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.
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.
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.
Portugal has a Mediterranean climate that can vary according to the region though it generally means that there are hot, dry and warm summer and cool, wet winters. The northern regions tend to get colder and even see snow on the mountain tops, whereas the temperatures inland can reach high 30˚. The Azores and Madeira archipelagos have subtropical climates, with less variation throughout the year.
Almost every village in Portugal has its own festival (festa) or traditional pilgrimage (romaria), usually to celebrate the local saint’s day or the regional harvest. Some are little more than an excuse for the villagers to hold a low-key procession and picnic or barbecue and dance, while others have become serious celebrations lasting several days and attracting tourists from all over the world. The great weekly feiras, like that at Barcelos in the north, were originally simply markets, but nowadays are a combination of agricultural show, folk festival, amusement park and, admittedly, tourist bazaar. Most towns also put on concerts, dances, processions and events throughout the year (especially between June and September), while an increasing number of music festivals are held in Portugal, pulling in giants of the music world: big events include NOS Primavera in Porto (June) and NOS Alive in Lisbon (July).
January is a quiet month, as the temperatures are still cool and the weather can be unpredictable (with showers). However, there are fewer crowds which makes this a great time to take advantages of the low season deals and prices.
Epiphany (Dia de Reis) Jan 6. The traditional crown-shaped cake bolo rei (king’s cake) with a lucky charm and a bean inside is eaten; if you get the bean in your slice you have to buy the cake next year.
Querença Sausage Festival. The third weekend of January is the time for the locals of Querença (Algarve) to call on São Luís, the towns patron saint of animal's. The festival celebrates an old farming tradition, where the locals offer gifts such as homemade chorizos in exchange for São Luís to protect their livestock. The day is filled with events such as a sausage action, parades and tastings.
The winter slowly disappears in February but the weather still remains cool and wet. Luckily, with events like Carnival, you will be able to enjoy all that Portugal's cities have to offer.
Carnaval. Many areas now have Rio-like carnival parades, with Lisbon and the Algarve towns being good destinations. But Carnaval has much older traditions steeped in springtime fertility rites, and for a glimpse of what it was like before thongs and spangles, check out the masked merry-making of the Entrudo dos Comprades, near Lamego.
With spring in the air, you will be able to enjoy some sunny days, especially in the south. The crowds are starting to increase, the days are getting longer and many of the tourist sites are opening up (or staying open until later). Keep in mind that the Easter holidays will drive up the prices and crowds in the larger cities.
Easter Holy week (Semana Santa) religious processions in most places, most majestically in Braga, and at São Brás de Alportel in the Algarve (the Festa das Tochas). The Festa da Mãe Soberana in Loulé (Algarve) is one of the country’s largest Easter festivals. Another good location is Tomar, where the floral crosses of the procession are ceremoniously destroyed afterwards.
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.
Sintra Music Festival Performances throughout May by international orchestras, musicians and dance groups in parks, gardens and palaces in and around Sintra, Estoril and Cascais.
Queima das Fitas Early May. The “burning of the ribbons”, celebrating the end of the academic year, reaches its drunken apogee in Coimbra and other university towns.
Festa das Cruzes May 3. The “Festival of the Crosses” is the biggest annual event in Barcelos (Minho).
Fátima (Peregrinação de Fátima) May 13. Portugal’s most famous pilgrimage commemorates the Apparitions of the Virgin Mary; also in October.
Corpus Christi Vaca das Cordas End of May (or early June). This is a “running of the bull” ceremony in Ponte de Lima with roots in classical mythology.
Summer has officially started but the temperature has yet to reach its scorching point. June is a great time to visit Portugal as the crowds haven't made their way to the beaches and cities. With all the festivals happening, there is plenty to do.
Festa de São Gonçalo First weekend in June. Prominent saint’s day celebrations in Amarante.
Rock in Rio Lisboa First week in June. Europe’s largest rock festival (an offshoot of the enormous Rock in Rio fest) is held in even-numbered years.
Feira Nacional da Agricultura First two weeks in June. Held at Santarém, for ten days from the first Friday, with dancing, bullfighting and an agricultural fair.
Santos Populares Second & fourth weeks in June. Celebrations in honour of Santo António (St Anthony, June 12–13), São João (St John, 23–24) and Pedro (St Peter, 28–29) throughout the country.
Arraial Pride Lisbon’s increasingly popular gay pride event changes exact date and venue annually but usually takes place towards the end of the month.
July is the start of peak season, the summer heat made it's way to the cities and relaxing by the ocean seems like the best way to spend your time. Keep in mind that it also means that the prices and crowds will be at an all time high.
Festa dos Tabuleiros First week in July. Tomar’s biggest and most spectacular procession takes place every four years, with the next two being in 2019 and 2023.
Festa do Colete Encarnado First two weeks in July. Held in Vila Franca de Xira, with Pamplona-style running of bulls through the streets.
In 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.
Festival Sudoeste Second week in Aug. Much-heralded four-day rock, indie and electro music festival at Zambujeira do Mar, Alentejo coast.
Festas Gualterianas First weekend in Aug. The major festival in Guimarães has been held since the fifteenth century.
Festa do Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem First weekend in Aug. Seafaring is celebrated at Peniche with religious processions by boat and on land.
Romaria da Nossa Senhora d'Agonía Third weekend in Aug. Viana do Castelo’s major annual religious celebration, plus carnival and fair.
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.
Romaria de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios First week in Sept. The annual pilgrimage in Lamego comes to a head at the end of the first week, though events start in the last week of August.
Festa do Avante! First weekend in Aug. The Portuguese Communist Party’s big annual bash sees three days of live music, events, rallies and speeches in Seixal, a town on the south bank of the Tejo opposite Lisbon.
Feiras Novas Second & third weekends in Sept. The “New Fairs” – a traditional festival and market – held in Ponte de Lima.
Festa de São Mateus Third or fourth week in Sept. A week’s worth of celebrations in Elvas (Alentejo), including a huge religious procession plus the usual fairs and fireworks.
"October brings beautiful fall colours, while the rain comes in from the north, southern Portugal is still mostly sunny. It's the perfect time for outdoor activities. Porto and the north are 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.
Feira de Outubro First two weeks in Oct. Bull-bull-running and bullfighting in Vila Franca de Xira.
Fátima Oct 13. The second great pilgrimage of the year at Fátima.
November can be a great time to visit the rural interior, explore the cities and coast. You can expect the sun more often than you think, especially in the south. Up north you should make sure that there can be a bit of rain. It also happens to be low-season and the guesthouses that are still open offer great deals.
Feira Nacional do Cavalo First two weeks in Nov. The National Horse Fair, held in Golegã.
São Martinho Nov 11. Celebrations in honour of St Martin, with roots in pre-Christian harvest festivals, coincides with the first tastings of the year’s wine, roast chestnuts and Água Pé – a weak wine made from watered-down dregs. At its most traditional in northern Trás-os-Montes, Beira Baixa (particularly Alcains), Golegã, and Penafiel east of Porto.
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.
Christmas (Natal) Dec 24. The main Christmas celebration is midnight Mass on December 24, followed by a traditional meal of bacalhau, turkey or – bizarrely in Trás-os-Montes – octopus.
New Year’s Eve (Noite de Ano Novo) Dec 31. Individual towns organize their own events, usually with fireworks at midnight, and the New Year is welcomed by the banging of old pots and pans.
Top image: Ponta da Piedade, Algarve region, Portugal © Pawel Kazmierczak/Shutterstock