To figure out the best time to visit Portugal ask yourself what you want from your trip. Is it sunshine and lazy days on epic beaches, or sightseeing around hilltop villages, cities and historical sites? Perhaps you’ve heard about the great mountain trekking, river kayaking and surfing. Or maybe you’re polishing your clubs for a few rounds on Portugal’s renowned golf courses. Wine tours along the Douro are a highlight, and there are plenty of festivals to include in your itinerary. Indeed, even the sleepiest villages seem to hold their own festa – from the low-key, to full-on affairs involving week-long celebrations and not a lot of shut eye. But whatever you plan on doing, the weather will play an important part in deciding when to go.
Broadly speaking, the best time to go to Portugal is spring (from February) or early autumn. In September and October, the weather isn’t too hot, the sea is warm, and the summer crowds have gone. A drop in temperature during these months also makes it an ideal time for sightseeing.
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˚C 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˚C 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˚C –18˚C in March, climbing to 13˚C –22˚C in May; Porto and the Costa Verde is cooler: 7˚C –15˚C in March and 10˚C–19˚C in May.
If you want to cover a bit of everything on your trip – sightseeing, outdoor activities, some lazy days on the beach with 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 to early May is also wonderful. Although sea temperatures are decidedly bracing, the landscapes are beautiful – lush, and alive with flowers, before the dry months of summer roll in.
If you’re wondering when to go to Portugal, spring is delightful. The hills are popping with pretty flowers and almond blossom is in full bloom. It’s also gorgeously warm, and generally dry weather makes for ideal hiking conditions, such as along the Rota Vicentina, the network of coastal trails in the south west, or in the Parque Nacional da Peneda-Gerês, in the north.
Although the sea is pretty chilly in spring, as it hasn’t had the chance to heat up, April brings plenty of bright days and sunshine to brighten Portugal’s stunning coastal scenery. And by May, air temperatures reach around 22˚C on the Algarve. This is perhaps the best month to travel to Portugal – when you can spread out on the 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 makes it easier to explore towns and cities without flagging.
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.
There’s barely a cloud in the sky in Portugal during the summer. It’s quite simply – hot, with temperatures hanging around the 30°C mark up and down the country.
Everyone flocks to the coast in summer. August is particularly busy, when the Portuguese take their holiday and join foreign travellers making a beeline for Portugal’s golden beaches. Peak season brings a spike in prices – worth bearing in mind when thinking about the best time to travel to Portugal. It’s also too hot to take on much sightseeing or hard-core hiking. That said, Sintra, just a half hour’s drive from Lisbon, sees temperatures hover around a pleasant 23˚C in June. Coincide a visit to its lavish palaces and gardens with the Music festival that takes place throughout the month.
Early autumn ticks the boxes for city visits and outdoor pursuits, as air and sea temperatures are still warm – without the crowds you get during the summer. Events surrounding the grape harvest also kick off from September.
September is perfect for city breaks and sightseeing, for example, in 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 da Paneda-Gerês, for example, or horse-riding in the Algarve and Alentejo. Or swap four legs for two wheels and take advantage of wonderful cycling trails along the Algarve coast.
Indeed, the Algarve is lovely this time of year – a great time to chill out on one of its many splendid beaches. And, if you’re wondering when to go to Portugal for the warmest sea temperatures, this is your window, after it’s had the summer months to warm up.
If you’re visiting central and northern Portugal, this is also a great time to head for its river beaches, often with picnic and barbecue areas. Bear in mind though that from mid-September the facilities are closed, as the official swimming season is only from the beginning of June until the middle of September.
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 to take part in the harvest and grape pressing, and tour the wine estates.
Surfing is great year-round in Portugal and different areas on the coast come into their own at different times of the year. Late spring and the summer months, when waves tend to be relatively gentle, are generally the best time for beginners, and for those wanting to combine some sun with their surf. However, if you’re asking when is the best time to visit Portugal for an all-round enjoyable surf, September and October generally hit the sweet spot – fantastic weather, warmer sea temperatures, fewer people paddling for the same waves, and more consistent surf conditions.
By the end of October, the autumn swell sees bigger waves and more unpredictable weather, and by the time November rolls around, it’s a playground for just the more experienced wave riders. Stormy weather and strong swells off the west coast and cold waters in winter won’t deter the more serious surfer. But if surfing is on your wish list and you’re new to the sport, you should take this into account when weighing up when to visit Portugal.
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.
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.
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, such as Loulé, are particularly good destinations for joining in the revelry.
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 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).
Only the major highlights are picked out in the festival calendar given here. Check with local turismos and have a look at the websites of the various town halls (Câmara Municipal: usually "cm-nameoftown.pt"), which always carry news about forthcoming festivities.
Among major national events, Easter week and the Santos Populares festivities – associated with St Anthony (June 12/13), St John (June 23/24) and St Peter (June 28/29) – stand out. All are celebrated throughout the country with religious processions. Easter is most magnificent in Braga, where it is full of ceremonial pomp, while the saints’ festivals tend to be more joyous affairs. In Lisbon, during the saint’s day festa for Santo António, the Alfama becomes one giant street party. In Porto, where St John’s Eve is the highlight of a week of celebration, everyone dances through the streets all night, hitting each other over the head with leeks or plastic hammers.
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