In most of the Christian countries Christmas is the high point of the year and the most extravagant of celebrations. Celebrations with friends, family and co workers. A time to bury all hatchets, forget about diets and limits and be merry and social.
Now if there is a crisis in Portugal at the moment at Christmas you wont notice it, people are shopping, eating, planning and spending more than they do at any other time of the year and these often commercialized acts are just as sacred to people as the event that they are celebrating.
Christmas trees, due to deforesting, forest fires and a modern, ecological awareness that many Portuguese people have, Christmas trees or rather pine trees chopped for Christmas are limited by law and most trees will be artificial, tree shaped imitations or artistic concepts of the traditional Christmas trees. Most towns and cities will ask its art schools, schools and artists to produce “trees” making many bright colorful alternatives to the traditional Christmas tree that liven up the streets and squares.
Bacalhau, No Christmas is complete without a serving of the traditional Portuguese bacalhau salted fish cooked after de salting, actually no Portuguese is complete without Bacalhau, its such an inherent part of society that Portugal could not possibly be Portugal without it. At Christmas it is generally served boiled with chick pea, potato, boiled egg, Portuguese cabbage, olive oil and garlic and if I was doubtful at first about its suitability to “extravagant” Christmas, prepared in the right way the flavours, consistency, protein levels and combination actually emphasize everything Christmassy about Portuguese Christmas.
Christmas in Portugal is also about sweet indulgence and it has many special cakes
Christmas generally still has a very mild climate consisting of sunny warm afternoons and colder nights, temperatures at this time of year often change fast starting with low temperatures in the morning that heat up fast towards the afternoon at around 16.00 the process starts to be reversed. On sunny days temperatures can reach 22 degrees Celsius in the afternoon and 8 – 10 degrees at night. In the south and center you are more likely to get dry weather and higher temperatures and in the North, you are more likely to experience showers or full rain days.
The Serra da Estrela is likely to be already covered in snow, whereas Madeira will have the warmest climate in Portugal on its lower plains.
Many restaurants specifically the family owned restaurants close for Christmas day purely because the owners will be celebrating Christmas with their family, but many stay open and serve specific menu’s suitable for a real Christmas dinner. At this time of year many of the better restaurants are full and reserving on time is advisable. Prices will also also be higher.
Bars and going out
Specially busy just before Christmas combined with Christmas shopping sprees and the general festive atmosphere at this time of the year
If you want to conduct an event or group/ large group or family gathering at this time of year and you need an event space, booking on time is important
Shops and times
On Christmas day you wont find any open shops on Christmas eve shops generally close earlier.
For Dutch people, there is no such thing as second day of Christmas on the 26th everything is back to normal.
Shopping Go Shopping! There is something so nice about doing Christmas shopping in Portugal other than the big rush, the long lines and the stress of getting that one last present for someone very dear, that somehow deserves the best that you cant find, you’ll be delighted with all the other people on the same mission and how jolly, united and celebrating the atmosphere is and how people, for this period, loose the stress of everyday and the excitement of this once a year occasion binds all taking part in it.
Walks through towns and cities, visit , monuments and enjoy the decorations, view Portugal’s Christian heritage as an onlooker or a sharer of this religion and feel the intimate atmosphere that only Christmas captures perfectly. Though many Portuguese are no longer religious, this is the one time of year that the historical reference is appreciated by all and somehow it finds its relevance perfectly.
Enjoy socializing, at Christmas everything in Portugal is about appreciation, appreciating heritage, appreciating food, drinking the best and for many a lot, appreciating family, friends, colleagues even your boss. Any café, restaurant, church, shop you will visit will be filled with jolly smiling people, excited by the upcoming days or sometimes jokingly cynical about the entire occasion but still happy to take part.
Go for hikes, the weather is great and there’s not that much else going on :)
Book yourself or your group a place that is heated, nights are cold and if you’re not used to these fast changing temperatures it could feel even colder than it actually is. Sitting by a fireplace with a glass of Port wine or roasting chestnuts in the fire is a romantic, enjoyable and unforgettable experience of Portuguese winter nights that could keep you coming back.
But many hotels, specifically the more budgety places, rental houses, bars and restaurants don’t have any heating (mainly because the colder nights are just a short part of the year and because winter tourism is a new thing in most of Portugal) and the reception, waiter or owner will greet you wearing 5 jumpers and a coat red nosed and rubbing their hands. Many buildings are built to deal with the immense summer heat, thick walled, small windowed and large entrances to keep the hot out and to create cool, solemn escapes, in the winter these buildings are very often very cold and you will find yourself trying to escape outdoors where the climate is much better and the air comforting with warmth.
Modern Portugal has many options that do have the right amount of heating at the right times of day, but the older buildings tend to give a special feel to Christmas and some are heated the way they would have been centuries ago, with fireplaces spread throughout the building others have been completely recovered with central heating that please our modern standards, some even heat the buildings with ecological and sustainability awareness that exceed most of the other European tourism markets and create comfort with a minimal of stress on the environment.
Enjoy the food! Portuguese love their food but specifically at Christmas lunches last even longer, dinners are even more extended, wines served are more luxurious and snacking are added keys to having a wonderful time!
Best places to visit in the Christmas period
Obidos is a magical medieval city that is charming at any time of the year. Set on a low mountain, most of it is contained within the old city walls that hold the castle. It has winding medieval streets, old buildings and is slightly touristic though I visited it many times out off season just to find myself alone on its streets. In the winter you will find mostly Portuguese people visiting it and once a year it ……………..
Serra da Estrela, take your ski stuff understand that down the mountain it could be warm up the mountain its cold, wintery and possibly the white Christmas you may have wished for all your life. Its also popular and busy at this time of year but definitely my choice for a white Christmas in a warm country as it is also the only choice for a white Christmas in this warm country.
Inland Alentejo for instance the lovely world heritage town of Evora
Cold nosed beach walks. Portugal has a long coast line starting a bit under Vigo North west Spain and ending close to Huelva in the south of Spain, the coastline covers the entire length and width of the country. Beaches are the best place in summer for sunbathing, swimming and sport, in the winter they are the best place for fresh air, strong wind erasing your sense of sound and salt water spraying your skin clean.
At Christmas they are specifically popular for long walks after lunch…………….
Lisbons centre, Lisbon booms with tourism all year round nowadays but at Christmas you wont be dealing with the masses of lost foreigners, you will be dealing with the shoppers, Christmas lights, hohoho Santa’s and lots of funny things going on, its a time where the city is at its most friendliest, most local and the light surrounding its monuments will amaze you
Serra d’Aire to see the waterfalls Serra d’Aire and Serra dos Candeeiros are 2 mountain ranges neighbouring each other roughly 120km from Lisbon. This is Christmas wonderland…………..
Nazare to see the biggest waves in Europe. Nazare, Nazare, Nazare the sound is so beautiful. I would expect this town to be in the middle east but its in Portugal, on the west coast. Its a small fishing town that has been gaining so much fame mostly under surfers because of its gigantic waves. In the summer its beaches are very popular but it many many life guards to ensure the safety of beach loving visitors, in the winter the waves grow even bigger to amazing heights and professional surfers flock from all over the world to surf them. If you’re not a surfer the waves will make still a gigantic impression on you and the town if filled with places that provide the perfect fisherman’s Christmas.
Porto the bustling lively city of Porto is specifically nice at Christmas note that you might get some rain!
The Douro region the beauty of the terraced vineyards, the old heritage manor houses that can be found everywhere, the relaxing cultural atmosphere make the Douro region especially nice at Christmas.
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