When is the best time to visit Portugal?
To figure out the best time to visit Portugal you first have to ask yourself what you want to do on your trip – whether sunshine and lazy days on epic beaches is your prime goal, sightseeing around towns, cities and historical sites, or taking part in outdoor activities, such as mountain trekking, river kayaking, surfing, or getting in a few rounds of golf. You might also want to include one of Portugal’s many festivals in your itinerary.
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Broadly speaking, the best time of year to visit Portugal is spring (ie, from February) or early autumn (September–October), when the weather is not too hot, the sea is warm and the summer crowds have thinned out. The lower temperatures during these months also make for ideal sightseeing weather.
Weather in Portugal
The weather in Portugal varies according to the regions, and, of course, the seasons. The south enjoys the most sunshine and least amount of rainfall, although the whole of Portugal has its fair share of sunny days.
You can pretty much rely on sunshine and heat wherever you are in Portugal in the summer months, with July seeing very little rainfall in the Algarve and up the coast to Lisbon. Central Portugal can be fiercely hot. Rain is far more likely in Porto and the Costa Verde, averaging 20mm in the same month. Indeed, the northern end of the country experiences more rain throughout the year.
Autumn conditions are often delightful, (highs of 23˚ in the Algarve and Lisbon), although the month brings the start of more rainfall and less predictable weather.
Winter is cooler and it can get rather stormy, but there are still plenty of hours of sunshine, making Portugal a year-round destination. The Algarve, in particular, more often than not has bright days and mild temperatures. In contrast, the north is rather cold with temperatures sometimes dropping to 8˚ around Porto and snow likely to fall in the mountains bordering Spain.
It warms up in spring throughout Portugal. As with the rest of the year, it rains more in northern areas than in the south. Temperatures in Lisbon range from 10–18˚ in March, climbing to 13˚–22˚ in May; Porto and the Costa Verde is cooler: 7˚–15˚ in March and 10˚-19˚ in May.
Best month to visit Portugal
If you want to cover a bit of everything on your trip – some sightseeing, outdoor activities, some lazy days on the beach – including a dip in the ocean, the best month to visit Portugal is September. It’s still hot, but not fiercely so, and the sea is probably at its warmest. April and early May is also a wonderful time to visit, although sea temperatures are decidedly bracing. But the landscapes are beautiful – lush, and alive with flowers, before the dry months of summer.
When to visit Portugal in spring
Portugal is extremely pretty in Spring. Dazzling flowers carpet the hillsides and the almond blossom lights up the countryside. It’s also gorgeously warm, and generally dry weather means ideal hiking conditions. So if you’re wondering when to go to Portugal, this would be a good time.
Visiting Portugal in March – May
Although the sea is pretty chilly in spring, as it hasn’t had the chance to heat up yet, April brings plenty of bright days and sunshine to enjoy the coastal scenery. By May, air temperatures reach around 22˚ on the Algarve. This is the time to enjoy space to yourself on Portugal’s glorious beaches before the summer throngs descend.
Visiting historical and cultural sights should be on the agenda in spring. Lower visitor numbers mean you won’t have to spend time queuing or jostling for space, and the shoulder season brings lower prices on accommodation. Also, pleasant temperatures let you explore towns and cities without flagging. You could coincide a visit to the lavish palaces and gardens of Sintra with the Music festival that takes place throughout May.
Easter, which takes place in March/April is a pretty big bash in Braga in the north, with Semana Santa, or Holy Week, kickstarting the magnificent celebrations. At the other end of the country is one of the largest Easter festivals in Portugal, the Festa da Mãe Soberana in Loulé, in the Algarve.
When to visit Portugal in summer
A weather map of endless sunshine sums up the situation across the whole of Portugal in summer, certainly between June and September, when usually the only daytime variation across the country is a degree or two further up or down the scale from 30°C.
Visiting Portugal in June – August
In July and especially August (the Portuguese holiday month), the coastal resorts are at their busiest and prices reach their peak, worth bearing in mind when thinking about the best time to travel to Portugal. It’s also too hot to do any serious hiking, or exploring the cities, towns and archeological sites.
When to visit Portugal in autumn
Early autumn ticks the boxes for city visits and outdoor pursuits, as air and sea temperatures are still warm – yet the crowds have gone. Events surrounding the grape harvest also kick off from September.
Visiting Portugal in September — November
September is perfect for city breaks and sightseeing – such as Lisbon and Sintra and Porto, when the heat is no longer intense. The toned down temperatures are also ideal for trekking, in the Parque Nacional de Peneda-Gerês, for example, horse-riding in the Algarve and Alentejo, and taking advantage of wonderful cycling trails along the Algarve coast.
Indeed the Algarve is lovely this time of year – a great time for relaxing on one of its many splendid beaches. While temperatures drop to a pleasant level, the sea temperature is probably at its warmest, having had the summer months to warm up.
Surfing is great year-round in Portugal. However, September hits the sweet spot – fantastic weather, warmer sea temperatures, fewer people paddling for the same waves, and more consistent surf conditions.
If you’re visiting central and northern Portugal, this is a great time to head for its river beaches, often with picnic and barbecue areas. Bear in mind though that the official swimming season only lasts from the beginning of June to mid-September; outside these months – no matter how lovely the weather – outdoor pools and river beach facilities close.
Porto and the north is well known for its vineyards and wineries and sees its annual grape harvest between September – October. Head for the Douro region and take part in the harvest and grape pressing, and tour the wine estates.
When to visit Portugal in winter
Most of the rain falls in winter, from November to March, though you can just as easily experience bone-dry winter months and downpours in May and June.
Visiting Portugal in December — February
The crisp, sharp sunshine makes winter an appealing time to visit central Portugal, while in the south, especially on the coast, it is mild all year round. In the north, on the other hand, it’s pretty cold, especially inland where snow is common along the mountainous border areas.
Stormy weather and strong swells off the west coast mean the winter months are usually best left to more experienced surfers. If you’re weighing up when to visit Portugal and surfing is on your wishlist, you should take this into account if you’re a beginner to the sport.
Carnaval celebrations are a match for those in Rio, Brazil and the street parties are a perfect way to shake off the vestiges of winter. You’ll find them throughout Portugal, but Lisbon and towns of the Algarve are particularly good destinations to join in the revelry.
Top image: Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal © Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock