Christmas in Portugal: The Best Places to Celebrate
📅 27 October 2021 | Guides, Portugal | ⌛ 25 mins
As December approaches everybody becomes excited for the upcoming celebrations. However, celebrating Christmas in Portugal might be pretty mind-blowing to you!
Christmas in Portugal is a magical event that should be experienced at least once in a lifetime. The festivities start early on and last for around 2 months. All of the cities in Portugal are covered in Christmas decorations to welcome yet another amazing Christmas Eve. In addition to that, Christmas songs can be heard almost all around the cities and there are lots of concerts to entertain you, as well as spark your Christmas spirit.
However, the Christmas traditions vary from city to city and that makes Christmas in Portugal quite unique. Portuguese people love traditions and always make sure to follow them, so you will be pretty surprised with what they have to offer!
And still, the question stands – “Where to spend Christmas in Portugal?”. Well, read on so you pick the best place for you!
Portuguese Christmas Traditions
If you are planning to spend some of the most sacred evening of the year in Portugal, then it would be good to know what to expect. As I said, Portuguese people love traditions and make sure to always follow them. Thus, don’t be surprised if you see lots of people gathered in one place celebrating the birth of baby Jesus! 👼
✖ : Presépios: The Presépio, or the Nativity Scenes, are very common in Portugal. Portuguese people love them and you will for sure see them everywhere in all sizes and colours. Usually, the Portuguese start by decorating their own Presépios in their homes and put them on display. Since the tradition is passed on from generation to generation, you will witness some very old religious figures added to the new Presépios.
✖ : Missa do Galo: Portugal’s symbol is the rooster and as such it also appears in their “Missa do Galo” or the “Rooster’s Mass”. The event takes place each year on the 24th of December at midnight in every Catholic Church around the country. The midnight mass got its name from a legend which says that a rooster has crowed at midnight when baby Jesus was born. During the event, youngsters and elders gather together in the church to worship this sacred event. Eventually, everybody goes back home and it is time to open the presents!!! 🐓
✖ : Christmas Trees: The decoration of Christmas trees is a relatively new tradition that has been introduced in the 19th century. It was started by the kind consort Dom Ferdinand II, whom brought the tradition from his homeland Germany. As the story goes, he dressed himself as Santa Claus and handed his children presents on Christmas Eve.
Nevertheless, the tradition was kept and there is always a huge Christmas tree in the center of every city. However, most of them are usually fitments disguised in the form of trees 🎄
✖ : Table Decorations: It’s very important to decorate your Christmas table with Azevinho, known also as Holly. This bush usually blossoms during wintertime in bright red. As per the Portuguese people, it symbolizes love, hope and protection. If you wish to be loved, protected and to experience miracles, you should get one!
✖ : Fire Pits: The northern central region of Portugal is known as the place where Portugal was born. That’s why this region still keeps ancient traditions dating back to the 15th century. One of these traditions is a bit extreme, but people still practice it.
Usually, they light a gigantic fire pit in the city center or the Church’s square where everybody gathers to wish each other Feliz Natal! The cities this tradition takes place are Cabeça, Bragança, Guarda and Castelo Branco.
Christmas Sayings in Portuguese:
🎆How to say Merry Christmas in Portuguese? – Feliz Natal!
🎆 How to say Happy Holidays! – Boas festas!
Christmas Markets in Portugal
Christmas markets in Portugal are probably the best place to experience the festivities in Portugal during the Christmas season. During the Christmas season in Portugal, you will enjoy lots of Christmas concerts, traditional food, drinks and have a chance to shop till you drop!
Some of the best Christmas markets in Portugal are situated in the bigger cities, like Winter Wonderland, which is a Lisbon Christmas market. Or Ateneu Comercial do Porto, which is one of Porto Christmas markets. Nevertheless, I would also suggest to check out the Obidos Christmas village, which is worth a visit (especially if you are with your little ones)!
|City||Christmas Market Destination|
|Lisbon||Campo Pequeno Christmas Market|
|Porto||Ateneu Comercial do Porto Christmas Market|
|Obidos||Obidos Christmas Village|
|Braga||Braga Christmas Market|
|Viseu||Viseu Christmas Market|
|Cascais||Cascais Christmas Village|
|Madeira Island||Funchal Christmas Market|
Christmas Food in Portugal
The Christmas dinner in Portugal is one that you will remember! The Consoada, the Portuguese Christmas dinner, is very luscious. When it comes to food, Portuguese go all in and so should you!
But what to expect from the Christmas dinner?! Well, the Portuguese Chrismas food is quite nutritious, served in huge portions, offers lots of sea food, lots of deserts and sweet sweet wine!
🥘 Bacalhau com Todos: On Christmas, you can’t simply go without the traditional Bacalhau com Todos! This highly salted fish is usually prepared 3 days before it gets in the pot. It is usually soaked in clear water for 3 days, so that the salt falls off of it. Then, when ready, it is boiled with vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, greens and eggs. To be quite honest, the Bacalhau com Todos is a very nice dish to have and I am speaking from experience! 🐷
🐙 Octopus: The octopus is usually served in the northern regions of Portugal. Thus, if you are spending your Christmas Eve in Porto, Braga or any other city part of the Minho, Douro or Trás-os-Montes, you can expect to be served boiled octopus. Sometimes, the octopus is prepared into a salad, but you can also have it as a main dish with boiled veggies.
🍲 Roupa Velha: “The old clothes” as this is what is the true name of this dish is basically the leftovers of the Bacalhau com Todos stir-fried. To be quite honest, I very much enjoyed this one on Christmas day. It is a traditional Portuguese Christmas dish, which also prevents waste of food.
🍰 Bolo Rei and Bolo Rainha: The “King’s cake” and “Queen’s cake”can be found in each and every pastelaria during the Christmas season and even after that. The cake is traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Portugal and is made of brioche dough with lots of dried fruits and nuts. However, it is good to note that Bolo Rainha, “Queen’s cake” is made without the dried fruits, which many people prefer.
Even though it is included in Portuguese Christmas traditions, it has not always been served. It all started in the beginning of the 19th century when the oldest pastelaria Confeitaria Nacional introduces it to the public. The Bolo Rei is an adaptation of the French King’s cake which is served during Christmas season.
🧇 Rabanadas: The Rabanadas are another desert made on Christmas Eve, which is basically a French toast, but the bread is soaked in Port wine. I know! That sounds a bit weird, buuuut to be quite honest – it tastes amazing!
🥞 Sonhos: Sonhos are literally a DREAM come true when it comes to Christmas sweets. These mouthwatering little doughnuts with sugar and cinnamon will make every foodie drool. Fun fact, the name of the sweets “Sonhos” literally translates as “dreams”. How cute is that?! 🤤
🍩 Filhós: The Filhós is a type of stretched fried dough that resembles and is coated with sugar and cinnamon. In fact, the desert originated from Madeira island and was later spread through the mainland of Portugal.
🥧 Aletria: This noodles pudding serves as a proof how much Portugal and the region has been influenced by the Moorish people. The desert was introduced to the land long time ago and is a typical Arabic desert. It is usually prepared in huge trays and consists of lots of noodles, milk, butter, a hint of lemon and cinnamon.
🍪 Azevias: Okay, so if you want to try something different and interesting in taste you can opt for the Azevias! These are the “Portuguese fortune cookies” filled with a fillings of chickpeas and ground almonds. Again, they are coated with sugar and cinnamon and taste amazing! Not too sweet, not too salty. Absolutely delish!
Christmas in Lisbon
Lisbon at Christmas time is something magical! Absolutely enchanting! The Christmas season in Lisbon is usually packed with lots of fun and games, which can be found at the many Christmas markets in the city.
You can opt for the largest event during Christmas in Lisbon, which is the Wonderland Lisbon. It is situated at Parque Eduardo VII in Marques de Pombal and is famous for its ice rink, which in fact is a skating rink ⛸️. There’s also lots of family activities to take part in, as well as food, drinks and gifts shops.
If you prefer to experience a more cultural Lisbon during the Christmas season, go to the Rossio Square Christmas market near Bairro Alto. It’s probably the best option to buy authentic and handmade products. The same is true for the Campo Pequeno Christmas Market in Lisbon, which is famous for offering lots of original Portuguese exhibitions of clothes, jewellery, toys and many more.
Eventually, you can opt for a nice dinner at Pateo 13 in Alfama and enjoy a truly authentic Portuguese Christmas dinner. Then, head to the nearest church and follow the masses for an even more cultural experience.
Christmas in Porto
As the biggest city in the north of Portugal, Porto is known to be quite keen on celebrating Christmas to its fullest. That’s why, each year it brings a huge 30 meters high Christmas tree at Avenida dos Aliados, right in front of the city hall.
However, that is not all, there are lots of activities to enjoy like ice skating for example. The Rotunda da Boavista skate ring is usually packed with lots of people of all age. So be prepared for some races!
