountains get cold enough in winter to see snow, and it’s even possible to ski at the resorts of Serra da Estrela, the central mountain range that cuts through the length of the country.
In short, Portugal offers visitors something different at all times of the year. Although spring and autumn are thought to be the optimum times to visit to avoid the crowds, heat and high prices, you’ll this rich and fascinating country offers plenty of charm in summer and winter too! Once you’ve had a taste of what Portugal has to offer, you’ll soon be planning your next trip.