It’s the most wonderful time of the year… The Christmas Holiday is one of the most beautiful holidays in Europe. The northern countries are covered in snow, the cities light up with creative Christmas lights, decorations and cozy winter markets.
In Europe and Northern America particularly, during this magical period, people tend to forget about the cold and focus on having a good time with friends and family, enjoying warm drinks, watching the Christmas lights and having fun in the snow (if you’re lucky enough to see it). It’s truly a joyful period of the year, however, it’s also the busiest and the most expensive time for travelling. If you are planning to visit a different country in December, we can only advise you to plan and organize everything before you make it to your destination.
If that destination is Portugal, and you are looking forward to celebrate in the Portuguese way, find out how, where and what to do during this festive season.
What to do during Christmas period:
If you have always dreamed of a white Christmas but it was simply too cold to travel to a country with such low temperatures, don’t lose your hopes up. Portugal offers a ski resort named Serra da Estrela, located only a 2h30 minutes’ drive from Lisbon or Oporto. It is a very beautiful part of the country, filled with antique villages, where you will eat typical Portuguese food and observe stunning sceneries with snow covered mountains in the background.
However, if it’s not Christmas without a winter market for you, you need to be heading to the unique village of Óbidos, one of the many medieval towns in Portugal with a castle encircled by a fortified wall. Every year, Óbidos hosts a Christmas Village with shows, performances, paintings, games and even includes an ice-skating rink. It only costs 7€ and it’s a great opportunity to spend quality time with the family and eating local food.
If you just want to stay in Lisbon, wander around the little streets of Alfama, Bairro Alto and other Portuguese neighborhoods but also want to experience a winter market, you can walk from Avenida da Liberdade, noticing the illuminated trees, and heading up to the city’s main plaza, Marquês de Pombal. This central roundabout is magnificently decorated and holds an impressive Ferris wheel standing out in the background. Here is the location of Wonderland Lisbon, the city’s main attraction during this time of the year, and a place where you can experience ice skating, mulled wine and last-minute gifts from handcraft stores. If you are into ice skating and want to experience every rink in town during your stay, our advice is to visit the one in Praça do Comércio, which has a real Christmas atmosphere, or perhaps a more wintry and bigger one located in Allegro Shopping Center, just a 10 minutes’ drive from Lisbon’s city center.
Perhaps you have decided to travel north and visit Oporto city and the stunning Douro during Christmas time. In the festivity months, one big attraction in OPorto is the Christmas Circus of the Coliseum. This is a favorite for families and people every age where the great highlight of the show is Andrey Jigalov, a clown from the Monte Carlo’ circus and a winner of the Silver Clown Award, considered to be one of the best clown performers in the World.
Another big attraction, this time for kids, is the magical world of Harry Potter at the Lego Fun Factory in Matosinhos, Northern Portugal. This is a place where children (and grownups too!) love the experience of exploring the big living room of Hogwarts, discover the big stairway tower and, of course, drive the iconic steam train.
In Portugal it starts on the 24th of December in the afternoon, since people usually get the afternoon or the day off. For others, it can start early in the day with a run to the main shopping malls for a last-minute present search. If you are a foreigner spending Christmas in Portugal, you need to know that most of commerce such as shops and restaurants are closed from the 24th in the afternoon until the 26th in the morning. However, if you want to eat out on Christmas Day, you might find some Indian or Chinese restaurants open in the most touristy areas such as Chiado or Bairro Alto. If you rented an apartment in one of the main cities and you wish to spend Christmas like a true Portuguese, you might want to have a traditional meal with codfish or turkey and then go the midnight mass (Missa do Galo), where you will have the opportunity to kiss the baby Jesus. If you are not catholic there is also a mosque open 24 hours in Rato, close to Marquês de Pombal.
If you are spending Christmas in Portugal but in small, rural, village such as the ones in Serra da Estrela, it’s a bit different. First, the scenery is covered in snow, and then it’s not uncommon in these towns to have a large communal fire, which gives everyone in the community a chance to gather around and wish each other a Merry Christmas.
To Drink & Eat:
Now, let’s get down to business. The best food Portugal has to offer usually is around on Christmas time. If you like sweets you will be in heaven, since sweet pastries are a big part of the Portuguese Christmas dinner. Some are a little bit indulgent and fall into the category of fried dough and covered in sugar such as rabanadas (a French toast with a wine sauce) and sonhos (pumpkin fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar). A healthier category features the delicious broas de mel, which are sweet bread biscuits made with sweet potatoes, ground almonds, eggs, sugar and orange peel. And we must not forget about the bolo rei, Christmas is not the same without one. This is more a bread than a cake, filled with nuts and candied fruits. Once it was made with a present inside, which raised concerns about choking or a broken teeth, so people stopped doing it the traditional way and now it is just delicious. There is no order to eat all of these cakes and deserts, usually people just let them around the table for the entire days of Christmas and eat here and there. You can also eat these pastries with the typical ginjinha, a Portuguese alcohol made from sour cherries, or moscatel, a very sweet type of wine made with muscat grapes.
So now that you know a little bit of how is it like to spend Christmas in Portugal, I bet you understood that everything is around food and having fun. Portuguese people are very welcoming and a true Portuguese will want you to have a nice time, so we are more than happy to welcome you this or another Christmas in the future.