Nevertheless, if you prefer to enjoy some shopping, you can head straight to some of Porto’s best Christmas markets. Like, Ateneu Comercial do Porto, the Urban Market at Praça da Liberdade or the Handicraft and Trade Fair of Porto. There’s plenty of options to enjoy the Christmas season in Porto.
When it comes to having a Christmas dinner, you can always opt for any of the restaurants at Cais da Ribeira street. Or, check out the restaurants in Gaia, which offer cheaper Christmas menu options.
Christmas in Braga
Celebrating Christmas Eve in Braga can be a magical experience, especially if you opt for visiting Bom Jesus do Monte. This sacred place can definitely turn your Christmas Eve into an unforgettable experience!
The city of Braga is known for centuries for its religious importance. It has been an important pilgrimage stop and sheltered lots of believers. Thus, the city of Braga, as the religious center of Portugal is one of the places where traditions are well kept.
One of the main events in Braga is the Presépio de Priscos or the living nativity scene. In fact, the Presépio de Priscos is the largest nativity scene in Europe and takes more than 600 people to play in it. The idea of the event is to depict the sacred moment of Jesus Christ’s birth and to strengthen the feeling of congregation among people.
If you are more into the party mode, you can opt for the so-called Bananeiro. This event is all about drinking muscatel wine and eating bananas. It takes place on Christmas Eve at Rua do Souto, just before the Christmas dinner. Once you have drunk your wine, ate your bananas and celebrated with the locals you can head to your Christmas dinner 🍽️
Christmas in Gerês
To be quite honest, Geres is not the typical place where you can celebrate Christmas Eve. However, if you are a person that loves peace and nature, this is definitely the place to go.
While in Geres, you can check out the hot springs in the city or hike around Geres National park. Eventually, you can check out the water park of Geres and get a boat to explore further.
Christmas in Serra da Estrela
Serra da Estrela is yet another interesting way to spend Christmas Eve. The Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela is known as a good skiing place. Yes, you can go skiing in Portugal!
Thus, if you are yarning for some peace and quiet and to practice your favourite winter sports, you should definitely head to Serra da Estrela Natural park. In addition, you can also visit the highlights of the part like Covão dos Conchos or hike on the outlined hiking trails.
Christmas in Algarve
If you are a worshipper of the sun, as I am, then you will definitely love Algarve at Christmas time! The weather in Algarve can be quite unpredictable during the winter time, but is usually sunny and warm. It is the perfect time to soak up the sun without the crowds during summer time.
Nevertheless, celebrating Christmas in Algarve is quite surreal with all that sun, but there are still lots of festivities to take part in. For example, you can enjoy various Christmas concerts at Christmas day in Albufeira.
Or, you can opt for a more leisure way to celebrate Christmas by watching some ballet in the city of Faro. Faro Christmas is usually notable for its kids’ friendly events that take place in the very heart of the city center. In addition, you can check out the Christmas shows at the Lagos Zoo, which is only an hour away from Faro.
Christmas in Madeira
Madeira at Christmas time is a spectacular event, just like the one that takes place on New Year’s! Madeirans are known for their festive spirits and love for the Portuguese culture.
Usually, they gather at Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal to buy the food and presents for Christmas Eve. However, if you want to enjoy the Christmas spirit, you can go to the city center and watch the concerts where Christmas carols are sang. Exactly at midnight, the masses start and take place at the many churches across the island and can be observed in any of them.
Madeira Christmas is following the same traditions as anywhere else in Portugal. You will witness lots of traditional dances, singing and nativity scenes that take over the cities.
Christmas in Azores
Spending Christmas Eve in these evergreen islands is probably one of the most peaceful and re-charging, yet fulfilling thing you can do! The further you go from Mainland Portugal the more traditional it becomes.
These little islands set in the middle of the Atlantic are in fact very influenced by the Portuguese Christmas traditions. However, there are slight differences to most of it. Here in the Azores there is a “Menino Mija” tradition where people go from house to house and ask for the best produce people have to offer. This tradition originates from the 18th – 19th century and has a great purpose – to connect people with each other. This tradition takes place after Christmas Eve, but is a nice way to experience the Christmas season.
Other than that, if you want to check out the largest open-air nativity scene, you can head to Furnas. In addition, you can opt for some bathing in the hot springs of Furnas city ♨️
Read More About the Azores Islands:
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I hope that you have found this post about spending Christmas in Portugal useful. Do you plan to visit any of the suggested places this Christmas season?
Which one is first on your list?