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Expat Exchange - Best Places to Visit in Portugal for Christmas Cheer
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Porto, Portugal


Best Places to Visit in Portugal for Christmas Cheer

By Joshua Wood, LPC

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Summary: Plan a day trip or weekend getaway to get some holiday cheer. This article highlights the best places to visit in Portugal for Christmas cheer.

Portugal, with its mild winters and festive traditions, offers a unique holiday experience for expats and digital nomads. December is a magical time to explore the country's Christmas markets, lights, and decorations. From the charming streets of Lisbon to the historic ambiance of Porto, there are numerous places where you can immerse yourself in the holiday spirit. Here are some of the best places to visit in Portugal during the festive season.

Lisbon's Rossio Square

In the heart of Lisbon, Rossio Square transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. The square is adorned with twinkling lights and a large Christmas tree that becomes a focal point for both locals and visitors. The annual Christmas market here offers a variety of traditional Portuguese crafts, gifts, and delicious treats like the famous 'Bolo Rei' (King Cake), a fruitcake that is a staple of Portuguese Christmas celebrations. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by the sound of Christmas carols and the scent of roasted chestnuts filling the air.

We Recommend: Don't miss the chance to try the warm 'Ginjinha', a local cherry liqueur, often enjoyed in a chocolate cup, which you can find at the market stalls. It's a delightful way to keep warm while browsing the festive offerings.

Porto's Avenida dos Aliados

Porto's main boulevard, Avenida dos Aliados, is a sight to behold during December. The entire avenue is illuminated with festive lights, and a grand Christmas tree stands tall near the city hall. The Mercado de Natal, Porto's Christmas market, is a must-visit, with its array of handcrafted goods, seasonal decorations, and plenty of Portuguese culinary delights. The market typically runs throughout December, offering a perfect opportunity to find unique gifts and savor local flavors.

We Recommend: Be sure to taste 'Francesinha', a hearty sandwich that's a Porto specialty, available at the food stalls. It's a comforting dish that perfectly complements the chilly December weather.

Obidos Vila Natal

The medieval town of Obidos is transformed into a Christmas village, known as Obidos Vila Natal. This event is a fantasyland for families and visitors of all ages, featuring ice-skating rinks, Santa Claus' house, and a range of Christmas-themed entertainment. The town's ancient walls and cobbled streets provide a picturesque backdrop for the festivities, which usually take place from early December to early January. The market stalls sell traditional crafts, and there's an abundance of seasonal treats to enjoy.

We Recommend: Don't leave without trying the local 'Ginja de Obidos', a sour cherry liqueur often served in edible chocolate cups, which adds an extra touch of sweetness to the holiday experience.

Coimbra's Downtown

Coimbra, known for its historic university, also offers a charming Christmas experience. The downtown area, especially around Praca do Comercio, is beautifully decorated and filled with festive cheer. The Christmas market here is smaller but no less enchanting, with local artisans selling their wares and plenty of opportunities to indulge in traditional Portuguese sweets and savories. The city also hosts various cultural events, including concerts and performances, that add to the holiday atmosphere.

We Recommend: Sample the 'Pastel de Tentugal', a local pastry that is both flaky and sweet, often filled with egg cream. It's a delightful treat that pairs wonderfully with a cup of hot coffee or tea.

Braga's Historic Center

Braga, often referred to as the "Portuguese Rome," is another destination that shines during the holiday season. The historic center is festooned with lights and decorations, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The Christmas market in Braga is known for its traditional crafts and gastronomy, with plenty of options for holiday shopping. The city also hosts a variety of events, including live nativity scenes and festive parades, which usually take place in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

We Recommend: Enjoy a glass of 'Vinho do Porto', the famous port wine, which is particularly popular during the festive season. It's a delightful way to warm up on a cool December evening.

Guimaraes at Largo da Oliveira

Guimaraes, the birthplace of Portugal, offers a quaint and historical setting for Christmas festivities. The Largo da Oliveira, with its ancient buildings and monuments, is the perfect place to soak up the holiday spirit. The Christmas market here is filled with regional products, handicrafts, and plenty of food options. The town also features a large nativity scene and a variety of cultural performances throughout the holiday season.

We Recommend: Try the 'Toucinho do ceu', a traditional almond and egg-based dessert that is rich and delicious. It's a favorite among locals and a sweet way to celebrate the season.

Funchal's Christmas Lights

The capital of Madeira, Funchal, is renowned for its spectacular Christmas light displays. The entire city is illuminated with elaborate decorations that extend from the streets to the sea. The Mercado de Natal in Funchal is a vibrant affair, with local artisans selling Madeiran crafts and traditional foods. The highlight is the New Year's Eve fireworks display, which is one of the largest in the world and a truly unforgettable experience.

We Recommend: Indulge in a slice of 'Bolo de Mel', Madeira's traditional honey cake, which is dense, spiced, and incredibly flavorful. It's the perfect accompaniment to the island's famous Madeira wine.

Each of these destinations offers a unique way to celebrate the holiday season in Portugal. Whether you're looking for traditional markets, festive lights, or cultural events, there's something for every expat and digital nomad to enjoy.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood, LPC joined Expat Exchange in 2000 and serves as one of its Co-Presidents. He is also one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. Prior to Expat Exchange, Joshua worked for NBC Cable (MSNBC and CNBC Primetime). Joshua has a BA from Syracuse and a Master's in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Mr. Wood is also a licensed counselor and psychotherapist.

Some of Joshua's articles include Pros and Cons of Living in Portugal, 10 Best Places to Live in Ireland and Pros and Cons of Living in Uruguay. Connect with Joshua on LinkedIn.


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