Christmas in Portugal can be truly magical, with sparkling lights and a slightly less commercialised atmosphere than in some places. Here’s where to enjoy it.
“Similar yet different” is perhaps the best way to describe Christmas in Portugal.
By night you can walk around towns adorned with twinkling lights, enjoying delicious warm chestnuts (castanhas) sold by street sellers. Only the fact that some of those lights are wrapped around palm trees alerts you to the fact you’re certainly not in northern Europe!
The comparison can seem more stark by day, especially during Portugal’s many mild winter weeks. It may not be “lay back on a lounger” weather, but it can certainly be “walk along the beach in a T-shirt” weather. This is especially relevant in the Algarve where it’s common to see winter highs in the early 20s.
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In this article we look at five perfect places to spend Christmas in Portugal. These are places that really get Christmas right and are guaranteed to give you that warm seasonal glow. Whether you’re choosing the ideal location for a holiday home, or considering a more permanent move, these are places sure to delight you whatever the season.
NOTE: While many Christmas events and attractions are open in Portugal in 2020, we focus on what Christmas in Portugal is like in more “normal” times. Short-notice cancellations and changes to what’s open are to be expected at the time of writing.
Let’s look at our five destinations:
1. Vila Real de Santo Antonio
The border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio feels like a Christmas wonderland every December. The town’s wide selection of small shops is ideal for browsing for gifts. The local council also puts on lots of special events, making the town popular with locals from all around – both those from Portugal, and those from just over the river in Spain.
Most of the festivities take place in the town’s attractive square. There’s usually an ice-rink and a grotto where the littler ones can visit Santa. There’s also a market selling crafts and foods.
Despite these more headline-grabbing attractions, it’s Vila Real de Santo Antonio’s fabulous nativity scene that always sticks in the memory. The scene, which features over 5000 tiny figures, complete with beautiful lighting, is exhibited each year at the Centro Cultural António Aleixo. At the time of writing it is in operation.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio offers a compelling proposition to overseas residents. It’s just 40 minutes from Faro airport, and only 90 minutes to Seville in the opposite direction. With both Spanish and Portuguese beaches and amenities on hand, it’s a true “best of both worlds.”
One or two bedroom apartments start from just €110,000.
Faro, the Algarve’s “capital” often feels ignored as a destination. Many people only see the airport before heading straight to a resort. This is a shame, as it’s a sophisticated and charming city with plenty to offer.
It’s also a great place to enjoy Christmas in Portugal. It may seem a little strange to focus on a shopping mall, but Forum Algarve’s beautiful lights are enough to convert even the most committed grinch. It’s also a very spacious shopping centre with lots of places to stop for a drink or snack. There’s a cinema too for those Christmas movies.
Elsewhere in Faro, the cobbled streets sparkle under lights, and everything feels very calm and laid-back.
Faro is a perfect place for a holiday home. Trips in and out of the country are simplicity itself, with the airport just ten minutes from the city centre. The rest of the Algarve is all within easy reach, by trains and busses as well as by car.
In Faro, city apartments start from around €140,000. There are also still some interesting townhouses for renovation.
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Just 40 minutes east of Faro, we arrive in Tavira. This attractive city has long been popular with overseas residents, and its charms speak for themselves. There are narrow streets packed with tempting cafés and artisan shops, a photogenic “Roman” bridge, and a central square with an amphitheatre and fountains.
Unsurprisingly, all of this makes for a fabulous place to enjoy Christmas in Portugal. Tavira is stunning before you add fairy lights! It’s also a working city, so remains busy and atmospheric. While things will no doubt be muted in 2020, there’s also usually a wide range of cultural events to enjoy through the season.
Whether you’re choosing the ideal location for a holiday home, or considering a more permanent move, these are places sure to delight you whatever the season.
As a destination for a holiday home or a permanent residence, Tavira ticks all the boxes. It’s accessible, it’s consistently warm, and there are beaches and amenities in all directions.
There’s a wide range of property up for grabs, with apartments from around €140,000 and small houses from just €180,000.
We can’t discuss Christmas in Portugal and ignore the country’s capital. Lisbon is beautiful at Christmas. Highlights include a large Christmas market on Rossio Square, and another at Campo Pequeno. The latter is a place particularly worth visiting to enjoy Portugal’s many Christmas cakes and delicacies.
Although it’s not running in 2020, another popular Lisbon Christmas attraction is Wonderland Lisboa, which usually takes place in Parque Eduardo VII. Akin to London’s Winter Wonderland, you’ll find all the usual attractions, including ice skating and a chance to meet the big man himself. Unlike Winter Wonderland, entry is free. This is a great example of how Christmas in Portugal feels that small but significant bit less commercialised than in many other cities.
Apartments in central Lisbon start from around €170,000. International transport links are cheap and plentiful.
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We finish with a rather more left-field option. The medieval town of Óbidos lies just an hour from Lisbon, and a mere stone’s throw from various Silver Coast beaches. These include the surfer’s paradise of Peniche.
A walled town on a hill is a natural candidate for a magical Christmas wonderland. Óbidos makes the best of its setting, morphing into a Christmas village. There’s ice-skating, an ice slide, lots of concerts and performances, and plenty of opportunity to buy gifts and foodie treats.
Outside of the Christmas period, Óbidos is a charming place to live. It’s convenient for all of the Silver Coast’s amenities. Travel is straightforward with an easy motorway run to Lisbon airport.
Property is affordable with both apartments and houses from around €140,000.
Wherever you spend Christmas in Portugal, you’re sure to enjoy the atmosphere. The occasion brings Portugal’s slow pace of life and family focus into clear view. While the shopping malls still deliver all the commercial Christmas you could want, there’s also a huge emphasis on good food and time with family and friends. And isn’t that what it should really be about?